By Kristen Weintraut, German Instructor and World Language Department Chair
Every other year, the German Club at CC takes a trip to Europe to experience the culture and put our language skills into practice. The opportunity is afforded to those students who have had 3+ years of German at Central Catholic. In June, a group of 25 Central Catholic students and 16 chaperones traveled to Europe for an 11-day adventure. The group spent time in the four German-speaking countries, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The trip was packed with so many incredible opportunities and learning experiences for the students and the adults. It was the trip of a lifetime!
The group met very early Monday morning on June 13th to head to Indy for the day of travel to Germany. Everyone was very excited and rightly so! We had all prayed together on the bus before departure but the good Lord thought we could use a little blessing from Bishop Doherty as well. After check in – we spotted him across the airport and stopped him to come over and say hello. Everyone definitely had a pretty spirited feeling after his well wishes and blessing.
After one domestic stop, we were on our way on a night flight to Frankfurt am Main where we met our tour guide Sonja who was with us the entire trip. There was also a small group of eight from Springboro, Ohio that traveled with us for the majority of the trip. Not one piece of luggage was lost so things were looking pretty good as we loaded our coach bus and were on our way – traveling on the Autobahn to our first city on the tour.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a quaint little medieval walled town founded in 1274. It was a great spot to begin our trip because you step off the bus onto cobblestone streets and all you see is medieval architecture. You truly feel like you have stepped back in time! Many in the group went on a walking tour with the “Wine Cellar Master Daniel” – He talked about the history of the town and showed us many of the sights including the old city wheat mill and the city walls, gates, and towers. He shared folk tales and interesting facts! The town is often mistaken as a museum or a place that no one actually lives in but it is definitely a lively town and a very popular tourist spot in Germany.
“When I picture Germany, with the red roofs and the cobblestone roads and picturesque houses, Rothenburg is exactly what I imagined.” Laura Smith, chaperone.
We traveled on to our first hotel where we finally got some much-‐needed rest after a long day of travel and sightseeing. The students were determined to not miss a beat on tour as many of them actually participate in multiple sports, so working out while on tour was a priority. Every morning, students in the group would meet early in the lobby and venture out for a group run and even football workouts in the parks! I am always so impressed with my students. Their dedication and work ethic to their sports are quite inspiring.
Next stop was the exciting city of Munich! Munich is a very modern city with lots of technology, business and culture. “I loved Munich! It was one of the best cities I have ever been to.” said senior Tommy Devine. Some of the many highlights were the Church of Our Lady, the Viktualienmarkt (a city market), the famous English Gardens, the Hofbrauhaus, BMW World and the Olympic Park. A few of us made our way to the Allianz Arena, home to the famous FC Bayern Munich soccer club. We had a lot of soccer fans in our group and they really enjoyed the city and the energy surrounding the UEFA Champions League competition that was going on in France during our tour.
From Munich, we had a few day-trip excursions. Salzburg, Austria -‐ we visited a salt mine and explored the downtown areas of the famous city mostly known as the birthplace of Mozart and the filming location for the Sound of Music. Dachau, Germany – Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp established in Germany. This, of course, was a very somber day filled with reflection and prayer. Due to an acquaintance of the Ohio group leader, we had a rare opportunity at the camp to meet and hear from a man named Rainer Höß. Rainer is the grandson of the infamous commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp, Rudolf Höß. He was not even born when his grandfather was hanged for his crimes. At the age of 14, he denounced his grandfather and his family for their beliefs and has devoted his life to supporting survivors of the Holocaust and to spreading awareness of the current politics in Europe and around the world. The camp itself was very startling but hearing Rainer speak about his grandfather’s unpublished insights was truly terrifying. It was definitely a life-changing experience.
A true highlight of the trip for everyone was visiting Neuschwanstein Castle. The inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle at Disneyland originated from Germany’s most famous castle; and there really are a lot of castles in Germany, over 20,000!! We hiked up the mountain to tour the incredible architectural feat. King Ludwig II died before the castle was completed but still, the fantasy world of the King is incredible to see as you walk from room to room. His love of the composer Richard Wagner’s operas is depicted throughout the castle in the form of paintings, statues, and carvings. The setting of Neuschwanstein could not be more idyllic – nestled in the Alps with incredible views of the countryside and lake below.
From there we had an unplanned stop in the capital city of Vaduz, Liechtenstein. It is a very small principality with only 37,000 citizens, located completely in the Alps! We stopped and got our passports stamped and did some shopping. From there we continued on to Switzerland where the views and landscapes through the Alps were truly breathtaking, to say the least. Our hotel was in a small town outside of the city of Lucerne. The kids had scoped out a local soccer field and asked for directions, planning a big group game. Some of the kids even brought their cleats and a ball from home! The game ended up being one of my favorite memories with this group, as some local Swiss kids joined in the game with them and they ended up playing in heavy rain! The kids had a blast and even some of the chaperones joined in; not me, I don’t like rain and I am terrible at soccer!
Our next day started with a walk through the small town to Mass at St. Martin’s Church. It is incredible for the students and the adults to see and hear the Mass in another language in a different country. You may not know all the responses in the target language but you understand what is going on. The Church really is UNIVERSAL! The students were able to pray the Our Father in German and many even understood a good amount of the homily. I know it was a very rewarding and special experience for all. It is also very interesting to compare and contrast the Church abroad, with what we are used to in America. There were not very many people at Mass, and not many young people. I am very grateful for our student’s love and participation in their faith. It speaks a great deal to our families, our schools, and our parishes. We are truly a blessed anomaly in Greater Lafayette. We will be praying for a renewal of faith in Europe and in the world.
