Final News from Berlin

The students took their last exam this morning (Friday, June 21st) and this evening we celebrate the end of the program at a cookout with one of our host families. On Wednesday, June 19th we visited the DDR Museum where we learned about life in East Germany. Then we took a streetcar to the Stasi Prison Memorial at Hohenschönhausen where a former inmate there gave us a tour of the facility. It was an intensely real and sobering experience. Revisionist portrayals of life in the German Democratic Republic, such as one might find in a film like Good Bye, Lenin! (though this is not the main project of the film), are so far from the reality of the Stasi oppression that GDR citizens were subjected to from 1949 to 1990. It is a tour everyone should take. On Thursday, June 20th (yesterday) we visited the Berlin Wall Memorial in the Bernauerstrasse and had our last class session at cafe nearby on a very sultry summer day in Berlin. Our cultural journey here in Germany has ended. Now it’s time to reflect on our experiences and see how we can better serve those from German-speaking Europe whose culture is so different in many respects from our own American lifestyles and mindset. It’s been an invaluable time of cross-cultural learning these last four weeks.

Viele Grüße jetzt aus Berlin!

The last ten days in Berlin have been interesting and very busy! We arrived on Saturday, June 8th via ICE train from Munich. However, given the massive flooding from almost two weeks of rain, particularly in Sachsen-Anhalt, our train was rerouted towards Dresden and Cottbus before arriving at Berlin-Südkreuz two hours behind schedule. On Sunday, June 9th were worshipped together with the Berliner Gemeinde Christi. On Monday, June 10th we visited the famous Brandenburg Gate and then had both an historical tour of the German Parliamentary Building (Reichstagsgebäude) and a tour of the Federal ChancelleryWhile we were waiting for the tour at the Chancellery to begin, Chancellor Merkel happened to be returning to her office and we actually got to see her briefly! She greeted us as a group and asked where we were from as she passed us heading for her office in the building. On Tuesday, June 11th we visited the Deutsches Historisches Museum, ate a quick lunch near Friedrichstrasse Bahnhof, and had class over coffee at a cafe near the Theatre on Schiffbauerdamm where Bertolt Brecht worked for many years with the Berliner Ensemble. On Wednesday, June 12th, our focus was the Weimar Republic, so we visited the Berlinische Gallerie to get a sense of one of the artistic movements during that time period, Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity).The weather was beautiful, so we had class outdoors after lunch. On Thursday, June 13th we attend a plenary debate at the German Parliament for an hour. Interesting, to say the least! That afternoon, three students delivered a presentation on Absolutism in Prussia with Schloss Charlottenburg as their backdrop. On Friday, June 14th we toured the Berliner Stadtmission, where three students will be doing their internships at the end of June and into July. Then we traveled to the Concentration Camp Memorial at Sachsenhausen in Oranienburg. It was day of stark contrasts in that we experienced God’s Kingdom work at the Berliner Stadtmission in the morning and then came face-to-face with the reality of human existence when God is rejected while at Sachsenhausen. Saturday, June 15th was a free day for all. On Sunday, June 16th several of us worshipped with members of the Kreuzkirche Lankwitz, who are so graciously providing further homestays for three students during their practica in Berlin after Wheaton in Germany ends. On Monday, June 17th we visited the Jüdisches Museum in Berlin-Kreuzberg and today we had a tour of the Bonhoeffer house, home of Dr. Karl Bonhoeffer and his wife Paula, whose son, the well-known theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, lived and worked parttime when residing in Berlin. Tomorrow our focus is the DDR (German Democratic Republic), and our trip ends with a visit to the Berlin Wall Memorial on Thursday. I will write another final note as our trip ends.

News from Munich

We had to cancel our trip to Salzburg on Monday, June 3rd given the flooding in southern Bavaria. A bridge was damaged by the high water levels. Until yesterday, with the exception of one brief interlude on May 28th, the weather has been cold and rainy with temperatures hovering between the lower 40s in the evenings to the mid-50s by day. On some days it has rained non-stop for hours and has caused flooding over large areas of southern Central and Eastern Europe. So, because we had already purchased a group train ticket, we decided to travel to the city of Füssen in the Allgäu region in Bavaria where we visited Schloss Neuschwanstein. We walked from Füssen to the castle along a wooded area. There was so much cloud cover, however, that once we arrived it was actually difficult to see the castle!

