Three Salzmanns and a Hill in a Wohnmobil

15 Aug 2015

(Originally posted on my old personal blog, Adventures with KHill!)

We went on vacation! Woohoo. It was the perfect relaxing and fun last week in Germany. I knew there was too much going on to remember the details later, so I tried to write about it as we went.

Friday/Saturday: Right after I got back from work on Friday, we piled in the car and headed north. We stayed Friday and Saturday night at my host mom’s parents’ house in a tiny town outside of Wittenberg, a city most famous for being where Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on a church door. The parents are so sweet and live in this beautiful big farmhouse where they rent out apartments and rooms to other people. They have a garden full of vegetables, bees that produce honey, chickens that lay fresh eggs every day, and a whole lot of wide open space. Quite a contrast to the Munich area. This was my first time ever in the former East Germany and it was really interesting to see. In a lot of ways, it’s not so different - pretty architecture, lots of windmills, obviously the same language and similar food and customs. But my host parents have explained before and I’ve kind of gotten the sense while here that the east is still financially worse off than the west. There are very few jobs to be had here, so many people (including my host parents) have moved west. There are leftover infrastructure problems like really run down streets that can’t be fixed because the money isn’t there. Wittenberg is a cool little city, but tourism is apparently what mostly keeps it afloat. It is really interesting to see how 25 years after the reunification of government, the country still has a ways to go to reunify the societies, economies, etc. I really enjoyed my time with the host parents’ parents and getting to see Wittenberg. It was a great start to the trip.

Sunday: We woke up early to get the Wohnmobil portion of our journey started. It is important at this point that everyone realizes a Wohnmobil is an RV. An RV! I had never in my life traveled in one of these so I was a mixture of excited and terrified. It didn’t help that anyone I told about it had the reaction of “LOL you in an RV? Let me know how that goes!” Thank you, supportive friends (cough Brianna and Katie cough). But my concerns were immediately gone when I was allowed to do something I’ve always dreamed of - go to sleep in a bed in one place, wake up in the same bed in your destination. Magic! So comfy! Maybe illegal! Don’t tell the German government! I love Wohnmobil! Our first stop was the Spreewald, the forest that surrounds a portion of the river Spree. We rented two canoes and paddled around the canals that run through a bunch of little villages in the forest. It was SO CUTE. The villages, I mean, definitely not my sweaty and inexperienced self trying to paddle a canoe like it was no problem. Not that long ago, there was no road that led to these places so the people who lived there actually had to paddle their way home or into town in boats. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful setting. We stopped in one of the towns to eat lunch and ice cream before paddling back. Such a cool and unique experience that I probably wouldn’t have sought out for myself, so I’m really glad my host family took me there. That evening, we got back into the Wohnmobil to head to our first campsite in Berlin! It was in a forested area by a lake that felt miles away from any kind of city but was somehow still in Berlin city limits. Really beautiful and peaceful. There was a cool restaurant by the lake where we ate dinner the first night before playing some competitive rounds of uno and German version of “Sorry!” (called “Mensch ärger dich nicht!”) before bed.

Monday: Berlin day! After coming to Germany four times, learning the language for nine years, and being a German major, it felt a little wrong to have not yet visited the capital city. But now I have and it was fun and I can cross that one off the bucket list! Berlin is HUGE. It is the biggest city in Europe in terms of land area, but nowhere near the biggest in population. So it is large and spread out and not too crowded. We started out in Potsdamer Platz which is a cool little park and plaza area that is famous for being built into what it is after being a no man’s land between the two sides of the Berlin Wall for many years. From there, we walked to the Holocaust Memorial. I found this one so very cool. It’s very simple, just dark colored concrete boxes of varying sizes sprawling over a large plot of hilly land in the middle of the city. But I think that’s the point - the scale of it. It’s massive, like the amount of people tragically killed in the Holocaust, and it stands in the middle of the busy city as if to say, “Hey, never forget about this.” I didn’t get to go into the neighboring museum but that is on my list for the future. We walked a little further to the Brandenburger Tor, which was really fun to finally see. Such a famous symbol! Very beautiful. From there, we hit a lot of other main touristy sights like the Reichstag building (what up Angie?) and the TV tower. One note about the weather - it was SWELTERING and there was no air conditioning anywhere because Europe. So we were all really sweaty and worn out and my host family has been to Berlin plenty of times before, so they were really only doing this part of the vacation for me. Very very nice of them. After lunch, we went on a little boat tour that took us past the Berliner Dom (absolutely ridiculously beautiful), the Museumsinsel, the Bundeskanzler’s building, the Reichstag building, and more. I got some fun little historic Berlin facts to pull out and impress people at parties. I also took an embarrassing amount of pictures. After the boat, we hopped on the UBahn and headed to our last stop, Checkpoint Charlie. The first thing I noticed when we got here was a strategically placed McDonald’s right beside the checkpoint. AMERICA. You never fail to crack me up. Did we get milkshakes there after looking at the checkpoint? I won’t say. The checkpoint itself was one of those “welp, there it is” moments. There was also a neighboring museum where you could learn more about it and the history of divided Berlin, but I felt pretty satisfied just checking - HA - that one off the list. It was a really fantastic first visit to Berlin and I’m thankful to my host family for making the time. I think I would like to go back sometime and visit more of the museums and dive a little more into the history. I mean, what a fascinating city - there was literally a wall running through/around it for almost 30 years to keep people in/out. Isn’t that the craziest concept when you really think about it? Like caging people into different government regimes? Wow. Maybe I’m just easily mind blown or too young and naive still but I find that hard to fathom. Berlin is one huge representation of Germany’s long and complex history. I’m looking forward to digging a little deeper there in the future.

