Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category

Little Liechtenstein and the Umlaut Invasion or How We Got from München to Zürich

Monday, June 15th, 2009

We took the highway south out of München (Munich) back to Austria (purchasing a valid highway pass for €7.70 as we entered instead of paying €120 at 0530 the next morning. It was Tuesday (9/6) and we were bound for Liechtenstein.

Liechtenstein is a small “independent principality” stuck between Switzerland and Austria. It has a population of under 50,000 and the capital, Vaduz, has less than 8,000 people in it. So, we thought, why hasn’t it ever been invaded by either Switzerland or Austria? It would be a nice, tasty morsel for even a small country. As we got closer, however, we realized why. The entire country is inside an Alpine valley, which would be pretty difficult to invade. Also, there wasn’t a whole lot there to covet. Plus, it has been independent since 1866, so why ruin its record?

We got some gas in Austria (which has pretty good prices on gas compared to other countries; around €1/liter instead of €1.10/liter) and reset our trip odometer. The border crossing went through without difficulty, although they did check our passports, and we were in the nation. A few miles later we were in Vaduz, parked in the middle of town by a cow pasture and headed for the main tourist drag. The main pedestrian area had an information center/stamp store/free candy spot, a museum, three or four restaurants, several neat fountains, a museum of philately (Liechtenstein is famous for its stamps, although we asked about two people at the info center and one at the museum and none of them knew why), and a path to the castle.

At one of the restaurants we spotted a small boy of about 12 enjoying a beer and were, in our American-ness, taken aback by the sight. We recovered and started up the path to the castle.

Just a short way up the path we stopped for some relief and, looking up, noticed delicious looking cherries hanging from the branches above our heads. We stayed at the cherry tree for almost half an hour picking and eating and spitting. There were no houses nearby and no indication that we were stealing someone’s cherries and the locals didn’t scold us this time, so we ate. I don’t know how much we all ate but I do know that we stripped three large branches of all the available cherries and, working together to pull the branches within reach, looked a lot like a quartet of apes.

After we had eaten our fill, we moved on, reading a number of plaques that lined the path to the castle. They contained information on Liechtenstein. The principality is ruled, obviously, by a prince, although he has abdicated many of his duties to his son, the crown prince who is an absolute ruler but with the input of a Diet of representatives. The crown prince’s modestly-sized castle (only 130 rooms) overlooks Vaduz and, in fact, almost the entire nation. We eventually reached the castle but weren’t allowed inside since the crown prince and his family live there.

Our descent was uneventful and, arriving at the car, we made ourselves some sandwiches for lunch and headed out of Vaduz and, just 5.9 miles after we had entered the nation we were in Switzerland.

We travelled northwest along Lake Constance (or Bodensee) to the city of Constance where the Council of Constance took place which abolished many of the popes ending the Great Schism and was a major point in the Roman Catholic conciliar movement. It was also when Jan Hus was condemned as a heretic. They also recondemned Wyclif, just in case it hadn’t taken the first time. Beyond all that, it is also a pretty little town at the tip of a lake on the German side of the border by the Rhine river. We saw the main square, the Rathouse, and the building where there Council of Constance took place. Then, we were on our way south to Zurich.

We arrived rather late in the evening and walked the city along the Limmat River (where several anabaptists where drowned) and the Zürichsee (Lake Zürich). We saw the Fraumünster with the headless saints of Zürich, Felix and Regula, and the Grossmünster–the mother church in the Swiss Reformation–but were unable to see either the über-statue of Charlamagne and his 12-foot sword or the Zwingli Bible inside because the church was closed. I had seen them the last time I was in Zürich, büt I was a bit disappointed for the other guys.

After a short trip to a lookout above the city where we just looked out (”the lights of the buildings and cars looked like reflections of the stars,” we thought), we were on our way and camped an hour or so outside of town.

