It finally happened! Not only did I fulfill literally years of daydreaming about returning to Germany, but Shalene’s lifelong dream of visiting the historical Fatherland came true. It was one exhausting trip, but we couldn’t help loving every minute of it.
Day 1 & 2—Travel
We dropped Eva off on Thursday, but our journey began on Friday, March 17th. We drove down to Grandma and Grandpa Wiser’s. We left our car with them, and they took us to the airport. Time together was minimal because Delta advised us to be there 3 hours early. Well, it only took us 20 mins to get through TSA and down to our gate (this would never happen at Dulles!), so we got Café Rio. Unfortunately, on this flight, we weren’t slated to sit next to each other. The employees at the gate tried, but we both had middle seats so anyone who could trade for us to be next to each other would be giving up an aisle or a window. The guy said that we’d just have to meet up in the bathroom…not sure if there was added connotation there.
I sat next to a guy and made small-talk, intent on stealing his seat. He ended up being a cool guy! He got his undergrad and masters at the School of Mines in economics and mineral economics respectively. He’s now working on his PhD at the University of Southern California specializing in the economics of happiness. He was headed to Holland to attend a conference in that field. Well, I planted a seed and let it be, not wanting to pester. He eventually turned to me and said I can have his aisle seat to trade away, since he was going to knock back two beers (St. Patrick’s Day), then sleep. So Shalene and I ended up next to each other after all! Little did I know, it was to the benefit of her former neighbor. The guy’s TV stopped working! Shalene and I were pumped because Delta had the whole 3rd season of Gotham, but we ended up just trading seats back and forth throughout the flight to share her working TV. Shalene watched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and I watched Dr. Strange.
I was totally impressed with the entire travel experience. Delta now offers a crazy array of films and TV shows for free, a hot towel, and free drinks (even alcohol) on all international flights! It was a great airline, and KLM lived up to the same standards on the other 3 legs of our round-trip flight. KLM had these delicious wraps, too!
It was a 10-hour flight to Amsterdam, then we had a 6-hour layover. We wandered the airport, which was lots of fun, but that lasted 2 hours tops. The next 4 hours was miserable as we tried to find somewhere to catch a nap. There were lounge chairs throughout the whole airport, but it was now Saturday afternoon (changing time zones), so the place was packed! To make matters worse, the floors were tile so Shalene couldn’t lie down. We tried sleeping on a long bench sort of thing, but it didn’t last. Eventually, a chair opened up, which Shalene took, and I curled up on a padded cushion.
The airport really was cool, though. The bathrooms were so sleek and modern. The one thing that threw me off, though, was that there was a woman in the bathroom cleaning it while it was in use. I walked up to a urinal and she told me it wasn’t clean yet. She then proceeded down the line of urinals, scrubbing and waving us over one at a time as they opened up. So I was literally peeing in a newly-cleaned urinal while she was cleaning the one right next to me. In reality, it isn’t that weird, but culturally, it threw me for a loop.
Another cool thing about the airport was a giant digital clock that displayed analog. It also had a moving shadow of a man behind the clock face who would erase the minute hand and paint a new one as the time changed. Pretty cool. Another huge thing in the airport was all the tulip shops. They even had these really expensive hand backs that looked like tulips and closed with a drawstring.
We eventually made it onto our plane, and couldn’t have been more excited—or tired. We landed in Munich, got our bags, then walk out and sat in a café waiting for the Gerblingers. I had my back to the main section of the airport, so it was Shalene who spotted them. Gabi, Hubert, and Hannah were walking towards us, and it was so surreal.
The whole way home, Hannah was singing. We recognized a few songs from Moana, plus she’d sing in English every so often. When we got home, Magdalena was watching Fixer Upper! How bizarre. We had a delicious Brotzeit where Shalene tried tons of meats and cheeses, loving every second. I, of course, had a long overdue reunion with Spezi.