From there we spent the day in the city of Lucerne. It rained the majority of the morning so many ducked into museums, cafes, and other attractions to get out of the elements. A large group of us found ourselves in a quaint art museum, Sammlung Rosengart. A heavily Picasso centered exhibit in a collection of other 19th and 20th-century art. The owner and curator of the museum visits the museum every day and is very active in the art industry, even in her 80s! She was a very close friend of Picasso’s and even a figure in many of his works!
The kids were wonderful in Lucerne despite the poor weather. They were exploring the city and finding some incredible views of the famous Mt. Pilatus and the Lake nearby. Back at the hotel, everyone enjoyed a showing of the Swiss national team vs. France and played cards and other games. The free time in the evenings was really a lot of fun and a chance for everyone to relax and hang out together and with members from other groups also staying at the same hotels. I loved the variety on this trip. We had big city, very modern hotels, similar to what we are accustomed to in America, and we stayed in smaller towns and quaint guesthouses as well. It is nice to see the contrast and enjoy the surroundings that each of the hotels provided.
The next day, already a week into our trip, we hopped on the bus for a long day of travel back to Germany. We had a short rest stop at Rhine Falls, just before we left Switzerland. It is the largest plain waterfall in Europe. From there we made our way to the Black Forest where we stopped for lunch in a picturesque little village resort town, complete with a Cuckoo Clock exhibit and store and a Glassblowing shop. With souvenirs secured, we advanced on to Heidelberg; famous for the dilapidated castle nestled at the top of the city overlooking the Neckar River and for its university, the oldest in Germany. After our visit to the castle and the largest wine barrel in the world, everyone had a chance to do some shopping, visit the various churches and to leisurely enjoy the old town area.
After Heidelberg, the Ohio group and two of our own headed back to the states but the rest of us advanced north to a region I had never explored before – The Rhineland, located on the western part of the country. We enjoyed a beautiful Rhine River Cruise, floating past one little town after the next, each having at least one castle or fortress dating back to the middle ages and beyond. We learned about the history of the area and of the castles and fortresses, as well as the legends of the area. The weather was the best we had for the entire trip. It was very enjoyable and picturesque.
“I think the river cruise with the contrast of the modern (windmills and trains) in the view at the same time was really interesting.” -‐ Cheryl Coffin, chaperone and grandparent of traveler Pierce Mather.
We ended up in the city of Koblenz where many took a cable car ride across the river up to a beautiful fort, Ehrenbreitstein. Others went on exploring by foot into the Altstadt and found some nice shopping and some friendly and not so friendly hair salons! Some of the boys on the trip decided to get a “Eurostyle” for their hair and everyone else just got Eis, the German word for ice cream! It was a wonderful end to a beautiful day!
The last day of the tour we started the day in Cologne, a beautiful city with a monumental landmark – the High Gothic style, twin-spired, Cologne Cathedral. What a sight that was. It is an amazing architectural achievement that is unfortunately always under construction; it truly has never been a “finished work”. In Cologne, I had the chance to meet up with a colleague of mine from our “Sister School” in Olpe, Germany. Her name is Reinhild Günnewig-‐Pesch. She teaches English at St. Francis High School. We partnered our students this year for a pen pal experience and many of the students have really enjoyed the opportunity. There are definitely some unique possibilities that could come out of our partnership for our students!
Our last stop was Bonn, where we toured Beethoven’s house and visited the Museum of German History. It was really a nice way to end our tour, reminding us one of the main reasons we came to Europe in the first place, to learn more about German history and culture, and to have a greater respect for its people.
“Our group was so much fun and got along so well. The students and the teachers shared so much of what they knew and I learned much more about German culture and history! Trip of a lifetime.” Pam Devine, chaperone and parent of traveler Tommy Devine.
One memory I know we will all take with us is the food! We had some very incredible meals and I think everyone came home with chocolate, candy, and more. The students have a new-found love of Mezzo Mix, a Coca Cola recipe of Coke and Fanta and everyone now has an affinity for the Döner Kebab, a Turkish delicacy that is hard to explain, but basically is a mix of fresh veggies and meat sliced off of a spit with spices and sauce in a flatbread. The many beautiful cafes and gelato stands will be missed. The biggest culture shock for our group was paying to use the toilets and for water; you have to ask for “Stilleswasser”, or you would get carbonated mineral water. We witnessed political protests spanning local and world events and met some amazing people along the way. I really love it when a plan comes together!
I was very pleased with the entire trip. Everyone really seemed to enjoy themselves and the fellowship as a group. The students were so respectful, responsible and fun. They definitely made the most of their experience and truly made us all proud. I know they all hope to travel more in their futures, wherever life takes them and I pray their spirit for adventure and knowledge never leave them! I would like to thank all of the parents and chaperones of this group, and the students. We all worked very hard to plan and fundraise to make the trip a possibility. It makes me so happy to see the fruits of our labors, in and out of the classroom so incredibly rewarded. Thank you for your support of the German program at CC.
Some of the student comments about the trip, below:
“Every day we stepped outside, there was a new, and beautiful scene. Between going to the salt mines, and mountains in Austria to downtown Munich, everything was unique and inspiring. I think we learned a lot this trip especially about the rich history there, and we now have a special insight into the everyday life of a European person.” Libby Bonner, Junior
“ The whole trip was an adventure for us all. It was full of great food, great views, great people and lots of fun with friends. It was an amazing opportunity for us to see the cultures and experience the cities. Every day had a different eye opening experience, view, and adventure. It was an amazing experience and one that I will never forget.” Nate Kerr, Junior
“I had such an amazing time in Germany! I loved exploring all the various countries. The scenery was incredible! The culture there was very different but surely an adventure to take part in! I hope to go back one day!” Sheyra Pumarino, Junior
“Every day started fresh with new things to see that were unlike anything else. I hope to go on the next trip!” Luke Cooley, Sophomore