Daniel R. Ziegler

Dachau: Something to Think About

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

On June the 9th we saw Dachau. It was horrifying yet fascinating in a terrible way. While walking through the gate that sardonically declares “arbeit macht frei,” it was somehow difficult to wrap my mind around the reality of what had happened at this place and that it had happened within the life time of my grandparents, nearly my parents (Maybe not quite, but close). As recently as 56 years previous, the people walking through these gates would have done so to the hateful shouts of the SS, and seen guards with machine guns in the towers. They would be entering into one of history’s greatest atrocities as the victim that could not simply leave as I could. It is so far removed from my experience that it seems impossible that it only happened half a century back.

Dachau began as the barracks for the workers at a munitions plant. With Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 it became a place to lock away dissidents and enemies of the Nazi party, making Dachau the only concentration camp that was operational the entire 12 years Hitler was in power. The camp soon housed undesirables (Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, handicaps, etc.), and POWs as well as political and religious prisoners. In response to Dachau’s changing demographic, the SS took control of the camp from the Munich police.

Einkie, an SS crony of Himmler’s, was placed in charge and instituted a strict set of rules and policy regarding prisoners and a training program for the SS guards. Einkie’s program emphasized the dehumanization and deindividualization of inmates. Prisoners did heavy labor at a number of satellite camps that sprang up around Dachau, working with insufficient food, sleep, or medical attention. In fact, the sick and invalids were shipped off to extermination camps to make room for more workers. At one point Himmler even proscribed a 20% death rate due to illness. Einkie’s model became the standard for Nazi concentration camps throughout the war.

Though Dachau wasn’t an extermination camp, over 31,000 died within its fences during the 12 years it was operational, whether from malnutrition, overworking, poor medical care or out right murder. For example, over 4,000 Soviet POWs were systematically shot at Dachau during its early years. Enough died on site that a new, more efficient crematorium was constructed in addition to the old. Late in World War II a gas chamber was built at Dachau and, though it was never used for en masse extermination, it may have been tested on several individuals or small groups.

Perhaps most horrific were the medical experiments performed on prisoners. Over 80 prisoners died from being submerged in freezing water for hours to test the onset of hypothermia. Others were forced to drink sea water for weeks to test its effect on the body. Some were placed in vacuum chambers to simulate the effects of high-altitude flight. Perhaps most unfortunate were those who were injected with bacterial puss to test newly developed anti-bacterial drugs. The lucky ones were infected with malaria to test an experimental vaccine. Himmler declared that any German who objected to such experiments, which might help save German soldiers, should be executed for high treason.

Dachau was designed to house around 6,000, though near the end of the war its population reached over 30,000 as prisoners were shipped in from other camps that were in danger of falling to the Allies. On April 9, 1945 Dachau was liberated by the US Army. During its 12 years of operation it housed over 206,000 inmates, 2,000 of whom died in the first months after being liberated because of abuses suffered in the camp. When the US soldiers questioned the inhabitants of the towns of Dachau and Munich, they found that most knew something terrible was happening behind those walls, but chose to ignore it.

The story of Dachau has so many aspects deserving of our meditation that it is impossible to fully explore them in the space I have here. With that in mind I have tried to lay out a rough summary and let it speak for itself. I feel it would be appropriate, however, to discuss at least one thing I thought of while pondering Dachau. Foremost in my mind is the importance of avoiding an arrogant attitude when looking at Dachau. As much as we hate to admit it, the masterminds of Dachau were humans just like the rest of us. They had families they loved and sought for the joy and meaning in life that every person longs for. They worked hard to make the world a better place and believed passionately in the justice of their cause.

Though our bile rises at the very thought of such comparison, anything less leaves the door open to repeating Dachau. Any measure we take to distance ourselves from the Nazis makes us more likely to fall into the same trap they did. It is only when we realize that in different times and circumstances we could have been those SS guards, that we can truly take Dachau’s warning seriously. To think one’s self above such corruption and depravity is to take the first step towards it. I do not speak as one who has succeeded; no matter how often I remind myself of this warning, Istill find it hard to actually believe. No one likes to confront the depths evil hidden in their own soul, least of all myself. Only by doing so, however, can we truly honor the memory of those who suffered at Dachau and stay true to the plea on their memorial: “Never Again.”