I was originally embarrassed by my German. It’s not like I had any choice but to speak it, however, I was still slow to ease back into it. Shalene actually followed along decently well! Magdalena’s English was amazing, and she was eager to practice. Hannah and Barbara had just started to learn, so they tested the waters when we pressed them. Hubert knew English but would say everything in German first (even when addressing Shalene) before speaking English. Gabi didn’t speak it, but she understood English well enough. Gabi and Shalene were opposites with the language ability, but they understood each other decently, especially as they used their hands.
I stayed up to wait for Tanja and Lukas, while Shalene went to bed, but I didn’t last long. We slept hard that night.
We woke up Sunday (first at 4AM because of our zeitgeber [I owe my use of that word to Mrs. Cornett from middle school]) around 9 or 10 and kicked off the day with a Weißwurstfrühstück—my favorite German food. Shalene doesn’t care for mustard, so she wasn’t impressed, but you know she dove into the breadbasket for those rolls!
As we were getting ready, Barbara hung out with us. She told Shalene to wear her owl earrings (like Tanja, she’s obsessed with owls). We also gave Hannah and Barbara each a one-dollar bill, which they thought was pretty cool.
Shalene, Tanja, and I picked up Mirjam Wiedemann (Mima), and we headed to Augsburg. We went to the Fuggerei, which was project-housing for the poor—the oldest of its kind in the world. It was extremely nice, however, and we could see ourselves living there haha. There was also an air raid bunker with a few displays. One thing that stood out was when Shalene mentioned how cold it was during the day in that bunker, yet the people had to sleep in the bunkers in February’s winter during WWII because of the bombing. Lots of Augsburg was damaged.
We met up with Steffi Bröll and got lunch at Henry’s Coffee World at the Rathausplatz, or town hall square. A funny misunderstanding was when we ordered Mohnkuchen. Mima raised concerns about us as Mormons. She said if we couldn’t drink tea or coffee, we probably couldn’t have Mohnkuchen, using the English word “opiate” to describe its ingredients. I looked it up…poppyseed cake haha! We had Spezi and hot chocolate then ordered some poppyseed cake, then ordered fries, but with each order placed individually and seemingly in reverse of normal order. We didn’t plan on being that hungry, but it grew on us.
Inside the Rathaus was the Goldener Saal—golden hall—which we didn’t pay to go into, but it was amazing when we peeked in. Downstairs was also a whole display on the history of Augsburg. One thing I didn’t know was that Augsburg was formerly known as Augusta, named after Augustus Caesar since it was part of the Roman Empire.
We stopped by the famous Augsburger Puppenkiste, which is a famous marionette theater, before heading home. The journey back (a short 30 mins) had Shalene squirming, and we had to find a gas station for her to *ahem* use the bathroom at. That turned out to be more problematic than anticipated since everything in Germany is closed on Sundays.
That night, Gabi made Käspätzle, and it was a total hit. Shalene loved it. It’s one of those dishes that require a lot of work, so I didn’t get it much when I was there, but (and I hate describing it this way), it’s a regional “mac and cheese” baked into a casserole by layering Spätzle noodles and all different types of cheeses. To complete the dish, you throw fried onions on top.
Andrea showed up that night to say hi, and the rest of us (Tanja, Lukas, Magdalena, Shalene, and I) played SingStar. Anyone facing off against Tanja will lose.
Well, I got up at 4:30AM (12:30PM Idaho time), and just decided to stay up. I was on my way to eat something when I bumped into my host-dad, who was barely clothed as he got ready for work. Business as usual.
I ate, chatted with him while he read the newspaper, and then my host-mom and sisters when they came out, reading in between conversations.
Mima picked Shalene, Tanja, and I up, and we headed to Nürnberg, or Nuremberg in English. I didn’t know much about the city. In fact, I had been there once, but only for a 3-day rock festival, and we weren’t there to see the city. We just hiked a few miles from the train station to Zepplinfeld for Rock im Park.