The visit to Neuschwanstein (which, by the way serves as the inspiration for the castle at Disney World) was a good introduction to the German Romantic period which we covered the followed morning during class time. Yesterday, on Wednesday, June 5th, our class focus was a review of Romanticism and then a discussion of the rise of German Nationalism in the early nineteenth century. In the afternoon two students delivered their culture presentation (in German or course!) on the topic of “Games and Sports in Germany from the Nineteenth Century to the Present.” It was well done and we all got a chance to visit the Olympic Park which served as the backdrop for the presentation. Today we met for a review session in a cafe on the Marienplatz downtown in preparation for tomorrow’s test. At 11:00 a.m. we got to watch the Glockenspiel in the Munich Town Hall together. So the students have a little extra free time today and tomorrow to enjoy the good weather we are finally having in Munich! On Saturday we are headed for Berlin. The next update wil be from there.

Time in Munich

Since returning from our trip to Nuremberg on Tuesday, our course focus has shifted to the Baroque and Enlightenment periods. The students had their first test on Wednesday morning followed by the Transitspiel in the afternoon. The Transitspiel is essentially a scavenger hunt through Munich as way to learn the subway, train, and streetcar lines. The games ends at Schloss Nymphenburg where we all had coffee and cake in the Palmengarten Cafe later Wednesday afternoon. On Thursday, May 30th we began the day in the Alte Pinakothek where we spent time coming to a deeper understanding of the aesthetic contours of Baroque art. On Friday we meet for class for two hours to discuss the 18th century and culture of the Enlightenment. Tomorrow we’re headed to Salzburg to explore Mozart’s Geburtshaus and get a taste of Austrian cuisine. The next posting will provide an update about our Salzburg trip.

Trip to Nuremberg

On Tuesday, May 28th we took the train to Nuremberg where we explored German cultural history through the amazing art and artifact exhibits in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum. Then we strolled through the city, had lunch at a local Italian eatery, and walked up to the top of the Kaiserburg, seat of power for the German Holy Roman emperors. The day ended with a tour of the Albrecht Dürer Haus. The weather was beautiful and we had a wonderful view of Nuremberg’s architecture from atop the Kaiserburg.

Munich Update

Our journey through German cultural history continues… On Friday, May 24th, after discussing the pivotal historical moments and cultural aspects of the Late Middle Ages during a two-hour class session in the morning, we visited the Frauenkirche and took some time to reflect on the relationship between architecture and theology. On Saturday we took the train to Augsburg on the trial of the wealthy Fugger family trading dynasty whose financial influence in Europe of the 16th century was enormous. We also explored the Augsburger Dom and visited the Diocesan Museum there. We were awed by the Roman ruins exhibited which date back to the 1st Century. Christians have been worshipping on this site in Augsburg (Augusta Vindelicum) for almost two millennia.

Yesterday we worshipped with the Gemeinde Christi München and the students met their host families from the church with whom they will be staying for the next two weeks. This morning our class focus was Luther and the Protestant Reformation and tomorrow we travel to Nuremberg. Details in the next posting!

Viele Grüße aus der bayerischen Hauptstadt!

Greetings from Munich! We arrived on Tuesday from our various points of departure, took the S-Bahn in the city, checked into the CVJM Hotel where we are staying for the next few days, and went out for a scrumptious Bavarian meal together at the Augustiner. There is nothing like Schweinebraten in Munich…with some Apfelstrudel to finish it off, of course!

Yesterday we began our cultural journey at the former Benedictine monastery (now under the leadership of the Don Bosco Salesianer) in Benediktbeuern about 60 km southwest of Munich. Founded in the middle of the 8th century and dedicated by Bonifatius himself, the famous apostle to the Germans, it a testimony to role that Christianity has played in the initial formation of German cultural identity. Pater Neuner gave us a 90 minute tour of the monastery, both lecturing and kindly answering our questions. Wunderbar!

Today our focus was the High Middle Ages. After a two hour class session this morning we visited an exhibit at the Alter Hof in Munich, the earliest residence of the Wittelsbacher royal family in Bavaria. Tomorrow we discuss the cultural contours of the late Middle Ages and German Humanism followed by a visit to the Frauenkirche, Munich’s famous Wahrzeichen (cultural landmark).