A man, dressed innocuously in overcoat and bowler hat glanced at his stopwatch, then, upon sighting his three comrades gave a respectful nod and ushered them onto the minibus. “Got your cases? And your documents? Good. Time is short. We haven’t a minute to spare” he muttered.
Not, as it might seem the opening to a Sherlock Holmes detective thriller, but the first words spoken at 6:29am on Friday 23rd April as Dr. Minns exclaimed at the punctuality of three-quarters of the quartet to make up the German Study Visit to Bavaria. Yes- with a record number of participants, getting everyone up was a minor challenge (four including our teacher), but I think after all the wondering whether the trip would go ahead or not with such a small group, that five days later each one of Harry Sargeant, James Ross, Ben Archer, ‘The Doc’ and myself would agree that it was more than worthwhile. Not that much more than a few grunts were exchanged in the first few hours of the bus journey to London Gatwick as we enjoyed our row of seats each for a bit of kip along to the jingling of Beacon Radio.
We arrived in London at around 11:00 and checked in seamlessly. Luckily there was no weight limit on the luggage, as I had been a bit of a woman and packed far more clothes than were necessary. And about five pairs of shoes to top it off. Then the classic thumb-twiddling-buster of the wait before boarding. I rang my parents, played Doodle Jump on my iPhone, took off my jumper, tested the Doc with a difficult grammar question (for those interested he passed with flying colours) put it back on again, dithered a bit deciding whether or not to wear it, then we were off! What I always like best about flying to different countries is seeing all the native people on the plane and their friends etc. Unfortunately that wretched Harry Sargeant ended up with all the Germans, then adding insult to injury stole my joke about pysgod wibbly wobbly (Welsh for jellyfish: pysgod means fish). Our rivalry just got more intense.
Munich is a large metropolitan city and the airport was hosting arrivals from across the Welt. We then made our way to the station and an hour’s journey to Augsburg, where we stayed with host families in pairs. I was pairing with Harry- fiercely competitive throughout - with Erna Fehrer, a 71 year old widow who lived in a group of houses on Gunzesrieder Weg.
One thing that we weren’t so excited about was the Teutonic tendency of getting up a good while earlier than across the channel and the lazy Brits. Say what you like about Carpe Diem but when we woke the next morning to a loud rapping on the door and “Schnell schnell, aufstehen!” it took a great deal of willpower to drag myself out of bed and crawl into the shower. Then after breakfast a genuinely intimidating obstacle stood in our way - taking a series of trams to the station for 9 o’clock to meet the others, as Frau Fehrer couldn’t drive. Despite this Harry and I only missed one, the first- we were trawling through the local supermarket when we saw it drive past and despite the driver clearly seeing us, he must’ve enjoyed leaving us sprinting to the stop and then driving off. This meant we ended up cutting it a little fine, having to ask for directions (we were walking the wrong way) however one big plus of the German realms is that you will never end up waiting more than five or so minutes for a bus. Forget puny, silly British clichés about ‘two then coming at the same time’, in Germany buses come every five minutes and don’t wait for stragglers. Good on them.
On the first day we took the train to Nürnberg to spend the day there. The place had a continental-Mediterranean sort of feel to it, similar to France, with a band playing on accordion, bass and fiddle. We saw the Albrecht Dürer museum, a painter, and my favourite, wandering around the market, and a good Currywurst. Not for the faint hearted, this German snack consists of Wurst and as much curry sauce (as the name logically implies) as a man can eat without his insides being singed. Tasty.
Sunday was a day of rest (even Germans take it easy on the weekend) lying around, going for a walk watching TV. However the highlight was without a doubt the arrival of the delightful Italian girls, who were also staying with us. Pictured left is Harry Sargeant punching well above his weight with Ilaria Nasca.
By Monday we were grizzled veterans of the unforgiving German public transport system and in no time at all we were off to Munich, the capital of Bavaria and South Germany on the whole. Sights included the cathedral, the town hall and of course, the imposing Allianz Arena, stadium of Bayern Munich. We had a guided tour, and were surpised to find out that the outside is in fact flimsy plastic.
Then, famously cultured World Cup-winning German centreback Franz Beckenbauer doing an advert on the pitch put the icing on the cake.
We spent our final day, Tuesday, seeing the most beautifully unspoilt part of the country- the South, not far from the Austrian border. We saw the castles, most famous of which, Neuschwanstein was built by mad King of Bavaria, Ludwig II. At the time he enraged locals by spending their taxes on building huge castles reserved just for himself, then upon his death a metaphorical cheer went up from the easy-going natives who vowed to regain the money through tourism of the majestic buildings. The definition of irony. It’s no exaggeration to say it is one of the most mesmerising parts of Europe, and the photos are a fraction of the amount actually taken as I got busy with my trusty camera.
We then spent the rest of the day not really wanting to leave, we had experienced so much in just five days. The Italians didn’t want us to go either- emotional goodbyes were said, with promises to write and visit (“you can’a stay’a een my ‘ouse”) as we were to get up early again.. urgh. Being an opportunist I even got a quick smooch on my cheek.. result. It’s one of those nice gestures Europeans think nothing of and Brits get excited over.
All that was left then was getting home without the urge to sell everything we owned and start a new life in Bavaria. However we caught the train (which left the second the minute hand ticked onto 6:09am) and then before we knew it, McDonalds in a Warwickshire service station. All that remains is to thank Dr. Minns for taking us, and to think of the good times we had, which unfortunately would overflow if I tried to list them all here. Even with four people, the trip was great and well worth it. I could murder a pretzel right now…