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Published: July 15th 2016
Two hundred forty some odd years ago, the United States of America became a country. Three hundred years or so before that, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Back it up another two hundred years, and King John of England was signing the Magna Carta. We're not quite there yet though. Another one hundred and fifty years before the Magna Carta, near the end of the Viking Era in Britain, and five years prior to the battle of Hastings, Hohenzollern Castle was first mentioned in written text (the year 1061). Today's first destination is steeped in history and majesty. It has been the home to the Kings of the grand Prussian dynasty for generations, including Frederick the Great while he was not in Potsdam. This castle has seen grand balls, Royal weddings, and state funerals. It has been the target of medieval sieges and the site of fierce battles. It has been the location of deliberations and decisions that have helped to shape the world that we live in today. Oh, if only these stone walls could talk, what an incredible story they would tell!
We had the opportunity to explore this magnificent castle on the hill today as a group.
The landmark can be seen from miles around. Every village in the vicinity falling under the watchful eye of those in power could gaze upon it as a symbol of protection, the rule of law, and to an extent perhaps even oppression. Drawing ever closer on the road, it becomes quite evident just how grand a structure it truly is. With its thick stone walls and arrow slits protecting its base and the grand towers reaching it seems, all the way to the clouds. It is incredible to fathom the effort of this undertaking in an era far before mechanized assistance in construction. This is a palace that was built to last, and last it has. It has stood as a sentry over this part of Germany for almost a millennia now, and will continue to do so for centuries to come.
We climbed the steep hill through the forest to its main gates and circumnavigated it at a leisurely pace. We took our time admiring the stoutness of the structure itself, but even more-so, the incredible views of the surrounding countryside far below. We paused often for pictures and to simply drink it all in before finally climbing
the winding road into the heart of the castle courtyard itself.
Hohenzollern Castle is still a royal and private residence today, home to Georg Friedrich and Sophie, the Prince and Princess of Prussia. They reside in Berlin most of the year, but are frequent visitors to this, their ancestral home. Indeed, the Prince's standard was waving proudly today above the main tower, signifying that the couple were in residence here. Visions of rubbing elbows with Royalty danced in the heads of our students.
We spent some time exploring the main courtyard, the chapel and the outer towers prior to our guided tour. Again, the stunning views of the surrounding lands captivated many eyes and camera lenses. On our tour, the guide did a phenomenal job of explaining the history of the structure and the family, whose lineage is traced in an ornate family tree portrait in the entrance hall going back over one thousand years. We saw the main dining hall, the King's study and bedroom, as well as many other ornately decorated rooms of the castle. The final stop was the armory and treasures rooms. There we gazed upon the Crown Jewels as well as many full
suits of armor which were original and had at one time in the distant past actually been used.
As we finished our tour before the German language group our partners were in, we had a bit of extra time to explore and find the gift shop. While waiting outside the shop doors, Lauryn and Carissa were warmly greeted by none other than Prince Georg himself! He offered a warm hello in a regal and cultured British accent as he passed by. Having been informed of this encounter, Alyssa and Shelly were on the hunt! They were able to track him down near the dining room as he enjoyed a bit of lunch with some guests in a private room adjacent to the main hall. Camera in hand, a selfie ensued with our unwitting Royal central in the background, blissfully unaware of his rock star status amongst the American travelers from Bow.
We enjoyed a lunch and some more exploring before moving on to our next destination far below. Our walk took us from the castle hill, down through the forests and fields to the mini golf course which sits in the castle's shadow. We enjoyed two very spirited
and lively hours of golfing before it was time to depart for home. Some excelled and are ready for the world wide mini golf tour, while others inexplicably lost their golf balls in the field after wayward hits. How that is possible in putt-putt golf is beyond this travel blog writer. But, seeing is believing after all.
This evening was the ceremony for the tenth grade graduation. I very much enjoyed being able to attend, as I know several of our students did as well. The members of our last exchange here closed out their Haigerloch school careers this evening with a richly deserved celebration. Here in Germany, students graduate after 10th grade. From there, some will enter the workforce, and others will pursue apprenticeships as skilled tradesman. Many from Haigerloch will continue with schooling for two to three more years in the hopes of attending university and gaining a professional degree.
The ceremony was planned by the 10th graders. The 6th and 7th grade band played wonderfully, beyond their years really. The mayor of Haigerloch spoke, though he was outshone by Principal Heiner's eloquence and enthusiasm. There were several speeches by students as well. During one of
the class presentations, a slide show extolling the brilliance that is Haigerloch and this 10th grade class was shown. In it, there was a section showing pictures from the last exchange. It was really cool to see that our little exchange was seen as a large enough part of their school careers to remember and relate to others at their school graduation.
Many of our former exchange partners were on stage this evening being honored for their academic prowess. One of the two valedictorians was an exchange participant from two years ago. This is yet further proof of the high calibre of students that we have had as a part of this program. I am sure that this years group will follow suit in striving for excellence in everything that they do.
Tomorrow we are off to Stuttgart for the day. It promises to be yet another fun and interesting experience for all involved!
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