We parked, dropped Tanja off at an audition for the orchestra there, and hit the Tracht (traditional clothing) shop to buy Shalene a dirndl! It was actually one of the easiest shopping experiences I’ve ever had. We wandered around looking at dresses when Mima says, “How about this one,” holding up the dirndl Shalene ended up buying. She tried it on, then we found a blouse, and were done! I walked over to the men’s section and picked up a shirt, that I then tried on and bought. So easy. Eva’s dirndl was trickier. We bought her a pink-and-green dress for when she’s 3 or 4. Until then, she’ll have to settle for a lederhosen onesie! Gabi also had a friend make handmade matching jewelry.
Next stop: Documentation Center Nazi Party Rallying Grounds. It was an amazing memorial to WWII. The building is an edgy, modern design that overlaps with part of the “conference center” that Hitler never finished. I learned a lot at the museum. One of the points that stood out to me was that Hitler became rich off of selling Mein Kampf. There were lots of French students that were running around being noisy and disrespectful, so Shalene was pretty bothered.
After the museum, we met up with Tanja, who was down after her audition. We got döner, naturally (Turkish kebab), then did some shopping. We bought a cuckoo clock, a few gifts for friends and family, some Kraftklub CDs as well as a kids song CD, and chocolate. Plus, we picked up some Disney movies—there’s no such thing as the Disney Vault in Germany—since they’re each only like 10€!
Mima had to bounce, so Tanja, Shalene, and I hiked up to the castle, then caught the train home, where we took a nap. So exhausted!
Day 5—Dachau & München
We spent two days in Munich. The first day, we were meeting up with my friend Jonas. We quickly found out that although Shalene and I would have fun reflecting on the experience, we would not make good partners on The Amazing Race. We were dropped off with plenty of time to buy a ticket, but the machine to buy tickets wouldn’t take our 50€ bill, which is all we had. Our bank had locked our credit card the day before (unbeknownst to us) since we hadn’t filled out the paperwork to say we were traveling, even though we had gone in to ask questions and no one said anything about it to us. The train station office couldn’t make change, and neither could the store nearby. So I said, “Forget it. Wir fahren schwarz.”
Essentially, my plan was to hop on the train and just tell the ticket checker that we have cash, but the machine wouldn’t allow us to purchase a ticket. We missed our train because of all the troubles, so we went over to the track and waited. I didn’t know what to do. Every day we were in Germany, Verizon texted us asking if we wanted to activate international calling. It’s only $10 per day to have the same access and features as we did in the US. No sweat. I replied saying to activate it. It didn’t work. I called Verizon. They were doing maintenance and couldn’t help me for an hour. To top it all off, we were to purchase a group ticket, picking our friend up along the way, so if we didn’t tell him in time, he’d get on the first train without a ticket (potentially getting fined), and we wouldn’t catch up to him for 30 minutes.
Shalene asked if we could just ask someone to borrow their phone. I initially shot it down. First off, the Germans keep to themselves and aren’t outwardly friendly to strangers. The phrase “Man macht das nicht” or “One doesn’t do that” comes to mind. Secondly, I didn’t consider myself a tourist when I was there. I spoke German, and I knew my way around. I didn’t need help. But I panicked, and eventually said she was correct. I asked someone to shoot a text to Jonas for us, and he asked if I just wanted to call. It worked out great since Jonas was also running late. We met up with him on the train and were on our way to Dachau, the first concentration camp.
It was definitely interesting and humbling to be where the atrocities of the Holocaust once happened. I was a little surprised with how bare it was, though. When I lived there, they sent me on a field trip with the 10th grade to Austria to see Mauthausen, a work camp. There, you got to walk down the same steps into the deep quarry the prisoners were forced to work in. At Dachau, they had reconstructed a housing facility, but the rest were bare lots with placards and numbers. There was a museum, where we watched a movie (I fell asleep and felt horrible—jetlag was killer), we took an audio tour around the grounds, and took lots of pictures. The coolest part to me were the placards with inscriptions of the US military groups that came to liberate the camp. Another oddity were the three churches on the backside of the camp, with the crematory in the woods off to the side. In fact, it was so odd, because it felt like a fairy tale, walking through a beautiful grove of trees to what appeared to be a picturesque cottage. The irony wasn’t lost on me.
