After a night at Nordenberg Hall filled with delicious food at the Union Grill, intense games of mafia, and a restless night of sleep, we were finally ready to leave for Germany! Some of us in the group woke up earlier than necessary in order to enjoy one last meal at Pamela’s Diner, and then we headed off to Pittsburgh International Airport. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare, so we passed the time by walking around, exploring the airport, and getting to know each other more. Our first flight to Chicago went smoothly and was shorter than anticipated. The plane on the flight to Chicago was the smallest plane I have ever been on, as it consisted of two columns of two seats on each side. I was surprised at the small size of the plane, but I did not mind it too much since it was a short flight. We then had another few hours to spend at Chicago O’Hare before our flight to Munich took off. Right after we landed, everyone got food because we were starving. Since we were in Chicago, it was only natural to want pizza, so I had pizza from Wolfgang Puck, which was very good. After eating, we sat at our gate and played the Umbrella Game and Black Magic, which was a fun but frustrating experience.
Finally, it was time for our flight to Munich! The flight was approximately 8 hours long, and I barely slept because I could not find a comfortable position to sleep in. I watched the movie A Star Is Born and attempted to learn some basic German phrases. The plane was extremely large, and the food was surprisingly good, so overall, I felt that it was a good flight. We were served dinner and a light breakfast – both of which exceeded my expectations because airplane food is usually not the best.
After landing at the Munich International Airport, we took a coach bus to get to our hotel in Augsburg. This bus ride was my first introduction to Germany, and I noticed many similarities and differences between Germany and America from this ride alone. First, we were on the Autobahn, so all of the cars drove extremely fast and they were zooming past our bus, which is not something that is allowed in America. Most of the cars I saw were BMW, Audi, or Mercedes brand, which are brands not seen nearly as often in America as in Germany. Throughout the entire ride, we were driving past flat, green farmlands that reminded me of Lancaster, PA, and it almost felt like I was back home driving on the turnpike to go to Pitt. Germany is definitely different from America, but there were also moments where I could feel the similarities of the two countries.
We finally arrived at the hotel, where we got settled in a bit and had a brief orientation to the program and our agenda for the next two weeks. We got to meet Sonya and Marius, who are leading the program in Augsburg. Afterwards, all of us went on a city tour of Augsburg to get to know our surroundings. Right at the beginning of our tour, however, it began slightly raining/snowing out of nowhere, which really made Augsburg feel like Pittsburgh. We were all very cold and unprepared for the weather, but the locals were wearing their winter coats even though it is May. The rain/snow did not last long, fortunately, so the rest of the tour was fine. We had our first experience on the streetcar, and we got to walk around Augsburg and visit its historical landmarks including the Dom, Augsburg Cathedral, Rathaus Plaza, Town Hall, and Fuggerei. All of the churches are beautiful and so intricately designed.
My favorite place we visited was the Golden Room in the Town Hall because the ceiling alone was beyond captivating. After the bombing of Augsburg in February 1944, most of the city had to be rebuilt, including the Town Hall. For this Golden Room, many artists were hired to imitate the original room and ceiling by copying pictures, and they did an excellent job.
Our last stop on the tour was the Fuggerei, which is “social housing” founded by Jakob Fugger. The Fuggerei here in Augsburg is the oldest social settlement in the world. This style of housing was a predecessor to communal housing, and the residents in the Fuggerei nowadays are given freedom and independence in order to feel almost like royalty. No one is telling them what to do or how to do things, and they are trusted to pray on their own since there is a religious requirement in order to live there. Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and explained every aspect of the Fuggerei in depth so we could have a thorough understanding of its history and purpose. I found it very interesting because we do not really have anything like the Fuggerei in America. It costs 88 cents in Euros for an entire year’s rent, but if you want to live there, one must be Catholic and an Augsburger. We had the opportunity to walk through some of the living spaces, and they were nicer than what I expected. They were small but seemed comfortable to live in.
The last part of this long day consisted of dinner at König von Flandern with the German students we would be working with throughout the trip. It was exciting to finally meet them, and I was shocked at how good their English is, although they were very modest about it. The conversations I had with the German students at my table consisted of talking about the differences between German and American culture. One major difference I noticed from this first day in Augsburg is that the crosswalks do not have a warning before the light turns red; the signal goes directly from green to red. Once the signal turns red, cars immediately begin driving, which was shocking to us because we are so used to having a countdown before the light turns red and we are given time to cross before cars begin driving. The German students had never thought about having crosswalks that give a warning since they are accustomed to the ones in Germany, but they agreed that a warning would be safer.
Going back to food, the dish I ordered was Spinatknödel (spinach dumplings). It was delicious, but it was very filling and the sauce was stronger in taste than what I was expecting. The apple strudel dessert was excellent though! My first real German meal has given me much to look forward to for the next two weeks, as I am ready to try all the specialties of German cuisine.
Although I am exhausted and have barely gotten any sleep the past few days, I could not be more excited for everything we are going to do and see in these next two weeks!