Hey there! Your resident lazy blogger coming to you three days late from Salzburg, Austria. My last post was written on the way to Stuttgart, Germany to see my exchange sister, Mona, and despite my intentions to post immediately after leaving Stuttgart, I’ve yet to update you all on the wonderful time we had there. My apologies. But better late than never, right?
Natalie, Leah, and I arrived in Stuttgart mid-afternoon on Sunday where we were greeted by Mona on the train station platform. After lots of hugging and “Oh my god I can’t believe you’re here!” we headed to the car, said hello to Beate (Mona’s mom), and went immediately to get ice cream. Though we didn’t know it at the time, this was foreshadowing the high amounts of sugar we were to consume in the coming days. Once we’d gotten to Mona’s house and unloaded bags, Leah, Natalie, Mona, and I took the bus back to Stuttgart (Mona lives in a village about 15 minutes away by car) to explore the main square called Schlossplatz and meet up with some of Mona’s friends. It was ridiculously hot so we spent some time splashing in the fountain and somehow ended up doing a mini photoshoot. Evidence to the right. Afterwards, we said goodbye to Mona’s friends and the four of us, plus Mona’s boyfriend Oscar, had a yummy German dinner before catching the bus home and falling into bed.
The next few days were busy yet relaxed, with our time split between chilling at home and exploring all that Stuttgart has to offer. This also marked the beginning of the more touristy part of our trip: We visited the Ritter Sport chocolate factory (and possibly made a few purchases…), the Mercedes-Benz museum, an adorable castle called Schloss Lichenstein, and went paddleboating on the River Neckar in Tübingen, a lovely university town. Since St. Wendel was primarily a cultural experience, it was a nice change of pace to learn some history and do more specific activities. We definitely spent a lot of time just talking and relaxing at home too, which was absolutely wonderful. There’s nothing better than getting caught up with someone you haven’t seen in a while, is there?
Beyond the sight-seeing, it was amazing to get a glimpse into Mona’s life in Germany. She became my sister during her year in the U.S, but seeing her in the house, town, and country where she grew up was incredible. I got to know her family better, though we have met before in the U.S, and gained a far better understanding of where she comes from and how that has shaped her. We played lawn games with her neighbors after a delicious German barbecue, we spent part of a day at her school, which is pretty much 100% opposite from every American high school, we met her closest friends and extended family, and we spent time in the city she knows like the back of her hand. She was the BEST Stuttgart tour guide we could have asked for — she showed us the beautiful Schlossplatz, the fun shopping district, and made sure we tried all of her favorite German foods. We also went to a delicious Indian restaurant which made my soul very happy. Her parents and sister were equally wonderful hosts and made Natalie, Leah, and I feel like family, even though our time together was far too brief.
On Wednesday night, my parents arrived in Stuttgart after a few days in Düsseldorf with my mom’s German exchange student from high school (appartenly it’s becoming a family tradition). It was great to be reunited with them, plus it signaled that the next leg of our journey was about to start! We all spent one day together in Stuttgart before the five Americans, Natalie, Leah, my parents, and I, hopped on a train to Munich early Friday morning. There we said goodbye to Leah and wished her luck with the week of NYC college tours she had ahead of her, and the remaining four of us prepared for what will probably be the most difficult part of our time in Europe: a visit to Dachau, one of the Nazi concentration camps.
Originally we weren’t planning on seeing a camp because we didn’t know where it would fit in our schedule. But once we realized the opportunity was there, we knew it was important to seize it. I was somewhat surprised by what I found. There was certainly a grim feeling about the place, but the horrors that occurred only 70 years ago weren’t plastered on every building, fence, and blade of grass. It was somehow more subtle than that. One might find it difficult to laugh there, but it’s not easy to cry. Only in the gas chamber did I find myself overcome with deep unease and sadness. The closest I came to tears was when reading a plaque donated by Belgium reminding all who came there to remember those who suffered in the name of peace. Something about the sign being in French made the global scale of the war feel more real and more tragic. Seeing Dachau was perhaps the most important thing I will do in Europe, but it left a heavy weight in my heart.
It feels impossible to make a smooth transition from concentration camps to basically anything else, so I’m not going to try. After leaving Dachau and returning to Munich, we said goodbye to Germany and got on our train to Salzburg, Austria. And that’s where this blog post will end! We’ve had an incredible time in Austria and I’m going to write all about it on the train to Italy tomorrow :) It definitely feels weird to be leaving the world of German, schnitzel, and punctuality, but I’m unbelievably excited to start exploring Italy, its culture, and, most of all, it’s food. This may very well transform into a food blog over the next few weeks. You’ve been warned.
Until next time, tschüss!