Well, don’t we all know what the people of Germany are like? The women are beautiful with long blonde hair and stunning eyes, while the men are all fat, lederhosen-wearing beer lovers who eat sauerkraut and bratwurst. They are always on time and are often portrayed as a very cold and closed people. These are the general stereotypes that America has given to such a diverse country as Germany. But, as the saying goes, there’s more than meets the eye.
This past summer, I spent a month in Germany through a home-stay program called Youth for Understanding (YFU). I am writing this article to say that while German people do eat sausages and drink beer, they are not the cold, lederhosen-wearing people that most Americans think they are. They are a charming people, who are very open and friendly. My host family was open and inviting, and introduced me to the various cultures of Germany.
I started my trip at an orientation in Berlin, where I lived in a hostel for four days along with other Americans and people from around the world.
Berlin is an amazing place to visit. As I walked along the Berlin wall, I felt in touch with the country’s tumultuous history and came to a deeper understanding of the sorrow that such a wall had caused and the hope it had brought when it was torn down.
I managed to stumble across one of the most interesting cultural events in Berlin on my way to the Brandenburg Gate. The Christopher Street Parade is the largest gay and lesbian festival in Berlin. With brightly colored floats, live music, and about half a million German people, the Christopher Street Parade is one of the highlights of the Berlin social scene.
After my orientation, I took a train to Cologne, which is located on the western end of the country. My host family picked me up from the train station and brought me to the town I would live in for the next month; the town is called Saint Augustin and is about 8 minutes away from Bonn by tram. Bonn was the old capital of West Germany before the reunification. My host family’s home was a very typical three-story house and looked like any other house in America.
In Bonn, I visited Beethoven’s childhood home, the historic town hall, and the many museums and galleries that the city had to offer. In Cologne, I went to the famous Cologne Cathedral that is said to hold the remains of the three wise men (of Christ fame). Purportedly, their remains lie in a golden sarcophagus entitled "Shrine of the Three Kings." I climbed the Cathedrals 509 steps to an exhibition platform about 98 meters off the ground; the top of the Cathedral offers one of the most beautiful views of Cologne. A chocolate museum and an outdoor art gallery were among the many sites I visited in Cologne.
My host family decided to take me on a small vacation to Munich, which is most famous in America for its huge festival known as Oktoberfest. Munich is also famous for its impressive opera houses. While in Munich, I visited the Frauenkirche ( which translates to "Cathedral of Our Lady"), which is one of the largest and most beautiful churches in Germany. I also visited the Nymphenburg Palace, where the gardens were one of the most spectacular that I have seen in my life.
The most moving site I visited on my trip to Germany was the Dachau concentration camp. I, at first, felt very scared to ask my host family if we could go there but realized that I couldn’t let my timidity get in the way of visiting one of the most historically significant sites in all of Europe. Eventually, I asked my host family to take me to the concentration camp and was surprised by the very receptive and positive response I received.
When I arrived at Dachau, I immediately noticed how out of place it was. The parking lot was right next to a soccer field filled with schoolchildren; I had expected a much more dreary setting. People from all around the world visit the Dachau concentration camp every year. From the parking lot, we walked for about five minutes until we reached the actual camp facilities; it was hidden among within perplexing paths with many twist and turns. When I walked up to the front gate, I saw the famous and distressing sign that read "Arbeit macht frei," which means "Work brings freedom" in German. I though about the millions of people who saw this and received the same falsified hope that would never be fulfilled.
Throughout the concentration camp, which is entirely open to the public, I sensed the deprivation and horror of such a place. I stood in a bunk that used to house an ungodly number of people and walked in the fields that the prisoners worked without end. I stood in the gas "showers," where countless prisoners, young and old, were killed. Next to the gas chambers were three huge ovens that looked like they belonged in an old pizzeria. Unfortunately, these ovens were used to burn the bodies after the prisoners had been killed in the gas chamber. The worst of it though was hearing about those prisoners who were put into the oven while they were still alive.
Germany has had a long and turbulent history, ranging from the Holy Roman Empire to Nazi Germany. Though not all of its history is pleasant, it is what helped to shape the country’s culture and its people.
In the end, if you ever feel like visiting a foreign country, I’d say go to Germany, not because the legal drinking age there is sixteen but because the country has so much to offer. From its people to its culture to its palaces to its ruins Germany is definitely one of the world’s top destinations.