Getting to know Germany: Köln, Hamburg, and Schwerin

While waiting at the Stuttgart airport for our flight to Istanbul way back in September, my friend Jackie and I discovered that Hozier, an Irish singer most known for his song “Take me to Church,” would perform in Köln, Germany (that’s Cologne, for you English speakers) in February. We thought for a few moments, then purchased tickets, deciding that we’d plan some sort of trip around it when the time came closer.

By the time our first semester drew to a close at the beginning of February, Jackie and I had planned a trip with the rest of our “squad” up to Köln, and then on to the far north of Germany. One week after the semester had ended, we hopped on a bus and took off.

7 hours later, we arrived at the Cologne airport, and made our way to our hostel, the Black Sheep. With creatively themed rooms, a comfortable and inviting common area with kitchen, and a very well-executed sheep motif that is clever and not kitschy, the Black Sheep Hostel is my favorite that I have stayed in so far (Bada Bing Hostel in Istanbul is a close second).

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Hozier put on a great show, and we fully enjoyed ourselves. On the return journey back to the hostel,  we had to quickly leap from the train when we saw some ticket checkers beginning to board. We hadn’t purchased tickets, because the machine wasn’t working, so we were riding as Schwarzfahrerinnen, or “black riders,” the term for people who use public transportation without tickets. Thanks to our vigilance, we narrowly escaped hefty fines of 60+€ each.

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We spent the next day exploring the city, and caught a showing of the newly-released film “Deadpool” in the original English language. Going to the movies in Germany would truly spoil me, if I went more often, as the tickets cost a measly 5€ each, and snacks were very reasonably priced.

After the movie, we rushed back to the hostel and grabbed our bags that we had prepared ahead of time, and booked it for the train. We had to catch a bus that was set to depart from somewhere a bit outside of the city, and there was some sort of emergency going on somewhere in the city, as many lines had been shut down. After a very stressful hour navigating our way around the detours, we made it to our bus and settled in for the next leg of our journey.

7 more sleepless hours later, and we were in Hamburg, the second most populous city in Germany with more than 1,7 million people, and one of the three German city-states. Because it was only 07:00, and check-in was not permitted until after 14:00, we set up camp in the lounge of the Generator Hostel, which was conveniently furnished with a bed in a dark corner (don’t think about it too much; we certainly didn’t).

 

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Hamburg, as we discovered within those few days, is an absolutely beautiful city with a fascinating history. It became a founding member of the medieval Hanseatic League in 1241, a trade agreement between lands bordering the Baltic and North Seas. It was burned down a few times, a common experience shared by most European cities, and lost about 60% of its population to the Black Death in 1350. In the early 60s, the Beatles got their start in the music halls of Hamburg, which is why they recorded a few of their songs in German (z.B “Sie liebt dich“). Today, the port of Hamburg is the second largest in Europe, and the ninth largest in the world.

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On the last day of our trip, we went on an excursion a few states over to Schwerin, the capital of Mecklenburg-Volpommern. In this visit, I had hoped to find traces of my family on my father’s side. I had a few clues, such as the names of my great-grandmother and her family, their birth dates, and tentative birth cities. After spending some hours on Ancestry.com, I had narrowed down their origins to somewhere between Schwerin and Lübeck, the capital of neighboring state Schleswig-Holstein.

Why did I choose to go to Schwerin instead of Lübeck? Well, I’d like to say something sophisticated and eloquent, but I honestly made the decision after looking at photos of each on Google Images. The castle in Schwerin is what drew me in, and I am so glad it did.

There is something special about exploring a city that is off the beaten path. You have the opportunity to select for yourself what is truly worth seeing, and you are not bogged down by opinions or stories from others. That isn’t to say that those things are bad, but I think it’s really great to experience all kinds of new things for yourself while traveling.

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Can you blame me?

I had absolutely no luck at the Bürgeramt (citizen’s bureau); in fact I could have asked my questions over a quick phone call, but I am SO glad that I decided to go there myself instead. Schwerin is in the running for my favorite city in Germany. It was taken in 1160 by Henry the Lion (coincidence?…), and since has had a relatively quiet history. It spent Germany’s post-WWII years as part of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, also known as the DDR, or East Germany.

Although my family has no history in Schwerin that I could find, I felt delighted to be in the land where my ancestors lived, and I am sure that they visited Schwerin at least once during their lifetimes. The city felt comfortable and welcoming, despite the grey skies and the cold East Germany feel. The castle absolutely captured my heart, and hopefully my photos do it justice.

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This was my second trip with just the squad, and our traveling skills had surprisingly improved greatly since our trip to Switzerland in Oktober. We had a fabulous time together, unwinding from the stress of nearly 6 months of school, and enjoying each other’s company. These are some of the most relaxed, down-to-earth, “chill” women that I have had the pleasure of meeting, and traveling with them is a dream. Arguments are few and quickly diffused, and we each look out for each other, ensuring that we each get a fair opportunity to lead the group and do what we each find important.

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From left to right: Maranatha, Monique, Jackie, and Yesenia. Thank you for being such wonderful humans! ❤

Northern Germany struck me with its beauty, and I spent a large amount of time staring out the window of trains and busses (especially on the 13 hour bus ride home from Hamburg). The wide open spaces, lazily rolling hills, and verdant farmland appeals to my heart, particularly with the cloudy grey German skies that I have grown to love. This trip with these wonderful ladies was exactly what I needed after a long semester and at the end of a long winter. I had a fabulous time, and if you get the chance to check out Hamburg or spend a day in Schwerin, I highly recommend it!

Thanks for checking out my blog! Soon to come: posts highlighting my time in Greece, as well as the time I spent with Kyle in Germany and Holland. But first, I’m off to the far northeastern reaches of Europe, and a bit of Asia! Until then, tschüss!

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