Jordan in Germany

Jordan is a junior President’s Scholar and a triple major in music in SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts and anthropology and history in Dedman College, with minors in human rights and European studies. In Summer 2009, she is participating in SMU-in-Germany and the Global Leadership Program in Prague and Berlin, which trains students to become community, business and political leaders through university courses, cultural activities and community service.

Wartburg Castle, Bach’s House and Buchenwald

Life has found its normal pace here in Weimar. We’ve made it through papers and midterms and other such school concerns. My surroundings have become a normal place, and I truly have to remember where I am to find the awe in it all. Over the last week and a half we have taken trips to both Eisenach and Buchenwald Concentration Camp.

castle.jpgWindy day at Wartburg Castle

We left for Eisenach on Thursday after German class for a trip to the Wartburg Castle and Bach’s House. We took a private bus for about an hour and a half to get there. We drove to the base of the small mountain/large hill where the Wartburg Castle is situated. Then we had an arduous climb up many stairs to get to the top of the castle.

It was very beautiful on the way up, and the main focus of the collective visitor group was for no rain. Our wish came, but it was accompanied by a relentless wind that made hair vertical and seemed to push me back down every stair I climbed. Once at the castle, the lack of tree cover made the wind much more present and people were being blown over.

We waited along the visitors area for the English tour to start, making sure not to get blown over the low walls down the face of the mountain. Our tour of the interior of the castle was fascinating, and combined with the fact that it was my first visit ever to a castle, made it quite magnificent.

We learned all about the long, important and tumultuous history that seems to follow the German nobles. Music also played an important role in the castle’s history, especially the Medieval Singing Duels between the most famous singers and musicians in Europe, some of whom are even remembered today and happen to be taught in Intro to Music History, which five of our group have just completed. It was really neat to make the vague nature of music history real and be able to place medieval musicians.

We also got to see the place where Martin Luther spent a year in exile translating the Bible. We then went back down the mountain, got on the bus and made our way to Bach’s house.

Immersed in Bach

This Bach’s house is the house where J.S. Bach spent his childhood. Along with the house, there is now an accompanying museum for visitors to learn more about and hear Bach’s music. The tour began with a demonstration of Baroque keyboard instruments popular in Bach’s day. This included an organ that required another person to pull straps to get the power to the organ.

During the demonstration, Katrina volunteered to pull the straps while the demonstrator played a piece. He gave her a quick and ambiguous lesson on how to work the straps, which ended in hilarity. Every time she tried to pull the straps and he tried to play, the organ would start playing, and then would lose all of its steam and all sound would slowly fade away. This happened many times in a row. She could never figure it out, and with his misguided help, the organ could never play more than a few notes before it would start to fade.

Music.jpg After this demonstration, we took a speedy tour of the house and then spent some time in the museum. In the museum were these awesome egg-shaped chairs (think Men in Black) suspended from the ceiling that had fancy headphones playing beautiful music. I spent quite a bit of time suspended in an egg slowly swinging to the music of Bach. It was magnificent, and I have resolved to make sure one is installed in my house in the future. (In photo: SMU student Lauren)

Night at the opera

After our Eisenach trip, we came back to Weimar and went to the Opera. They performed Don Giovanni, which is one of my more favorite operas. With my prior knowledge of the opera, the Italian singing, and the German subtitles, I could actually figure out what was going on, which is always a plus in an opera.

It was a modern rendition set in present-day Italy, with the full level of tackiness that Mozart wrote that has been lost through time. The German operas are a lot more risque, which I did not expect at all (especially with Mozart). I’m pretty sure that an American Opera Company would have to label the opera burlesque and put an age rating on it to be performed.

Remembering the Holocaust

The next week, we went to Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Having visited so many camps in such a short time, I was quite reluctant to go to another. I had the same intense, unexplainable emotions as the first camp. I took fewer pictures, but I was still compelled to document my experience.

One of the remarkable memorials on the site is an unassuming, oversized plaque that stays at a constant 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit to symbolize that all people are the same on the most basic level. In my opinion, it is an excellent way to both memorialize the events and bring awareness to all people. Something as atrocious as the Holocaust could happen to anyone, because in its most basic level it is just one group of humans hating and oppressing another group of humans.

