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A German Junior Journey

Germany students studying outside
New friends sharing Panhellenic love from Britzer Garden, Berlin.

Sep 25, 2017

By Nicki Lenkle '19

Edited for content and length

After a long day at Orlando Airport followed by ten hours of flights, we finally made it to Germany. I was beyond tired and pretty nervous, but I was so curious and excited to finally step foot out of the USA for the first time in my life. 

Ravensbrück 

We spent our first week of the trip in Fürstenberg, at the former Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, which is now a memorial site. During the Holocaust, Ravensbrück was the largest concentration camp established for women. What was once a camp for over 100,000 innocent people became our classroom; what was once housing for SS guards became where we slept for the week. 

This week was primarily focused on learning. We learned all about the history of the camp, how it was made, and got an idea as to what life was like there. We explored the farthest corners of it, walking paths that prisoners once walked, seeing the remains of their barracks, and I could only imagine what these thousands of people must have felt.

The streets of the city of Fürstenberg.

However, we did have free time. During this time, I would typically go into downtown Fürstenberg with some friends. The first time we got to the local supermarket, my friends and I were amazed by how inexpensive everything seemed to be. Food, drinks, and other items I needed, like shampoo and conditioner, were up to half the price I was used to paying for similar objects in the United States!

 Another thing that I noticed while shopping was that the price listed on the item is the exact price you pay—whereas when you buy something in the USA, if you want to know how much you would spend before actually making the purchase, you have to mentally factor in the tax rate. I continued to notice many little cultural differences like these throughout the trip.

Staying at Ravensbrück was an unforgettable, one-of-a-kind opportunity. Throughout all my years of hearing and learning about the Holocaust in school, I never could’ve imagined that I would one day be able to visit a memorial at the site of one of these camps. It is one thing to read about things to learn about them, but when I was actually there, it was an incredible learning experience. 

Weimar

The second week of the trip was spent in the city of Weimar. Weimar is a smaller city, but there was so much for us to do and see there. We had the opportunity to visit another memorial at a former concentration camp, Buchenwald, as well as visit the many museums the city hosted, like the Nueus Museum, the Bauhaus Museum, and the Schlossmuseum, which is actually in an old castle.

The streets of Weimar.

I loved my time spent in Weimar because it seemed like the perfect little city. There was always something new and exciting for us to do and see every day. I visited many great restaurants, stores, parks, pieces of art, landmarks, and countless other sights every day.

I truly felt like we spent a perfect amount of time in this city, because in the one week, I experienced so much of the culture of Weimar, and of Germany in general. We didn’t have much interaction with members of the general public before this point, because the majority of the time in Fürstenberg was spent at the camp. However, here we were immediately immersed in the culture of the city.  

One day we took a trip to the nearby city of Erfurt, which is a gorgeous city full of cathedrals, traditional looking buildings, and many stores and restaurants. Despite the rain that came on this day, it was probably one of my favorite parts of the trip, because there was so much to see and do there, and we tried to squeeze as much of it as we could into one day. 

Berlin

Finally, to begin the last week of our trip, we arrived in Berlin. I was super excited to explore Berlin, because I had heard so many incredible things about the city. Here, we saw the beautiful Britzer Gardens, the historic Berlin Wall, Museum Island, and more.

Perhaps one of the most unique and unforgettable opportunities I had here was the chance to see former President Barack Obama and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel speak at the Brandenburg Gate. It was surreal to see two of the most influential and powerful leaders of the world with my own two eyes, with less than the length of a football field between us.

As the trip came to its conclusion, though many of us were antsy to get home after being abroad so long, we were also very sad to leave. I feel as though I could’ve stayed in Berlin even longer and still had a great time every day. The city always kept us occupied and entertained, and even as I’m writing this, I miss it already. I’m glad it was saved for the last leg of our trip, because it was like the cherry on top of an amazing trip to Germany.

Artwork at the East Side Gallery, part of the Berlin Wall.

The Experience

Taking this Junior Journey trip to Germany honestly changed my life and how I see the world. I gained so much knowledge, respect, and appreciation for other cultures in these three weeks. I had always wanted to leave the country, and I am so glad FSC gave me this opportunity. What made it even better was that because of the Junior Journey credit Florida Southern gives students after their fourth semester, this trip was completely free for me. Airfare, lodging, and most meals were pre-paid for by the school, which helped minimize traveling stress and worries.

I also have a newfound respect for foreign tourists; after growing up just outside New York City, and now going to college near many vacation hotspots in Florida, I have encountered my fair share of tourists. Now that I had the opportunity to travel abroad, I recognize how hard it is to immerse yourself in a culture where the people, language, and way of life are completely different from what you are used to.

Who knows what would have happened without the kind locals who told us what we should visit in the cities, understand and translate what a bus driver was telling us when he only spoke German, or directed us to the train station was when it was 2 a.m. and we couldn’t figure out how to get home? So, to the local Germans we encountered and were generous to us, thank you.

Something else that I noticed—and loved—about the cities we visited was the abundance of Eiscafes—or ice cream parlors. In some parts of Weimar, Erfurt, and Berlin, it seemed as though there was one on every block, which my friends and I got a lot of use out of.

The group at the Berlin Wall.

Despite none of us on the trip speaking German, I felt as though by the end of the trip, we adjusted fairly well to the culture. In Berlin, we found that many people spoke English as well as German, so it was typically not very hard to communicate.

Additionally, we had already spent three weeks in the country by the time we got to Berlin, so we picked up on some things, like how many restaurants only accepted cash payments, or how you have to pay for things we aren’t used to in the USA, like using a public restroom, or ordering a glass of water.

FSC’s Junior Journey trip to Germany has been one of the most extraordinary experiences in my life. I learned so much, saw so many beautiful buildings, landmarks, and works of art, visited charming neighborhoods, and generally had a great time.

What made it even better, though, was the people I got to spend these three weeks with. Going into the trip, I knew and was friends with a few people I was traveling with. Throughout the trip, though, I got to know all of the people I was with on a more personal level, and turned many people from strangers, classmates, or acquaintances into friends. Many friendships I developed on this trip I know will not only last me the final two years I have at FSC, but beyond.

So thank you, Germany, for treating me so well.