I’m writing today from a little café in Copenhagen, the site from which my journey with the Cambridge Student Travel Award begins. In a couple of hours, I’ll be catching the train to Hamburg, and over the next two and a half weeks will be visiting Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich, Paris, Vienna and my home county of Kent. 

The Cambridge alumni network of Europe isn’t something I’d pondered a great deal before my trip, but I’m so excited to meet previous Cambridge students, experience-swap, and practice my German and French in four countries that I love to spend time in. All this knowing that in a few years I’ll be one of these alumni, and with any luck living it up in Europe too. 

I’ll try not to be too boring and to include lots of arty pictures to keep you interested in a trip that I’m very much looking forward to! 


17/09 – Munich

A Bavarian brunch, followed by a trip to the BMW Welt and the 1972 Olympic park filled up the morning. The latter is really beautiful and very green, with nearly all Munich also visible from the Olympiahügel. The park’s deconstructivist, honeycomb-like architecture was considered revolutionary in the 70s, designed as it was without the help of computerised technology. Despite the games themselves having been somewhat overshadowed by the Munich massacre, the park remains a pretty impressive feat. 

Experiencing Oktoberfest in the afternoon was also an exciting experience for this German culture enthusiast. We wandered around, peeked into a beer tent (they’re hardly tents, by the way, and despite being temporary structures look more like actual houses to me), sampled some roasted almonds, and went on a few rides. The overall effect is a little cheesy, but not so much that tradition is obscured, and perhaps this is crucial to said tradition anyway. The festival’s been running since 1810 and remains massively popular, as evidenced by the throngs of Bavarians and tourists populating its alleyways. 

Afterwards, I boarded an overnight bus, to recover from my busy weekend in München and to arrive the next day in Paris. 

15-16/09 – Munich

I won’t bore you with tales of the 15th, most of which I spent with some rowdy Oktoberfest-orientated Brits on a coach to Munich. There are lots of people flocking in for the opening weekend of the ‘Wiesn’, the world’s largest folk festival. It’s a Cambridge May Week scenario, in that the three weeks’ worth of Oktober-festivities actually take place in September, and my trip happily coincides. 

Next day, with the friends I’m staying with, I visited the Hofbräuhaus, Munich’s best-known beer hall, and Marienplatz, location of the town hall. Wandering the streets are lots of Bavarians working the classic Dirndl-and-trainers combo, or, even better, some Lederhosen with knee-length woollen socks and pink tassels. People often dress in their traditional clothes around this time, and there’s a real sense of Bavarian identity that emerges at its strongest. 

After a traditional lunch of Bavarian mushroom soup with Knödel, I headed to the Café an der Uni to join in on a Stammtisch held by the Munich Cambridge Society. I had a chance to chat with some of the members about how the society works, and received some helpful tips for finding my way around the ‘big village’, as I’ve often heard Munich referred to during my travels. 

An evening spent practicing my German with Emilia, the eldest daughter of my hosts, well-rounded the day. 

14/09 – Cologne

This morning I caught the bus to Cologne to meet my exchange partner Anna, who’s just started university down the road in Aachen. First stop, right outside the Hauptbahnhof, is the cathedral. The small scaffolding structures currently adorning it are hardly noticeable against the impressive Gothic façade, and I can understand why it’s Germany’s most-visited landmark. 

After walking a bit around the city and along the rainy Rhine, we headed to the Ludwig Museum. Within lies masses of C20th and C21st art; it’s known particularly for its Picasso and it’s pop-art collections. One of the alumni I met in Frankfurt advised me of Köln’s ‘sloppiness’ in contrast to the former city. I think, however, that this is perhaps part of its charm, as well as its function as a creative and cultural hub for the Rhineland.

Post-more wandering and wishing Anna goodbye, I headed back to Frankfurt for the night, before my trip tomorrow to Munich.  

13/09 – Frankfurt

In the morning, Sophie and I visited the Paulskirche. It was the seat of the 1848 Frankfurt parliament, the first freely elected legislative body in Germany, and so has quite a big political significance. The impressive ceiling (a new addition after the church was also destroyed by bombs) and political murals in the basement are meant to symbolise Germany’s elevation to an age of democracy. 

