I was wishing a seminary friend a happy birthday over the weekend when I realized that this month marks 10 years since the big Columbia Seminary Jan Term in Geneva. A couple dozen of us went that year, along with a group of DMin students. It was a spectacular trip and thanks to that experience, I still get the urge to travel each January.
Several years ago I wrote some memories of the experience. I’ll post some this week in the hopes that it will inspire some of the other Geneva folks to reminisce as well.
Part I: The Journey
I packed for this trip over a series of days. There’s something very satisfying about the process—culling through huge heaps of clothing, deciding what to live without, squeezing shampoo and Woolite into petite plastic bottles, making room for that special scarf, not because you need it, but because it cheers you. You can’t beat the elegance and simplicity of carrying all of life’s necessities in a few small bags: Everything I need is right here. By the time I left for the airport and three weeks in wintry Europe, I was carrying a carryon roller bag and a duffel. OK, and a backpack. I have some room to improve, but I had much less baggage than some of my companions.
I have my sister-in-law to thank for this, whom I had visited a few weeks before at Christmas. She spent a year in Paris during college, and not only did she provide invaluable packing advice, but she gave my wardrobe the stamp of approval. Especially the shoes. I’m told the shoes are what give Americans away in Europe—clunky, white, and practical to a fault. Mine were comfortable but sleek, and an unremarkable black. I was ready.
Part II: Munich
Pen and Jody were also on the flight to Munich, and were already there when I arrived at the airport. We didn’t have seats together; probably good, we would have talked much too late into the night. I finished my dinner, caught a few minutes of in-flight TV, took a Tylenol PM, and put an eye mask on and ear plugs in, souvenirs from a red-eye flight the year before. I closed my eyes and thought, “I’m too excited to sleep.” My next thought was, “Hey, it’s breakfast.” No time had elapsed. I was like Ripley in the Alien movies.
It wasn’t a good rest of course. After staggering through customs, my friends and I stood in front of the currency exchange and debated: cab or train? cab or train? Cab, and an important travel lesson: Sleep deprived people will carelessly choose the costly option. Forty-five minutes and too many deutschmarks later, our cab dropped us off at the Hotel Jedermann—the Hotel Everybody, a genial, youthful place with an internet connection in the corner of the lobby. (Hey, in 2001 this was pretty novel.) We checked in and met up with our friends who’d arrived the previous day. Lest we be tempted to sleep, they whisked us off to the Marienplatz, where we arrived just in breathless time to check out the town carillon in its noontime dance of whirring and tinkling. Sehr Deutsch!
Our time in Munich was short, a smudge of jet lag and January drizzle.
We took a tour, we visited a museum.
We ate lots of meat.
We walked a lot.
We didn’t speak the language. That part was pleasant, a whole level of cognitive activity shut down. We couldn’t fall into eavesdropping as one can do in a crowd. Even our bus tour was in German. The weekend was one of absorption, of soaking up the little juicy bits, sponge-like, and not needing to do a thing with them: the neon store signs nestled under angled, rust-colored Bavarian roofs; the exhibit of Christmas decorations at the city museum, featuring trees, advent calendars, and figurines of Nikolaus, whom we recognized, and the devilish Krampus, whom we didn’t; the Isar River, grey and meditative in its concrete-reinforced banks; and the tankards of beer with heads floating on top that defy gravity, like a stiff meringue.
My travel companions, all killing time before having to report to Geneva for the start of class, got along great. There was one bout of snoring by a classmate who will remain nameless.
We wandered through cathedrals, because we were seminary students.
We went to the Hofbrauhaus, because we were tourists.
And we went to Dachau, because we had already come this far.
to be continued…