Study Abroad and Discover the World…By Accident

Studying abroad opens the door for students to travel. Some trips are planned, others happen by accident. Before studying in Paris last year, I spent two months backpacking around Europe. At one point I found myself in Munich, Germany. Next stop: Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest,” which sits on the border of Germany and Salzburg, Austria. Eagle’s Nest was given to Hitler on his 50th birthday and was meant to be a retreat and a place for him to entertain visiting dignitaries. I discovered that day, however, you don’t always accomplish what you set out to do. Regardless of the outcome, every part of a trip abroad is an experience in itself.

Everything that could possibly go wrong… went wrong. From train and bus strikes, to rain, sleet, and snow, reaching Hitler’s famed retreat became an unbearable task. After boarding our train from Munich toward Salzburg, my friend Charlie and I quickly learned we would be stopped short. Train strikes had taken over Germany. Our train was no exception. We had to exit prematurely with dozens of other people. As we tried to understand the German announcements at our train station it started pouring. It never stopped raining.

Locals informed us we could take an inter-city train (those weren’t on strike) to Salzburg, and then take a bus back into Germany, to the town of Berchtesgaden. From there we would find yet another bus that would drive us up the mountain to Obersalzburg, the base of Eagle’s Nest. It was early in the day. We had time.

After biting our nails for a good hour, a train stopped. A German announcement informed us it was the only train headed to Salzburg. We stampeded the train. After arriving in Salzburg we bolted to the bus stop. We watched in horror as the bus we needed to catch drove away. Gone, forever. At the bus stop there were no signs, bus schedules, anything. We waited, in the pouring rain. Another train finally came an hour later. We now had another hour’s drive back into Germany. Ugh.

German Alps Covered in Snow

German Alps Covered in Snow

We finally made it to Berchtesgaden. We found the bus we needed to take up the mountain. The schedule said the last bus ran at 5pm. It was 3pm… we’d just made it! When we went to buy our tickets we passed souvenir shops, books on Eagle’s Nest, World War II puzzles, and postcards. Then we learned the last shuttle bus to Obersalzburg (Hitler’s quarters right below Eagle’s Nest) had just left. We went to another ticket window and asked for the bus schedule. Then we found out Eagle’s Nest had been closed for two hours… because of snow. It might open again in a few days- but would soon close for winter. We never had a chance.

Hitler's Eagle's Nest

Hitler's Eagle's Nest

We had a few hours until a bus would return us to Salzburg. So, Charlie and I explored the town of Berchtesgaden. The dense fog lifted on our walk into town. As we looked up into the German Alps we saw a protruding shape on one of the cliffs. It was an image we had seen on magazines in the souvenir shop. Berchtesgaden apparently offers a perfect view of Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest!

Berchtesgaden turned out to be a fascinating city with imprints of World War II everywhere. It felt like walking through a scene from the WWII TV series, “Band of Brothers.” The town was occupied by troops during the war, but suffered little damage. We visited century’s old churches, small shops, and checked out cool restaurants. We even met a couple who had visited Eagle’s Nest the day before. They showed us a video recording of their walking tour. That night I had my first Weiner schnitznel with groztl (like corned beef hash- soo good)… and a few steins.

Berchtesgaden: A Hidden Treasure

Berchtesgaden: A Hidden Treasure

The journey of trying to make it to Eagle’s Nest became more exciting than actually getting there. The unplanned trip to Berchtesgaden introduced me to yet another fascinating town that I would have never come across had plans gone right. When studying abroad, go exploring on your own. Instead of dreading a failed trip, enjoy whatever else happens. More than anything, enjoy the adventure!

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Gulliver helps students Study Abroad. Our blog covers: current issues in Study Abroad; featured posts by Study Abroad students; and Gulliver updates, news, and behind-the-scenes peaks. Thanks for reading!

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