I dered go to Germany, and I’ll be bach!


Photo courtesy of Gavin Heil

The group of AHS exchange students at the Zugspitze ski resort.

Over spring break, a group of AHS students, including myself, traveled overseas to Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany.

We traveled to Germany through Sister Cities, a program that allows students to exchange with a student of similar interest from one of Aspen’s sister cities. Southern Germany, including Munich and Garmisch-Partenkichen, is in what used to be Bavaria before 1870.

When I first arrived in Germany, my initial reaction was that Garmisch-Partenkirchen had a different culture than the US, and specifically Aspen. My host family, who I quickly grew fond of, was very energy conscious. I noticed that they took shorter showers, and never left the faucet running. Our exchange students also took the train everywhere, since the driving age in Germany is 18.  

Upon arrival, I was immediately introduced to the biking culture of Bavaria. My exchange student, Jonas Moßmer, lived in Echenlohe, a small village about 10 minutes outside of Garmisch-Partenkichen. We biked everywhere: to others’ houses, the train station, restaurants, and other destinations. It was an invigorating experience to get outside and bike around the petite European village in the cool and sunny weather: tremendous step-up from driving.

They ate an abundance of bread and butter with each meal – which is interesting because of the average size difference between a German and an American. We noticed right away how high-quality the produce was and marveled at how delicious everything tasted. Our host families had an extravagant spread of sausage for breakfast and loved pretzels (both of which tasted considerably better in Germany). The majority of Germans also preferred sparkling water over flat water, which was unusual due to its majority unpopularity in the United States.

The sixth day was devoted to skiing on the Zugspitze, which we had all been excitedly waiting for. The Zugspitze (which is highly difficult to pronounce correctly) is Germany’s highest and grandest peak. It also happens to be shared between Austria and Germany and is right next to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Its majestic shape and high tundra provided for astounding skiing and breathtaking scenery.

The Peak is only accessible by an advanced, modern, 100-person cable car, and an underground train also goes to and from the tundra ski expanse. The conditions were ideal: the Zugspitze had received about 1 and a half feet of snow and the day was sunny and uncrowded. We skied for the entirety of the morning, and at noon enjoyed schnitzel and home-made pretzel sandwiches for lunch. We then went to back to the summit to make a pit stop in Austria. Here we took several selfies and yelled very loudly, personifying the stereotypical American perfectly.

We shadowed our exchange students’ school on the 8th day of the trip. Here I observed that their school life is largely comparable to Aspen’s. They have classes from 7:45 till 12:45/3:55, depending on the day, students each take about 7 courses, and they follow a well-rounded curriculum.

A few days later, towards the end of the trip, we took a heavy-hearted tour of Dachau, a WWII concentration camp just outside of Munich. It was a horrifying experience, and I had a pit in my stomach throughout the entire visit. What affected me and others the most was walking into the crematorium and standing inside the gas chambers in which thousands were murdered without reason. It was shocking to see what had happened in its rawest form after learning all about WWII in history classes throughout my life. The group was quiet for a long time after leaving the camp due to our collective mourning of the thousands of lives lost at Dachau.

After an emotional day, we decided to spend the evening together and have a pleasant last night all together. We said our goodbyes to the exchange students after eating German snacks while watching TV (with German subtitles, of course).

The last day in Germany, my host family had the idea of taking us and another student’s host family up the Osterfeuer Kropf (literally translated to Easter Fire Head), a beautiful hike right in Echenlohe. We ate a big Bavarian breakfast together and headed up the trail. The top of the hike had magnificent views, and we devoured the usual lunch of pretzel-bread and butter. This particular bread-butter meal had become apart of my daily routine by then.

After 10 days in Bavaria, I recognized that Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Aspen are actually fairly alike regarding how the towns operate, their cultures, and daily life. I noticed several connections between the high schools as well in terms of class structure, social interactions, and even apparel.

This trip highlighted the importance of traveling and new experiences. Traveling is essential for three main reasons: it gets you out of your comfort zone, you experience first-hand cultural diversity, and most importantly, you build new relationships with others globally. I learned a lot about the German people and their language, and I tried new foods that I (mostly) enjoyed. I matured as a person with these new experiences and new friends and would like to travel to as many new places as I can. I’m infinitely fortunate Sister Cities granted me the outlet to travel to a new country and experience a new culture.