After Dachau, we headed into the big city. We met up with my host-brother, Stephan or Hubbi (an affectionate nickname as the little version of Hubert). First on the list was food. We were starving! We went to Tegernseer Tal Bräuhaus, a really traditional restaurant and brewery.
He showed us around, but the weather totally detracted from the beauty of the city. We saw Residenz (an old palace), Marienplatz (the central square), Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (the university where my host-bro studies), and the opera house where my host-bro plays in the orchestra. We also got ice cream, then walked through the English Gardens, which were dead and grey since spring hadn’t fully hit yet.
After we had hit the entire city by foot, we talked to the train station and Jonas’s girlfriend, Anna, picked us up in Augsburg. We ate dinner at their apartment and had a blast. Her family owns a farm and a little store, and they get to live in an upstairs apartment as part of an office building. It’s a sweet set-up, and they get it for cheap since her parents’ asking price is too much for people in the city and goes unrented.
We started by gathering up our friends in Tanja’s car and headed to the train station. We had Shalene, Tanja, Bartschi, Jana, and I. A friend of Tanja’s (Kathi) met up with us in the city.
First stop: Das Deutsche Museum—the largest science and technology museum in the world. It was insane. Shalene was super uninterested going into it but immediately had a great time finding that so much of the Industrial Revolution she teaches would come to life. The first exhibit we hit was Bergbau (mining). The entire exhibit was literally like walking through a mine. They had constructed tunnels with displays built into the walls. It ended up being our favorite exhibit!
Continuing on, we saw exhibits on machines, electricity, energy, the environment, boats, the history of aviation, and so much more. It was overwhelmingly enormous. We wished that we lived nearby and that we could spend an entire day on each exhibit.
We wanted to buy a mobile for Eva in the gift shop, and we really liked two: hot air balloons and the plants. We anticipated that the prices would be steep, but they were actually insane. But we did pick up some cool things there. I got a mechanical engineering book in German for when I’m a business magnate and have my own office.
For lunch, we went to this restaurant, Hans im Glück, which was straight out of a fairytale. The whole restaurant looked like it was a treehouse indoors! There were trees from floor to ceiling and all the lamps on the walls were birdhouses. The food was delicious!
Afterward, we hit the Viktualienmarkt briefly, then headed over to Munich’s favorite tourist attraction, the Hofbräuhaus. It’s actually not very cool, but you’ve got to go to check off the box.
We took the train back to Wertingen, had Gabi’s homemade Apfelstrudel (words cannot describe its deliciousness), and played SingStar. Benni got off of work and came to join us, too.
Day 7—Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Originally (as in version 459 of our travel plans), we were slated to go to Salzburg on Day 7. We decided, however, that a 6-hour roundtrip train ride wasn’t worth it for only 6 hours in the city. Instead, Bartschi picked us up and we drove to Rothenburg o.d. Tauber. It was a beautiful city, and ended up being our favorite destination of the entire trip!
It’s an old medieval city still surrounded by a wall. We absolutely loved just walking through the streets. Every house was a different color, and the weather—chilly and foggy—kept a lot of the tourists away. We felt like we had the city to ourselves!
The big two sites that we saw were the Mittelalterliches Kriminalmuseum (Middle Ages Criminal Museum) and the Käthe Wohlfahrt Weihnachtsdorf (Christmas Village).
The Criminal Museum mostly revolved around torture. In fact, my German teacher in high school had flashcards on different torture methods, and I’ve always wanted to visit the museum. And here we are, stumbling on it by chance! It was so cool. The whole place was filled with models, ancient texts, and replicas of methods for torture, criminal justice, and law. It was such a cultural thing back then, too. They even had a visiting exhibit on Martin Luther and witches.
The Christmas Village—a seriously impressive store of Christmas ornaments and decorations—is world famous. Unfortunately, they don’t allow picture taking inside. It’s Santa’s secret village. But let me just tell you. I didn’t think it were possible to have a store that revolves around Christmas stay in business year-round. But their prices explained it all.
