The 2017 tour was the first one held in May (instead of March), it had the most Asbury students to date (26), and it was the first one with an extended layover in The Netherlands on the way back to the States. (This allowed us to explore Amsterdam on a guided tour as well as locate the Ten Boom House in Haarlem). The student composition was unusual in that of the 25 students, we had only one male. The gender ratio, up to this tour, had always reflected rather well the gender ratio found in the larger student body at Asbury. However, for whatever reason, this year it was very lopsided. A new non-student helper came along as well, Ms. Sandy Anderson. Sandy was serving as a career counselor at Asbury and enjoyed supporting student experiences such as study-abroad trips. She is also of Dutch heritage and was especially excited for the brief stint in Holland – the first time for her in decades. Another non-student helper came along, Ms. Mel Erickson. She is an aunt to student Bethany Maclejewski – a biblical studies student with limited mobility. It is great to have non-students join these tours.
As with previous tours, this one featured many familiar venues but also several new ones. And, as always, the students were simply fantastic. So many of them were well prepared and highly motivated to absorb as much as they could from their experiences. It seems as though the success of previous tours and the communication that was happening amongst students on campus was creating greater anticipation and greater preparation on their part for the experience. I was also extremely impressed by the way this group looked out for one another and managed new challenges with optimism, positivity, and grace.
The Travel Packet
Highlights of the Tour
One feature that immediately stood out on this tour was the effect of the more gentle weather. Going a couple months later in the year really made a difference. Moving about was easier and the mild weather facilitated longer engagements for the students with the information in the outdoor installations. Although there is pedagogical value in experiencing a concentration camp in harsher conditions, there was also always the risk of having a late-winter storm interfere with our ability to travel to and visit a site. Moving the tour to May will greatly reduce the risk of a schedule interference due to weather.
In terms of the itinerary, the skeleton of the tour stayed the same. As with previous trips, we started out with a walking tour of Berlin. This allowed us to visit, among other spots, the Topography of Terror Museum, the new Aktion T-4 Memorial, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and the Brandenburg Gate. As the tour unfolded, we also went to Sachsenhausen, Ravensbrück, Auschwitz I and II, and Schindler’s enamel works factory. Our visit to Ravensbrück was, for the first time, a guided visit. This enhancement will be kept for future visits.
New this year to the Berlin leg was a successful quest to find the Bonhoeffer family home and a rail trip south of Berlin to the beautiful city of Wittenberg, home of all things Luther and the Reformation. Coincidentally, we arrived just a few months before the 500th anniversary of the 95 Theses being nailed to the door of Castle Church.
For the Kraków leg, we learned that the May trip overlaps with a cultural festival held in Old Town. This brought more people, more cultural displays, more kiosks of interesting items for sale, and more authentic Polish food to the Old Town square. In terms of new venues explored in Kraków, some went to the word famous Wieliczka Salt Mine, others explored some of the Wawel Castle Tours, and many checked out the Wawel Cathedral and other beautiful churches in the area.
Finally, on the way back to the States, we had a seven-hour layover in Amsterdam that afforded us the opportunity to have a guided bus tour through the city and also to make a couple stops; one at a small picturesque Holland village (Zaanse Schans) and the other at the city square of Haarlem. Here, just off the city square, sits the Ten Boom Museum, located in the family watch store. Unfortunately, there was no opportunity to go into the museum on this trip. All tours for the day had been booked.
Being my fourth trip to Berlin and Kraków, my familiarity continued to increase resulting in increased willingness to try new things. For instance, comfort with the regional train system allowed for a trip to Wittenberg. (This successful jaunt prompted dreams to other places, like Bernburg and Leipzig, on future tours). I also learned that May is, in many ways, a better time for this tour. As previously mentioned, the weather is much better which makes moving about easier and more enjoyable. Additionally, going after the spring semester is over allows students to focus on the trip itself and not upcoming tests and papers. Finally, being outside the narrow confines of a spring break week allowed for a less compressed schedule. Adding a day or two on to the trip really made a difference.
Although I have still to try the Polish regional train system, each visit to Kraków results in greater exploration of the many things to do and see in Old Town and the immediate surroundings. This year I went with some students to explore “Lost Wawel,” a castle tour featuring excavations and underground chambers. I also went to services at St. Mary’s church for the first time. It was a moving experience inside an unbelievably beautiful structure. I will be back.
For more information about future academic tours, check out this website: https://www.asbury.edu/academics/cce/travel-courses/germany-poland/