Announcing Our June 2023 Tour of Germany

For most of the 2010s, my Bethel colleague Sam Mulberry and I had the joy of leading a biennial travel course on World War I in western Europe. Spending that time crisscrossing western Europe was such a highlight of my teaching experience that I decided to see if there might be any non-students interested in doing something similar with me during the summer. So in 2019, Sam and I led a group of 24 people on a tour of WWI and WWII sites in England, Belgium, France, and Germany, the first trip offered by a small new company called (what else?) Pietist Schoolman Travel.

COVID disrupted my travel plans for a couple years, but I’m very happy to announce that I’ll be going back to Europe in June 2023. Applications are now open for Christianity and German Culture, a week-long tour of Europe’s largest country.

You can find the itinerary, price breakdown, FAQ, and all other details in the brochure embedded above, but let me share more of the back story:

Even before we started taking students physically to Europe, Sam and I had been figuratively leading students through that part of the world, as instructors and coordinators for Christianity and Western Culture, the first-year survey I wrote about at Substack last month. Because of its variety of themes, mix of academic disciplines, and unique ability to help Christians engage a centuries-long conversation about truth, identity, vocation, community, justice, and how Christians relate to the culture around them, I’ve loved teaching CWC — and have always hoped to make it available to more people.

CWC would be a hard class to convert fully to a travel format, since the geographic sweep spans from North Africa to Great Britain, Greece to Spain, plus brief stops in Japan, Nigeria, and the Americas. But as I was wrestling with the challenges of travel under COVID, it occurred to me that it might be possible to design a summer CWC tour within the context of one country’s history. That would let us run a shorter tour with fewer transitions and lower costs, while still touching on all the key eras in our 2,000-year history of Christianity’s complicated relationship with Western culture.

I can imagine trying this again in England, France, Italy, or perhaps Spain, but Germany is a great place to start. Here’s a list of CWC topics that we’ll touch on next June, basically moving forward in time as we move from west to east.

Part of the city’s eastern wall, Trier’s amphitheater held up to 20,000 spectators – all photos CC BY-SA 4.0 (Chris Gehrz)

The Roman Empire: after flying into Frankfurt, our motorcoach will take us on a drive southwest to Trier, named for a Celtic group called the Treveri. Now a relatively small city, Trier was a major northern center of the Roman Empire — and a capital of the Emperor Constantine, both before and after he legalized Christianity and converted to that religion himself. Surviving Roman ruins include a gate, bridge, baths, amphitheater, and basilica, plus a terrific regional museum famous for its Roman burial artifacts. Then if you want some more ancient history, we’ll next move on to the city of Cologne (from the Latin for “colony”), founded by the Romans in the time of the apostle Paul as an imperial outpost on the Rhine River. Its even grander Roman museum was undergoing renovations when we visited this past June. And if you want to learn about an even more older chapter in the history of Western civilization, I highly recommend the Pergamon on Berlin’s Museum Island, home to stunning artifacts and recreations from the ancient Near East.

The Middle Ages: Cologne is most famous for its Gothic cathedral, unfinished until the 19th century but now the largest in Germany. It’s worth the visit by itself, and not just for its most famous relic: the supposed remains of the Three Magi. You can also get glimpses of medieval Cologne (an imperial “free city” whose displaced archbishop helped elect the Holy Roman Emperors) along the river and in the rebuilt Altstadt. There are also grand medieval churches in Trier (the oldest in Germany, though much smaller than the Roman original) and Erfurt (see below). But for my money, the medieval highlight of our trip will be found at our stop just before Cologne: Aachen, the former capital of the Frankish king Charlemagne. Its cathedral is stunningly beautiful: not so much the exterior (still pockmarked from the furious battle fought here in late 1944), but the luminous Carolingian interior and its unrivaled collection of relics.

The Reformations: Of course, the fact that I just placed the word “supposed” near the description of a famous medieval relic hints at the religious disruption we’ll study as we cross to the other side of Germany. Our two-day survey of the Protestant Reformation will start hundreds of meters above the town of Eisenach, where an excommunicated professor-priest named Martin Luther hid in the Wartburg castle (above) in 1521-1522, translating the New Testament into German. That evening we’ll stay in the aforementioned city of Erfurt, visiting the Augustinian monastery where Luther’s story took its first significant turn. Our swing through “Luther Land” will conclude in the city where the reformer spent most of his life: Wittenberg, where we can visit the church where he posted his 95 Theses, the church where he preached most often, and his former house, now an enlightening museum.

The Modern Age: We’ll have hints of later chapters in Germany’s story at many points along the way, from the church in Frankfurt where German democrats unsuccessfully tried to start a democratic nation-state in 1848 to the former concentration camp site at Buchenwald (a short drive east of Erfurt). But it’ll be our closing days in Berlin when we most fully encounter the complexity of the modern era. We’ll open with a walk through the heart of reunified Germany’s capital, from the Reichstag building through the Brandenburg Gate and down the Unter Den Linden, past sites that evoke at once Enlightenment rationality, Prussian militarism, and Nazi dictatorship. We’ll stop that walk at the German Historical Museum, but if you just want to focus on the tragedies of the 20th century, Berlin’s many commemorative sites include the Topography of [Nazi] Terrors, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and the Berlin Wall memorial along Bernauerstraße (which includes a Chapel of Reconciliation on the site of a church demolished by East Germany’s Communist government).

If all that sounds intriguing, you’ve got a week free in mid-June 2023, and the price is right, please don’t delay in filling out the application and mailing your deposit. We only have room for two dozen on the tour, and based on early responses, I’m confident those spaces will fill up quickly, as American travelers look to take advantage of the strong dollar and make up for time lost during the pandemic.

Click here to download the brochure, including the application and instructions for paying a deposit. And please feel free to email me with any questions.

Hope to see many of you on our 2023 tour!

Cross-posted at Substack