Because it was such an old city, the way the roads were laid out led to some crazy intersections. One, in particular, had a super-slanted house that all the other tourists wanted to take pictures with. It was pretty cool, but hard to tell from a picture how crooked it really was.
After we were finished looking at things, we spent an absurd amount of time looking for a place to eat. We even stopped into a bank or something and asked an employee where they liked to eat. She said there’s a food cart outside the city wall that makes literally everything out of potatoes. It was a hard pass from me. Turns out, we fell into the brief window during the off-season where restaurants shut down between lunch and dinner due to a lack of demand. So we went hungry and drove home.
We were so tired and slept most of the way home while Bartschi was our chauffeur. I promise we felt bad. He first took us to the bank where we were able to withdraw cash to pay people back from when our card was down. Then, he took us to his parents’ clothing store and hooked us up with a traditional-style hat for my father-in-law, Jim. We had been on the hunt, but he’s got a big noggin. My head is also huge, so as we were shopping, I’d try on hats and they wouldn’t fit. But it turns out, Bartschi’s dad was selling hats, then stopped and still had two in storage he wasn’t looking to sell anymore. He just gave it to us!
After an early adventure ended for the day, we went out to the trampoline with Hannah and Barbara for a bit, then watched Finding Dori in German. Gabi also made us a supposedly traditional Bavarian toast, eggs, and ham dinner.
While Shalene took a bath (they have a giant tub), Gabi showed me pictures from last Christmas. She makes nativity sets as a hobby, and there’s a big showcase every winter with some of the other local displays!
On Friday, Hubert took the day off and drove the two of us plus Gabi down to the little town of Schwanngau, home to the world’s most famous castle. Before hitting our tours, we sat at a restaurant to eat by the lake, but they were closed until later for lunch. So I had a Spezi, Shalene and Gabi drank hot chocolate, and Hubert had a beer. It ended up being really chilly that day, but we sat there until our tour, making fun of tourists taking pictures by the lake.
We toured both Schloss Hohenschwangau then Schloss Neuschwannstein. There’s an interesting distinction when it comes to castles. There are two types: a Burg and a Schloss. A Burg refers to a military fortification and is often part of city names such as Salzburg, Austria. A Schloss is more of a palace or manor meant for royalty to live in.
Hohenschwangau belonged to Maximillian II, the king of Bavaria. This castle was beautiful. The detail invested into each room was amazing. We paid for the audio tours, so you select your language and walk through with a little speaker next to your ear. A tour guide walks through with you and activates the sound file for each room you’re in.
We took an extremely crowded bus up the windy trail to Neuschwannstein. Ludwig II, the son of Maximilian II, inherited the throne to Bavaria and built himself this castle. It wasn’t ever finished, however, because he 1) ran out of money, and 2) was dethroned before he could finish. In fact, he had several sites all around that he was building and only ever finished one. So, while iconic from the outside, the inside wasn’t as spectacular as his father’s castle.
On the way home, we had to make a pit stop at the “mountain cheese” store. My host parents spent $75 on cheese and fish there to take home! The Germans love their cheese, and I can’t blame them. We finished the evening with an air pellet shooting competition between villages and a solid game or two of foosball.
Gabi drove us to Tanja’s apartment on Saturday morning. I asked her about a few people I remembered, including the creepy music teacher I had at school there. She told me that he ended up marrying and impregnating one of his students as soon as she graduated. He’s at least 50. Anyway, Tanja lives with her boyfriend, Lukas, above his parents. They’ve actually got a pretty sweet setup.
Kathi was already there, so the five of us packed into Tanja’s car and drove to Ulm. When we got there, we wandered through the streets to our predetermined brunch location. It was a little café called Choclet, and it was packed! We had to stand around for quite a while until people got up to leave. Luckily, we ran into Lukas’s best friend from school. He was there with his girlfriend and their new baby. They were cool to talk to, and it gave us something to do until we ate, but it also triggered mad homesickness for Shalene. Being gone from Eva so long was really hard on her, and Saturday was the worst.
