It’s hard to believe but it’s already been thirty-eight days since we arrived in Munster. After struggling a little bit getting used to living in a new city, speaking a new language, learning to use the bus and/or bike everywhere, I think it’s safe to say that by now we’re all settled here. Although we spend most of our semester living with our host families in Münster in Northwestern Germany, we make some class trips as part of our program. As such, we took our first class trip to Berlin and Wittenberg last week! On Friday the 11th we all met at the train station at 7:45 a.m. and hopped on our train by 8:10 a.m. Tired as we were, we traveled for about six hours on four different trains until we finally made it to Wittenberg. This city is most famous for being the place where Martin Luther published his 95 theses at the Schlosskirche in 1517. So it was only natural that as part of our Reformations class and as Luther College students we would stop here and spend two days learning about Luther’s life. Wittenberg is a beautiful medieval town, only an hour away from Berlin. While in Wittenberg, we went to Martin Luther’s house, and visited the different churches in town. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go into the Schlosskirche as it is under restoration as the town gets ready to celebrate the 500th year anniversary of Luther’s 95 theses. As part of the celebrations, the city is putting up a Luther garden, where they will plant 500 trees donated by different institutions – Lutheran as well as from other denominations – around the world. And of course, Luther College will be present; our very own Professor Ruth Kath donated a tree for this garden in Wittenberg on behalf of Luther College. It was nice to see our college’s presence abroad, after we all raced each other to find the tree in the Luther garden.
After learning about Martin Luther’s works and life for two days and racing each other to find the Luther tree, we headed to Berlin. Once again, we hopped on a train (much shorter this time) and we arrived in Berlin. As soon as we arrived, we checked in at the hostel and headed to our tour at the Reichstagsgebäude, the German parliament. It was a great way to begin out trip to Berlin, as one could see the entire city from the top of this famous building. After that, we proceeded to have a group dinner with our group leader, Professor Victoria Christman, and former Luther German faculty member Katy Foerster, as well as Luther alumna Ellie van der Griend, who is currently working as a teacher in Berlin! After a delicious dinner we called it a night and got some rest to get ready for the rest of our week in Berlin.
We spent most of our days in Berlin touring the city, its monuments and museums. We would wake up early in the morning, eat breakfast at the hostel, and head out to go on a tour. Our tour guide for the city was Katy. She was an amazing tour guide, as she know so much about the city history from having grown up there and from studying its art and history. Some of the highlights of her tours were the famous Berlin TV tower, the Marienkirche, and the different Prussian buildings in the city center, all of which we saw on the first day. On the next couple of days, we were able to visit the Jewish quarter, as well as the Alte and Neue Synagoge, where we got a tour from someone whose grandad had married in there. We topped off the day with a concert of the Berlin Philharmonic! Our next days were spent learning about post-war Berlin, West Germany, the GDR, and natürlich the Berlin Wall. This was especially interesting as Katy was born and raised in the GDR and she provided a fascinating perspective of what life in former East Berlin was like. After that, we spent the next few days visiting Sachsenhausen, a former concentration camp outside Berlin, and learning as much as we could about Jewish history in Berlin. We visited the Jewish museum, the famous Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, as well as other smaller memorials, such as the Memorial to the Roma and Sinti Victims of the Holocaust and the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted under Nationalsocialism, a personal favorite of mine. Lastly, we finished our trip by going to the ballet at the Komische Opera Berlin, where we saw a modern interpretation of different Bach pieces, and I think it is an understatement to say that it was beautiful. On our last night, after the ballet, we headed to the Hofbräuhaus München to finish off our last night in Berlin with a beer! The next morning, we hopped on a train again an after another six or so hours of traveling we were back in Münster.
There is so much to see and do in Berlin and Wittenberg that whatever I write won’t do it justice. All I can say is this was an amazing way to kick start our class trips, and learn about German history and culture. We learned, saw, and experienced so much about our new host country that I can barely wait to see what our next class trips will be like.
Pablo Lopez Alonso