I had lunch with Leanne, who studied MML at Cambridge too, and now works as a solicitor in Frankfurt. Afterwards, I met Jens for coffee near the Alter Oper (pictured below, and also rebuilt after 1945 despite its older appearance). He works part time as a professor and is involved in promoting applications to the Judge Business School. It was great to hear about the paths down which their time at Cambridge has led them. 

Afterwards, a trip to the caricature museum. At the moment, they’re holding an exhibition of German caricaturist Frank Hoppmann’s work – perhaps you’ve seen some of it floating around in the newspapers. Even though I’m not really up on the German politicians who often provide material for his drawings, there were a couple of figures I could recognise. 

Tomorrow, a brief trip to Cologne, before heading off to Munich on Friday. 

12/09 – Berlin/Frankfurt

I spent the morning on a sunny train from Berlin to Frankfurt, enjoying a slightly more rural facet of Germany.

Once arrived, I met Bernd, the alumnus with whom I’m staying, and his daughter Sophie. Sophie took me for a quick-stop tour around town, starting with a trip up one of Frankfurt’s skyscrapers to a roof platform with amazing views of the city. Lots of Germans keep telling me that Frankfurt is really ugly, but I quite like the cluster of high-rise buildings amongst those seemingly more historic. Below, a really grim picture of me struggling against the wind up at the top.

We also visited the cathedral, and the Römer just before it started to rain. Most of Frankfurt was completely destroyed in the Second World War, so lots of the buildings have had to be rebuilt since and aren’t as authentic as they look. The Römerberg (the main square of the old town, and location of the town hall) is however resplendent in its medieval charm. 

After dinner out in the evening, and hearing of Bernd’s successes in sneaking into various May Balls ticketless during his time in Cambridge, I was exhausted, but it was a really lovely day! 

11/09 – Berlin

After a slower morning on my second day in Berlin, I met for lunch at Ständige Vertretung (StäV to the German politicians who apparently haunt its tables often) with Timo, the secretary of the German Cambridge Society. I found out lots about the GCS and the work it does as a registered charity, providing four Cambridge students each year with funds to study at the Humboldt University in Berlin over the summer. I’m definitely going to look into this! 

Afterwards, I had time to wander for a bit in Kreuzberg, a district south of the centre. Much of it was built during the 1860s during German industrialisation, and today it’s known for its alternative culture, high percentage of Turkish-origin and student residents, and the artistic expressions decorating its walls. It’s one of my favourite places in the city, bursting with independent shops, cafés and interesting people-watching opportunities (I’m not that weird, I promise). It has one of the youngest populations of all European city boroughs, and the cultural mixture gives it a feel by turns history-steeped and ultra-progressive. 

I walked back through Alexanderplatz as the sun was setting. Tomorrow morning, to Frankfurt, for more adventures.

10/09 – Berlin

I was up earlyish this morning to walk along Mühlenstraße and the stretch of the Berlin Wall still left standing. The East Side Gallery is made up of 105 paintings all created in 1990, a year after the Mauerfall. I’ve been a couple of times before and never tire of it –  on each visit I notice new details and words amongst the larger images of freedom in all its forms. The line between graffiti and wall art can perhaps seem a volatile one, but all the same I’m not keen on tourists ‘contributing’ to such an important monument, and the scribbles starting to cover up the art (some of which already had to be renovated in 2010) hopefully won’t marr its meaning too much. 

I had lunch in Café Einstein Stammhaus with Oliver, who studied Maths at Magdalene, and his son and daughter. It was great to hear about some of the workings of the Cambridge Society in Berlin prior to meeting a few more of its members tomorrow, and to chat about everything from Brexit to trashy German television. 

In the afternoon there was room enough for a trip to the Alte Nationalgalerie on the Museumsinsel, home to five of Berlin’s most well-known museums. I enjoyed wandering amongst the paintings, before relaxing in the Lustgarten for a bit and watching the clouds move above the beautiful Berlin cathedral, with the contrastingly concrete Fernsehturm and its red-and-white striped aerial emerging from behind. 

