Last Saturday me and four friends took a little day trip to Erfurt and Weimar, two cute little German cities deep in Thuringia.
We used a Schönes Wochenende train ticket, which is a great deal for traveling cheap: Up to five people can use one ticket to travel, unlimited, throughout Germany on Saturday or Sunday. The catch is that you can only take the slow regional trains, not the sprinters or the ICE trains, so it takes a while. But it only costs €42, so when you divide that between five people, it’s about 8 euro each. Still, each direction was 4 1/2 hours – we left at 7:30am, got to Erfurt at about 12:30, left Weimar at 7:20 and got back to Berlin a little before midnight. It was a long day!
I had never heard of Erfurt before and wasn’t particularly excited to go there, but it turned out to be a beautiful town that far exceeded my expectations. It was just a picturesque little German town with two huge cathedrals up on a big hill. There was some sort of Saturday market going on in the city square, which we caught the tail end of. We were all starving, so the first thing we did was go to a little Thüringisch restaurant and ate some traditional Thuring sausage.
We walked through both of the cathedrals on the hill. I’m not sure why one little town needs not one but two huge Catholic churches (and being right next to each other at that), but it does and I’m not complaining. I actually had a “moment” in the Marienkirche when I walked up to the altar. The huge dome was just so ornate and the light was absolutely beautiful.
Erfurt was a bit of a tourist town so there were tons of horse-drawn carriages. There were also lots of people out walking dogs. Me and Erin are both suckers for animals of all kinds, so we asked if we could pet them. We petted two horses and two dogs. That was probably one of the highlights of my day. I get serious dog withdrawal when I’m on vacation.
We took the 15-minute train ride to Weimar in the afternoon. The first thing we saw on our way into the city center was a little theater/improv show on the street.
We wandered around but this town was quite kitschy and touristy with not that much cool stuff for free. We were all a little strapped for cash and weren’t too keen on spending the warm sunny afternoon inside a museum. There was a wax museum, a Bauhaus museum (but surprisingly little actual Bauhaus architecture) and Goethe’s house, which had been turned into a museum.
So we wound up getting a few beers from a supermarket and finding a nice shady grassy park to sit in and drink them and relax. We were all quite hot and getting a bit cranky from getting up early in the morning and walking around in the sun all day, so it was definitely a good call to relax in the shade. I did however notice we were the only ones with beer in the park. I pointed out to my friends, “Our Berliner is showing.” (In Berlin people take their beers everywhere – on the streets, in the parks, to the lake, on the train, etc. It’s perfectly legal and socially acceptable.)
The train ride home was a bit of an adventure. A few hours in to it, I went to use the bathroom on the train, and was walking through the cars looking for the one with the toilet, when I opened a door a few cars down and was met with a horrible stench of body odor. Immediately I saw the source – a bunch of drunk punks laying on the floor, laying on top of each other, laying with their dogs, and drinking beer. Classy. Rather than pick my way through them, I decided to hold it and went back to our car.
Trying to figure out what on earth punks were doing out here, I suddenly realized our train was going to what is probably my least favorite German city: Magdeburg. I’d been in Magdeburg once before on our week-long tour of Sachsen Anhalt the second week of our program (which I apologize for not blogging about) and have three impressions of it: Horrendous flooding (ten thousand people had been evacuated shortly before we got there the second week of June), beautiful historical monasteries, and neo-Nazis.
For as much as Germany has this ever-present national guilt about the Holocaust. it’s shocking that there is still a very small, but very loud minority who believes in national socialistic ideals. No, not even national socialism. Just racism, intolerance, white supremacy, xenophobia, etc. It’s mostly white men between their teenage years and their forties. We attended a presentation by a guy who works for an organization to combat right-wing extremism while we were in Magdeburg and learned a lot about it. It’s freaking scary. We were only there for two days, and once each day I we got called “Ausländer” (foreigners) by these Magdeburgians. Very welcoming. Having never experienced overt discrimination before, I cannot describe to you the rage and shock I felt, as well as the feeling of hopelessness. I wanted to explain, “No, I’m not a foreigner, I mean, I am, but I speak German, and I like Germany, and I’m here to study…” as if it would make a difference.
So when I saw these nasty smelly punks with shaved heads on a train going to Magdeburg, you ca guess what I was thinking.
I told my friends what I’d seen, and a few minutes later Edwin went down there to use the bathroom and see for himself. “Wish me luck,” he said as he left, and we said our prayers. A minute later he returned and said, “They’re not neo-Nazis. They’re French!” He heard them speaking French, which I’d failed to notice, and we breathed sighs of relief. We laughed and talked and joked about it, saying perhaps they were attending some sort of international neo-Nazi convention in Magdeburg, and how it would end in everyone beating each other up since everyone is a foreigner to someone. Turns out they were tourists, or perhaps a traveling band, going to Berlin. So I guess you can’t judge people.