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4 Months Later, I Saw My Country

Took me long enough to get to Berlin and Munich, but they were well worth the wait.

semi-overcast 55 °F

It has been far too long since I have written a post. I’ve done a lot since my last one, yet haven’t had the time to sit down and think and write. You’d imagine that while on a study abroad semester I would be trying to find things to do with my time rather than wishing I had more—not so. Traveling, having a job, and oh yeah, school, all take their toll. And in fact I only have a couple weeks left. Somehow this entire experience has come so quickly and almost gone.

This past weekend we ventured to Munich, and the weekend before that to Berlin. I am combing these trips into one post, not because I am lazy (well I guess I’m pretty lazy sometimes) but because I had very similar, exciting, and definitively German experiences with both. Berlin was a trip I’d been looking forward to for quite some time—it was our big Tauschie trip that was planned for some months prior. A group of about 20 of us exchange students (and one chill local student, shoutout to Thi) fluttered in and out of the city, all on our own schedules. This was part of the reason why it was such a good experience—we all had our own groups and wanted to do own our things, and although sometimes we’d split up or go on our own, most of the time everyone had the same agenda. It was a jam-packed three days, and full of some of the best memories so far. It was impossible not to have an amazing time with these people.

After a super cheap flight on Friday morning, we wasted no time getting to know the city. What better way is there to sightsee than while drinking a beer on a bike? Our “booze bike” held 16 people, all peddling harder and going slower than what it looks like from the outside. We casually enjoyed beer as we cruised up and down the East Side Gallery. This is probably the largest single remnant of the Berlin Wall, and it is covered in beautiful graffiti canvases that I would call more of art. We sung along to music, laughed too much (and got laughed at), saw the artistry along the wall, and had probably the best time a group of 16 people could possibly have. That night I attended my first professional football game at the Berlin Olympic Stadium. Saturday morning we ventured out on foot, seeing everything from the Brandenburg Gate to the Holocaust memorial to the parliament building, the Reichstag. During the afternoon we did a free walking tour (I did not know that was a thing. The lady did an awesome job) and got to explore a bunch of cool, low-key things you would normally not even know about. Before seeing Kygo (one of my all time favorite artists) on Sunday night, I got to spend quality time with my thoughts during the rainy morning as I explored more of the Berlin Wall. I went all the way out to the actual memorial site, where they have reproduced and preserved a section just like it really was in those times. It was truly moving to walk among the ruins and then to see the wall replica exactly how the people of Berlin did until 1989. As ignorant as it may be, until that moment, I had always pictured the wall from the perspective of a tourist. I wondered why so much of the wall had been torn down or vandalized and why it was so difficult to just see the wall as it was, without any obstruction. As I saw more and more of the horrors that went along with the complete division of a city, and really a country, it became clear to me the anger and emotion that the ruins of the wall represent. The people of Germany were divided, and ultimately many of them killed, over that horrible wall and horrible war. If I had not gone alone to the Berlin Wall Memorial, I’m not sure I would have fully understood Berlin as more than just a lively and successful German city. Nor would I have understood how it was to live for almost 30 years with something like that. The weather that morning so adequately reflected the mood: they were dark times, and during dark times you have to fight.

Springfest in München was very memorable. Even though so much went wrong and I spent a lot of the time trying unsuccessfully to find everyone who I had lost in the huge crowds of drunk Bavarians, the trip was well worth it—even if I lost my bag in the train station and wore the same thing all weekend. Saturday morning early I met up with my cousin Justin who had a layover all day on his way to Georgia (the country, everyone). It was truly amazing how this worked out—the one weekend I was going to be in Munich happened to align perfectly with his big trip, and it was a blast. We spent basically the whole day catching up, and then some. I can tell that as our family grows older we will only grow closer. Springfest, however, can only be described as a giant border-line-out-of-control carnival. The beer tents were full of burly women carrying 10 steins at a time to numerous tables of 20 people stuffed elbow to elbow. Thankfully Justin and I found a place that wasn’t in the hot tent, and instead we had a great time just people watching and sipping on weißbier. Sunday was a highlight for me: I rented a car and drove on the driver’s paradise, the autobahn. We took a day trip to Neuschwanstein (Disney) Castle, home of King Ludwig II until he died, and favorite spot for Richard Wagner, a famous German composer that has a special place in my heart. The scenery was beautiful, the company was great, and the 8 hour journey seemed more like a road trip from a movie. My car wouldn’t go faster than 107mph, but honestly it felt like we were going half that speed. It is truly a testament to how to properly build a highway system—force people to drive well and give them good roads, and everything will be okay.

It took me a while to hit these staple German cities, but they were both worth it. I sit here in the airport writing this on my way to Barcelona, so stay tuned for that. Oh yeah, I got my bag back. Thanks DB.


Posted by jbolt 11:28 Archived in Germany Tagged football beer berlin castle wall brandenburg reichstag munich neuschwanstein cousin münchen springfest Comments (1)

Dam, I Love Europe

Weekend in Amsterdam, Netherlands

semi-overcast 40 °F

As promised, here is my second post, about my second journey. This post is titled "Dam, I Love Europe" because it is so incredibly true.

The fun started on the train to Amsterdam. After changing three times in Cologne, Venlo, and Eindhoven and finally aboard the final train into the city, it was pronounced "broken" and wouldn't be taking us all the way to its destination. It would be stopping halfway in a small city where we would be left to find our own way. Fortunately there were quite a lot of people heading to Amsterdam as well, and we were told by a helpful station worker to run towards platform 5 where we would catch a train to the next city, but have to switch again there. This new train was standing room only--there were so many people put out from our old train that we were packed in there like the West Campus bus on a Thursday afternoon. After having gone only two stops (technically only one, the train missed the first stop completely) the new train was pronounced defunct as well. After about 10 minutes of waiting in the train at the station hoping what was being said over the intercom wasn't important, a new train appeared out of nowhere that would take us to the next city. At this point, any movement in a forward direction was progress. This time we did not make the mistake of joining the first car we could. We ran all the way to the back of the train before anyone else got there, and were able to sit down for the first time in an hour. Thankfully this train did not break and we made it to the next city, Utrecht. From there we caught the final leg into the city, and only arrived about an hour and a half later than we were supposed to. All in all, not a huge disaster for being aboard two broken trains and missing one stop. What amazes me is how simple the whole process was: there was no ticket checking, rebooking, chaos, fees, wait time. They even conjured up a new train on command when the second one broke. Efficient mass transport is one reason why I love Europe.

Amsterdam was easily the coolest city I've ever been to. The fact that much of Western Netherlands was reclaimed from the sea with technology that is over 200 years old blows my mind. The city itself is beautiful, historical, and bustling. I've always loved cities where there's been a lot of large scale planning. With Amsterdam, the entire city is built around the still-functioning canals, with 3 prominent rings of waterways surrounding the city center. The Port of Amsterdam was the hub of the Dutch East India Trading Company during the 17th century, and the immense system of canals and locks no doubt built on the historical significance of the port. I definitely recommend taking a boat tour; they're cheap, in any language, and provided a good context for the city that I walked 35,000+ steps in. The Anne Frank house is as awing and eerie as I imagined, and the line was indeed huge. My squad of 10 made the trip together and this time slept in a 6 person bedroom rather than a 4 person--much more space! We toured the Heineken factory, which offered some amazing views (and beer) as one of the highest points in the city, and walked through the Red Light district. I also met up with my friend Mikki (a world-traveler this semester) and had some amazing Dutch Pancakes the size of a pizza. The city left a really good impression on me. It is a charming and historical city full of nice people, and I look forward to visiting again. Another reason why I love Europe.

And that's all I got.


Posted by jbolt 06:14 Archived in Netherlands Tagged canals beer amsterdam germany city Comments (0)

The Beginning

Where I'm staying, what I'm doing, and where I'm going

35 °F

First things first, welcome. This is the first time I've ever written something like this, so if you have any ideas of what a typical blog looks like, it's probably best to throw them out the window. This semester is a whole bunch of "new" for me, and I'm excited to see what happens.

I'm studying at a school in Vallendar, Germany called WHU - Otto Beisheim School of Management. It's the most unconventional school experience I've ever been a part of; not because of upside-down classroom models or iPads at each of my fingertips, but because it's so student driven. It's genuinely a good time to go to school here. They have all the necessities--like a gym, excellent classes and professors, and a modern campus--but this school is so much more. You can rent a car from it. Students throw parties in the school's 800 year old cellar (which has beer on tap). International exchange students make up over 10% of the student body. All classes are taught in english. It's probably the most international thinking business school in Europe, and they have some of the best business programs in the world. Point is, I like this school. I'm taking Business Taxation, International Economics, Finance Markets/Derivatives, Software Development for Entrepreneurs, Marketing, and German; these are over two different quarters making up my semester, ending early May.

I also like where I am living. The city of Vallendar is tiny and nestled among the many historic and beautiful cities that run along the Rhine river. The main city of Koblenz is about 15 minutes away and hosts much of the nightlife, and is the famous point where the Rhine and Moselle rivers come together at the Deutsches Eck (German Corner). Around here the land is hilly and scenic, so it's unfortunate that the days seem so short, with only a few hours of daylight when it's not raining or snowing. I live (but don't spend that much time in) a nice flat that's literally one minute away from campus. I've been very fortunate to make a large but close group of friends so quickly, and I'm really looking forward to the rest of the short semester with these people.

Now for where I'm going. We've already made a weekend trip to Cologne, a larger city about an hour and some away, but I'll save that post for when we go back in February for Carnival. This weekend the Tauschies (their name for international students) all took a regional tour to Marksburg castle, a local brewery, and a German restaurant. Next weekend? Amsterdam. Stay tuned.


Posted by jbolt 07:06 Archived in Germany Tagged beer germany friends school europe abroad rhine study Comments (0)

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