When we arrived in Germany, Bavaria was the first state we visited- which I will mention for several reasons. If there is a stereotype for what it looks like to dress and act “German”, the state of Bavaria fits this description. Bavaria is very unique politically because they still think of themselves as a free state in compliance with Germany, rather than as a specific subsidiary of the nation. Bavaria is also the home of Oktoberfest, bratwurst, pretzels, lederhosen, and dirndls- though no one really wears either outfit-type, even at the restaurants and cafes in the towns we visited there.
The first major stop we took on our trip to Germany was to the city of Regensburg. Regensburg is a relatively small city in the German state of Bavaria, with a population of roughly 140,000 people. Situated along the Danube River, it has to be one of the most beautiful towns in the world. Locals of the city joke that they are the northernmost city of Italy, and I have to admit that is an incredibly apt description. The streets are littered with tiny cafes full of warmth and laughter, and everywhere you look there are beautiful examples of architecture. One of the few cities in Germany largely untouched by the hands of time, Regensburg looks very much today like it did 1,000 years ago due to its once struggling economy and limited strategic importance during the bombing raids of World War II.
One of the biggest challenges we faced during our travels in Regensburg was the intense heat we dealt with daily. Though German summers are typically more moderate, the entire time we stayed in Regensburg temperatures were at record levels- from mid to high 90s during every experience. This is not as big of an issue at home in Michigan, as everywhere you go you can expect to find air conditioning in buildings, pools to swim in to cool off, or ice cubes for your drinks, or a FAN at the least- but here none of those options were available to us. Add to that the fact that we were here for an educational purpose and had to push through multiple activities quickly and in business-casual to professional dress and it was not a pretty sight. Every day our group had to drink tons of water, fight collapse during meetings and freshen up as often as possible between events.
Because it would be impossible to explain every experience we went through, below I’m going to include a few of my favorites from our time in Regensburg:
The first night in Regensburg we decided on a whim to take a boat tour of the Danube River aboard a ship called the Kristall Prinzessin. It was quite immaculate and fancy, which wasn’t reassuring given our laid back clothing, but everyone was happy for the experience, especially since the program covered our admittance completely. While the view was beautiful, and there were a few interesting historic landmarks, the best value of the boat was that we got a chance to get of our feet for a few hours and connect with each other. Many members of our group went up on top of the deck, but to avoid the intense heat, a small group of us opted instead to sit downstairs for a while first. Our crew included Lauren, Johanna, Christine, Shaw, Eric, Ruth and myself, and we ordered ice cream and got to know each other better. I noticed when we ordered our food that our server did not know English at all, and this became a consistent theme in the smaller cities of Germany, which makes sense given the smaller amount of tourists they receive there versus bigger locations. This experience was special because it really gave us a chance to talk about how we got into teaching and what life was like for us back home. One of the things that stood out to me was how similar some of our stories were. Despite being history teachers, at least half of the group began college as a journalism major, and ended up having a teacher in their lives that inspired them to pursue education instead. By far the freakiest of coincidences lied with Christine and myself- we were both from Michigan, started in journalism but ended up going into education with the intent of writing on the side, we both teach 7th grade language arts and social studies courses and had experience in theater. Regardless however the experience was fun and offered the recharge we all needed to get through the rest of the night.
Interior of the ship- too fancy for us…
Another wonderful experience was visiting the Albertus-Magnus Gymnasium in Regensburg, but I will speak to that more specifically in an additional post later. Needless to say the students were incredibly welcoming and impressive, and we came back with great ideas for our own classrooms and school communities.
Spital Brewery tour
Another great experience in Regensburg was when we went to a tour of the Spital Brewery. This brewery is the oldest in Regensberg and has been operating for over 750 years without changing their recipe. One cool thing about Spital is that they are a charity operation, with all proceeds supporting a local elderly home. Spital is German for hospital, because originally the proprietor was a doctor who found alcohol essential in helping patients to recover. Clearly this must have been an enjoyable, if not a thoroughly accurate form of care for the patients of the facilities.
This was also an awesome experience because I’ve never been able to walk through the entire brewing process at a facility before- especially one that has operated for so long. We also all definitely appreciated the cooling rooms, which brought the only relief from the wild temperatures of the day. Plus, who doesn’t like sampling new varieties of beer? At the end of the tour, we even got a chance to sample some new varieties of beer, because after only seven centuries they finally decided to mix it up with a new brewmaster and take some chances on recipes. It was funny to me that this concept only started here recently, as in Germany, bars in general only carry 2-3 varieties of brew at the most- light, dark, and wheat. Catch up Germany, michigan has you beat! Afterward we stayed in the Spital Biergarten and had a wonderful meal with the students that presented for us earlier in the day at the Gymnasium.
On our last day during a free moment we went to the Historische Wurstkuchl Sausage Kitchen because we heard such great things about it from Wood. By far they make the best tiny sausages in Germany, and they indeed were delicious. Also interesting to note- bread sat fresh on the table under a cloth but was honor system pay-as-you-go per individual roll! Everyone had a quick bike to eat and then several of us broke off to further explore the city via bicycle!
A special moment for me was the bike ride I was able to share with Rob, Jake, and Amber. On a whim we decided to rent bikes and take a ride through the city in order to see more of the sights that we couldn’t experience on foot. Though it wasn’t without its difficulties- early on we had to adjust to the bike lanes, and not knowing German road sign symbols, we had to guess a lot in order to avoid difficulties with the police there. Along our path we went into the actual neighborhoods of Regensburg as well as along the Danube River where we were able to see lots of residents either having picnics or taking a swim in the riverbank as well. The best part of course was at the end where we were able to catch up with the rest of the group and have a quick gelato at a local ice cream shop. The worst part was getting lost at the end and getting nervous that we wouldn’t make it back in time to meet with the group for dinner. But that’s part of the enchantment of travel, getting lost in a city and going on little adventures that you wouldn’t be able to enjoy under other circumstances. Thankfully we got back in time and had another wonderful moment from the trip to remember.
We wouldn’t be smiling so big if we knew how lost we were about to be!
Visit with Lord Mayor of Regensburg
How cool is it to meet with a representative of the city- let alone the Mayor! We went up to the Mayor’s offices in Regensburg and had an interesting lecture on the immigration problem for the city as well as their plans to accommodate them in the future. What wasn’t cool was how incredibly warm it was- over 98 on the day and we had the fun of sitting in a fourth floor office in suits during the conversation. Needless to say it made for an interesting afternoon. More info will come in a separate post on this later.
Classic Meets Cuba
The final fun experience we had in Regensburg was visiting the castle of St. Emerem for the Thurn and Taxis Castle Festival. On the night we visited, they held the concert “Classic Meets Cuba”, where a Cuban band performed many classical songs with a Cuban fusion. Strolling the grounds was amazing, though we were likely underdressed, and everyone had fun relaxing and enjoying a concert, no matter what our musical tastes might be.