This is the first day.
Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013
So, we had our farewell dinner tonight at the Twelve Apostles restaurant and bar around the corner from the NH Hotel in Frankfurt. Our wakeup call is 6 a.m., and we board the bus to the airport at 7:30. Our 9-hour flight to Dulles begins at 11:30 a.m. and lands, deceptively in another time zone, at 2:30 p.m. We spread out from there to our respective homes and other destinations, including Dave Stone who will take the train to Paris from here to join up with family.
A few students will wait around the Washington airport with the professors for a flight back to RDU, arriving around 6:30 or so, 12:30 a.m. Friday according to our European body clocks. Eighteen hours of prepping and traveling to get home to our loved ones is a long day, but we’ll arrive home with 21 days of good memories.
As professors, we have been delighted by the fact that all 29 students were ready when we asked them to be ready, and never complained (at least not to us) about walking around cities for hours in snow, sleet, rain, and freezing cold. We have had no sun for three weeks, but their attitudes have been positive, and the depth of their questions and the thoughtfulness of their blogs have let us know they’ve been paying attention, and they have absorbed the history lesson we’ve attempted to relay. We look forward to gathering them together again in the spring semester for 6 hours of debriefs, conversations, and films.
Throughout the course, the professors have selected some of the best blogs by individual students to receive a “Bloggie Award.” These awards have been tins of chocolates in the shape of a London bus, tiny mugs, and other souvenirs. Tonight the students presented their own Bloggies to the professors – shirts from Mainz that read “Ich bin ein Gutenberger!” or, “I am a Gutenberger,” a play on John F. Kennedy’s memorable phrase in Berlin. We will wear them with pride.
Below are some final shots from the course:
SCENES FROM THE LAST SUPPER
Harlen and I couldn’t have asked for a better 29 traveling companions over the past three weeks, and we have already made plans for future meals with several of the students who are debating over which restaurant in Burlington, NC has the best Mexican food. From Germany to Mexico, the journey goes on.
Thanks for coming along.
Mainz, a city of 200,000 with 40,000 college students at Gutenberg University, is a 45-minute commuter train ride from Frankfurt. The city’s chronology can be traced through five distinct eras:
1) The Romans founded the city around 1312 BC, bringing wine with them. The Rhine River borders Mainz, and the Rhineland is now one of the largest wine producing areas in Germany.
2) The second era began with the spread of Christianity in the Frankish Empire in the 8th century. St. Boniface became the first Archbishop of Mainz, beginning a thousand-year tradition of powerful Archbishops in the region. Boniface is the patron saint of Germany, and he was killed in 754 by bandits in the coastal region of Frisia, but only after many baptisms and conversions to Catholicism. A famous statue on the grounds of the Mainz Cathedral shows Boniface with a sword though a Bible, as he is said to have held up the holy book to shield himself when his assailants struck. Saint Boniface’s feast day is celebrated on June 5 in the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Anglican Communion and the Eastern Orthodox Church.
3) During the French Revolution, Mainz was occupied by the French for 20 years. Napoleon and the French were the ones responsible for placing the first statue of Gutenberg in the town, as the famous son had been marginalized over the years. Gutenberg was in perpetual debt, and he lost his print shop, obscuring his fame – inside the town, at least – for nearly 400 years.
4) In the 19th century, Mainz became a fortification town, mostly to guard against future French invasions. There was a French-German War (Franco-Prussian War) in 1870-71, and the Germans were victorious.
5) In the 20th Century, WWI and WWII took an enormous toll on the town. A 1945 bombing raid destroyed 85% of Mainz in 20 minutes, with more than 1,000 dead.
Below is a photo gallery of our visit.
Monday was a peculiar day for Frankfurters. Overnight snow and freezing rain accumulated on wires that run the city’s street cars, turning the trams into snow-covered statues. Some area children got the day off from school, and the winter weather delayed the commute for a good number of the estimated 500,000 who come into this city of 700,000 each day for work, school, tourism, shopping or other activities. The airport canceled more than 200 flights on Sunday, and we’re hopeful that the weather improves before our scheduled Thursday departure for the U.S.
The weather didn’t deter our Gutenbergers, who were on the streets just after 9 a.m. for a walking tour. One of the first stops was particularly appropriate given our class’s thoughtful discussions the previous evening on what we had witnessed at Dachau and Nuremberg. The Jewish Holocaust Memorial Wall contains more than 11,000 small plaques honoring each Frankfurt Jew who perished in the Holocaust, or whose fate in the concentration camps was unclear. The memorial speaks on two levels – the individual stories are told by name, camp, date of birth, and when known, date of death. From a distance, the rows upon rows of tiny plaques underscore the scale of the horrible human toll inflicted on inhabitants of just one city.
Walking on, one quickly becomes aware that Frankfurt is a city of abrupt contrasts. This is no better exemplified than the area near the intersection of Berliner Straße and Domstraße. On one side of the street are mundane 1950s-era flats that were hurriedly built in the aftermath of World War II. Across the street sits the angular Museum of Modern Art, constructed in 1991 and lovingly called the “piece of cake,” as its boundaries were wedged into a triangular city block. In the distance, one can see the modern skyscrapers that speak to Frankfurt’s spot as a major global economic center. Just a few steps away is the Frankfurter Dom, a Catholic cathedral which dates from the 14th century and where emperors for the Holy Roman Empire were once elected. Although the church was damaged in World War II, much of the sandstone structure remained, unlike much of the rest of the city center, which was flattened by allied bombs. The tudor and half-timber structures that evoke the 16th century were actually constructed in 1986 as part of a move to recreate part of the city’s heritage.
For many of our students, the highlight was no doubt a lunch stop at Kleinmarkthalle, which is quite simply the finest fresh food market most of us will experience in our lifetimes. The first floor has an expansive selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, baked goods, warm food stands with a plethora of ethnic selections, and countless other culinary delights. Free samples were plentiful, which led to a number of takeaway purchases. The chocolate-covered coffee beans were a popular choice for later snacking; this writer will be packing some wasabi-covered peanuts back to the States.
We then made our way to the Geldmuseum (Money Museum), which as the name indicates documents not only the change to the Euro but more broadly the history of money throughout the ages. One doesn’t expect to see a stuffed cow, but it makes sense as barter was the early means of exchanging goods. The museum had a multitude of interactive exhibits that explained more modern-day monetary policy and allowed our students to make multinational fiscal choices. The results (most who tried the latter challenge crashed their economies) underscored that most of our students should stick to communications careers.
As I write, many students are headed south of the river to sample the restaurants and nightlife of Sachsenhausen, the other major district of the city. We’ll return across the river Wednesday to experience more of the city’s museums.
Images from a cold day In Frankfurt
I have very little to add to Harlen’s fine summary of the day above, but here are some more photos of our trek around the city.
AND ONE MORE
Sunday evening in Frankfurt was set aside for debriefing the class on some of the recent sites we’ve visited. Students did research last fall on the Nuremberg rally grounds and resulting trials there, on Dachau, and so on. We have had those groups speak to the rest of the class throughout the journey and compare their research with new insights gained from actually being here.
Our session on Sunday took place in a hotel conference room and was supposed to last an hour, from 5-6 p.m. The hour stretched to 90 minutes as students, some getting emotional, expressed their views about the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis. The professors facilitated and tried to keep their comments to a minimum and just let the students carry the ball, which they did. We got out of the way as they talked of how they have learned not only about the subject matter, but how they have gotten to know themselves better.
It was one of those moments that reminds us of the quality of thoughtfulness these kids possess. It was a moment when Elon students showed us what it means to be ELON STUDENTS. They did themselves proud, and we were proud of them.
