It’s commonly said that there is a difference between Berlin and Germany. Sure, German is spoken here, German food is eaten here, and the German government convenes here, but the experience one receives in Berlin is generally thought to be incomparable with most other German cities. I experienced that firsthand back in Autumn when the BCGS group traveled to München. Everything seemed more conservative and slowed-down. That proved to be a great trip, but at the same time, the amount of museum visits and excursions on our itinerary gave it a bit of a hectic and touristy feel. This past weekend however, I had the opportunity to head north to the small town of Fliegenfelde, located just outside of Lübeck, where I was able to enjoy a radical change of pace from the sometimes stressful Berlin atmosphere.
Even before I first arrived in Germany I was told how easy it can be to socialize with other international students studying abroad, such as those in the European Erasmus program. Since most of these students live together in university housing and virtually all of them speak English, they tend to form their own social circles and never truly integrate into German culture. I’ll see some of these students from time to time, but I’ve been fortunate enough to befriend a few Germans with whom I spend most of my free time here. Breaking out of the international social circle has undoubtably had its advantages. Not only can I practice my German with people who actually speak the language, but I’ve also gotten to experience things that I otherwise might not have had I fallen back on the crutch of the english-speaking Erasmus crowd. Most recently I was invited to visit the parents of two good friends here in Berlin: siblings who moved here from Lübeck, a famous port city on the northern coast of Germany.
My friends frequently make the ca. 2.5 hour drive to their parents’ home and decided to bring me along this time. We arrived on Friday evening to find a home-cooked meal of goulash, red cabbage, and Semmelknödel waiting for us. Their parents were both incredibly friendly and welcoming, and it took almost no time at all for me to feel right at home. As we polished off our plates I was asked the usual questions about what I’m doing in Berlin, why I decided to learn German, and how long I intend on staying. At this point I have a more or less memorized set of answers to satisfy even the most curious German. It wasn’t long after dinner was finished before their mother fetched a stack of photo albums and yearbooks to embarrass her children with. All in all it was a very relaxed and enjoyable night filled with stories, laughs, and of course beer.
The next morning I was able to see Fliegenfelde by daylight. It’s a rather rural community so there wasn’t much around, but I found the landscape quite beautiful and enjoyed the change in scenery from my Berlin apartment. My friends were planning to catch up with some of their old classmates while in town, so I spent the day on my own doing a bit of sightseeing. Their mother drove me about 10 minutes or so into the main city of Lübeck, which is tiny compared to Berlin, but nevertheless the main hub of the region. Lübeck is actually a medieval city known in German as a Hansestadt. Along with other northern cities such as Hamburg, Bremen, and Braunschweig, Lübeck was a member of the Hanse merchant/trade confederation. There are several old structures and churches that still stand, which has helped to preserve the city’s medieval feel. Probably the most recognizable landmark is the Holstentor:
I first took an hour-long boat tour on the Trave, the river that flows through the town. It was nice to get a quick survey of the city, but I found that simply walking through the narrow, cobble-stoned streets was the most enjoyable way to take everything in.
As is the case with many small cities, Lübeck prides itself in any claim to fame it can find. Probably the most famous figure to come out of the town is Nobel laureate Thomas Mann, author of the novel Buddenbrooks, which is also set in Lübeck. I’ve never read the book myself, but I nevertheless decided to visit the Buddenbrookshaus, a small museum dedicated to the life of Thomas Mann, that of his family, and his path to international fame. I’ve been to more exciting museums, but the exhibits were interesting enough for the 3 Euro entry and I might just consider giving the novel a try now. After the museum my friend came and picked me up so we could stock up on meat and beer for dinner. Later that night we feasted on Bratwurst and Steak until we couldn’t anymore.
On my final day in Lübeck we all packed into the car and drove about 30 minutes north to Travemünde, which is on the coast of the Ostsee (a.k.a. Baltic Sea). It was a bit brisk outside, but I hadn’t been to a major body of water in almost a year, so I was looking forward to visiting the coast. It was refreshing to experience the seas breeze and smell of fish after spending so much time in a big city like Berlin. And of course I was just happy to be with a group of good friends.
We all relaxed a bit back at the house before packing up to drive south again. As I sat on their couch watching an episode of Friends dubbed in German, I took a minute to appreciate how nice it was to spend a full weekend away from the stress of school and internships with people that I’ve come to really care about here. I can only hope that I’ll be back to visit again soon. Until that time comes, I’m going to have to get used to the Berliner Luft once more.