Day 10: To the top!

The tenth day of the trip began early, and after a quick breakfast, we caught our ICE train to Ulm. Although the ICE train was quite nice as far as trains go, the electronic displays did not work, which I thought was somewhat reflective of the state of Deutsche Bahn itself. Historically, Deutsche Bahn has enjoyed a good reputation, and it is generally decent operationally, but there are cracks appearing, such as a sizeable proportion of late trains. Although German trains are much better than American ones, they are not without issues. I talked to Freddy about it, and he said that since Deutsche Bahn is controlled by the German government, funding for big improvements is hard to come by, so there will not be any major changes for the foreseeable future, much to the chagrin of many unhappy Germans. On the train, I admired the German countryside as usual, and I was surprised to learn from one of the Germans that about one third of Germany is forested. For such a densely populated and developed country, I am amazed that so much of the land is still forest, and it is a testament to Germany’s commitment to the environment. For comparison, about the same proportion of American land is forested despite the smaller amount of time development has been taking place in the states.

The tower of the Münster in Ulm

Once in Ulm, we headed to the Münster to climb the world’s tallest church tower. Although the tower’s 768 steps sound daunting, I got into a pretty good rhythm and made it up the fastest of anyone in the group. A breathtaking view of Ulm, the Danube, and the surrounding countryside awaited at the top. After admiring the view for a few minutes, I headed down and spent some time in the church while the rest of the group filtered back down the tower. One particularly interesting thing I noticed in the church were two small plaques honoring the dead of local units in World War Two. Any commemoration of German troops in World War Two is rare, so I was surprised to see it, but I think that it is a good thing, since they fought and died for their country just like our soldiers. Even if their cause was unjust, most of them had no choice but to serve, having been conscripted, and so their sacrifices should not be ignored and forgotten.

A plaque commemorating the dead of the 5th Jäger Division in World War Two

After we had all climbed down from the tower, we began a tour of the city. The tour guide mentioned that about eighty percent of the city was destroyed in World War Two, yet unlike Munich, the city was not rebuilt as it was before the war. I wonder what the reasoning behind the decision to build the city up in a more modern fashion was. It was strange to see the juxtaposition between the surviving buildings and the modern post-war architecture after having just been to the old-style city of Munich. We also went back into the Münster on the tour, and the tour guide pointed out a few interesting things inside. The statue of Michael the Archangel was replaced by the Nazis, yet it was kept after the war despite its connection with the regime, and the beautiful heraldry on the walls was erected by various noble families who were trying to pay their way to heaven. I guess that the rich always have and always will look for loopholes.

In the older part of the city, we saw the Schiefes Haus. While it looks like an architectural disaster, in reality, it was an elaborate attempt to evade taxes, since taxes were calculated by the amount of ground area taken up by the building. I find it interesting that people have been trying to find tax workarounds for this long. It highlights a common ingenuity in all humans no matter the culture or era. Once the tour ended, we went to lunch at the Pfannkuchenhaus. The giant pancakes certainly made for a unique meal, but it was not that great. At the restaurant, all of the Americans at my table ordered still water, while Freddy, the only German at the table, ordered a drink. He explained that Germans rarely order water at restaurants, since it costs money just as any other drink. Americans, however, often order water, because in the states, it is usually free. This habit has, to our detriment, stayed with us in Germany, where water at restaurants is usually not a very good deal.

A German half-timbered house

After lunch, I talked with Freddy about some German language rules. Many people complain that English has too many exceptions to the rules, but exceptions are a part of every language. For example, the German letter ß arbitrarily appears in some words and not in others when the same sound is required. One simply has to memorize which words use it and which do not. With all of the exceptions and irregularities within different languages, it is amazing to me how well the German students can command both English and German. I have to concentrate to speak German with them, and my capabilities are limited, but they can talk with us as if they were Americans too. I aspire to one day reach that level of competence with my German skills, but that is still a long way off. We returned to Augsburg after lunch, and the afternoon and evening were spent working on the presentation, with a break for Döner around dinner time. We ironed out most of the details with the German students, and I feel prepared for the big day tomorrow.

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