We’ve arrived in Frankfurt and we will post some new photos after our walking tour tomorrow. Tonight, we thought we would put up some random shots that don’t fit any particular category, but reflect the Gutenberg journey as a whole.
Munich was a day trip by DB train from Nuremberg on Saturday the 19th. Temperatures hovered in the low 20s and snow was abundant, as it has been for the past few days. In past Januarys we lodged in Munich, but this year a construction industry convention was in town taking up most of the hotel rooms. Gunther, a lifelong resident of Munich, or as he was proud to note, of Bavaria, was our guide for a four-hour stroll through the history and sights around the town.
We began with statistics: Munich has between 1.4 and 1.5 million people; there is a low birth rate, but the city is growing in population for the first time in years; 35% of its people are immigrants from Greece, Spain, and many other countries; the unemployment rate is 4.8% in Munich, 3.4% in Bavaria as a whole.
College is free for students throughout most of Germany, but there is a fee to attend in Bavaria, and there is a student movement afoot to have the fee abolished. We saw posters declaring the rate too high and urging the government to make higher education free again. The current tuition? About 500 Euros per semester, which is around $650, or $1,300 a year. Elon students groaned when they heard the amount, saying that would almost cover their books.
One of the first buildings we passed had a conspicuous series of concrete patches visible on its facade. Something had been removed, Gunther said. Could we guess what it was? The students were able to guess – the Nazi symbol of the eagle and swastika. Munich was the birthplace of the Nazi party, and it’s where the beer hall putsch sessions of the 1920s were held that determined the course of the party, including the “final solution” for extermination of Jews. This is an illustration of the symbol that adorned many Hitler-approved buildings:
As we crossed the street we spotted Jason, our guide from the previous two days at both Nuremberg and Dachau, leading a separate tour of Munich. The Elon students cheered and waved, accusing him of cheating on us with another tour group.
After seeing more historical buildings, Gunther (who we liked, too) led us through a huge park in central Munich. The park was magical in the snow, and boasted a 400-year-old English style garden. There were dog walkers, kids on sleds, and surfers. Yes, surfers. A strong flow of water from a tributary that runs through the park is a favorite spot for year round surfing.
The temperature in Frankfurt was in the low 20s with a mild wind. Students forgot the cold as they drank in the history and the beauty of the park. Well, not really, but they endured the weather pretty well.
Germans are a hardy people. They barely slow down when it snows, sleets, rains, or hails, which it has done ever since we got here. No one panics, and the stores continue to have plenty of milk and bread when snow is predicted. And we are constantly amazed by the people of all ages who navigate the icy streets on bicycles.
There was an interesting incident that almost escalated to an altercation when we came upon a group of right wing protestors. The group was protesting the building of a mosque in the center of the old town, although Gunther assured us no such mosque was even being planned. It was simply a hate group preaching against Muslims. There was a counter-protest, with opponents marching up and down in front of the right wingers yelling “Blah, blah, blah.”
I took a photo of one of the counter protestors, a woman with a British accent, who then approached me and demanded I delete the photo I took of her. “I know my rights,” she said. “You can’t take my picture without my permission. Delete my photograph.”
I said no. You’re in a public square protesting for all the world to see, so I can take your picture. “No you can’t,” she argued. “Delete my picture.” I told her I would do no such thing, reiterating her very public presence. She then said the laws are different in Germany, and that she would get a policeman. There were several standing by in case violence broke out. “Come with me,” she said, “and we’ll talk to a policeman.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” I told her. “You can talk to the police all you want. I’m not going anywhere with you, and I’m not deleting my picture.”
Eventually, Gunther intervened and I deferred to his judgment, and deleted the photo of her. As I walked away, she asked me, “Where are you from?”
“The United States,” I replied, “where there is a lot more freedom of speech than you have.”
The funny thing is, as I was arguing with the woman, our students took a hundred pictures of her.
Below are some of the more pleasant highlights of our tour of Munich: