One Last time

I am unsure of where to even begin when it comes to describing my experience at CR. Usually my first sentence when talking to people goes “We just did so much in 3.5 weeks, I can’t wrap my head around it”. I am going to stand by that statement, but I will do the best I can to sum it up, even though thats not entirely possible.

There is nothing like CR. From the cities of Germany, to the mountain tops of Switzerland, then to seaside Rio Maggiore, to finish back in the cities of Rome, we truly covered it all. My abroad experience beforehand was brief and involved a lot of handholding, this however, was far from handholding. We dissected each city with our team members and gained more knowledge than could ever be done in a classroom setting. We had the opportunity to dive into each culture and make the city our own as we grew together as a group. I did things on this experience that I did not think I would ever do. I am pretty positive that I conquered my fear of heights after jumping off rocks, hurling myself out of a plane, and being tricked into doing the thrill walk in the Swiss Alps. I could not have done any of it without the support of my friends. They made every aspect of the trip so fun and I know that I can trust them and count on them to support me for the rest of my life.

As amazing as all the things we did are, what CR really boils down to is the people. I cannot thank Dr. P enough for finding such genuine, supportive, and caring people to go on CR and then somehow deciding to put me with them ;). For three and a half weeks I talked to and experienced life with the same 17 people and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It becomes pretty clear how amazing the people you are with are when you are constantly asking yourself how on earth you did life without them before. I am so grateful that from this point forward, I don’t ever have to do life without them again. Each and every one of them has impacted me greatly and my love for them runs so incredibly deep. Thank you all for showing me what makes you, you, and I am beyond grateful for you.  Thank you for the memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.

Looking back on my experience, words cannot describe how much I miss it and how badly I want to go back a do it again. As sad as I sound, there is an upside. I now have 15 best friends that I get to do life with for the rest of college and for the rest of my life. Now that, that makes me happy.

A special thank you to Dr. P and Lindsey. They are remarkable. This experience is planned so perfectly, every moment of everyday has been thought out and it is out of them love that they have for their students. Dr. P left his wife and kids, Lindsey left her husband, to spend 3.5 weeks with 16 super loud, always hungry college kids. I am not sure why they wanted to do that but they just love us that much and want to invest in students and I cannot thank them enough for that. I have grown in numerous ways through this experience and none of that could have happened without the help of CR. I was pushed out of my comfort zone and learned how to live in the uncomfortable, its pretty fun I have to admit.

I also want to thank my wonderful parents for allowing me to start off my summer away from them and allowing me to go see the world. I love you and I can’t thank you enough for all you do for me, I am truly blessed to have you as parents.

Thank you CR!

The Eternal City

Rome has been a dream. I dream that I will wake up from on Saturday unfortunately, but I could not think of a better place to end the experience. Just in these last few days I think I have said “this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen” at every turn in Rome. The other day, Jake related Rome to lasagna. As odd as that sounds, I don’t think I have heard anything more accurate. The city is layers upon layers of history that goes back to 3000 years ago. Thats before Jesus people.

One of the many highlights of Rome was seeing Vatican City. I stepped in my fourth country of the trip and my eyes were pulled in every direction at something new that was most likely 2000 years old. We walked through the palace and were greeted with stunning paintings by Michelangelo, Raphael, and Caravaggio. Stunning sculptures and marble from the Colosseum were at every turn. I learned that I have a serious fascination with ceilings after taking pictures of each one I saw (there are a few below). The Sistine Chapel, as expected was breathtaking. However, what was not expected was what I learned about Michelangelo. There is one word to describe him, many of you think the word genius is the correct word, but I am going to go with savage. He was a genius, absolutely, but he turned down the Pope…multiple times. That is just something you cannot do. After painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo vowed to never go back to the chapel again. He actually never left the ceiling for four years, I wouldn’t want to go back either. But, there was another blank wall and the Pope insisted that Michelangelo should paint it. Michelangelo turned the Pope down, several times, until 20 million dollars was put on the table for him to paint it. Then, of course he agreed. Even though he agreed to paint this wall, he did it his way. The Last Judgement was the painting right behind the alter and Michelangelo painted it all of naked people, not exactly something you expect to see when going in a chapel, is it? He explained that God sees us all naked, so the people are naked. Interesting interpretation I suppose, but needless to say, he surprised me. (continue past pictures).

