Our final day in Berlin had no schedule until dinner time. This was a great idea. The teachers could each pick one last cultural experience to have before leaving Germany, and we could customize that to be whatever we wanted based on our own individual interests.
The one thing I hadn’t seen yet in Germany was anything about church history. Germany is the cradle of the Protestant Reformation, and considering my school…my church…my life in general, I thought this would be a very valuable experience. Unfortunately, we were in Berlin and not near any of the major church history cities. Wittenberg, Martin Luther’s home town and the place where he posted his ninety-five theses, was about an hour and a half away. I was going to give up on this and try to find something else to do, but our group leader mentioned that there was a high-speed train that could get me from Berlin to Wittenberg in only forty-one minutes. That was much more palatable and gave me most of the day to spend in Wittenberg. I was a bit intimidated by the idea of going by myself – taking the subway to the train station, navigating the Berlin train station, buying a ticket somehow, and traveling to a new city all alone, but I have some friends who insist that traveling alone is the best thing ever. I decided to give it a try.
Here’s a snapshot of the Berlin train station. I couldn’t get all of the escalators in the picture. You can’t blame me for feeling intimidated:
Wood (our leader) was super kind and offered to go with me to the train station and help me buy the right ticket. This was a huge sigh of relief (thanks Wood! You rock!). He gave me very detailed instructions on what to do when I got to Wittenberg and how to get back to our hotel in Berlin later on that day. He gave me a very stern warning not to fall asleep on the train, because a bullet train doesn’t make many stops. If I would have fallen asleep, the next stop would have been on the other side of the country. Eeeek! I followed his advice and set an alarm on my phone for five minutes before my arrival, but I was so excited about traveling to Wittenberg that I didn’t end up needing it.
My friends who swear by traveling alone were right – it’s amazing. Granted, I only did it for one day, but it was one of my favorite days of the trip. Wittenberg is a beautiful, medieval looking town, and it was different than any of the cities we had seen thus far. Yet another face of Germany. I walked from the train station to the town and was instantly enchanted by the small flower shops, the pastel buildings, and tall church spires.
Even the banks looked cool. This is a picture of the city bank:
As I walked through the town, I came to the town square. There were a bunch of people dressed up at one side of the square next to a church, and I thought, “That’s strange…it’s not Sunday…I wonder why they’re all dressed up?” Then I suddenly realized: IT MUST BE A WEDDING! I love weddings. Seriously, I love weddings. I practically ran to the other side of the square. There was no bride or groom, and I couldn’t understand any of the chatter from the happy people outside, but I had a hunch I was right. I sat on the steps of a Martin Luther statue and waited. Yes, I know I went to Wittenberg to learn about church history, but the Reformation was five hundred years ago. I doubted that much was going to change in the next ten minutes. I had a wedding to crash.
Luckily, I turned out to be right. The bride and groom came out of the church, and I cheered with everyone else. Little kids threw flowers, and everyone (including me) snapped some pictures. Hooray!
After the wedding, I decided I should actually hunt down some church history. I found the church where Martin Luther used to preach, and a few streets away I found the church where he nailed his ninety-five theses to the door. The original wooden door had burned down, but it was replaced by a bronze door with the theses printed on it. It was pretty cool to be standing in the same place as Martin Luther had so many centuries ago. It was amazing to think about what massive religious change happened all because of something that started in this tiny town.
Near the church with the famous door, I saw a horse-drawn carriage and a man with a sign advertising rides for ten euros. Ten euros seemed extremely worth it for a carriage ride, so I handed him the euro note and he welcomed me aboard (in German…but I figured it out). This guy took me for a half-hour ride all around the town of Wittenberg, then into a bit more of the countryside. I saw a lake…beautiful trees…it was such a contrast to Berlin. When we got back to the city, people were waving at me and taking pictures like I was a one-woman parade. I waved back awkwardly, feeling strange but also loving the randomness of riding down a medieval street in my own private horse-drawn carriage. My life is cool sometimes.
The man dropped me off back at the town square, and I saw dozens of heart-shaped balloons rising from the church I had visited first. I decided to go check on my wedding couple from earlier, as the party was clearly still going on. To my surprise, I saw a SECOND wedding! Two in one day at the same church! Apparently if you want to fall in love, Wittenberg is the place to be.
I wandered the streets for a while before finding myself at the University of Wittenberg. They advertised that people could eat in their cafeteria for only five euros, so I decided to give it a try. I wanted to see what international cafeteria food is like. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was delicious. I’m not even entirely sure what I was eating…the people there didn’t speak English. It didn’t matter, though – whatever it was, I ate every bite.
Before catching my train back to Berlin, I had time to go to the Luther house and tour the area where Martin Luther worked and studied. I took a bunch of pictures there to bring back to my school, and I know my students are going to be extremely excited to see them. Parts of the building have been kept original to how they were in the 1500s, and that was pretty amazing. Most buildings that old have undergone extensive renovations.
I got back to the train station in plenty of time, and on the way back I chose to sit in the dining car and enjoy my new favorite drink – apfelshorle (a fizzy apple juice) – while watching the German countryside zoom by. It was a great time to reflect on all that had taken place on this trip and start mentally preparing myself for the fact that it was almost over. It was a bittersweet feeling, but I couldn’t have imagined a better way to spend my last day.