My last stop for today was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It’s just behind the Brandenburger Tor and was constructed between 2003 and 2004. Peter Eisenman, the architect, suggests that it represents a supposedly ordered system that has lost contact with human reason, and the uneven ground and rectangular blocks of varying heights do evoke a collision of order and chaos.

I like that the memorial is interactive in a way, and think this allows for deeper consideration of what it represents. I also found out that the Mauer went through this part of Berlin, giving the memorial an even greater significance as reminder of a continually splintered C20th history. 

09/09 – Hamburg/Berlin

After watching a game of hockey (an especially popular sport in Hamburg), I spent the rest of the morning with some friends of mine in Volksdorf, before jumping on a four-hour coach southwards to Berlin. 

After arriving at my hostel and settling in I headed out on the S-Bahn for a brief gaze at the shining Brandenburger Tor. It’s obviously one of Berlin’s better-known monuments, but with the Reichstag just around the corner and Unter den Linden stretching out behind, it feels rather essential to the city even if the bases of it’s pillars are clustered with tourists (of which I suppose I am one). More exploration of this historical city is definitely something to which I look forward. 

08/09 – Hamburg 

I passed a rainy morning in the dry of the Hamburger Kunsthalle, enjoying the permanent collection of European art from 1400 to the present day. I liked the below by Swiss-German artist Paul Klee, whose work I hadn’t really seen much of before. For such a bridge-heavy city it seems rather appropriate.

(‘Revolution of the Viaducts’, 1937) 

All this talk of bridges and tunnels reminded me of one of my favourite places in Hamburg, the Alter Elbtunnel, a trip to which also gave me shelter from the drizzle. It opened in 1911 and, at 426 metres long and 24 metres below the surface of the Elbe, it was quite the technological revolution at the time of its building. Crucially, it also connected central Hamburg with the docks on the other side of the Elbe. Other tunnels are used more frequently these days, but this subterranean and slightly eerie world beneath the river flow remains for those intrigued by its blue lights and teracotta wall ornaments. 

This I followed by a stroll through the Speicherstadt. The Hamburg warehouse district came into existence in 1883 as a free port and was half-destroyed in the Second World War, but partly rebuilt. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site now, and I love the red brick of the Neo-Gothic buildings and the canal-like spaces of water between them. 

In the evening, I attended the Hamburg Welcome to Cambridge Event in a pub in der Innenstadt. Chatting to some to-be-undergraduates and graduates was a lot of fun. The Oxford and Cambridge societies in Hamburg work together, which creates a really nice atmosphere, and a lot of the members across all Germany are in contact with each other. Despite some confusion as to why exactly I’m studying German literature in England (not an infrequent query, I find), conversation was fruitful and I managed to get a great feel for how the society functions. I’m excited to jump on the bus to Berlin tomorrow afternoon and soon meet some more interesting people with Cambridge connections. 

07/09 – Hamburg

After a trip on a rather exciting train ferry from Denmark to Deutschland, I’m here in Hamburg. I’ve been once before, and am really happy to be back in a different context, discovering new corners (to me, at least) of the city.

I’m staying with Soha and her family. Soha studied at Hughes Hall a few years ago. She’s Egyptian but her children go to French international schools in Hamburg and have been to summer schools in the UK too, so all speak English. I’ve been enjoying some French-German-English hybrid chats, as well as some interesting discussion on which languages are best for thinking in when different things are on your mind. 

Fun fact, also: Hamburg has the most bridges of any European city. The current scandal here, however, is not bridge-related but revolves around the Elbphilharmonie (Elphi to the Hamburgers). It’s a state-of-the-art concert hall, doubling up as the tallest inhabited building in Hamburg, that opened this year, and cost eight hundred million euros to build. I’ve been receiving varying claims as to just how far over budget this is, but safe to say it’s quite a lot. Splurging aside, the architected water-wave is to me very celestial. 

After some classic German Knödel and some sharing of happy Cambridge memories, Soha’s youngest daughter took me for a quick-stop night tour of central Hamburg. The town hall all lit-up is very beautiful, as is the Jungfernstieg (one of Hamburg’s most well-known shopping streets) with its view over the Alster (the tributary of the Elbe that runs through Hamburg). I’m looking forward to further explorations in the daylight hours – more tomorrow on that front.