Highlight number two: I met a Princess. She was not your ordinary princess, not that being a princess is ordinary, but she was a Texan. She graduated from the University of Texas and also attended Harvard Business School, not too shabby. Dr. P has an incredible talent of pulling strings to make amazing things happen. This one certainly rocked my world. We went into her home with artifacts that are 2000 years old and paintings from Caravaggio on her ceiling. Casual. Also, opera was founded in her home. The front room has incredible acoustics and artists from all over the world come to sing there. Indigo has the most beautiful voice and the Princess invited her to sing right there where opera was founded and recorded her to put in the archives. Indigo sang Over the Rainbow and it moved everyone to tears, that moment I will hold with me forever and I cannot wait to see her on Broadway someday. I promise you she will be the star in every show. After shedding some tears, she continued to show us around the house. I admired her in every way, she was so knowledgable about everything in the house and knew, what seemed like everything, about Italy and the family line.

Okay, I know I say this all the time, I admitted it earlier in this blog, but I really mean it this time. Today, I saw the coolest thing I have ever seen. Bear with me. Another fair warning, I just got back from seeing this so I am still pretty pumped up so forgive the grammar and random sentences, thank ya very much. Here we go…Today, I went to the prison that Peter and Paul were kept in. PETER AND PAUL PEOPLE. Peter wrote a majority of the Bible, he was friends with Jesus, talked to him like all the time!!! How cool is that!? Coming face to face with history is one of the most surreal feelings. It was very similar to the feeling of walking through Dachau. Controversial sentence, I know, but its the idea that something you have been taught and studied is now coming full circle. Seeing this was so exciting on the surface but it ran deeper. Christianity is something I identify with, Jesus is who I follow and strive to be like, so seeing this circle of learning and faith be partially completed (I’m dreaming of visiting Jerusalem) put a fire in my heart. Not that it was exciting that Peter and Paul were stuck in prison, but I stood where they were thousands of years ago, now that is so stinkin’ cool. I can’t really get over it. America is wonderful, but we just don’t have history like this. Rome’s roots run deep, I was in the same place as one of Jesus’s best friends, the one who Jesus said to come follow him and become fishers of men. He walked through life withe Jesus, saw him perform miracles after miracles, change lives, and then sacrifice His life for all of us. The man that denied Christ three times. Now thats history. By far the best experience on CR for me.

CR10 has been a surreal experience. There is nothing like this and I won’t ever be able to repeat it. Tonight we shared what we loved about each other, the ways we have impacted each other, and how we have grown through this experience. These people are my people. Each one of them is so special and so unique, I love them deeply and I know that they are with me for life. Tomorrow is our last day. It took everything in me not to cry this evening so I know the tears will come tomorrow night. I am so grateful for the memories made and the lifelong friendships, I am determined to make this last day an incredible one.

The Power of Curiosity

After testing death in Interlaken, we did a complete 180 and headed for the coast, Cinque Terre. It went quickly, but I fell in love with the quaint town on the water. Regardless of the brutal uphill climb to the hotel, I knew this would be a place that would be hard to leave. The highlight of my time in Cinque Terre was the hike. We embarked on a path that the locals take every Sunday to Church. This path being a fairly substantial hill, it did nothing but remind me that I need to go to the gym. However, on this hike, deeper conversations were had that allowed us to open up even more of our lives and our past to one another.

Once we reached the top of the hill, I was taken back by the vastness of the sea. As I stood in front of the church trying to find where the ocean and the sky separate, gratitude was the only thing I could feel. I have gone from city life to the top of mountains to the ocean, I have been so incredibly blessed to be on this trip and what excites me the most is that this experience never ends. The friendships never end, memories never stop, and the growth occurring will change my life forever.4FF1AE91-A744-415D-A55D-B38E11FA6D8B.jpg

Florence was next in our journey. I was blown away by the drastic difference in culture between Germany and Italy. Germans: Always on time, Italians: fly by the seat of your pants. Needless to say, I fully identify with my German heritage. Florence offered a culture I had never been a part of before. The depth of its history amazed me. This first occurred to me in the Galileo Museum of Science.

Science has never been my strong suite, but I have never felt more appreciation for it as I walked through the museum. The first idea that hit me was the thought of navigation with the stars. It has taken me a whole year to find my way around Fort Worth with Google Maps while the first navigation used the STARS. Talk about a hit on your self-confidence as a directionally challenged person. Aside from feeling a little self-conscious with my mapping abilities, I began to think about my dad. Growing up, I was a bit of a feisty one. I was not hesitant to spout out my view point, regardless of if I was completely right or completely wrong (I still struggle sometimes). My dad, someone who has an incredible way of handling me, taught me the beauty and value of questions. Questions can offer different viewpoints, greater understanding, and could end up changing everything we have ever known. Walking through the museum, I gained a greater understanding of the power of questions. I came upon a quote on the wall that read, “The profound shock of that revolution, undermining faith in man’s privileged position in the universe, aroused violent antagonism that was to claim Galileo himself a victim.” Galileo was not afraid to ask questions when he was challenged with the problems around him, and most importantly, he had the drive to answer those questions. I believe that as a society, we can sometimes take the knowledge we are taught for granted. We learn from a young age that the world works in a certain way but never truly try and understand why. We believe it’s that way because it has always been that way. World-changing discoveries happen when someone asks a question and has the courage to challenge and solve the issue. Change for many can be scary, but if we are willing to ask questions we just might end up changing the world. Curiosity is a gift, and we have the power to use that gift that is in each and every one of us. Ask questions to further understand, listen with intention; we can never learn enough about the world around us.

Similar to science, art is another area I have lots of room to grow. I had to opportunity to visit the Uffizi, one of the most famous art galleries in the world. I am certainly not going to try and convince you that I know everything about art, but I will give you my observations while walking through. If there is something that the Uffizi is not short of, its paintings of baby Jesus. I am talking the entire top floor is Mary and baby Jesus. Do not get me wrong, there is absolutely no such thing as too much Jesus, however, throughout the museum, I noticed that of the many painting of Jesus were of His birth or  of His death. The birth and death of Jesus Christ changed our lives and our world forever; I am not trying to discredit that at all. Back then, not everyone was allowed to read the scripture so paintings were an incredible way of sharing the gospel. I understand what a majority of the paintings involved those two events but I was a bit surprised that there were no paintings of the life of Jesus. Jesus lived a sinless, remarkable life. He had the ability to bring people together, pour into the most difficult, and carry the burden of the world on his shoulders. To me, that is something worth painting about.

I also noticed the depiction of women in the museum. Often iconic women such as Mary, Athena, and Venus were painted in the most glorified and respected manor. I enjoyed the amount of respect that women had in the museum but also found it very hypocritical. Women are depicted as powerful, intelligent, and beautiful, but that is not the way they were treated for a very long time. They honored those women and their contribution to the world but had no intention of implementing that same respect to the women right in front of them in their daily lives. Italy’s culture, when it comes to women, is quite a confusing one. Italian boys have the utmost respect for their mothers and their contribution to the family and their own lives. However, when it comes to treating other women, their actions vastly change. There is cat-calling and women are looked down upon. The message that the paintings were portraying from an early age just did not match what I was seeing in front of my own eyes. Among the beauty of the Uffizi, it did raise conflict within me.

These are just two views into the ways Florence both awed me and challenged me. I didn’t even crack open the stories of the mounds of food ate and memorable dinners had. Long story short, I know what I will remember the most is the people and the laughter, and I have been blessed with an abundance of both.

I also want to give a quick shout-out to the Venice crew- seamless train travel, stunning gondola ride, in a one-of-a-kind city with wonderful friends made for an incredible day trip. I am beyond excited to conquer Rome, here we go!

Full Sends Only

I have always thought of myself as an adventurer. It is pretty rare that I say no to things, but when I do, it is usually because one thing holds me back. Throughout my life, I have built up a pretty significant fear of heights. Ladders, bridges, and stairs with holes in them just about bring me to tears every time.  So, this next part, coming from the girl who cannot walk to the second floor of the Apple store because the stairs are made of glass, is going to come as quite a surprise to all of you, as it did me.

Canyon jumping. I have always been a mountain girl, so this adventure seemed quite fitting for me, but I had no idea what was in store. First of all, we went on the beginner level so I can’t even imagine what the expert was going to be like. We were repelling off cliffs, jumping off 14 foot rocks, and rock sliding down a canyon. Repelling was my first face off with my fear of heights. I repeatedly told our guide to not let my hand go and that he was not holding the rope tight enough. He proceeded to drop me anyway and I am very glad he did. One thing conquered made the rest come easier and easier. With only a few hesitations throughout the course, I finished canyon jumping with a smile that went ear to ear. Our group absolutely crushed it and we even made some new friends from South Carolina along the way.  With our adrenaline running high, we felt like we could do just about anything in that moment. I was quite excited for the later half of our day because of my adrenaline high, but as soon as that high came down, the nerves kicked in for the craziest thing I was ever going to do in my entire life.

Skydiving. No, not just skydiving. Skydiving in the Swiss Alps, in Interlaken, Switzerland. I never in a million years would guess that I would skydive. Especially because two days earlier, I cried going on a bridge because I could see through a tiny crack. I really cannot give you a good answer on why I chose to do this to myself, but it seemed like a one in a lifetime opportunity, so I forced myself to do it. Aside from deciding to go to TCU in the first place, this was the best decision of my life. I couldn’t have asked for a better or more selfless group of people to do it with as they were constantly putting my feelings before theirs. When you come to terms that you are going to jump out of a plane and you say you aren’t nervous, YOU’RE LYING. With nerves high, these wonderful people still encouraged me and continually told me how proud they were of me. I could not be more thankful to share such an incredible experience with such incredible people.

When I met my guide, I proceeded to tell him that I was afraid of heights, hoping that he would be able to do some magical thing to make me feel better. Yeah, no, that only made matters worse. By telling him this, it opened doors to jokes about my harness being broken, how if I see the light he’ll see me there, etc. As much as he freaked me out, I knew he was an expert and I had no other choice than to put my life in his hands at that moment (He really was a great guide though, I promise). As he opened the door, I knew there was no other way down, I was going to have to skydive. The scariest part of skydiving is definitely putting your feet on the outside of the plane. I closed my eyes the during the entirety of leaving the plane and I am not ashamed one bit. I felt us flip over, my stomach facing the ground, and I opened my eyes. I saw the most beautiful picture of God’s green earth and I was soaring over it. It felt like a dream. As I was staring at His creation, I couldn’t help but be in awe of the work of His hands. As I took it all in, my mood suddenly changed. I was AMPED. I was free falling 13,000 feet in the air, in the Swiss Alps, looking at the Lord’s most incredible work…Man, I love God, HE’S SO COOL. We fell for about 45 seconds and then paraglide down to safely land. If you ever need the feeling of conquering the world or a self confidence booster, go skydiving, I promise you will receive all of those feelings. Oh, and also, I’M ALIVE!!!

Long story short, today I lived my dream day. Fears were conquered, trust was furthered, friendships went deeper (or higher, either one), and life got even better than I ever could have imagined. I am so thankful for the opportunities that have arisen from CR, I am very blessed to be here. One last shout out to the Big Man upstairs for allowing us to to explore his creation and keeping us safe while doing it.

When in Interlaken…

Full sends only.

A Hofmeister in Dachau

Visiting a concentration camp is something most people hesitate to say that they are excited about. Excited might seem like a cruel word when first hearing it but putting the sentence in a different light may help you further understand. Growing up, we are taught about the horrors of the Nazi rule and the horrendous things that were done to the prisoners held in camps. We are taught how Adolf Hitler came to power and the ways anti-Semitism values were instilled in German citizens. All of the knowledge gained from the classroom, museums, lectures, are of course extremely impactful. However, all of us were ready to complete the learning. We can never learn enough about the Holocaust, but seeing it in front of your eyes, walking were thousands and thousands were murdered is a feeling that drains you. You have the opportunity to come face to face with the reality of the world’s dark past.

Every part of this camp is moving and incredibly powerful in its own way, however, I will walk you through my toughest moments. For starters, walking through a gate with one of the most deceitful sayings on the front made my experience very real very quickly. “Work sets you free”, a phrase mocking the people as they struggled day in and day out just to survive. Dachau was the first concentration camp made, the one that set the standard for the hundreds of other camps erected soon after. The prisoners were completely oblivious to the amount of pain and dehumanization that lie ahead of them, how could they know?

I began in the museum, a building that all the prisoners started in when they arrived. They were stripped of all of their belongings, beaten, humiliated, and informed that from that moment on all of their rights had been stripped. We arrived early at the camp so it was still quite empty. The eerie walls echoed my steps as I walked alone, haunted by the memories in the space. I continued through and came upon one of many images that depicted the unimaginable. As I stared at the countless number of dead that fell, one in particular consumed my view. I saw flesh, but the body part I was looking at, I could not decipher. The fact that I could not recognize the human body sickened me. I stared, my stomach in knots, finally realized what I was looking at was a hip. The leg was skin and bones, the hip protruding while the stomach was sunken in six inches next to the bone. This image will be engraved in me, I could not forget it even if I tried. But I don’t want to forget, because this was real, this is real. We cannot ignore the evil that occurred there, that occurred in hundreds of other places across Europe. The monuments scattered around Dachau read “Never Forget”. Never forget the suffering that occurred, the millions murdered, and how evil our world can truly be.

I slowly walked out of the museum, attempting to process the reality and images that almost seemed incomprehensible. As thoughts swarmed my head, my feet led me to the center of the roll call square. Its vastness consumed me. The amount of people it would take to fill that space each morning. They stood shoulder to shoulder, many falling because they are too weak to stand, the people next to them forbidden to help. So much in me wanted to run from the feeling, run from space that claimed so many men, women, and children in the cruelest of ways. This is a place that I believe every person should visit, and a type of pain that you have to bear in that moment to understand what really happened. Reading it in books is hard. Seeing it in real life, that’s life changing.

The crematorium. The first room I walked in had cement floors, paint chipped walls, and a plaque in the right corner. I approached it, reading the title and glancing at the picture. “Death Chamber 2”, I immediately stepped back. In that room, thousands of Jews, Soviets, Polish, Religious leaders, men, women, children, were piled on each other like their lives were disposable. They were carelessly thrown there before they were thrown into ovens. That does not even sound humanly possible to me but they said often they would just hang the prisoners right above the oven and throw them in directly after. To think all of this was happening while people stood by watching. Did you know that people actually took tours of Dachau? Granted they disguised a lot of what was actually happening, but I refuse to believe that they were completely oblivious to the truth. I felt as if the smell of burning flesh still lingered in the air. They had to have known: the ring of gun shots, the screams from the whipping table. There is just no way. I moved on to the next rooms, my eyes were led toward a door that red “Brausebad” above it, meaning showers. I was very aware of what really happened there. The moment I saw the gas chambers, I didn’t think I could walk through it. Dachau was the first camp to build the gas chambers but it was never used for mass killings there. That does not change the fact that it was the prototype that was used at other death camps and murdered millions. I forced myself to go in. The cruelty of the Nazis and how deceitful they were, I can never understand. How could someone come up with something like that, let alone murder innocent people in the first place. That is a moment I will never, ever forget.

I visited a church on the camp site, I spent time in prayer talking to God. I asked him to be with me as I faced with one of the hardest realities our world has. I asked him for a voice for justice and to always stand up for what is right. God immediately working as I received a message from my Dad that read “Praying for you today. It will be interesting to see what God shows you today and what he says through it. I bet it is something about love.” After the crematorium, I was under the impression that I was finished. God usually does the unexpected so it shouldn’t surprise you what I say that I have never been more wrong. As I went to the café for lunch, Dr. P asked me if I saw my last name. There was a man that was held here in the bunker here with the same last name of Hofmeister. I was shocked. I left to go in the bunker, afraid of what I was going to find. Anticipation built as Ryal and I walked down the long hall, finally finding the door that held the name Corbinian Hofmeister. I stood in awe. Corbinian Hofmeister was the Abbot of Metten Abbey, a prominent clergy man. He was a religious “special prisoner”. That moment moved me to tears and marks as one of the best moments of my life. Not the idea of a Hofmeister in a concentration camp, but the fact that in order for him to be in the camp he had to have stood up against the Nazis. I have never been prouder to have the Hofmeister name (thank you to Ryal for helping me keep it together). God showed me in the most incredible way, through the darkest of places, that faith runs deep, and love prevails. I unfortunately am unsure if we are related or have any type of connection, but I am currently doing more research on the possibility, and my wonderful Grandfather helping me out with it as well.

Dachau moved me in more ways than one and I can assure you I am still trying to gather my thoughts. One thing I hope everyone takes away is the importance of continuing to tell the story of all those victimized by the Nazis. We must never forget.

Night Train to Party Train

In preparation for this trip, we were advised to stay up all night on the CR tradition: the night train. I hate to disappoint, but we certainly did not do this. Although, we still have stories worth telling. As a preface, Europeans are not particularly fond of a group of sixteen, American college students, with the largest bags and loudest voices boarding their train. To begin the on-board adventures, I would like to thank Jacob James for his incredible ability to bring people together. He radiates energy and instantly set the tone for how enjoyable our night train experience was about to be. He started us off with immediately suggesting Hot Seat: a high-pressure game where your group has one minute to ask you any question they want; riveting I must say. From questions about how one eats their taco to horrendous, and I mean horrendous, first kiss stories, the night was nothing short of memorable. I am grateful for this new level of friendship reached and each and every one of these people continue to amaze me in their past, present, and plans for the future. It helped me realize how much more I have to learn about each individual and I am looking forward to continuing to do just that.

As sick as the fellowship (that was for Kyle Hepting) on the night train was, the morning did not greet us kindly. For starters, our conductor, who already did not like us, woke us up at 6am to give us “breakfast”. “Breakfast” consisted of two hard pieces of bread and either coffee or tea. After we nibbled, we started counting the stops and nodding off back to sleep. About thirty minutes later our conductor was standing at our door yelling at us in German. I am not sure if you have ever been yelled at in German, but it is about a million times scarier than your parents have ever said to you. His knowledge of English was slim to none and the only thing he could say was “it is finished” and “two minutes”. After us honors students put two and two together, all hell broke loose. For everyone who knows me well should know that this just about gave me a heart attack (I don’t handle being late well). As my graceful self quickly got out of bed, I hit the hot tea off my bed, spilling it everywhere. But with two minutes on the clock, that had to be ignored. As Olivia threw down luggage that weighed about a ton to me, I threw them down the hallway while everyone helped clean our cabin and attempt to grab everything. A special thank you to Abby Souder for being the only responsible one of the group and grabbing our rail passes, which are our lifeline for the rest of our trip. We made it off the train with my heart rate at 128, but little did we know we had plenty of time to spare. As we stood outside the train trying to find our bearings, the train sat there for a solid ten minutes and proceeded to sit there after we left. I am convinced our conductor had it in for us and enjoyed watching us Americans squirm a little bit. I reached this conclusion because I watched him share a chuckle with his colleague or should I save accomplice after watching us sprint off the train in sheer panic. Needless to say, first impressions while arriving in Munich (people wise) was not stellar.

Regardless of the rough morning, Dr. P treated us to a wonderful breakfast at a café in Marienplatz. I thought unwelcome feeling would change quickly but it continued when we sat down in the café a couple immediately got up to leave. I can’t say I blame them too much since you can hear us coming from about three blocks away but I felt myself getting hostile even though it was so early in our Munich experience. This view changed throughout our first day as we were awestruck by the city’s beauty. It was drastically different from Berlin, old architecture, calm streets, history at every turn. As abrupt as the morning was, it helped me realize how important it is to recognize and respect your surroundings. I love the way Americans make conversation, sing, and practically dance through life, but respecting the culture around us helped us to even further immerse into the society we entered. CR10 has capitalized on this by learning how to navigate the city, appreciate the culture, but still remain unapologetically ourselves.

Our first day in Munich turned out to be wonderful. We pushed through the tired, learned more about each other, and ended up jumping in a freezing cold river in the middle of a park. However, that night turned out to be the best night so far. We arrived at a Mexican restaurant that has been CR tradition for a decade now. My view of the Munich people made a complete 180 as the owner was nice enough to close down the restaurant just for us. Not only did he close it down, but he blasted music for us all to dance together and even our waitress joined. There was salsa dancing, two-stepping, A LOT of shimmying, and even Dr. P got out on the dance floor. My personal favorite was the conga line around the restaurant during Despacitos third time playing. But, before I continue, I a wonderful person that I have been lucky enough to come to know because of this trip.

