Spring Break Part I: Germany
One of the many differences between the University of Edinburgh and most universities in the States is that Edinburgh has a significantly shorter semester. The last day of classes was April 3, so my friends and I took the opportunity to travel as much as possible during the month-long break until exams.
My first stop was to visit family friends in Pratau, Germany. I flew into Berlin on April 6th, where I was met by my hosts and stayed with them until April 9. Pratau is a small town about two hours from Berlin and ten minutes from Wittenberg – the place made famous by Martin Luther and his 95 Theses, a document that sparked the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. This was a different kind of travel than my trips to places like Glasgow or St. Andrews and my other spring break destinations. The main purpose of my stay in Germany was to spend time with Julie, Stephan, and their family. I had already been to Germany in 2010, so I wasn’t necessarily as invested in seeing a ton of historical and cultural sites. I didn’t have a checklist of places to see or things to do. I was entirely ready to just go with the flow, reconnect with Julie (who’s basically like the older sister I never had), and have a relatively relaxed few days after a semester of classes and before the more fast-paced trips ahead of me.
My first full day in Germany began relatively early with breakfast with Julie, Stephan, and their children Leonard (age 3) and Maximilian (11 months). It was my first time meeting either of their kids, so it was really interesting. Leo was initially just really confused by my presence, and the fact that I was speaking English didn’t help. After breakfast, Julie and I went into Wittenberg to do some sightseeing and run errands. We started with the Martin Luther House, which, aside from the actual cathedral where the theses was posted, seems to be the main attraction of the city. In the museum, we learned more about Luther’s life and the influence he had on religion in Europe. After the museum, we roamed the streets for a bit and grabbed some Vietnamese food for lunch before running to the grocery store to get food for that night’s dinner. Julie and I then headed back to the house to pick up Stephan and the kids so we could all get ice cream and go to the small zoo in Wittenberg. By this time, Leo had gotten used to me and had a lot of fun taking me around. Even though there was a language barrier, we seemed to be able to get the gist of what was being said, and I think my experience as a babysitter helped a bit. When we finished in Wittenberg, we returned to Pratau for a traditional German dinner. In Germany, people usually have their larger, ‘hot meal’ for lunch and will often just have bread, cheese, cold meats, and salad for their evening meal.
The next day was slightly more action-filled, as Julie and I went to Leipzig for the day. We took the 10AM train from Wittenberg and arrived by 11:30. Our first stop was the Monument to the Battle of the Nations, a massive structure commemorating Napoleon’s defeat at Leipzig in 1813. You need tickets in order to go inside and/or visit the museum in the monument, but because of the massive queue and the fact that we had another Battle of the Nations-oriented stop later in day, we decided to forego this option and just wandered around for about half an hour. Then we hopped on a bus and headed to the Panometer, a giant visual panorama and museum built inside a former gasometer. Various drawings, paintings, and photos are combined and divided into strips of textile, which are then hung as a single piece and viewed from a platform in the center. Lights and sound effects are used to help generate this perspective distortion. I was completely unsure of what to expect, but it actually ended up being a really cool experience. The panorama transitioned from day to night, so we were able to watch the sunrise, see the battle begin and die down as the sun set. From the Panometer we went back into the city centre to grab lunch and do some exploring before catching a train back to Pratau.
The next and final day in Germany, I woke up and spent the morning with Julie, Leo, and Max and then was dropped off at the train station in Wittenberg. Trains would take me from Wittenberg to Leipzig, Leipzig to Dresden, and Dresden to Prague. Because the majority of the announcements were made in German (and later, Czech), the journey was a tiny bit stressful and I spent most of the time convinced I would get off at the wrong stop. But in spite of that it was a nice ride and full of gorgeous scenery. Once in Prague, I somehow navigated the tram and made my way to the AirBnB apartment about ten minutes from the city centre, where Karen and Morgan eventually joined me to begin the next leg of Spring break travels.