Tuesday: This was mostly another travel day as we headed to the Baltic Sea! I slept on the bed in the back of the Wohnmobil again, so my travel experience was quite pleasant. We stayed in a little town on the sea called Zingst. Our campground was also a surf school, so there were a lot of surfer/hippie types staying there and surfing on the neighboring beach, which was a little funny and unexpected for me. The campground was perfectly located, though, to where we just had to cross over the street and we were on the beach. Unlike Berlin, the Baltic coast was chilly. I wore long sleeves, pants, and/or a sweatshirt for most of the time we were there, but I’d prefer that kind of weather to heat any day and it was a comfortable few days. Our first evening there, we walked down the beach to a “Latin American” restaurant. There, I had a meal of spare ribs and potato wedges and it was so delicious and American that it nearly brought tears to my eyes. Not really, but it was good. Not particularly Latin American, as the restaurant theme suggested, but I hold nothing against them.

Wednesday/Thursday: The next couple of days were pretty similar to one another, as both days, we all woke up late and took our time getting to the beach, then stayed there til around dinner time. Since it was cold and I don’t really like swimming anyway, I didn’t bother with the beachy illusion that a bathing suit would have given either day and opted instead for comfortable and warm clothing, perfect for lots of beach reading. I brought several books with me this summer, thinking that I would have all this time to find cute little parks and cafes and read like a classy young European woman…joke was on me! Free time was limited and I’m too easily sucked into Netflix and my bed. Such is life. Anyway, point being, this week was the first time I really intently picked up a book and read for fun all summer, and it’s been sooo nice. I’ve nearly finished my 800-pager and am wondering why I ever let it go unread for so long. But these kind of discoveries are what vacations are for, right? Another hilarious part of my Baltic experience: the FKK beach. FKK stands for “Freie Körper Kultur” which means “free body culture” which means NUDE BEACH. I was just walking along in my giant sweatshirt and leggings, a picture of clueless American modesty, when I started to realize that everyone around me on the section of beach I was walking through was naked. Old people, young people, all just letting their free body culture out for everyone to see. Apparently there was a sign marking that the FKK section of beach was starting, but I missed that until it was too late. I had seen too much. RIP my innocent eyes. My first experience on the Baltic Sea was really fun, though, and it was neat to see a very different kind of beach from my family’s traditional vacation spots. There was also a lot of nightly competitive Uno playing with the host family.

On Friday, we packed everything up and headed back to the grandparents’ house, where we are now. I’ve been doing a lot of relaxing and reading since I’ve been here. Tomorrow, I’ll say goodbyes with the host sister as my host parents and I leave her here for a few more weeks with her grandparents while we head back to Munich. It’s going to be the first big goodbye before I leave on Tuesday, and I’m not looking forward to the “goodbye” aspect of leaving. My host family has honestly changed my life over the past two summers and helped me learn and experience so much more than I ever expected when I signed up for a six week study abroad program my sophomore year of college. They’ve completely taken me in and made me feel like a family member, and I doubt that I will ever be able to thank them enough for everything. It’s hard for me to even put into writing how much they’ve done for me and how appreciative I am, let alone to try to clarify that in person auf deutsch. It’s weird not knowing when we’ll see each other again this time, as I’m about to enter my last year of college and who knows what kind of obligations I’ll have or where I’ll be after that? But I’m so thankful for this formative, fun, wonderful time I’ve had with them and the fact that all this crazy technology stuff we have now will help me keep in touch with them hopefully for many years to come.

Though I’ve obviously had my challenges (whether in my own head of outside of it), I am so ridiculously grateful for the chance I’ve had to spend two fulfilling and exciting summers in one of my favorite countries. I know I’ll be back to Germany before too long; awkward language and cultural faux pas I’ve had aside (and if you’ve been reading along, you know there have been many), it feels more or less like another home now. I do feel like I’ve gotten a stronger command of the language than I ever could have from learning in a classroom and more than that, I’ve loved the immersion in German culture and the chance to make friends and family here. I always dreamed about having experiences like the ones I’ve gotten to have these past couple of years and it’s exciting to feel like this is only the beginning of a lifetime of “wow, is this really my life?!” adventures and moments. Don’t want this to sound like an awards show speech (I would like to thank the academy, though), but since it’s my blog and whatnot, I think it would be wrong not to acknowledge once more how thankful I am for the friends and family who have supported me and helped me do all the fun things I’ve had the joy of writing about here and many more that remain undocumented outside of mental snapshots. I know everyone thinks their parents and grandparents are the best, but mine actually are. I love you, I love you, I love you. I don’t know when my next big travel experience will be or if I’ll end up writing in this blog about anything else in the years to come, but it’s been fun to preserve some memories (and a bit of my own stream of consciousness) in this format and share it all with friends and family (or perhaps a few acquaintances who may now know me better than they ever wanted to).

Do I use too many parentheses in these posts? Probably. Am I very very strange? Definitely. How lucky am I to be living this life? Incredibly.

Until next time…