10th Grade Trip to Germany and Austria

April 26, 2024

by Head of School André Del Valle

MMFS is widely recognized for making travel one of the foundations of its curriculum for students with learning disabilities. It opens the door for them to discover things about themselves and their own abilities by exposing them to different countries, cultures, and perspectives. From April 12 through April 19 I traveled with 35 students and 9 intrepid MMFS chaperones on the annual 10th grade trip to Germany and Austria. I saw firsthand what a valuable and meaningful experience it was.

Learning was the theme of the trip. This experience challenged the students to be open-minded, to be curious and reflective, to be flexible, to try new foods, to forge new connections, and to live with each other 24/7 in (relative) harmony. If there was an exam, the tenth grade passed with flying colors.

I learned quite a few things myself. I learned that our students reveal their brilliance in whole new ways when you take them out of their (literal) comfort zones, and that they are capable of demonstrating great compassion, understanding, and resilience. I learned that our teachers had meticulously planned lessons in advance of this trip, so that our students brought critical knowledge with them. I learned that when you walk 31 miles over the course of a week, it doesn’t really hit you until you stop to rest. And I learned that “Es schneit!” is German for “It’s snowing!” (More on that below.)

Here are some highlights of our trip to Germany and Austria.

We arrived in Munich, and I got to meet someone whose reputation preceded him—the much-loved Maurizio, who was serving as our tour guide for the 8th time.

Our first official stop was a somber one. We visited the site of the Nazi concentration camp Dachau, entering through the gate with the ominous words “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work sets you free”). Our students were well prepared for this visit, which was reflected in their respectful behavior and their thoughtful responses to the difficult history they were immersed in—barracks, gas chambers, memorials to victims. The visit concluded with Amanda Toomey leading some of the students in reciting the Kaddish, the traditional Jewish mourning prayer.

The group moved on to the Allianz Arena, home to Bayern Munich, the most dominant team in German football. Next was a visit to the University of Munich, birthplace of the White Rose resistance movement, a nonviolent group of five students and a professor who were killed by the Nazis for distributing leaflets.

En route to Salzburg, we took a stunning ferry ride showcasing the nearby Alps, and then hiked to the Herrenchiemsee Palace (a Versailles replica on a small island). We then walked into the central historic stretch of Salzburg, strolling alongside the Salzach River while Maurizio pointed out various landmarks of historical significance. We enjoyed a Sound of Music-themed dinner in the baroque Hall of St. Peter’s Monastery, a historic venue built in 803 where the Mozart family once dined. The students were in awe as they entered the grand hall, admiring its stained glass, chandeliers, and a historic fresco.

The next day we headed to the salt mines, where a mini-train took us deep underground. There were not one but two miners’ slides, which added an element of fun to an otherwise educational trip about salt harvesting and the various uses of salt. Our group bravely made their way to a tunnel 130 meters below ground to take a boat ride—conducted in darkness except for small twinkling lights on the ceiling—across a salt lake.

Next up was the 400-year-old Hellbrunn Palace and Trick Fountains—an early baroque villa and garden known for its impressive water features. The tour included marveling at an ancient mythological grotto with hidden sprays and a grotto featuring bird songs produced by water, and dodging water jets from ceramic deer heads mounted on the door.

Back in Salzburg, two tour guides led us from the new side of the city to the historic left bank, featuring more scenes from The Sound of Music, the Pegasus fountain, ivy-covered passageways, statues, and the Salzburg Cathedral.
As we departed Salzburg for Vienna, we found ourselves unexpectedly in a winter wonderland, which is how I learned that “Es schneit! is German for “It’s snowing!” In Hallstatt, we made our way to a funicular that took us 1500 meters up. We climbed a set of stairs and crossed a snow-covered sky bridge to our first stop: a World Heritage View spot with a phenomenal view of the world below. (Or so we were told. Snow and clouds shrouded the world below in mystery. Still fun, though.)

Once in Vienna, Maurizio told us about many of the famous people who are from or who lived in Vienna, like Sigmund Freud, Mozart, and Beethoven. We took a brisk walking tour of the beautiful downtown area, taking special notice of the graffiti on every building. After dinner, we stopped by St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the largest and most important cathedral in Austria. We learned about the “O5” memorial commemorating the Austrian resistance to the Nazi regime. (“O5” is shorthand for “Österreich,” the German name for Austria.)

On our final day, we enjoyed learning to make “apfelstrudel” (apple strudel) at a pastry shop, saw the majestic Belvedere Palace, and headed to the Hundertwasser Museum for a guided tour. Designed by pioneering environmentalist and artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser in the mid 1980s, the museum reflects the belief that nature and manufactured structures can coexist. The exhibits and structural integrity of the building reflected this intentionality. Even the floors were angled and consisted of different shapes and materials.

I am very proud of our students, and I hope that they are proud of pushing themselves beyond what they might have perceived as their limits.

Enjoy the photos!

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