Daniel Shenk

We’ve Got Hurt Feelings

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

Our second run-in with the law was much less pleasant than the first. We left Praha/Prague late Sunday afternoon, the seventh, and drove until 9 or so when we stopped and prepared a birthday feast. Daniel Shenk, 23 years and roughly 10 thousand miles away in Canada, began his preparations for this epic journey and we decided to celebrate. We found a truck stop and began a meal worthy of our birthday boy. Fusilli pasta covered with tomato sauce and fresh tomatoes, onions, and meat. We also enjoyed toast and popcorn and washed it all down with a “cappuccino.” We concluded the birthday festivities by lighting a birthday “candle,” a little excess camping gas. I took the wheel and drove on into the night, crossing into Austria around one. Only David and I were awake at the border where we drove through the dark customs and immigration checkpoint without a second thought. Just another border. I found a rest stop half an hour later and we fell asleep with the promise of showers (our first in a week) in the stop’s facilities the next morning.

Still partially asleep, I stumbles out of the driver’s door at 5:30 Monday morning. I had fallen asleep behind the wheel without reclining the seat and slept fitfully so it merely felt like a dream. I had to adjust my pants on the way out of the seat and I mumbled something incoherent about losing them. I thought the guys were messing around. It took a second before I realized I was standing before two Austrian police officers. I got back in the car. Shenk had also woken and believing he was still dreaming about rendezvousing with some friends, jumped out of the car as well. “Suddenly I realized I wasn’t dreaming and I had to pretend I was doing something intelligent,” he said later. After returning the officer’s curt “Morning,” he put on his jacket and made a show of stretching. I was in the driver’s seat, only awake enough to understand that we hadn’t bought a €1.25 ticket to travel the highway in Austria. I fumbled in the center console for some change. “It’s one-twenty,” intoned one officer, “you can pay by cash or card.” He had to repeat himself twice until I realized he referred to a fine and it was one-hundred and twenty Euro.

Bumbling, I tried to reason with the officer. We had entered the country late and had missed the signs he described that warned of the necessary highway ticket. Apparently you buy them at customs or the next petrol station. He wouldn’t buy my sleepy appeal for mercy. We payed by card. All of us awake now, there was a moment of panic when we realized it was 5:30 a.m. And we we’re sure to whom I had just groggily handed our debit card. Daniel confirmed seeing their cop car so the realization began to set in that we had just significantly contributed to Austria’s GNP. We returned to sleep less than pleased with the Austrian authorities. I’m not sure how this plays into Ephesians 4:26.

We slept in. I woke, admittedly still harboring some animosity toward Austria. We completely unpacked the car, determined to milk our time in the country. It didn’t help that another police car stopped and an officer demanded to see a highway ticket. He seemed a little too disappointed when I pointed to the dash and our €120 ticket. We reorganized the car for the first time since Shenk’s return and enjoyed a shower. Our tag-team approach proved effective and the four of us finished cleansing ourselves with four minutes to spare of the fifteen minutes allotted us. Shenk enjoyed a late birthday present. I enjoyed a shave.

We arrived at Salzburg around noon and set out to witness this city fit for a king (see film below). It was “a literal fountain of fountains.” We climbed to the impressive castle fortress’s walls and walked past Mozart’s home and the cathedral where he was the music director and choir master. There were even lady-folk. The town was nice but we still felt relieved to leave Austria. There were border signs regarding the highway tax, but they were small and in German. Back in Germany, we found Dachau and its concentration camp. The camp was closed so we walked around outside, enjoying the emptiness. I drove out into the countryside and down a little rural road that led to an ideal camping site in a stand of pine trees. I tried out the off-roading capabilities of our overloaded station wagon. We cleared a substantial tree stump and barely avoided two others. A hot meal and we split to the tent and the car to write blog posts and sleep off Austrian wake-up calls. So the next time you drive through Austria, Switzerland, Slovakia, Liechtenstein, or Hungary, may we suggest you buy a highway ticket.


