Envision your daily routine. Whether you live in the rural parts of the Midwest, the beachy wonderland of the coast, or in the midst of the hustle and bustle of a big city, chances are, you do something like this:
You wake up, you get dressed, you have a cup of coffee (or two), and then you hurry off to school or work or whatever obligation you might have. A good chunk of the day later, you return home, likely exhausted, and drop in front of the TV or computer and have some well-deserved “You-Time.”

This is how Americans live. We go day-to-day, in a constant frenzy of hurry to achieve something we believe to be great, and then we crash at night, completely beat. We are in one of the most industrialized countries in the world, after all. There’s no time for slacking or doing things with only half of your energy. We are all in, or all out. There’s very little room for in-between nonsense.

As a typical American teenager, I began to view this sort of life as the “norm.” It was the way I lived, the way my parents lived, and the way everyone else I knew lived. It seemed beyond me that anyone would live in any other way.

The summer after my high school graduation, I was blessed enough to travel to Europe and spend some time exploring things that I had only read about in books. The trip was overwhelming at first, but by the third day in, I began to experience a kind of otherworldly calmness. At the time, I couldn’t explain it, but, as my journey progressed, I began to understand.

Europe, specifically Germany, had cast a spell on me. It dug through the clutter of my regularly action-packed, busy American life, and placed me in the midst of intricately crafted architecture, unbelievable history, and mouthwatering cultural food. In short, it gave me the complete opposite of my daily life.

Each and every site I visited brought me further and further away from what I considered my reality. During the first week, I journeyed by boat to the storybook island of St. Bartholomew in Schönau am Königssee. A beautiful wooden boat carried us far into the vastness of Lake Königssee on the bluest water I had ever seen. The whole ordeal seemed like something out of Alice in Wonderland – and to top it all off, our conductor played the trumpet to demonstrate the valley’s echoing effect. The island itself was even more fairytale-like, with a tiny red-domed church and the sun’s rays coming through the mountains.

Throughout the journey, I managed to keep up on my caffeine addiction by trying every coffee from every coffee shop I saw. I was pleasantly surprised by how much more I enjoyed the shops themselves than the actual coffee (not that the coffee was in any way sub-par). Like St. Bartholomew, and all other German towns, the shop appeared to be born out of a Disneyland ride. Germany didn’t possess anything particularly new – Americans have coffee, churches, and architecture – but that certain calmness that seems to lay over the entirety of Germany makes ordinary things into something much more: the only not-creepy cemetery I’d ever seen, matching sugar packets with a man and woman on them, the smoothest waters ever created, and classical dancers twirling amid the streets.

It amazed me that this sort of life – these artistic and enchanting qualities – were all too common in Germany. People who lived there never appeared to be in a rush – they relished in coffee, art, and a good glass of beer or wine. Even within the hustle and bustle of the Hofbräuhaus in Munich, the world seemed calmer than my regular life in the downtown of California. My family, being the Americans we are, felt inclined to complain about the spotty wifi before we realized that ferociously checking emails and social media was the furthest thing from Germany’s mind. People there didn’t worry about the constant need to be impressive and successful; their success seemed defined by the beauty present in their life.

The two weeks that I spent in Germany continue to be the most calm, comfortable, and enchanting ones I’ve ever had. I’m so thankful for the new perspective I gained during my time there. Sometimes, when I reflect on the early mornings spent in the beautiful castles, or the long afternoons taking walks around the plaza, I can still feel that sense of serenity, where all urgency and stress have no place.

Photos and words by Marquel Plavan

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