Day 6: Ulm’s Stairway to Heaven

Today we visited Ulm and we began our day by taking a nice walk to the train station in the near-perfect morning weather. We got to the train station and found our that in an ironic happenstance, considering the punctuality of German trains, our train was delayed by 25 minutes. People in our group spent our newfound time in different ways, watching the trains go by, sleeping, or the most popular option, going to a McDonalds in the train station. I myself got an Earl Gray tea and was very satisfying. Other people in the group got cappuccinos that were surprisingly served in cups made of glass that were so similar in style to a milkshake glass in America.  I initially thought they were getting a milkshake at 8 in the morning.

Finally, our train arrived, and it was an “ICE” train, meaning a direct and very fast trip directly to Ulm. When we arrived and started walking from the train station to the city center, the first thing I noticed was a giant pointy tower rising up above all the other buildings. What we were seeing, we later found out, was nicknamed the “finger of God,” and was the highest church tower in the world, with 768 steps up to the top. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to climb up all 768 of them! In the square at the foot of the tower were about 100 miniature Albert Einstein statues made out of purple or gray plastic that could be picked up and moved around. We made a little circle of 6 Einsteins so that it looked like they were having a little conference with each other. Ulm was actually the birthplace of Albert Einstein, although he left after only spending a few years of his early life in the city.

We then moved on to climb the church. The staircases were incredibly narrow, so much so that two people had to squeeze in order to pass by each other. They were all spiral staircases, with occasional breaks. At each such break the direction of the spiral would switch (possibly to keep you from getting too dizzy). On one point on the way up, we decided to play Rocky music to motivate us to keep on climbing the steps. It definitely helped keep the energy level up. When we reached the top, the Einsteins looked like specks and the city looked incredible, sprawling out in all directions. Our tour guide later told us that two thirds of the city was destroyed by World War II and rebuilt shortly after the war. We could see the Danube river and we could see the city of Neu-Ulm across the river, which is actually an entirely different city in a different state of Germany. The way down the stairs was almost harder than the way up, not physically, but psychologically. I got dizzy going down and it almost seemed like I was in a trance.

After getting down, we began our tour and my initial appraisal of the tour guide was that he was very circuitous in his speech. However, by the end of the tour, he turned out to be excellent, telling us great stories including the two that follow:

First, he told us about the “lion man” of Ulm. Apparently, a statue of a figure that has the body of a man and the head of a lion is the oldest example of art in the world. It was carved into ivory and very interesting. Secondly, he told us the story of Albrecht Berblinger, a tailor in the city of Ulm, who created a suit in the 18th century that enabled him to fly. The city was so proud of him that they invited everyone of importance in Bavaria and beyond to witness an expedition of Albrecht flying across the Danube. However, while Albrecht’s machine worked, he did not have technical knowledge of the physics of air currents, how hot air rises and cold air falls. When he jumped out over the cold Danube waters in front of his whole city, the cold air did not hold him up and his flight failed, tragically.

We returned to the University of Augsburg and received a talk from a representative from BMW, who talked extensively about the levels of autonomous vehicles. There are actually 5 different levels of autonomous vehicles and at each stage, the car’s artificial intelligence takes over more and more of the driving responsibilities. Currently, no company is beyond Stage II. After the talk, Arielle and Simon returned with delicious strawberry shortcake for the three birthdays that people had during the trip.

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