IMG_2194.JPG Buchenwald is an interesting camp to study, because it was liberated by the Americans and then used as anti-Nazi propaganda. Its history has greatly influenced the knowledge and education of the Holocaust in America. I wrote my final paper on the Liberation of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp for the CF class, and I found out so many fascinating aspects of the camp and the city.

One interesting fact was that the American soldiers went to Weimar and required all of the citizens to take a tour of the city and see the heaps of dead bodies that the Nazis had left. The Americans wanted to make sure that there were German witnesses to the atrocities. Then they made some of the Weimar citizens bury the dead victims. I thought that this was incredibly symbolic and powerful.

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Munich and a taste of art and culture

4426_1078881767895_1101780034_30206670_7032754_n.jpgLearning German: Not an impossible task

I think I will start this time with a little update about my classes. As I mentioned, I’m taking the CF German Culture in Weimar and German 1401. In the CF, we have read The Sorrows of Young Werther, Faust I, Woyzeck, and German history up to World War I. So I would definitely say that we are moving quickly! The class is both lecture and discussion, and there is tons of information and ideas to absorb.

In German, we are moving impossibly fast. We’ve learned so much in so little time. We are learning the basics and conversation skills, plus the functional grammar. Even though it is a lot of work, it really does pay off when I can order in German at the restaurants or when I wrote a two-page essay in a language that I knew only a handful of words in two weeks ago. We will also be going on field trips in the next few weeks like movie showings, plays, and even puppet theater, which will allow us to gain more experience with the language.

4.jpgTo gain even more experience with German, I have purchased some small children’s books of German fairy tales, so I can practice reading on a simple level. I also purchased a German book and its audio book, so I listen to that and follow along in the book. I don’t really understand much, but occasionally I can figure it out.

Group trip to Munich

This weekend we went to Munich, which is south Germany (Bavaria). The Bavarian culture is very different from the Thuringia (the state Weimar is located) culture. The Bavarian culture is like the quintessential German stereotype with the sauerkraut, bratwurst, pretzels, lederhosen, etc. It’s really fun to see all of it, especially when people on the streets are dressed up in the traditional garb. This was especially true on Saturday night, because there were a lot of parties (I’m assuming bachelor and bachelorette parties) with everyone all dressed up. I also think that it is some kind of tradition (don’t ask me what kind), which seems comparable to things that fraternities do, where the men dress up in the female beer garden girl dress.

2.jpgIn Munich, we saw a lot of tourists, especially college-aged boys who made the stop because of the infamous beer gardens. The SMU group even visited the Hofbrauhaus for some Bavarian cultural experience. We also took a tour of Munich, visited the over-priced but amazing market, and the Residenz, which was an amazing museum of the Bavarian royal family. There were 90 rooms decorated with collections: furniture, paintings, sculptures, rugs, etc., from the family. The entire palace was breathtaking.

3.jpgOn Sunday we took a tour of the modern art museum, which is neat because I got to learn quite a bit about modern art, but on the other hand I wish I could have just roamed around and looked at everything by myself. One interesting thing about this museum was that there were sensors in front of all of the paintings, so if you got within four inches of any of the walls, this annoying beeping would go off. Basically they were going off constantly, because people would accidentally get too close. After our tour, we had to hurry to the train station to get back to Weimar. Once back in Weimar we had some Turkish food, checked the internet, and did homework.

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Trip to Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp

IMG_2062.JPGI’m glad they call this blog the Student Adventures Blog, because I’ve been doing some adventuring! I mentioned my tentative plan of going to Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp for the weekend. That’s exactly what I did.

On Saturday, I slept in and just hung out around Weimar. It was lazy, wonderful and refreshing. If I hadn’t taken this rest, I don’t think I would have actually made it to Mittelbau-Dora.

My plans for Sunday were tentative and more of a general direction. I had looked up the camp online and read about it and how to get there. I saw that I could take a train and walk 30 minutes to get there. I decided that I could handle that and left it at that. I woke up on Sunday and decided that I should maybe have the train stops and times and the directions to the camp from the concentration camp. So I went searching for internet and furtively copied all of the information in the alley behind the cafe so I wouldn’t have to purchase anything. Then I headed out to the train station.

Adventure #1: Trains and train stations

I believe that one of the crucial differences between Americans and Europeans is their train system and how it connects everyone. Also, the European ability to use the train system is absolutely astounding. I see elementary school children purchase a ticket and just hop on the train like it was old hat. Then I come and stare at the ticket machine as if it were the most complex super-computer that has ever existed in the history of humanity. A two-minute purchase time easily becomes a 20-minute disaster with my inexperience.

Once the ticket is in my hand, I have to find the terminal. Now the Weimar train station is quite small, so technically this is easy, but again inexperience plus a language barrier equal a daunting task.

Next, getting on the train. How hard is that? The train stops where it’s supposed to, and then the people who have purchased a ticket should get on. I, on the other hand, stare at it as if it is all a trick. I confirm the train, the terminal, the ticket the time about 20 times before I will enter the train.

Then I sit down and wait for the ticket lady to come and silently interrogate my ticket. Every time this happens I feel like a criminal. I can feel my heart pound and my stomach twist. It just doesn’t make any sense. The most stressful part is the transfers. I’m not sure what the deal is, but there is always a tiny interval of time to get to the complete opposite side of the station.

On this trip I had two transfers. One was at a larger station (Erfurt), so there were lots of people and quite a large distance to cover. Next was at a much smaller station (Nordhausen), but it was almost more stressful because there was no tunnel under the tracks to walk through. I had to walk over the actual train tracks to get to my next terminal. At every track crossing there is this cautionary sign with a stick figure being run over by a train. These signs just freaked me out, and I could just imagine a train coming out of nowhere after I had checked from all directions or it sucking me from the sidewalk to its crushing underbelly.

OK, so I get on the train in Nordhausen and only have to wait seven minutes to get off at my last stop, which is a suburb of Nordhausen called Niedersechswerfen. When we get to the stop (the second stop from Nordhausen), I am the only person to get off. The train station is unmanned with only a little ticket machine, a sign with the train schedule, and a bench. I go and check the train schedule to confirm the time when the train will be returning to take me back. I tie my shoes and head out of the train station.

Adventure #2: Walking to the camp

I take out my written directions from Google Maps (walking directions) and the first street that I need to take is the one directly in front of me. I took this to be an excellent sign, at least that I had the right train station and city. So I followed the road along a quaint neighborhood until I got to the next direction point, which was to turn onto the highway (two lanes). I also noticed that the address of Mittelbau-Dora is actually in Nordhausen, but apparently the Niedersechswerfen station is closer than the Nordhausen station. While I’m in Niedersechswerfen there is a nice sidewalk along the highway and quite a few bikers. There are a few little shops and restaurants, but everything is closed because it is Sunday.

I just continue to walk. Eventually I notice that I see no more bikers and then my sidewalk disappears. There is not even a shoulder on the highway. Then I see the Niedersechswerfen sign with a red slash through it signifying that I left the village. However, I do not enter another city, I just walk in the strange no man’s land.

Since I’m not stupid enough to walk on the actual highway with the crazy German drivers, I walk on the side in a ditch, which happens to be a part of this immense swamp. So I slosh forward- slosh slosh slosh. Suddenly a car with three guys who are about my age pull off of the highway right where I am walking and start yelling at me in German. I’m not at all sure what happened. I just didn’t look at them and kept going forward. Maybe they thought I was trying to hitchhike. Thankfully, they left me alone.

Once I was sure that I was safe from them, I looked at my watch to check the time, because I thought that surely it had been 30 minutes. In fact it had been exactly 30 minutes and I didn’t seem to be anywhere near a town, city, or village. I was completed surrounded by swamp, fields, and mountains. It was lush, green, and gorgeous, but it was definitely not a city.

I started to get nervous that I was gong in the wrong direction, so I decided to wait until I entered a city or saw a sign (which I hadn’t seen since the leaving Niedersechswerfen sign). About 10 minutes later I saw a Nordhausen sign, which made me so happy.

The second street was the one I was to turn on. So I started down a new direction into another nice neighborhood. This one had a lot of huge, vicious-looking dogs, which looked like they could have destroyed their fence with a little nudge. I just walked quickly through the neighborhood until the street I was on made an odd turn into the middle of a farm with pigs, goats, and horses.