South to Praha

Friday, June 12th, 2009

While the guys continued enjoying the view of the city from the Reichstag dome, I set off through the Brandenburg Gate and returned to the Bebelplatz square. Earlier that day I had stuck my head into an atrium-like room off the square, attracted to the techno beat and kaleidoscopic light show. I learned the university was hosting a benefit dance party that night. I arrived around eleven and persuaded my way inside for half price. The party was slow in starting so I chatted with the student manning the Macbook and the music until around midnight when the real DJ arrived. I hung off to the side until working up enough courage to join the growing crowd on the dance floor for a good passionate dance. The guys were expecting me back at the car before 12:30 so I could not stay as long as I would have wished. Instead, I tried to navigate the Berlin subway system. I arrived an hour and a half late to cold pasta and toast. At junctions, I had to ascend to the surface and walk a block or so past a few raving drunks to descend to the desired subway’s station, then wait for the next train traveling my intended direction. Interesting characters on the subway at 2 am in Berlin. We departed Berlin and Ziegler drove an hour south as we fell asleep.

Mid-morning we woke and David drove to the Dresden Monarch American football team’s stadium where we celebrated with oatmeal. While Ziegler napped, the other three split up and explored Dresden’s Altstadt, the old city center. The area’s architecture is awe-inspiring, especially since it’s a recent recreation. The buildings all appear weatherworn and of ancient Baroque style, despite much of them are less than 20-years-old. It was hard to remember. In February 1945, Allied planes firebombed the city, laying waste to 75% of the city. Pictures portray Dresden as a wreckage where 40 thousand people died. During the Communists’ rule, the area was only partially rebuilt. Today, however, the skyline is adorned with majestic spires and cupolas. I admired the Semper-Oper, the opera house restored to its pre-war glory; the Frauenkirche, the impressively reconstructed 4-year-old cathedral; and what appeared to be the Dresden Schloß palace. Easily distracted, I crossed the Elbe River, drawn by cheering and music. I watched a few minutes of a beach volleyball tournament sponsored by Smart, the makers of those tiny cars only recently introduced in America. On my return through the Alstadt streets to the car I splurged on a German bratwurst, totally worth a Euro.

Reassembled, we left and headed into the Czech Republic. Shenk, my navigator, and I had some fun trying to find Terezin after signs stopped pointing the way and forced a little guesswork. We arrived too late to justify the several Euro for an hour in the small museum so we walked the town and two memorials. The town especially interested me for its history as a ghetto for Jewish artists; these internationally known fine artists and musicians would have been missed if killed by the Nazis. Portrayed as “Hitler’s gift to the Jews,” Terezin’s inhabitants were forced to act out a false cultural ideal for Nazi films and a Red Cross visit. Before that visit, the S.S. thinned the population by killing thousands in Auschwitz and threatened death on any who revealed Terezin’s true living conditions. The ghetto’s Nazi offices churned out propaganda from the Jewish painters. After hours, though, those same artists would use their propaganda materials to draw and paint the true nature of the camp, some of which were discovered later. They are powerful images, Holocaust art from the inside. I appreciate their deviousness: expose the Nazis with the tools intended to conceal.

We continued to Praha (Prague) that evening, doing some intense wardriving before we found free wi-fi (pronounced wif-fee). While we shared the access and opportunity for communication home, we followed the lead of two teens who passed and ate from a cherry tree across the neighborhood road. We ate our full until an old woman passed and scolded us in Czech. On-line, Ziegler and David looked up some Mennonite Your Way contacts along our route, whom they emailed regarding hosting four smelly young men. We also found n English-speaking church for the next morning, a change from the native services we had enjoyed until then. Satisfied, we headed out of the city for some food and shut-eye. A busy day.


