Being a pontifical college in Rome, the Angelicum has two weeks away from classes, with the Triduum and Easter situated on the weekend in the middle. Now, I don’t like to boast or anything like this, but you will certainly notice almost immediately that this two-week break is one full week longer than the ordinary one-week Spring break in the States, which is one week long, and not two weeks like the two-week break we have here.
Anyway. For the first of these weeks I found myself with four classmates on an overnight train to Munich, in southern Germany. I don’t know if you’ve been on an overnight train before, but you may be able to guess that 12 hours seated upright in a plastic seat is not conducive to many or any R.E.M. cycles; half a day later, the result is five gentlemen struggling to keep their eyes open, searching fruitlessly for their lodging on an early, rainy morning in a strange and foreign country. Our adventure had begun.
Eventually we did find the right hostel, where we were told check in didn’t begin for several hours, dashing all hopes of a quick nap. So, having been woken up a bit by the cold rain, we set out to explore the city center, maybe to find a mass to attend. We liked what we saw there.
Magnificent gothic churches, street-performers who put Rome’s to shame, broad winding streets with pretzel shops and beer halls on every other corner. I had never been so cold, wet, hungry, tired and happy at the same time. Having planned well in advance, our pal Nick knew the time and location of a mass at the massive, twin-domed Frauenkirche, or Cathedral of Our Lady. The people at mass were very friendly to a bunch of wet college kids who clearly didn’t know the German mass parts, despite the fact that hearing them speak, you’d think they were about to hit you. “Bevor wir das Gedächtnis des Herrn begehen wollen wir uns besinnen! Wir bekennen, dass wir gesündigt haben!” [punctuation added] was just so different from the lyrical Italian we’d been hearing at mass. At first the change was shocking, then something like refreshing, and eventually downright endearing. In any case, our time in Bavaria was off to a good start.
The next day we took a day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle, plucked out of a German Märchen, the original fairy tale, and dropped near a charming village called Füssen. A crazy-ish Bavarian king in the late 19th century built this medieval fantasy castle in the foothills of the Alps. Six weeks after his mysterious lakeside death in 1886, the unfinished castle was opened to the paying public. Unfortunate story, really cool castle. Part of Ludwig II’s craziness was his limitless extravagance on this personal project. This, combined with the spectacular views of the Alps, really made it feel like we were in a fairy tale, all of which I am now convinced took place in the rolling hills and picturesque hamlets of Southern Germany.
After meeting some Iowans with whom I had friends in common on the train back (see this earlier post on the size of the world), we arrived back in Munich, finishing the day with a visit to a brewery founded by Augustinian monks in 1328. The next day we went to mass at Peterskirche, another beautiful church with a fantastically beautiful Palm Sunday mass: an opening procession around the church and its square, a full (yet invisible) choir in the loft, packed pews, enough incense to cause concern at the fire department, and the sun shining brightly through the windows behind the altar. The Mass is where heaven and earth come together, and the Germans know how to make that invisible reality a visible one.
After mass, we hopped on another train, bound for Salzburg. Watching the mountains in the distance, I considered my time in Germany. It may have been the imagination of a Catholic Studies student, but despite the forces of secularism, modernism, relativism and the like at work in Western Europe, my experience of Germany had been decidedly Catholic. The churches, the people, the history, the beer – even the fairy tales, which like that Palm Sunday mass, had a feeling of other-worldliness. I decided that Bavaria was a place I could live if I had to, and maybe even live happily ever after.