Sean W. Scully ‘16 – The German people are fit, intellectual, and artistic; however, they seem to lack a sense of humor. In the one week that I have been here in Germany I have learned a great deal about the country and its people. I have come to appreciate the charismatic people of America much more having experienced this very different culture. I think that both countries can learn a lot about life from each other: the Germans can learn to not take life so seriously, while Americans can discover that there are greater things in life to appreciate like music, art, and poetry. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, one of the greatest writer/poets in history, was born and raised in Frankfurt am Main, and I had the privilege of visiting his house yesterday.
I awoke to the pleasantly warm breeze coming through the open window in my apartment at around 7:45 with a gigantic smile as I realized it was the first day without language class since I arrived in Germany. I made a breakfast with coffee, yogurt, bread, and the best cheese I have ever tasted. We met at the train station at 8:30, which is when I realized that I needed to use the restroom. To my surprise, the bathroom mandated a payment of 1 Euro for its use! This seemed absurd to me and although I am not the most frugal person, I decided to wait. We boarded the train to Frankfurt and luckily found some seats.
The train system itself is an amazing feature of Europe. Being able to pay a few Euros and jump on a train to anywhere in Europe is incredible to me. As we arrived at the enormous train station in Frankfurt I witnessed a completely different side of Germany. Frankfurt is probably the most Americanized city in Germany. The skyscrapers that tower over the plethora of tourists from all nations give Frankurt am Main the nickname “Mainhattan.” Frankfurt is a center for world finance, and most of those skyscrapers are bank headquarters. One of the first buildings we passed by was the Central Bank of the European Union.
Our group was joined by Annemieke Klein, who will work at Wabash as the German Teaching Assistant next academic year, and Wabash juniors Pierce Velderman and Jesse Stuckwisch, who are both studying this semester in Vienna but took time to come visit us. Our first stop was the house where Goethe was born and raised. As we entered those hallowed grounds I thought: I’m finally going to find out why Dr. Redding has such an unhealthy obsession with the man! We learned a great deal about Goethe, his family, and the manner in which he lived his life. The halls were filled with beautiful antiques and portraits that seemed to tell their own stories. After we finished a historical scavenger hunt in Goethe’s childhood home, we moved next to the portrait gallery next door. Some of the most profound art I have ever seen lined the walls and garnered my full appreciation.
How could one go to Frankfurt and not eat a frankfurter!? After the Goethe Museum we made our way to the Römerberg, the huge central square of Frankfurt, for food and a short break. The first thing I saw there was a beautiful young couple emerging from the town hall, having just been married while all of their loved ones waited outside to congratulate them. As we stood in line to buy a frankfurter I gazed upon the mass of people in the square: people from all nations were there experiencing the beautiful city just as I was. An Italian man played seemingly the only song he knew on his accordion for the hour or so that we spent there. Out of nowhere a large rally began to form in the courtyard with all sorts of people peacefully advocating their beliefs. There was a Christian rally and a gay-rights demonstration happening simultaneously!
As the rally went on, we toured the Paulskirche. This church was the site of the first attempt to create a German democracy following the revolution of 1848. Delegates from all the German territories met here for most of a year to debate and write a new constitution that would form a parliamentary monarchy. Ultimately the attempt failed as the monarchy used that year to reconsolidate power. Many of the delegates, now marked as political dissidents, fled to America and did much to create the modern civil society that we enjoy.
Our next stop was another church, the Frankfurt Cathedral. There is something enthralling about being in a seven-hundred-year-old church that is relatively unchanged. Ornate images with Latin subtitles covered the walls while gorgeous crucifixes and statues graced the remaining areas. Here we saw the so-called Electoral Chapel where the seven electoral princes met to pray, debate, and ultimately elect the Holy Roman Emperor. After learning a good deal about the church, we had time if we wanted to climb the endless spiral staircase to the top of the cathedral tower. To save both a little bit of money and my calves, I decided instead to walk along the Main River. Here I witnessed yet more beautiful scenery. While everyone else was sweating their way up and down the tower, I retraced Goethe’s favorite walk across the bridge over the river. We congregated again as a group, walked to the train station, and headed back to Marburg.
Back at my apartment I cooked myself an amazing chicken and egg sandwich and went to sleep with another gigantic smile. Germany seems to me like one colossal painting of surreal beauty, with an aesthetic that one cannot truly grasp until experiencing it first-hand. I cannot wait until I study abroad here next spring and even possibly live here for a portion of my life. The experiences I have gained so far on this trip are priceless, as are the ones to come.