Fake and Real History

Friday, June 12th, 2009

The morning after my return, we began the day with a hearty breakfast of muesli (A granola-like mix introduced to us by Erlis and Gisene) and drove back into Berlin for a day of sight-seeing. Just before entering the city we heard some clunking up top and, looking back, saw to our dismay that the roofbox was disgorging its contents onto the busy highway behind us! Slamming on the brakes, we tore out of the car and ran like mad men back up the road where traffic had slowed and was weaving around and between our scattered luggage. The cars slowed to a crawl as we approached, allowing us to run into the middle of the high way and throw things to the berm.

The indulgent Germans never honked or shouted curses; they just waited for us to clean up our mess and went on their way. A very nice lady even stopped and drove us back to the car so that we could get away before the police showed. After driving through that stretch of highway several times we found everything we had lost except for a can of insect repellent. It is chilling to think of how differently events could have played them selves out. That our luggage flew out in the middle of busy, 80 mph traffic without damaging another vehicle, being smashed by a semi, or causing an accident is almost a miracle. Be comforted that all your prayers are working! And, yes we are now making sure the roof box is closed every time before we start driving.

When we finally got everything back together (Though 4 hours behind schedule) we began our exploration with the Großer Stern, or “Chick on a Stick,” a monument to Prussian victories over France. Its column is decorated with gold plated cannons captured from the French, and the goddess of victory on top was molded from the bronze of melted down French guns and also gilded with gold. We all thought it a splendid memorial. We walked together to the Holocaust Memorial, a field of 2,500 stone coffins. Here we went our different ways. I hurried to see the Pergamonmuseum, especially the Ishtar Gate, before it closed in 2 hours. The others balked at paying €10 for so short a time, and went instead to the Holocaust Museum, the Berlin Wall, and the Jewish Museum.

The Pergamonmuseum was amazing. Most impressive were the Alter of Pergamon and the Market Gatebof Miletus, genuine examples of Greek and Roman architecture that are presented in their original forms as much as possible. To walk on and under ancient architecture, millenia old, was spectacular. The museum also contained many ancient sculptures, mosiacs and other architecture. The most impressive were the artifacts from Syria and Assyria some over 5,000 years old. It was amazing to experience such direct and concrete links with ancient history.

Walking under the Ishtar Gate was an experience akin to seeing Stone Henge for the first time. The age and magnitude were overwhelming. I tried to wrap my mind around the reality that I was seeing the same thing Nebuchadnezzar saw when entering Babylon. I was walking under the same span Xerxes passed beneath when he marched on Greece! It was incredible to be in the presence of such a huge remnant of a different world. Eager to learn more about the jaw dropping relic, I hurried to the small placard in front of it…. It said that the bas reliefs in the gate were based on molds from the original bricks…what was “reconstruction” supposed to mean? All my excitement drained away as I realized the gate was a fake, based on the expert’s best estimate of how the original looked. It wasn’t even one hundred years old. I consoled myself by viewing the rest of the museum’s world famous collection, but was unable to completely shake my disappointment.

After the Pergamnmuseum I made my way to the longest surviving section of the Berlin Wall, complete with some well preserved no-man’s land where desperate East Berliners could be shot on sight. I was struck by how much the world has changed in the past 19 years, how what seems like a different world is in fact recent history. I was inspired to pay more attention to the world around me where interesting history is always in the making, and the story of the human race is always developing. It also made me wonder where the world will be in another 20 years. The potential for change is both frightening and exciting. The Berlin Wall is also a symbol of Marx’s utopian vision gone terribly wrong and of the great harm people can do pursuing the course that seems best to them, by forcing it on others. It is a warning we should all heed.

At 8:30 I met with Matt, Dan, and David to go up inside the Reichstag’s impressive glass dome. It is a beautiful synthesis of classical form with modern technology and materials. At highest point inside the dome we stopped with Berlin spread beneath us, just as twilight gave way to night. In the past century this city had seen multiple radical change in the ideology of its government. Its history is a sort of cross section of the ideas and consequences of different ideologies of power and government. One hundred years ago it was a monarchy; today it is a republic. The journey between those two points is one of history’s most interesting and important. That evening we drove towards Dresden and another part of the story that shaped the world as we know it today. Hopefully we continue to learn about each other and ourselves as the trip continues.