At this point I passed an adorable village that had been incorporated into Nordhausen called Salza, which had, in 2002, celebrated its 1200th anniversary. It was the quintessential medieval village with the little houses, the church, and even the castle on the mountain overlooking everything.

I continued along the road until I saw a sign that said Mittelbau-Dora KZ that pointed to a street that looked like it was on a 45-degree angle with the rest of the street. This sign also made me happy, because I had done it; I had followed the directions and not gotten too lost. So I started climbing up the road, which was actually a mountain. Then one more right and climbing of more mountain for about 2 km until I finally got to the museum.

It took me an hour and a half to get there, but it was well worth it. It made me feel so good to actually figure it all out and then actually accomplish the task. Plus it allowed me to really see part of the countryside, a medieval village, a beautiful stream and meadow.

Adventure #3: The camp

IMG_2077.JPGThe museum was really well done. It was a single-room exhibit, but very detailed and informative. It was entirely in German, but they had a written guide to the exhibit in English, which was 60 pages. It took me about an hour to go through the museum. By the time I was done, I thought I was too late for the tour of the camp, which was supposed to start at 3.

When I got outside of the museum, I saw the tour, so I joined in. The tour was completely in German, so I just looked around and picked up a few words. The tour lasted 90 minutes. The reason I chose to take the tour was that it was the only way you can get into the tunnels of Mittelbau-Dora, which are the most unique and important part of the camp.

This is where the prisoners not only worked, but also lived. We stayed for about an hour in the tunnels. They were freezing, and I was not at all prepared for the cold. There was ice on the walls, and you could see your breath. And this is in the summer. I can’t even imagine how it must have been in the winter.

IMG_2025.JPGAfter the tour I spent a few hours going around the rest of the camp back up the mountain. It was very large, with most of the buildings in the forest all around the cleared out roll-call square. They have made the entire forest into a large trail-walking park/museum. The hiking paths are as well marked as the ruins.

IMG_2124.JPGI saw a few families walking their dogs along the path and children playing in the forest. I also saw a family having a picnic in the roll-call square. There were many visitors, but it seemed like just as many people were local people using the camp as a park.

At around 6:30 I started to head back to the train station. I was looking for a shortcut back, because I thought it was suspicious that I was not joined by any of the many bikers on the highway.

I noticed a biker who didn’t look like a local go onto this hidden trail, so I followed him in. I saw a sign that had walkers and bikers on it, so I assumed it was a walking/biking path. I could hear the highway, so I knew I was walking parallel to it.

After about 15 minutes, the trail stopped, and I found myself in the middle of a neighborhood next to a power plant (which looked quite like a nuclear power plant). The road I was on led straight to the power plant, so I kept walking. The gates were open on both sides, so I took the shortcut through the power plant. On the other side of the power plant, I was at the beginning of Niedersechswerfen. Then I only had a 15-minute walk to the train station.

My shortcut shaved off 45 minutes of swamp walking alongside the highway, so I was very grateful. However, I did have to sit at the train station/bench by the train tracks.

At the train tracks, I saw an old woman who was digging through the trashcans. I assume she was looking for bottles to recycle (in Germany they give you money back for recycling bottles). She looked really worn down, but I had no food or even water to offer her. Then I saw a woman from the neighborhood give her an egg from the chicken coop. The old woman ate the raw egg right there – shell and all. I have never seen such poverty.

My trip back was quite uneventful. Except that the last train I was supposed to take broke down, so they sent another train. I was very confused about it, especially because I wasn’t quite sure that it was going to Weimar (it had a city in the other direction on the front). I got on and worried the entire time that it was the right one, but eventually it stopped in Weimar.

When I got back to Weimar it was pouring rain, so I got to walk back for 15 minutes soaking wet. When I got back to the dorm, I went straight to bed and didn’t wake up until noon on Monday.

All in all, I believe my adventure was a success. I got to learn a ton about history, get some more experience with trains, and even gained some directional instincts. That said, it was very exhausting, and I think a little too risky for an every-weekend kind of adventure. I definitely need a map and a compass before I go on my next adventure.

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Arrival in Germany

germany1.jpgGuten Tag! Hello from Weimar. Weimar is a city in the state of Thuringia in the former East Germany. Previous to all of that, Weimar was the home of Goethe and Schiller and then later the Weimar Republic. As a result of all of this wonderful history, Weimar is now the home of this fantastic SMU study abroad summer program that I find myself in now. I’m now just in another sliver of Weimar history. (In photo right: SMU students in SMU-in-Weimar.)