Audrey Payne, if you do not know her, you need to get on that. In the middle of the dance party she pulls out this hidden talent of doing the worm. I personally have never seen a better worm in my life and I have Bennett Hofmeister for a brother. Not only can Audrey do the worm, but she is a phenomenal flute player in the band who plans to continue to pursue her music career after college by joining her community orchestra and teach private flute lessons. Alongside her music career, she would like to double as a lawyer. I am pretty sure the only step up from there is a secret agent, so watch out she could do that too. Audrey is one of those people that you can never stop learning enough about because her talents are endless, her spontaneity is magnetic, and she never ceases to amaze you. She is selfless, passionate, so incredibly kind-hearted, and brilliant in the most beautiful way. She is always keeping us on our toes and I am looking forward to many more surprises.

These first days in Munich have really pushed me to be open-minded. I would like to think that I was that way walking in, but I tend to form my views quickly if something goes wrong. Going back to the conductor putting me into cardiac arrest, I immediately thought that the whole city of Munich didn’t want us there. It took me all day and a nice restaurant owner named Martin to figure out how incredibly wrong I had been. The days followed have been taken by storm with an emphasis on allowing the culture to teach me before I write it off. We have one more day in Munich and I can definitely say it will be missed. (Keep going past pictures for the most important part)

One last, but very important thing. Today is my parents 31st wedding anniversary but these two have been together for a total of 36 years. Thank you for being the epitome of a Christ-centered relationship for John, Bennett, and I and always loving and supporting each other/us unconditionally. It has been the most beautiful thing to watch, learn from, and environment to grow up in. Thank you for giving me the two best friends/brothers I could ever ask for and allowing us to hang out with people as cool and as fun as you. Any parents that decide that they want to go play laser tag and whirly ball for their anniversary celebration definitely have it going on. I love and appreciate you so much and thank you for giving me this opportunity to explore abroad. I can’t wait to celebrate with you when I get back. I love ya’ll.

Humility at its Finest

As some of you may know, last year I had the opportunity to visit Berlin on my Frog Camp. During that trip I was awestruck by the amount of humility that Berlin had about its dark past. This time around was different, different in an even better way. Cultural Routes is not a hold-your-hand experience, it allows you to dive deep, think harder, ask questions, and be challenged. As we were divided into three groups, I was placed with Team Alpha (the best team of course;) ) and we were given a list of tasks to do the past two days. However, our job was not to just complete the list, it was to immerse ourselves into the culture of Berlin. This was done to the maximum, just ask my legs (14 miles walked today). Between the two days thus far of experiencing Berlin and Dr. P’s night adventures, I am overwhelmed in the most beautiful way by Berlin’s ability to wear their past on their sleeve. Many moments come to my mind when I think about what has impacted me but two places of extreme significance are in the forefront of my brain.

Day one for Team Alpha was nothing short of heavy on the mind. We began the day at the Memorial of Murdered Jews, a powerful but yet subtle memorial. It is subtle in the fact that one would really not know what it is if they just walked past it, but there is deep meaning in that. Just like German citizens watched the Jews be taken away and persecuted, bystanders just go by this massive complex without a thought because it is not labeled. In the pictures below you will see a series of grey stone, very similar to the look of a grave, as you can guess that was intentional. The beauty of memorials is their ability to be multi-vocal. As we collaborated as a group and then later this evening as a CR unit, many meanings of these stones were brought to the table. The stones represent the map of the concentration camps that were in Europe, the walks of life that each Jew took, the way that the Nazis viewed the Jews: uniformed and took away their humanity, and even just how quickly we find ourselves in a mess we were not sure we were in. As you look at the memorial from the outside, you are unable to see the darkness, isolation, and uneven ground that lies inside of the blocks. As you walk in, the ground goes lower, the grave stones beside you rise past your waist, then past your shoulders, and before you know it you are surrounded looming stones, towering over your head. You don’t know if someone is coming around the corner or if they are on the other side of the stone. It was hard to walk through, but even more impactful at night when the stones seemed even more daunting and running into others made you jump a little more. I will never be able to understand what the Jews felt or their experience, but I believe this memorial was made to put us in their shoes. The Nazis loomed over them, dehumanized them, overpowered them in every way. At first it started small, but quickly turned into something no one though would ever happen, millions of Jewish people being murdered.