Daniel Shenk

West to Berlin

Friday, June 12th, 2009

It was a quiet trip for a few hours on that Tuesday (2/6) as we left Auschwitz behind us, we were all engrossed in our own thoughts. Soon, our life was back to normal. Polish music radio was blaring from the speakers, we were talking about what we were going to cook for lunch and what our plans were for picking Dan up in Berlin, etc., etc.

We slept that night in the car–it’s easier to sleep in a car with only 3 people we discovered–at a rest stop about 1 hour outside of Berlin. The next morning we were up and going pretty early, heading into Berlin where we parked across the street from the Deutsche Opera Berlin and began the walk down town. We had parked quite a distance from center city to save money–and we did! Parking for €1 an hour can’t be beat!

We stopped at a Kaiser and picked up some tomatoes and some cheap Gouda cheese. We were about to check out when Matt spotted some delicious-looking chocolate pudding cups for 19¢ each! We bought four and, later that day with some spoons we had requested at McDonalds (Thank you McDonalds!) enjoyed them immensely. They seemed to be made with real chocolate and real cream!

We left the store and, after another 20 minutes or so of walking, stopped at a Gravis/Apple store to get some internet to check for email from Dan giving his exact arrival time and also to check prices for a power cable for my Mac.

My power cable had exploded all over Matt the day before* leaving me with a computer that, no matter how cool it looks, how good its operating system, and how high its technical specs, did me no good. We checked power cables at the Gravis store. €89. Not gonna work. So we tried a last-ditch effort to get in touch with my family and Dan and get them to find my backup power cord (which I had unfortunately forgotten to bring with me).

I emailed my family with a plea and then called Dan who said he was about to leave but he would see what he could do. Then, we waited and, since there wasn’t anything else we could do, we went and explored Berlin. We walked through the main park south to see if we could find an Aldi somewhere. No one knew were one was and it took us about an hour and a half to find one. During that time we did find some free oranges and the world-famous Berlin Zoo (home of Knut, the captive-born polar bear!).

We ate lunch outside a convention center near the Zoo while the rain poured down for half an hour. We also saw “The Broken Tooth,” a church almost completely destroyed by the Allies during the bombing of Berlin, leaving only the church spire, broken off at the top.

Then we walked back into the park emerging at a Burger King right near the Column of Victory topped with a statue made with melted cannons of the defeated French after one of the Prussian victories during the Franco-Prussian wars. It had begun to rain and we holed up in one of the underground pedestrian tunnels that leads to the column where Matt and David had a jam session with their echoes.

When the rain let up a bit we left and headed east toward the Brandenburg Gate, walking again through the park. We popped out this time to be greeted by the muzzles of two large Russian tanks. Thankfully they were just part of the Russian Soldiers’ Memorial, remembering the thousands of Russian soldiers killed during their drive to Berlin. Oddly the day before we had followed much the same route the Russians had followed from Poland to Berlin, we just did it much faster and with fewer casualties.

We then walked to the Brandenburg Gate, followed the path of the Wall, and saw the Reichstag. Then we headed south through the park emerging at the Homosexual Memorial across from the Holocaust Memorial and headed south to Potsdam Platz where we saw the magnificent Sony Center. It was mostly closed except for the restaurants serving extremely expensive food, so we went back to our car and cooked some of our extremely inexpensive, and likely almost as delicious, food.

We slept that night at another rest stop about 15 minutes outside of Berlin in the direction of Leipzig.

The next day (3/6) we went back into town, found a parking spot for just as cheap but a bit further away from town this time, stopped at the Gravis store to check our email (nothing from Dan or my family about the power cord. We were hoping that meant it was on its way) and went to the Zoo. It was a bit expensive to get into the zoo (€12 pp) but for me at least it was worth it. They have the most species of animals of any zoon in the world and, while it is more cramped than the Columbus Zoo, being in the middle of the city, very good exhibits. We spent about 6 hours there and, as far as we knew, were the last ones out that evening.

