Sorry it has been so long since my last post. Fitting seeing my last post was a week before my Poland trip, and now it is a week after my Poland trip. So at least I am consistent with my one week standard deviation from a major event theme. So I will first cover school and such, since that is the least exciting of what all has been going on here. So starting tomorrow, I will have only 3 more weeks of my content courses, and only 2 more weeks of German class. Which is a nice thing to think of. Spending 12 hours in German class every week really gets to your head. In total, as of today, it is a month until I am headed back to the US.
So since the semester is coming to a close, naturally, all of the important stuff is due. I have a paper and a presentation due on Wednesday for my Architecture of Berlin class, and another presentation sometime this week about the lovely little Census Designated Place that is my home. The following week, I have another paper due about the European Union and America and which is better. Should be an interesting paper to write for sure. But past that, it is smooth sailing.
For Thanksgiving, the CIEE students here are all heading to Dresden for an overnight trip. I am told we will be having a full Thanksgiving dinner, so I won’t be missing out on that. We are also going to be going to a German Military History museum which should be super interesting, plus I have heard that Dresden is quite beautiful. So that will be a fun thing to do after my two weeks of heck here in Berlin. Once I get back from Dresden that means that it is time for Weihnachtsmärkte here! For those of you who don’t speak German, that means Christmas market. I have been hearing about these since the beginning of the semester, and I am super pumped. Especially since my host parents have said that the best Weihnachtsmärkt is in Mexikoplatz, where my lifeline subway line is at. So I will be only 10 minutes away from the best Christmas Market in Berlin. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself. My host parents also say I should go play my trombone during the market and see how much money I can make. I am somewhat tempted to do this. Nothing like a few good classic trombone solos to make some money.
But anyhoo, I should get to Poland before I bore you all to sleep. First, I just have to say that Poland was incredible and I am so glad I had the chance to go there. There were so many incredible things to see and do there, so it was definitely worth it to go there.
First, the money. So the Polish currency is the złoty. I believe in total I spent about 500 złoty. Now before you get too concerned, that is not a lot of money. One day I spent 100 złoty on lunch and dinner combined. But here is the fun part. In total, I spent about 130 US dollars in Poland. I believe the exchange rate is about 3 złoty is equal to $1. 4.13 złoty is equal to 1 Euro, so Poland was pretty cheap. That isn’t to say that it was super cheap stuff that I bought, but just through currency exchange, it is pretty cheap compared to other currencies.
So my trip began with a wonderful 9 hour train ride from Berlin to Krakow (can you sense the sarcasm?). Ok it wasn’t terrible. I was just tired of being stuck on a train for that long by the end. Since it was kinda late by the time we got there, I had dinner at “Club Gas” which was the affectionate nickname we gave the gas station located across the street from the Hotel. It had surprisingly good food for a gas station. So the next day we had tours of Jagellonian University, which is a wicked old university in Poland dating back to the 1300s. Later that same day we also went to Wawel Royal Castle, which is a place of national pride for the Polish people. On the way there we passed a memorial to the Polish people who were killed at Katyn. It was originally thought to have been a mass murder done by the Nazis, but I believe within the past twenty years it was established that it was in fact Soviets who were responsible for the deaths. During our lunch break between the tours, a friend and I were wandering around the city and found this great open market basically in this massive building in the center of town. It had so many cool things there, and I even got some of my Christmas shopping done there, can’t say for who though. Don’t want to spoil the fun!
So the next day was a very sobering experience. Now I have been to concentration camps before (Dachau and Sachsenhausen) but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Now I am of the firm belief that something such as a concentration camp cannot be explained through pictures. You cannot understand what it feels like to be standing on that ground where so much pain and suffering happened. It is hard to grasp it even when you are there in person. For this reason, I took very few pictures of what I saw in Auschwitz I and Birkenau. It is not something I can easily show to people and expect them to understand. I highly recommend that everyone go to a concentration camp at least once in their lifetime. It is a necessary experience, and a very profound one that can drastically impact your life. So the night before the Auschwitz excursion it had snowed a few inches. So while we were in Auschwitz it was a cold and dreary day with snow everywhere and muddy pathways. While it was nowhere near as bad as what the people in this camp went through, it allow a brief glimpse into what part of their daily life may have been like. There are a few pictures I would like to share with you from the camp. The first is a part of the large memorial located in Birkenau. There are several of these markers, each one in a different language, here is the one in English.
Around nearly every memorial in the camp people placed candles, as you can see above, as a sign of remembrance of what happened here. Another memorial I would like to show had similar markers throughout Birkenau where ashes were buried.
As I was explaining before, the weather had been pretty miserable and it had been cloudy all day. As I was walking through Birkenau I turned around and saw the sun coming out from behind the clouds. This turned into the most hauntingly beautiful situation that I have ever experienced. It was a magnificent sunset juxtaposed over all of this pain, and was one of the most incredible experiences of that day. Here is a picture of the sunset reflected in a pond where ashes were placed as well as the sunset over the camp.
For me going to Auschwitz-Birkenau was a very moving experience. It is nearly impossible to enter into something like this and not come out seeing the world differently. If you ever have the chance, you really need to experience it first hand.
The next day we traveled to Warsaw. Evidently nothing exciting happened that day, because I only have two pictures, and they are of the pigeons in the train station. I travel to a foreign country and I take pictures of pigeons. Classic.
The next day though I made up for my lack of pictures by taking a lot. We got a tour of the old castle as well as the old city section of Warsaw. There are far too many pictures to put up here, but long story short, it was pretty awesome. That night we went to the Palace on the Water, which was this gorgeous palace situated on this little stretch of land that spanned over a river like thing. So we went to this palace and had our own private Frédéric Chopin concert. Maciej Poliszewski was incredible and his hands were fascinating to watch. Naturally it snowed that night again. Cause Poland is basically Russian in terms of its weather patterns. And Russia just is snow. That’s what I’ve decided.
The next day we traveled to the lovely city of Toruń. You know you’re going to a beautiful city when even the Polish say that it is the most beautiful city in Poland. I saw this sign when we were walking to the city from the train station and it immediately made me think of Lancaster.
And the Polish were right. The city was gorgeous and I had an awesome time there. I even went all Sean Connery on some pigeons like he did to the seagulls in The Last Crusade. So if I don’t come back home, it’s because the pigeons of Europe mobilized and hunted me down. So worth it. But anyhoo, here is a cool picture I took while crossing the bridge back to the train station that night.
So the next day in Warsaw we had a tour of the old Jewish ghetto area. While there isn’t too much of it left, there are plenty of markers left as dedications. Here are a few.
This next one I found particularly important:
That day also happened to be All Saints Day, which is a very important holiday in Poland. Thousands of people went to the graveyards and placed candles on the graves of those that they have lost. It was really an incredible sight to see at night, as there was an eerie glow about the graveyard. It is really quite hard to describe just what it was like.
The next day was our last day in Poland and so everyone had a free day to do what they wished in the city. So I plotted out a few points I wanted to see and took a nice stroll between the points. Here are some highlights below:
And that just about sums up my Poland trip. It was an all around good time and a much needed break in school. I would definitely recommend going there at some point in your life.
Because it is Veterans Day, here is your moment of zen: