Obedazer, fläddlesuppe and funicular trains in Europe


Challenging basics

When I filled out the application for this trip I knew that dialogue and language barriers would be probable. The year of Duolingo I practiced allowed me to thank everyone and let them know “das essen ist lecker” (the food is delicious), but not how to explain dietary restrictions or ask for a to go box. Ordering food in another country is immensely more complicated than I expected. Nothing is as simple as it seems when you’re in a new place. After an 8-hour flight, 3-hour layover, an additional 3-hour flight, AND a walking tour of Munich, we finally sat down for a traditional Bavarian dinner of fläddlesuppe (a broth with pancake strips in it), käsespätzle (kind of like mac & cheese) and a delicious bread pudding mixture as pictured below at Zum Franziskaner.

My friend ordered a pepperoni pizza and was told pepperoni is salami, but in America, those are two DISTINCTLY DIFFERENT (yet similar) meats. I believe Italy was the first place in my life that I have encountered Salami (I think it was actually bologna) on a pizza. He said it wasn’t bad. I couldn’t bring myself to try it lol. There was palpable tension between my friend trying to correct his order, and the chef trying to explain the cultural difference this meat represents. They served ice-crisp pretzels and dinner rolls brought in traditional bread baskets like home, but they were missing two things: no butter or warmth! It spoke to me about how much bread is just the vessel for the flavor of the butter. We did not have a single bite of bread before the butter came and devoured the bröt after. Food brings us together; even if we eat in different styles, many of the staple food groups are the same for both America and Europe. Even in our differences, we are alike.

Another first for me was feeling embarrassed when asking for ice. It was pretty hot in Europe and their drinks were less refreshing without this critical, apparently American…garnish? I wonder what they consider ice to be. It is definitely not a staple in Europe, a fact I only put together after having to ask for ice several times at restaurants and discovering that none of our hotels had ice machines. It took some adjusting, but the people helping were happy to oblige.

We struggled finding a soft water in a world where everything, even apple juice is sparkling. There is a quaint but large restaurant called Aachener Brauhaus, that has their own butcher shop inside. Our first cultural challenge occurred when trying to be seated. There was no sign to seat yourself or wait to be seated. We were unaware of the proper procedure, and to this day I am still unsure of what that is. After receiving our appetizer (vorspeise) soups, I asked for 4 spoons for my unacquainted group to experience the flavor of these enigmatic dishes, I was met with unbashful sarcasm from the waitress who exclaimed “What in the world do you all need 4 spoons for, you collectin’?”. Overall I did not like the liver meatball, my Obedazer was delicious but too foreign for me to enjoy (yet) truly. My friends seemed to enjoy their meals with delight. I have found that Germans are blunt and sarcastic individuals, both qualities I admire but also get very defensive against. It was interesting to notice my reactions to perceived insults when in fact they weren’t being rude. This is what I wanted to learn in this trip though, how to challenge my own biases and learn how other countries communicate. I fell in love with the people of Italy and Switzerland and their kindness. We did not have as much of an academically based experience compared to other studies abroad; this allowed us to get a deeper understanding of the culture and society in the countries we visited.

Here is a video of our experience:

City Transit Trouble & Hotel Confusion

Beyond food, we had difficulties maneuvering through the cities as well. Learning a country’s transit system in 3 days is difficult, but the information technology provided in Germany made it easier to comprehend. Germany has the U-Bahn station, trams/trollies, busses, and bicycle taxis to transport people all around Munich and a comprehensive guide for transit that is easily accessible. A group of us took the trolly to cruise around and were all flabbergasted about how to let the driver know we needed to stop. We debated different methods for a few moments before a local reached out and pressed a button that was previously unbeknownst to us.

In addition to the trolly, the train was another confusing nightmare. I asked “sprechen sie English?” to a woman who asked, “why?” & then proceeded to give us inaccurate directions. I don’t know whether that was on purpose or not. This is where we got misdirected.

When waiting to go out one night, the train passed right by us because we were not standing at the correct door that opened at that time of night. The next train said it was coming in 20 minutes so we started to leave, only for my friends to scream that
“THERE’S ANOTHER ONE COMING IN 5 MINUTES!!!”, much to a local’s dismay. 1 AM in Germany is clearly sleeping time. I turned around to the escalator and thought it was broken, but “it was just working 5 minutes ago?” I thought. Little did I know, in an effort to conserve energy and be cost effective, many of the electronics in Europe are inoperable if there isn’t a person currently using it. The same goes for the lights in the hotel rooms. I can’t tell you how many times I was left in the darkness of my room because I didn’t leave my key in the slit on the wall. Even something as regular as straightening my hair became complicated because my adapter didn’t have the capabilities to adapt that much power. Within 3 seconds of me turning it on low, it was molten hot, smoking and iron red. I turned it off quicker than you can blink.

Overcoming obstacles

The only time there was an error in the execution of planning was for the laundry. We were advised that for a 10-day trip, we should try to bring just a carry-on and do laundry at the hotels we stayed at. This was a factor I debated over and over again when packing. I could fit everything in the carry-on but it was tighter than the cuff of a military bed and left no room for souvenirs. Eventually, I decided to bring a checked bag, much to my benefit because we DID NOT have access to laundry. 3 – 5 hour bus rides in between countries made it difficult to give our clothes washed in the sink any time to dry. Additionally, we were recommended to go to a local laundry mat, but we felt there was barely enough time to do what we wanted to do. None of us were willing to sacrifice our exploration time at a laundry mat. If we had more than 10 days then I would have considered it to have a chance to learn from the locals and get some good recommendations. The clothes I did have to wash were dried via blow dryer and air dried on the bus over our seats when we were out on the town. I could’ve walked around sopping wet for all I care, the views of Italy, Germany and Switzerland are stunning! Lessons were learned that day. I can’t transfer many of my expectations of most experiences, because they are going to vary each place I go. In the future I will pack minimally, but enough for comfort when I am homesick. Even though the study abroad was only 10 days, it only took about 3 for me to start missing the comforts of home.

Timing Challenges

Waking up at 6:30 AM to travel and dealing with a 9:30 PM sunset in Germany was difficult physically and mentally. Your body still feels energetic while the suns out, but as soon as it sets you realize that you have been awake for 13 hours walking 10-13 miles a day and you crash HARD. Additionally, by the time our cultural engagement was concluded and we were allotted free time, many of the stores have closed and people were in for their siestas or for the night. It really put into perspective the American culture of living to work instead of working to live. Europe still thrived without the economic input from the extra hours that us Americans deem necessary. Staying in these countries made me realize that I didn’t need a 24 hour anything if I prepared properly.

This was the 9:30 PM sunset in Munich:

Expectations Vs. Reality

My research prior to departing for my study abroad included language and a few history documentaries regarding the WW2, the Holocaust and the 1972 massacre of the Swiss Guards during the French Revolution. My whole year before was spent practicing Italian and German using Duolingo. I remember watching Forest Gump in Italian with American subtitles to practice. I had notes reminding me of the tipping practices, road rules, and what not to do. Despite my knowledge of the holocaust, nothing could have prepared me for the emotional upheaval I experienced when stepping foot on those sacred grounds. Confronting this gregarious human tragedy head on and with tangible artifacts was challenging. The weight of the 28,000+ people who lost their lives as a result of this camp hits you like a ton of bricks. The irony of the entry way gate that has the words in iron stating “arbeit macht frei” meaning “work sets you free” is enough cause for tears when you know they walked into that gate to work themselves to death, with only about 6,500 prisoners being liberated. I have taken the time to reflect on my time at Dachau and have found great pleasure in the amount of beauty that has grown from such a tragic event. The flowers that bloom in glory during a gloomy rain reminiscent of the tragedies that occurred there. Prisoners planted trees and were never able to see their strength as they reach towards the sky upwards of at least 20 feet, conquering whatever nightmares happened below with their beauty.

Final Thoughts

Overall, this was an experience of a life time with people I will never forget. From conquering my first transatlantic flight, to reaching the peak of Mt. Pilatus it was a bullet train of exhilaration. Everything surpassed my expectations and made the challenges easy. Our amazing tour guide Ummi provided for funny and informative historical facts about each location. All of our tour guides had valuable information to share and they were extremely friendly. She even went as far as to purchase European snacks for us to share and created opportunities for us to bond over new food and experiences. The picturesque landscapes of the Swiss Alps followed me as I traversed through various countries, like a loyal puppy. Everywhere I looked, I was surrounded by beauty. Lucerne’s lakes enveloped me and Lake Como’s spectacular views from the funicular train left lasting impressions that I can visit in my mind whenever I need a moment of relaxation. I never thought I would have the ability to take this excursion but am so glad I did. I want to provide the same feeling to others as the Fund for Education Abroad, EF Tours and Palm Beach State College did for me. This enlightenment is a feeling everyone should experience.