Contradictions are everywhere: Europe is a vast land with diverse cultures and landscapes. Every country, city and village boasts a unique personality, yet similarities are often more powerful than differences. I tend to understand new experiences by making connections to the familiar, so throughout a week of travelling, I couldn’t help but think “this is just like Vienna” or “we have that back home.” In fact, I realize that part of why I haven’t had much culture shock or a period of adjustment to life in Vienna is my habit of drawing parallels. For example, the abundance of cultural opportunities, historical significance of buildings and large population are not new to me. This leads me to believe that similarities among cultures are as significant as differences.
Throughout a week of traveling, I found nearly identical architecture, clothing and food. Even though Graz, Salzburg, Munich and Prague are geographically close and have interconnected histories, I expected to find more differences. Graz and Salzburg felt like “mini Viennas” to me and Munich is another large, German-speaking city. Prague seemed the most defined, with its own language and influence of communism from its time in the Soviet Union. Much fewer people speak English and the layout of the city was unique to me, but I did not feel much more out of place than in Vienna.
As a disclaimer, I find these similarities interesting, not disappointing. Each city retains its own characteristic features. Graz, the second largest city in Austria, had a modern exhibit at its art museum focussed on Muslim women. I climbed Schlossberg, a fortress used in times of war, but currently a recreational area for hiking. Salzburg is famed for Mozart’s birthplace, where I saw his childhood violin and locks of his hair. I also saw some of the sites used in The Sound of Music. The hills were not alive, but the snowtops were breathtaking.
Presented in this video are parts of my time in Munich (München) and Prague (Praha). In Munich, we saw the Rathaus Glockenspiel and climbed St. Peter’s Church. I split a giant pretzel and beer with my travel buddy at Brauhaus, a five-hundred-year-old beer house! We visited the largest castle in Germany, the Residenz. We were only in Munich for a day and I definitely want to return.
In Prague, I explored the old Jewish quarter and visited several synagogues. I am glad I was able to glimpse into Jewish life before World War II and learn about different levels of discrimination and acceptance throughout history. The Spanish Synagogue was especially lavish, but others were more modest. We went to Prague Castle (a whole day event), which consists of multiple museums in castles, St. Vitus Cathedral and a row of small apartments where goldsmiths, herbalists and artists, including Franz Kafka, lived. Our last special moment was under Charles Bridge, which is about six hundred years old! We walked across the landmark three times. On our last night, there was a festival for Faschingsdienstag (Fat Tuesday), which comes before Lent. Live music, food and drink and people of all ages in costume filled the space. It was a wonderful way to end our trip.
Buses, hostels, a host family, and living on bread and granola bars were all part of the exciting week of travelling. I loved seeing new places, but absence makes the heart grow fonder. Being away from Vienna made me realize how attached I already am to the most livable city in the world. My friends shared this sentiment and we are happy to be back in Vienna, which has quickly become home.
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Naomi Keusch Baker
<p>As a math and computer science major and music minor at Emory University, my passions range from increasing diversity and inclusion in technology industries to advocating for arts education. I want to combine my skills in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) to work toward social justice in my community and beyond. On campus, I am involved in Girls Who Code, the Interdisciplinary Exploration and Scholarship (IDEAS) Fellowship, Refugee Revive, Hillel and the Media, Literature and Arts Outreach (MLAO) themed house.</p>