On Top of the World (May 11)

Today we took a train to Ulm and conquered the largest church tower in the world! Called the Minster, this church is known around the world for its astonishing 530-foot tall spire. The first stone of this beautiful church was laid in 1377 and amazingly, its construction was funded entirely by the citizens of Ulm! We began our day by climbing the 768 steps that lead to the top of Minster’s spire. The path up was dominated mainly by a spiral staircase that was barely wide enough for one person and just short enough height-wise requiring my 6 foot 3 inch frame to duck down the whole way up. As someone who isn’t the biggest fan of tight spaces, the climb up was a little nerve-racking, but the view from the top was completely worth it and I soon would feel like I was on top of the world. Emerging from the stairwell, we found a one-person wide walkway that circled the spire. The 360-degree view from this look-out was truly beautiful as we looked out across the historic city and for miles in all directions. Being accustomed to the skyscraper-filled skyline of American cities such as Pittsburgh, it was striking to see such a difference in Ulm. Here, we were in the highest building in sight, and this meant we had an unobstructed view of the entirety of the city. Standing at the top of the spire and contemplating the fact that there are buildings in the city that are over 600 years old, I was struck by the realization that we really do live in the “new world” in the States.  After taking in the view for a bit and snapping plenty of pictures, we carefully made our way back down the narrow and steep pathway that we had earlier ascended. What an exhilarating experience to be on top of the world – or at least Ulm!

After taking a moment to regroup, we met up with our tour guide for a city tour of Ulm. I greatly enjoyed touring the city on foot and learning more about the construction of majestic Minster. We started our tour by examining a metal recreation of the city to gain a perspective of the areas we would be exploring. Also, it showed just how much larger Minster was compared to every other building of the city. As we walked down along the city’s wall, our tour guide explained how trade along the river made Ulm, at one point, a very wealthy city. Its wealth can be better understood when you contemplate that Minster was entirely funded by members of the city. Our tour guide also told us about a man by the name of Albrecht Ludwig Berblinger. Berblinger was a tailor in Ulm who had taken interest in the field of flight. Taking from the natural flight ability of birds, Berblinger created a working flying machine that can be compared to modern hang gliders. Berblinger successfully tested his creation by flying between two large hills. After hearing of his invention, the royal family of Bavaria were invited to watch him attempt to fly from one bank of the Danube to the other. With the crowd gathered, Berblinger leaped from a tower that had been erected on one side of the river but instead of gliding as before, he fell into the river. Luckily, Berblinger survived the fall but from then on was mocked by the townspeople. However, with the advent of modern analytic technologies, scientists have discovered that Berblinger’s design was effective where flight was concerned but worked best over land due to thermal uplifts being minimal over the cold river. Of course, this technology wasn’t known then, but looking back, Berblinger could be recognized as a Father of modern flight.


As we neared the end of our tour and headed towards our lunch spot, we stopped to see the Schiefes Haus hotel. This hotel is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “Most Crooked Hotel in the World”! The structure was built in the fifteenth century and gradually over time began to tilt to one side with the top now several feet out of alignment. This quirky old building is a reminder though, of just how incredibly old this city is. Some of the oldest buildings I know of at home were built in the late nineteenth century and previously seemed so incredibly old to me when compared to the vast array of more modern buildings in the area. However, buildings such as the Schiefes Haus and buildings similar in age that date back nearly 600 years are somewhat common in Ulm! Walking through the old cobblestone city streets takes you back in time as you imagine generations of people that have once stood in the same places you are standing now.  


At lunch – always a highlight of the day — we had a traditional German dish that vaguely resembles a crepe, called a palatschinke. I chose one with meat loaf topped with a fried egg that was delicious! After touring the city, it was nice to sit for a bit, eat good food, and talk with fellow travelers. Following lunch, we headed back to the University of Augsburg for our BMW talk. Honestly, both the speaker and the topic were a little dry, but it was interesting to hear about the rapid growth of autonomous vehicles. We had seen some of BMW’s work in this field during our trip to the BMW museum, so the talk helped us to better understand the levels of autonomy and the challenges car makers will face as they approach a completely autonomous car. I learned that the process of making a car completely autonomous is currently divided into 5 stages, with today’s most advanced models being considered level 2. Having done some work with autonomous robots in high school as part of a club, I found the BMW development process fascinating. I’m looking forward to the soon to be released level 3 autonomous cars that are able to properly maneuver through greater traffic levels and allow the driver to be more passive throughout his/her drive. Though there remains a lot of development work to be done, I believe autonomous cars are the way of the future. BMW sure seems to be on top of the (car) world in this regard!

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