Monday, March 30, 2009

A Journey Back in Time

After being on the road for more than week, it certainly feels good to be back in Vienna, my "home away from home," for a reprieve before heading to Paris. Looking back, however, it is hard to believe that we got to visit so many places in such a relatively short period of time. Indeed, Salzburg, Innsbruck, and Munich were amazing cities, each very different from one another but connected by a somewhat similar geography, culture, and history. Though I did often wish that the weather had been warmer, it did seem fitting in many ways that for most of the trip snow could be seen covering the mountains in a blanket of white.

Our first stop was Salzburg, a few hours away from Vienna by train. Even in the twenty-first century, the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart looks like a town from the eighteenth century, largely free of major industrial factories or intrusive modernist architecture. One has the impression of stepping back in time as soon as exiting the train station! The two major excursions we participated in while visiting Salzburg were "The Sound of Music" tour, which brought us to locations where the world-renowned film was shot. We learned some highly interesting and amusing things about the film. Indeed, I never suspected that the production used two different houses when shooting scenes at the Von Trapp villa, or that the actress playing Leisl was almost seriously injured while shooting in the gazebo where many of the film's romantic scenes take place.

The day after taking the movie tour, we went to visit the local salt mines, a major source of revenue for the Salzburg area for many centuries. It was interesting to see how this precious mineral is mined, and it was even more fun to ride the underground slides that transported the miners to their jobs every day. Spending an hour so many feet underground, however, was enough for me; I would not have enjoyed working down there every day, regardless of how good the pay may have been!

Compared to Salzburg, Innsbruck was a more relaxed and carefree trip. I only spent one day in the city, but once more, I was taken by the natural and artistic beauty of the city. Surrounded by mountains everywhere, Innsbruck, like Salzburg, is a quiet town which seems to have let the modern world pass it by. At the same time, however, it is a town which is most beneficial to those who enjoy winter sports, such as skiing and snowboarding. The mountains, as seen in the picture below (taken from the top of a tower in the center of the city), must be heaven for those who like the snow and cold weather. They are much more impressive than the mountains found in New England, that is for sure!
I, however, am no fan of the cold or of winter sports, so I, along with a few other students, decided to leave for Munich a day earlier than the rest of the group. The largest and most important city in Bavaria (in Southern Germany), Munich is one of my favorite places in Europe for several reasons. Like the other two cities on our journey, it looks much like a Medieval town, with cathedrals, monuments, and Gothic architecture. In addition, however, Munich is a thriving modern city with shopping districts, theaters, and restaurants at every corner. Through history, the city has served many purposes, chiefly as the birthplace of National Socialism and the Nazi Movement. In these streets, Adolf Hitler laid the foundations of his political career. As a student of history, this fact is what made Munich so fascinating to me. Indeed, I ate dinner in the very same beer hall, the Hofbrรคuhaus, where Hitler gave some of his most memorable and popular speeches before becoming Chancellor of Germany. It was a surreal feeling knowing that the Nazi Party's policies were formulated in the very same room in which I was sitting

Even more surreal and sobering, however, was the trip we made to Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp, before leaving Munich for our train ride back to Vienna. One cannot accurately express in words the horrors that took place there between 1933 and 1945, and the memorial site remains one of the most important locations in Europe in terms of the location's historical value. Walking into the former gas chamber (which was never used for mass exterminations at this particular camp) was the event that impacted me the most, yet it was also very difficult for me to visit the crematorium, where so many men, women, and children became nameless victims of
industrialized and systematic murder. Though I do personally feel that the countless books, movies, and documentaries that I have read and watched have to a degree "desensitized" me to what I witnessed at Dachau, it was nevertheless an emotional and educational experience that I will never forget.
The Crematorium at Dachau

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