The long journey

My journey to Weimar started in my home in DeSoto, Texas, with a short drive to the D/FW Airport, which then took me via a 9+ hour flight to the Frankfurt Airport. Even though it was my third time at the Frankfurt Airport, I didn’t recognize a single thing and really stretched my nonexistent German language skills.

I made it to the baggage claim and got all of my bags quickly (thank God!) Then I had to carry seven months’ worth of luggage (compact but very heavy) around the airport looking for the train station. Whichever way I got lost in was very fortunate because when I went through the passport check there was no one there, so no line. I never had to go through customs or anything like that.

I went up three stories to the train station and talked to the man at the counter, because my ticket to Weimar went from the Frankfurt Main train station, not the Frankfurt Airport train station.

After about 20 minutes of confusion and a ticket to Italy, he gave up and told me I couldn’t ride the train to that train station. So I went downstairs for my German subway adventure. I waited in line at the information desk, because I could not for the life of me figure out how to buy a ticket out of the electronic ticket machine.

After a long wait and being told off for not buying a ticket from the Airport to Weimar, the man behind the counter gave me a subway ticket. At this point I was completely exhausted because I only slept about 30 minutes on the plane and I had been dragging my luggage around this big airport. I was starting to think that Frankfurt wasn’t such a bad place to stay for five weeks.

Lost and hungry

I wondered around underground Frankfurt looking for my elusive subway stop and would never have found it if I didn’t ask this nice woman. I think she felt so bad for me that she rode with me to the Frankfurt Main Station and then helped me find my terminal there as well. I am very grateful for her because I would probably still be stuck there now.

The main station is like a big shopping mall that happens to have trains come up to it. I was excited to see so many food choices because I hadn’t eaten in a long time and what I had eaten wasn’t really a meal. I went to the ATM, but it wouldn’t let me get any money out because I wasn’t an EU citizen.

So I went back to my terminal and sat there and enjoyed the smell of the food… for three hours. I never checked the time, but apparently my plane came in an hour earlier and my excursions took an hour and a half. I booked my train ticket so I would have a lot of time to figure out everything. So I had three hours to sit and watch the trains and people go by.

It was kind of exciting because every 10 minutes a group of boys and men dressed in all sorts of strange outfits would get off the train with beers in both hands singing songs. Apparently there had been a very exciting win for the Berlin Football/Soccer team. At one point there were about 100 fans cheering and singing with about as many policemen surrounding them.

Train hopping to Weimar

About three trains went by going to Weimar, but I was just not comfortable getting on them, even though my ticket was for any train. I waited for my time and then raced to my car and got on. I then had to drag my luggage through the car and lift it all onto the luggage rack. I then sat down and waited for my transfer.

The ticket lady came by after about 20 minutes to confirm that I bought a ticket. At this point I had to buy another ticket, because my credit card didn’t match the credit card on the ticket, because my original credit card is floating around SMU/Dallas/Texas/the World with someone who is not me.

After that excitement I just prepared myself for the coming transfer. For this I had three minutes to get off and get on the next train. I was pretty terrified. With the help of some very nice people it went as smoothly as possible, and I survived the transfer. The problem was that I just got on the train without any regard to the car, because I knew it would be better to be on the wrong car than not on the train at all.

I’m not as sure about that now. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t just sit down anywhere, but I had some resolve to find my exact seat. I literally dragged my suitcase, which was around my wrist with my carry-on bag attached to it, and loosened my backpack straps so that they would fit around my horn case that was also on my back. I can’t even imagine what I looked like.

I could never find my seat, so after 10 minutes I just sat down. The train wasn’t full, so I didn’t put my luggage on the rack. Then I was confused about the time that I was supposed to arrive (my watch just doesn’t read military time!), so I thought I had missed my stop. Through all of this excitement I finally made it to Weimar. When I got off of the train, I saw David and Martin (actually I saw Martin’s cello), so I knew I was at the right place. We went downstairs and met our tutor, Bea, who took us to our dorm.

The dorm

Oh Jakobsplatz. Imagine original communism- the white-washed high-rise box. Possibly the ugliest building in all Weimar. I fortunately got a second-floor room. The plus side is that they are single rooms in a suite configuration. My suitemates are a Korean girl, a Polish girl, and a German girl. My room is bigger than my double room at SMU, but the communist simplicity/harshness may outweigh the size. It is painted an odd color of puke-yellow and white with sturdy pine furniture. There is a modern refrigerator in every room. The bed is tiny with no springs in the mattress. The view is of a backside of a building covered in graffiti and a street lamp. The worst part is that I have seen gas stations with cleaner bathrooms. Not luxury, but nevertheless functional.

germany3.jpgIt is across the street from the Weimar Atrium, which is basically a shopping mall (with a bowling alley and a 3D movie theater). There are two grocery stores, an electronics store, shops, food (including Subway), etc. It is about a 10-minute walk to the market square and the school. (In photo right: One of the many posters welcoming Obama to Weimar. He was scheduled to make a visit, but had to cancel it at the last minute. He did, however, visit Buchenwald Concentration Camp.)

The city

Weimar is an absolutely beautiful town. Some of my favorite highlights so far include the beautiful music school, the statue of Goethe and Schiller, the produce (and bratwurst stands) in market square, and of course the park. The park is absolutely gorgeous in the English style. Goethe apparently designed it. You can go visit his house and gardens there or sit exactly where Liszt would write his compositions. There is a river, babbling brooks, a 4K trail, and ducks.

germany2.jpgWe went on a tour of Weimar with a very animated tour guide named Dieter (like Peter with a D). He quoted poetry, did little dances, told stories, and basically acted through the entire history and buildings of Weimar. It was hilarious and definitely made the two-hour tour much more exciting. (In photo left: a palace in Weimar.)

We got to see Goethe’s house, Schiller’s house, Anna-Amalia’s roundtable, the romantic gingko trees, the inspiring linden trees, the founding place of the Hitler Youth, and a place where Hitler gave a speech. Weimar is just the right size where everything is walkable, but you can still find exciting and new things in the nooks and crannies of the alleys.

We started classes on Tuesday. At 9 AM I have first-level German, and at 11 AM I have CF German Culture in Weimar. In German we are learning basic conversation skills, basic grammar, numbers, and places. Only Lauren and I are in the class, so we get a lot of practice and are basically being tutored for two hours a day. We are given about two hours of German homework a day.

germany5.jpgIn the CF, we have overviewed basic German history until the 18th century and read Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther. We are now on Goethe’s Faust I. There is a lot of reading for the class, but you couldn’t really ask for better reading. The most amazing part about reading Goethe in Weimar is that Goethe’s influence is all over the city. If you sit in the park while reading Werther, you can see Werther lying there and Goethe writing nearby. It is quite magical. (In photo right: Goethe’s home in the park in Weimar.)

IMG_2007.JPGOn Thursday, we went to Leipzig, which is only a 50-minute train ride away. We took a two-hour walking tour of the city. The city is under major construction. There have been major restorations since the fall of communism. We went to Mendelssohn’s house and took a tour. We got to sit in his salon where he gave recitals as well as see his study where he wrote many of his famous pieces. We also got to learn more about the life of musicians of that age. (In photo left: The church in Leipzig where Bach worked and where he is buried.)

After eating dinner at the ever-so-scrumptious McDonald’s, we went to go see the Gewandhausorchester. They played Beethoven’s Overture to Egmont and Symphony #8 and two Bach Piano Concertos. It was absolutely magnificent. The orchestra played with unbelievable precision. We sat in the choral terrace behind the orchestra. I had never sat behind an orchestra before, so it was really great to see the musicians and actually be able to see the conductor. Riccardo Chailly was conducting. It was great to see how he interacted with the orchestra, and it really added an extra element to the performance. We traveled back to Weimar on a bus for two hours. I was so exhausted that I went back to my room and crashed.

This weekend is the German long weekend, so almost everyone will be off somewhere. I am not quite sure exactly where I am going, but I think I will go to Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp on Sunday. It is a two-hour train ride with two transfers and then about a 30-minute walk to the camp. I will return on Sunday night and probably spend Monday in the park and soak up some nature.

Well, goodbye for now. I have some adventuring to do!

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