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Cathedral and concentration camp: Germany interterm ‘life-changing’

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – When asked, “How was Germany?” I never seem to have an appropriate response.

Should I tell all the embarrassing grammar mistakes I made speaking German? Or do I explain the times I felt ashamed of human beings, or the day I touched the Berlin Wall? Should I talk about the wonderful German families who opened their homes and hearts to me?

I usually respond instead with “Very European!”

After spending a month and a half traveling through different towns, I experienced joy, sorrow, awkwardness, laughs, irritability, overcrowding, homesickness, actual sickness and all the emotions in between. Spending my interterm in Germany with a group of Bethel students gave me the opportunity not only to eat excellent cuisine, but also time to reflect on my faith and my everyday life.

When I first arrived in Germany, I thought I was a fairly picky eater, but I decided to be more adventurous. I tried everything: from strange cold creamy fish to sauerkraut to kangaroo steak.

Döner Kebap was a big hit. This Turkish sandwich consisted of roasted meat with vegetables and a cream sauce piled in a toasted flat bread pocket and was sold at inexpensive street stands in every town. But of course, there was much more to Germany than its delicious food.

My favorite building in Germany: the Cologne Cathedral. With 500 steps and a bell tower, this is the architectural opposite of every Mennonite church I have attended. The huge gray cathedral stretches to the sky with vivid stained glass windows, intricate designs and ancient statues.

I still appreciate my home church’s simple style, but after listening to “Stille Nacht” (“Silent Night”) ring through out the echoing church on Christmas Eve, I now understand how brilliant churches can make people feel closer to God. By the end of the trip, I actually felt sorry for all the other magnificent cathedrals in Germany – they simply could not do justice to the enchantment of the Cologne Cathedral.

One of the more serious days on my trip included a tour of the Buchenwald concentration camp. It was a very sobering experience. The crematorium at the camp still smelled like death, even after all the years of vacancy. Buchenwald leaves viewers teetering between tears and nausea.

This was a personal wake-up call. To realize that humans are capable of such hate made me determined to live to improve the world with the love that I have to give.

Germany was full of reflective time and new adventures. Through all the embarrassing mistakes with the German language and the days when I just wanted to sleep for one more hour, I am eternally grateful that I had the opportunity to study in Germany. So although it is hard to answer in a few words the question, “How was Germany?” if I had to pick two, they would be “life-changing.”

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008 and one of only two Kansas colleges listed in Colleges of Distinction 2008-09. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at

Taylor McCabe-Juhnke is a freshman from North Newton. She and her parents, John and Karen McCabe-Juhnke, met Taylor’s brother Austin (who spent the fall semester at the Bergische Universität in Wuppertal) in Germany for Christmas and then Taylor stayed on to join the Bethel College Germany interterm group. Other Bethel students in the German Language and Culture class were Antonio De Leon, sophomore from San Antonio, Texas; Christopher Eitzen, sophomore from Xalapa, Mexico; Sennai Fiseha, sophomore from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Barry Harrison, freshman from Manchester, England; Krista Hostetler, junior from West Liberty, Ohio; Aaron Hull, junior from Wichita; Daniel Klaassen, sophomore from Whitewater; Lewis Kosjer, junior from Douglass; Benjamin Mosier, junior from Newton; Cassandra Preston, senior from Valley Center; Jessica Reger, sophomore from Page, Ariz.; and Alan Skinner, junior from Clay Center. Timothy Haynes, Lawrence, was also part of the group. Merle Schlabaugh, Bethel College professor of German, was the group leader.

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