One of the most exciting things I remember about my elementary school days in PHV was going on field trips. There was one main reason for this: Castles! But there were a few other types of field trip I recall as well.
I remember taking bus trips to several different castles in the area surrounding Heidelberg, but unfortunately I don’t know the names of any of them anymore to look them up. My memories of these castles have blended together over the years so I’m not sure if two memories come from the same castle or different ones, so what I describe will just be in general terms.
I recall one castle had a long spiral staircase to climb and our teacher said it was good luck if you counted each step…I want to say it had 99 steps but that could be way off. I’m not sure if step counting was actually part of the lore of this particular castle, or if it was just a way for the teacher to get us to watch our step and not get distracted.
There was one castle where I particularly remember our bus traversing a scary switchback road to reach it on top of a mountain, and from our vantage point it always looked like the bus was about to topple over the edge. I think this same castle is where they had a falconry show; I remember birds of prey swooping over our heads to grab a mouse from the hand of the trainer.
During these castle trips, typically the most interesting parts were things that weren’t officially on the tour. For instance, the group would pass by a padlocked trap door at the base of a wall and all the kids would be speculating about where it led…perhaps the dungeon and torture devices were down there? I think such fostering of the imagination was probably a more valuable part of these trips than actually listening to the historical trivia that the teacher or a guide might be rattling off. I’ve returned to Europe once as an adult and toured several castles, and found that they still have the same effect on me. Only now the historical information doesn’t seem so boring.
The one castle that I haven’t mentioned yet is the obvious one – Heidelberg Castle. The main thing I remember about our school visits there was that we would have a picnic lunch on the large lawn just outside the walls, which you can see at the lower right of this Google map of the castle grounds. I also remember running around on top of the giant beer keg found inside the castle. How big was it? Well, big enough to have its own Wikipedia page. I’d forgotten that it’s called a Tun until I came across that page.
One isolated castle memory I have is of the class being in some sort of garden and there was a white Japanese bridge — the type that’s very steep on either end. I remember being told that if you made a wish and then crossed the bridge with your eyes closed, the wish would come true. So, one by one, our whole class made our way across. I’m not sure if this memory comes from a castle garden or a garden not associated with a castle, but I include it here just in case. The bridge was very similar to this one:
Another common field trip in those days was to go ice skating at a local rink. I actually don’t remember a lot about the skating itself, other than that the skates always seemed too tight. I think we were advised to bring a second pair of socks on those days, which might have contributed to the bad fit. The main thing we would get excited about was the opportunity to spend the Marks our parents sent with us to purchase pommes frites, also known as french fries (it’s pronounced “pom fritz” and I think is actually French). Although at that young age we didn’t exactly have a lot of experience with this delicacy to draw from, to us these pommes frites were the best in the world. Apparently Germans like to put mayonnaise on their pommes frites, but I don’t really remember us American kids doing that–I think we stuck with ketchup. During our trip back to Europe as adults we did sample some pommes frites and I want to say that they are actually prepared differently and taste better than a typical American french fry, but that trip is also fading into memory so I can’t be certain.
The other thing I remember about the ice skating trips was returning to the class room. There would always be a special brown bag lunch that day where you could invite a parent. Everyone would sit on the floor near the radiators for heat, since everyone was freezing from being on the ice, and eat sandwiches and whatever else was packed into your brown bags. I remember a fellow classmate used to bring peanut butter and banana sandwiches which sounded crazy, but I remember trying it later and thinking it was great! I should really try it as an adult, just to see.
One exciting field trip destination was some sort of bicycle/traffic school. We started the day in a classroom, learning all about German traffic signs and right-of-way and all sorts of things like that. Nothing too terribly fun about that. But later in the day, we all got to go outside to where they had an elaborate reconstruction of various city streets. It was essentially a lot of paved pathways that intersected in various ways and had all the regulation stripes and other painted symbols on them. They had lots of bicycles too, so everybody got to use one. I remember thinking it was great fun to ride around all of these streets and making sure you obeyed the real, functional traffic light and that you gave the proper hand signal when turning a certain direction. As I recall, bells were required on bicycles–for children at least, not sure about adults–and using the bell properly was part of the training as well. I think they gave the class some free time on the course where we were all riding at the same time and interacting with each other at stop signs, yield signs, and so forth, but then there was some sort of exam at the end where you went by yourself through a prescribed route to test your knowledge. Anyway, I remember this mostly being play time, I don’t recall being worried about failing or anything. In fact, I think us kids talked about how we’d like to go back there for another field trip. I’m also remembering tall red flags on the back of every bike–I think this was another requirement of German law, and again, I’m not sure if that just went for children or if all cyclists had to have a flag to make them easier to spot.
The Worst Field Trip Ever
I don’t actually think this is the worst ever, but I remember another kid announcing this at the end of the trip and two women on the staff laughing about it as we boarded the bus. We went to some sort of science center which, as far as I can recall, focused on human biology. I remember a mannequin which was clear so you could see all of the arteries and veins, and I think they even had embryos in jars. The tour ended with some sort of film, and then the door on the other side of the small theater led right outside to where the bus was waiting. When we realized that the trip was over and we hadn’t done anything fun yet, that’s when it was pronounced as the worst ever.