I have visited the memorial three times now, including Dr.P’s recent night adventure. Visiting the memorial at both day and night created emotions of sadness and fear. For a group of people to be demoralized and dehumanized cut incredibly deep and only went deeper as we entered the Holocaust museum that lies under the memorial. As we went under, we were walked through the continuous rise of the Nazis power and how they gradually began to rid of the Jewish people in the most horrific ways. Up top, there are 2711 blocks, no identification of the humans that the Jewish people were, but underground is where their story lies. The ceiling shows where the blocks are and it continues down to a story of a victim of the Nazis, the fear they felt and how their lives were taken over and cut too short. I remember feeling heavy leaving the museum after reading quotes of victims and the shear terror that their lives brought to them each day. They did not know if it would be their last, and many hoping it was their last just to escape the horror. Their reality was something I felt I could barley comprehend. A question our group kept coming after was “How did Hitler make this all happen?” 6 million Jewish people murdered. How did the world not stop this or see it coming in its beginning stages? Imagine if Hitler used his gift for leadership in the correct way, what a different world we would be in. But, isn’t that true in a lot of scenarios?

Day one consisted of much of the Holocaust and then we ventured onto day two, our day of the Soviet Union. I personally find the Soviet Union and their piece of World World II extraordinarily interesting. Yes, I know I just took a complete 180, but I promise this place is significant too. Treptower Park was one of my favorite places we visited and Team Alpha had the pleasure of having Dr. P join us, which I could not be more grateful for. This particular memorial has symbolism in every statue, plant, angle, and plaque; we needed Dr. P to help open our minds to the various meanings of this particular memorial. Aside from the Soviet Memorial’s stunning layout, the meaning behind the placement of each structure and the story told is important. As a general overview, this memorial is congruent to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in America just for the Red Army instead. However, before we go deeper I want to clear up some possible concerns. I ensure you that I do recognize the the Soviet did some horrific things. In Berlin, Germans actually refer to the “Tomb of the Unknown Rapist.” When they were taking over, they raped thousands of women and that cannot go unrecognized nor will I try to defend such horrible actions in any way. As you also know the Soviets were communists, I am not supporting that either.

That said, back to the memorial. As you walk into Treptower Park you seen a woman, humbly bowing in respect, this is all you see. As you reach the statue, you turn and see two flags angles, two soldiers bowing, and a series of story-telling stones that all face toward the center of a mass grave. The gravesite of six thousand soldiers rest there. A story of the Red army lines the right and left side of the memorial; Russian on the left, German(language) on the right. They have the story in German so the Germans people remember the sacrifice made by the the Soviet Union. The Germans broke the alliance and brought tragedy to the people. The Soviets lost twenty-seven million lives during WWII. Twenty-seven million. They carried a massive burden of the war. As you continue to move through the story of the people’s army you are led to the tomb. The tomb is topped with a soldier holding a sword that cut the swastika and was crushing it with his foot, all while holding a child. Some might be thrown off by the child being held, I know I was, but then I turned around. Think back to the woman at the beginning of the memorial, who is she bowing to, who is she thanking? That woman was Germany at its current state during WWII and that child represents the future of Germany, both saved by the Soviet Union. This memorial is powerful and beautiful. Millions of lives were lost, families were broken, horrors were seen and this memorial could not do a better job of honoring that sacrifice as they protected their people.

These two very thought provoking places were significant to what makes Berlin so incredible. They have one of the darkest times on our world’s history right there in their city. They live it every day. What I love the most is how they own up to their mistakes and broadcast their history in an effort that it does not repeat itself. The Memorial of the Murdered Jews takes up an entire block of the street and the Holocaust Museum is free for all to come learn about the history of the Holocaust. The Germans also gladly take care of the Soviet Memorial as they recognize the sacrifices made by the Soviets as their loses still effect families today. This kind of humility lived and breathed by Berlin has been something I hope for for the United States. We have many parts of our history that are gruesome and far from what we want to be as a country. I believe our pride gets in the way of becoming a better country. If we own up to the mistakes of the past we are more likely to learn and grow from them and less likely to repeat it.

These past two days have been mentally challenging in all the right ways. I am so grateful for the depth and how much emotion has been brought into each spot on our list. Team Alpha, ya’ll are incredible and I can’t wait to make this last day the best one.

More picture because this is so funnnn!!!!!