Back home! We had a fantastic trip to Europe. The Hubs started to put together videos for each day of the trip, although as usual, commitments have eaten up video-editing time upon his return, so the project isn’t complete. But here are the first five days of our trip in video form, for those who are interested in such things:

Day 1: Arrival
Day 2: Marienplatz
Day 3: Castles
Day 4: Rest and rain
Day 5: Austria

You guys, Iceland was so tantalizing. North Carolina, when we left it, was hot and sticky and disgusting. Iceland was cold, cloudy, and rainy, and tasted so clean. We had a few minutes outside (no jetway, so we climbed down the stairs from the plane) to breathe in the cold air before hustling into the airport. We bought Icelandic snacks and herbal tea and browsed the airport, which was very quiet in spite of being full. We learned that all of Iceland’s electricity comes from natural renewable resources, and that Icelandic is one of the oldest languages in the world that’s still currently spoken. We also learned that Icelandic planes board any which way (people just crowd up by the gate and board as soon as they’re let in) and that they, apparently, never board on time. Still, we all got in our seats in roughly the same amount of time as the more typical zone-style US boarding, and our flight left on time, so I guess it works. We will definitely, definitely be back.

Germany was unexpectedly friendly and comfortable. I had learned just enough German to be useful, and we had very little trouble navigating. Our AirBnB owner airily remarked that we could leave the door unlocked “because it’s Germany,” and I was tremendously impressed with Germany as a whole. The transit system was pristine, punctual, and comfortable. Munich was the cleanest city I’ve ever been to, and there was a strong focus on recycling and looking after the city. There was very little litter, and very few (if any) homeless people, both of which were incredibly stark contrasts with NYC, DC, Chicago, etc. Germans were polite and helpful, if not chatty, and I really enjoyed the efficiency with which things were done. It wasn’t dehumanizing; on the contrary, when a woman fell in one of the subway stations, she had half a dozen people rush to her assistance, which was such a far cry from how people behave in US cities that it made me realize how terrible we can be about helping people, especially if they look like they’re homeless.

We did a walking tour of Munich on our first full day and enjoyed dinner at our first beer garden. The next day, we took the train to Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau to tour both castles. GORGEOUS.

Neuschwanstein was unbelievably beautiful. Even knowing full well that it’s nothing at all like a true medieval castle and is basically the architectural version of a renaissance fair (i.e., meticulously crafted Elizabethan costumes on one hand and cheap Halloween pirate costumes on the other), you just have to admire the grandeur and scale of the place.

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On Marienbrucke (Mary’s Bridge) across from the castle.

 

The ever-present swans on Alpsee, which was deliciously cool on our hot and weary feet. There was a LOT of walking on this trip!

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Hohenschwangau, built on the ruins of a much older (actually legitimate) medieval castle.

We took it easy the next day since it was the Sabbath, but we still found time to go for a walk and find the chapel (now a Russian Orthodox Church) where my husband’s parents were married 42 years ago, get caught in the rain a few times, and wander around a beautiful cemetery. Fortunately I married a man who finds cemeteries fascinating too.

We headed to Austria to visit some friends of my husband’s family, and they very hospitably put us up for the night, fed us tremendously, and took us on a hike along the Danube River.

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More swans on the Danube, what a surprise.

We spent the next day in Salzburg, Austria, and saw Mirabell Palace and GardensSt. Peter’s catacombs, Mozart’s house, the oldest bakery in Austria, an incredible amount of beautiful churches in old town Salzburg, and Hohensalzburg Fortress. We ate frankly astonishing quantities of pretzels and tried mozartkugel.

We also procured one of our only souvenirs at the fortress:

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You all should have seen this coming, what with all these castles.

The following day, we went to Dachau concentration camp, which was the most moving part of our trip. My husband’s grandfather was imprisoned in Dachau for three weeks in 1938, and we visited the archives to learn the exact dates he was there and which barracks he stayed in. My husband’s family is Jewish, and several extended family members were in other camps.

I don’t know how to write about Dachau. The atrocities committed there are almost unbelievable in their hideousness and scope; simultaneously, I find it all too easy to imagine people being so cruel to one another. Even though we are separated from the camp’s liberation by 72 years, so many of the camps effects are still felt. All Bavarian high school students are required to tour the camp once during their school years; there’s a very strong sense of national responsibility that this can never happen again. Our tour guide told us how it took decades for denazification to take hold enough for survivors to come forward and tell their story. So many local companies and officials were involved with the camp when it was in operation that it wasn’t until the 1980s that a camp survivor could be assured that the judge in any given legal case wasn’t a former Nazi, or that his boss wasn’t a former Nazi. Antisemitism and Holocause denial is still so unbelievably common; just in the last few years, the Auschwitz gate was stolen by Neo-Nazis. The Dachau gate (replica pictured below) was also stolen but was later recovered in Norway.

On the left is the site of barracks 14, where my husband’s grandfather was assigned. On the right is the famous sign, “Arbeit macht frei,” (Work sets you free), a cruel irony; the only freedom from the camp was death by overwork.

Visiting Dachau was supremely powerful, mainly because of my husband’s family history, but in part because of the terrifying parallels between the beginnings of Nazi persecution and current politics. One of the most shameful chapters in US history occurred when we turned away boatloads of Jewish refugees in the late 1930s; many were forced to return to Europe, and a quarter of them later died in the camps. My husband’s family has stories of how hard it was to leave Germany in 1939, even when they desperately wanted to, and how difficult it was to find a country that would take them in. I see a frightening parallel in our lack of compassion as we turn away Syrian refugees today. The isolationism and suspicion of refugees that characterized America in 1939 is mirrored in our society today; I hope it doesn’t have the same result.

We left Germany for home the following day, connecting in Boston where we had the chance to spend time with a friend (and who graciously allowed us to crash on her insanely comfortable couch so we didn’t have to sleep on the airport floor). We were glad to get home to our own house after a long day and a half of travel, but we had a wonderful time trotting the globe. We’ll have to save up for a couple years before our next big trip, but rest assured, it’ll happen!

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