We picked up Dan at 2115 that evening, walked the Wall, checked out the Brandeburg Gate all lit up and went and saw the Reichstag. Then, back to the same rest stop for the night.

Daniel R. Ziegler

* OK, so, the cord got frayed inside the sheath so it heated up and it broke through the plastic and ceased conducting power. Matt wasn’t even slightly burned or electrocuted. Boring. But it did look like it had exploded, and Matt was using it during the time that this all took place. Isn’t it more exciting to say it exploded all over Matt?

The Journey Home and Back

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

My journey home began on Tuesday, May 26 at 6:27 AM in Gothenburg, Sweden. While we were in Bad Pyrmont, Simon Kolle gave a lot of his time to helping me get a train ticket from Copenhagen to Frankfurt. The plan was that we would explore south Sweden after which the guys would drop me off in Copenhagen, and then head back into Sweden to see Stockholm and catch their ferry to Estonia. Unfortunately, the only bridge from Denmark to Sweden costs € 30 to cross each time, meaning they would pay € 60 to drive from Sweden to Copenhagen and back to Sweden. We found a train that made the crossing for less than half that price.

From Gothenburg to Copenhagen took 3 1/2 hours. The trip from Copenhagen to Frankfurt was a little over 9 hours, leaving me at Frankfurt-Am-Maine a little after 9:00 PM. My flight went out at 12:05 PM the next day. During the next 15 hours I read, ate lots of McDonald’s, slept fitfully for 2 1/2 hours, read some more and had a pleasant conversation with 2 other Americans returning to the U.S.. My Canadian passport gave me no problems abroad until I tried to re-enter my home country. I had several moments where I was genuinely worried that I wouldn’t be allowed back in, at least not in time for the wedding. Happily everything was resolved and my flight touched down in Pittsburgh at 9:16 PM. By the time I arrived home it was past midnight, making the entire journey around 48 hours long, once Europe’s 6 hour time difference is taken into account.

It was amazing to be back in the good ol’ U.S.A.. Though reconnecting with loved ones was the best part of coming home, I spent a great deal of time pursuing less noble pleasures that are in-feasable or impossible on a trip bound by a limited budget. I slept on a comfortable couch (My bed being taken by guests visiting for the wedding), took showers as often as I wished, ate piles of food when ever I wanted, and drank gallons of Mt. Dew (Which is not sold in Europe). Yet the time with friends and family was the highlight of my brief stay. I spent most of my time with my wonderful fiance, Emily, though other highlights include watching and playing basketball with my friends. My sister Marina’s wedding, the entire reason for my return, was worth the effort and expense involved in attending. It was also good to see one of my best friends, Andrew, and a close cousin, Darren, just before they left on long journeys of their own.

The week passed in the blink of an eye and before I knew it I was on my way back to Pittsburgh, flying to catch the plane before it left at 3:15 PM. The flight to Frankfurt was almost disappointingly non-eventful, landing an hour early at 8:35 AM. A bit after 10:00 I started catching local trains (Instead of the far more expensive ICE) from Frankfurt to Berlin where I would rendezvous with Dan, Matt and David. As I sat alone on the trains I found myself missing home quite severely. My train came into Berlin Hbf at 7:46 PM. The return trip lasted a merciful 33 hours. My home sickness faded somewhat when I was reunited with the guys and we explored the streets of Berlin, passing the Reichstag, Brandonburg Gate, and walking along the path where the Berlin Wall once stood guard over Communist east Berlin. I had so much to see and home would be waiting for me at the end.

My brief interlude in the U.S. taught me several important things; even McDonalds is delicious if its the first American food you have had in a month; contrary to what I have staunchly believed my entire life, I actually enjoy Coke; I need more than my driver’s license to re-enter the U.S. with a Canadian passport; no matter how amazing your journey is and how memorable your experiences are abroad, returning, in the end, to the comfort, love and security of home trumps all. But that will come in due time! For the moment, keep us all in your prayers as we continue to see the world!

Daniel Shenk