Traveling as a young adult is the perfect time to explore different cultures and lifestyles. Since it was the first Junior Journey trip back since the pandemic, our group of 16 students were eager to explore all that Germany had to offer.
Upon arrival, our group was able to quickly see the various German architecture, the remains from the war, as well as some of the more recent history that is important to the people of Berlin. If you are a history buff, like many were on this trip, then you must make Berlin a stop in your German travels. From the aristocracy of the Queen consort of Prussia (Charlottenburg Palace) to the Berlin Wall (Berlin Wall Memorial) that was taken down only 33 years ago, there were so many famous sites to see. Our tour guides explained to us the significance of these locations and how they changed Germany over the years. Seeing the block house styles that date back to the Soviet Union and seeing the Berlin monuments from so high up was a breathtaking experience. Going up the Victory Column or the Berlin TV Tower makes you feel like you are on top of the city.
Our group had many free afternoons to plan adventures on our own, which were spent learning about the city and the people that live there. Even though the United States contains many public transportation options in our bigger cities, we had to learn how important public transit is to the Germans. Figuring out how to navigate in a large city that uses a different language other than English can be challenging, but after a few bumps in the road, most of our group became experts on the routes that we had to take to get to our final destinations.
Those directional skills came in handy in order to get back to the hotel each night; especially if we knew how to get back to Alexanderplatz. Navigating the town as well as planning out our day-to-day activities allowed us to engage with the community. There were many picturesque locations including Museum Island and the Brandenburg Gate at night that were intriguing to us. Berlin let us open up to new adventures and we began to learn about German culture and history.
Next Stop: Munich
As we ventured off to Munich on a European ICE train, our group was welcomed into Bavaria. It was beautiful riding through the German towns and countryside. For many of us, this was one of the first times on the trip that we opened up to each other more and really lived in the moment. It can be nerve-racking joining a group of students who you may not know well and having to explore a new place with each other. All of the jokes and new things we learned about each other along the way were so important. We were able to build those relationships and have something exciting to look back on together.
When we arrived in Munich, we knew we were in for a treat when we met our tour guide, Tom, and had a great bus tour on our way to the hotel. We were then able to go into the city and surrounding areas to explore.
The beautiful English Garden (Englischer Garten) was the first stop for many of us as it is like a forest in the city. Although it is often compared to Central Park in New York City, it consists of more trees, trails, and rivers that you can swim in. This garden was visited by our group many times throughout our days in Munich because it was a place of relaxation and a place for cultural immersion. Others in the group visited Marienplatz for the first time and took in the views of the city center at night.
A Real-Life Fairytale
One of the favorite days for many of us included our trip to King Ludwig II’s palaces. Not only were the details and views of both Linderhof and Neuschwanstein Castles’ beautiful, but the drives to these locations were also breathtaking. Imagine old German folktales and the mountain towns. This is exactly what we witnessed as we drove to both palaces. The clear waters, white and brown houses with flower boxes, and paintings on the outside that tell a German fairytale.
When we made it to the Neuschwanstein Castle, we quickly had to get up the hill in order to make our tour of the inside of the castle. What is so impressive about this castle are the details and how this castle is placed in the middle of mountains with spectacular views of the town below. It is no surprise that Walt Disney based both Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella’s castles from this Bavarian masterpiece. This day was something that I was looking forward to doing. When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with princesses and being able to walk in a real-life castle really made my dreams come true. It was surreal to be in a place that some people only dream about seeing. Even though we were only in the countryside for a short time, I know this is somewhere that I would want to go back, interact more with these people, and learn about traditions.
The heart of Munich, Marienplatz, is where authentic German culture comes alive. On our second day in Munich, we were able to explore some of the many places around the city center. Some of our group stayed local while others went to locations like Olympic Park. We went to local shops, historical monuments, and cathedrals, as well as local grocery stores. Another item on my bucket list was to see and hear the Rathaus- Glockenspiel play at the New Town Hall. It was something that I've heard about for so long, so being able to witness it was just incredible to me. It was another surreal moment that I never knew that I would get to be able to do in my life. It was moments like these on the trip that I was so thankful for. While out and about, our group also was able to try many authentic German dishes such as Wiener Schnitzel, all types of sausages, pretzels, and local brews. Some of us even stopped at different gelato stands nightly for a late-night treat.
Not only was our trip centered around Germany, but our whole group decided it would be nice to take a short train ride to Salzburg, Austria. This city seemed similar to other Bavarian towns, which had many churches, a fort, and gardens. A few of us explored the scenic views from the top of the Hohensalzburg Fortress.
After some time taking in the culture and shops around Salzburg, a few of us decided to feel a part of German and Austrian tradition and try on the authentic Dirndl and Lederhosen. Trying on something authentic like that outfit made me feel like I belonged in that city. I felt comfortable and was glad I could have that experience. I was so intrigued by these traditions that on the train ride back, I looked up the history of these outfits and why they are so important to the German and Austrian people. This adventure made me realize how close countries are to each other in Europe and how similar cultures are around the world.
ADVENTURE of a Lifetime
Like any new experience, it was scary at first to go out of our comfort zone and really immerse ourselves into this new environment and culture. By the last days, most of our group had adjusted to the transportation, the beautiful sites, the food, and the people that we had interacted with. We began to learn some of the German language and use it while speaking to others on the Bahn and in restaurants. Some of the Germans probably thought we were crazy Americans, but I think it was important for us to start practicing with the language and to show that we were trying to learn more about their culture. I know that some of us could see ourselves going back to these cities as well as exploring some of the smaller towns in Germany.
A large part of what the Junior Journey experience is about is discovering and learning something new. This could be about yourself, the interactions that you make with others, and what you learn about another culture. Our journey led each of us to open up ourselves to the people around us. Many of us even became great friends from only being together for this short trip. We often said that we might have never known each other if it wasn’t for this trip. Even though Florida Southern College is considered a small school, these trips and experiences that are offered to us allow us to really expand our horizons and meet new people that are all around us. It is really hard to sum up an experience as grand as this trip was. The cultural immersion and new interactions led to new relationships and a new insight to our lives in the United States.
If I had to give advice for students who are unsure of going somewhere new with people who you do not know, I would say go for it. You never know what you will experience and how much it could change you for the better.