I ordered the Choclet Exclusiv, while Shalene stuck to the “American Breakfast”. After we ate, a family friend of Lukas’s named Gabby showed up. She’s a funny lady who gives professional tours of Ulm. Additionally, she’s also a professional speaker, and people pay her to speak at their weddings, funerals, etc even though they don’t know her. She’s just good at telling stories. We thought that was so odd!
She burned through that city. We saw so much and were given so many details in such a little time. We saw the Rathaus (city hall) and the Stadthaus (no real translation, but it’s a city building meant for gathering), then hit the Ulmer Münster (Ulm Minster [similar to a cathedral]). Those Germans cranked out the 4th tallest building to come before the 20th century, and it’s still the tallest church in the world! There was a little competition, and the Cologne finished their cathedral to be a bit taller, breaking the record a the time.
It came about because Ulm’s church sat outside the city wall, so they decided to build one inside. It was originally a Catholic church, but now it’s Evangelical interestingly enough. The whole town converted back in the 1500s. During WWII, most of Ulm’s center was destroyed, but the minster was left alone, surprisingly!
In fact, we spent a lot of time there, and the history was fascinating. It took something like 500 years to build because they halted construction for so long.
We also visited the famous Fishing District, saw the Guinness world record-holder for most slanted building (even more than Pisa…a key is hanging from the roof so you can see the gap), and divide between Ulm and Neu Ulm split by a river.
We got ice cream, then headed home. We went home, Shalene took a nap, and I started working on my résumé in German to hopefully land an internship there next summer! While Shalene was napping, Mima had some extra time and was in town, so we went to get even more ice cream. We just hung out and chatted, eventually making our way home to wake up Shalene for a goodbye.That night, we got dinner at Stark, a local restaurant owned by my host-dad’s cousin, with Hubbi and Tanja. My host-mom works there and makes all their Spätzle! We played Ellen’s Heads Up game and SingStar with Tanja, Jana, and Benny. I was only ever able to beat Tanja at SingStar once—”Burn” by Ellie Goulding. If only there was a KP song. She wouldn’t stand a chance.
On an alarming side note, the youngest two had lice. And they had been stealing my snapback to wear all week. Luckily, we escaped unscathed. It was still terrifying, though.
Unfortunately, there was no sleeping in for us. To top it off, Germany honors daylight saving time a few weeks after us. So we got hit with it again in Europe on top of jetlag! We woke up and packed, then hosted a family brunch with all of Gabi’s siblings, plus the grandparents so that I could see everyone. It was a blast, and there was an overwhelming amount of food. We also made sure to get a family photo on the tractor…
We stole a nap (food coma), then said our goodbyes to Benny and Jana. We went on a walk throughout Wertingen. We got ice cream, then popped into what we thought was a restaurant. It was just a bar, and it was filled with people that all turned their heads to glare at us as soon as we walked in. They didn’t even have food, so we kept going on our walk.
When we got home, Bartschi stopped by to say adios, but he stayed much longer than anticipated because we started making pancakes for everyone. Next stop was Oma. We went downstairs to say goodbye, then turned in for the night.
We woke up way too early, showered, finished last-minute packing (toiletries, etc.), and said our goodbyes to the host fam. It was a Monday morning, so Hannah and Barbara had school, and Magdalena had work.
Hubert drove us to the airport, and we went and stood in line for a flight to Egypt for a while until we made our way over to our actual terminal. The flight to Amsterdam was decent, then we had another 6-hour layover. We paid 2€ for a 5-minute, automated massage chair, but it was totally worth it. I was getting lots done since I had a fat stack of papers and magazines that I’ve been saving to read. So I was just decluttering my home office by reading abroad. Shalene was going stir crazy though.
Eventually, we got on the plane and flew home. I watched Moana (“Viana” outside the US), Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and an episode of Pure Genius. I read some more and didn’t sleep a wink. We finally got home around 7PM, then had a 2.5-hour drive back home. I was dead tired. I drove maybe an hour before switching Shalene out. She didn’t last long by herself either, so we both ended up playing music loud and singing just to survive.