Traveling from Russia to Germany required hopping on a plane. We waited for ages at the most-cramped gate at the airport in Moscow before finally boarding. When we arrived in Frankfort, Ronnie, our Dutch coach driver was ready to pick us up. A favorite among decades of IBIers, Ronnie drove us all over Europe for the 6 weeks that we spent on the main continent. We stayed in Heidelberg for five days, which was one of the longest city stops on the journey. Germans are friendly, speak English, and know how to eat well. Also, compared with Lithuania & Russia, Germany felt very safe and familiar and we spent much more time doing independent exploration.
Even though I was a fairly serious student, the endless opportunities to go exploring in Germany really started to test my ability to prioritize and manage my time. Although I spent quite a few hours in Internet cafes, I focused much more on cappuccinos, chatting with friends, and uploading photos to Facebook than I did on Comparative Economics.
Bonus fact: While my paternal grandpa was in the army in the early 1960s, he and my grandma briefly lived in Heidelberg. I had a lot of fun walking around the city, imagining their lives in Germany.
Corporate tours of Deutsche Bank, John Deere, and the European Central Bank, Eating at Red a vegan restaurant. Enjoying eating beets for the first and only time in my life. Terrible tapas. Watching fireworks over Heidelberg Palace. Wandering around the old town. Walking from our hotel to class every morning. Sad attempts to prevent the bathroom from flooding despite a lack of a shower door (Europeans have strange bathroom designs).
On our last full day in Heidelberg, our group took a tour of the castle. A romantic ruin of nearly 800 years of history, Heidelberg Palace was stunning. Constructed primarily of red sandstone, the old buildings are striking, set against the deep greens of the surrounding forest. The palace endured many decades of siege by the French in the 17th before nearly being destroyed by two lightening strikes in the mid-18th century. We began our tour in the courtyard facing the imposing structure of the Ottheinrich Building. The façade of the building is covered with sculptures of religious icons that a German leader was meant to emulate. In the Fassbau (Barrel Room), we walked around a giant cask, built directly into the building in 1591 that can hold 34,342 gallons of wine. Next, we were guided through the King’s Hall in the Frauenzimmerbau (Ladies’ Room Building). Dating back to 1515 and large enough to accommodate 600 guests, the hall served to host celebrations. In comparison to the beauty of other rooms, the décor in the King’s Hall stuck out like a boring sore thumb to me. During Nazi occupation, the interior was modified to include floor-to-ceiling wood paneling. When someone in the group asked the guide why the interior had not been restored to a more appealing era, he soberly and simply responded that it is impossible to erase history. This concept has stuck with me for years. Every country, city, government, and political leader has moments of great achievement as well as moments of sad failures. Attempting to purge every negative aspect out of each history will not serve the future generations. As our tour guide indicated, to avoid repeating the past we must acknowledge both the positive and negative decisions and move forward, better informed to create a better future.