Adventure in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic

Adventure in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic

Many of the early leaders and converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints understood the value of what they found in the Restoration; they knew that the traditional Christian theology of their day could did not sufficiently answer the great human questions about the purposes of mortality and the glories of eternity. This tour to six beautiful and historically rich cities in Central Europe offers young Latter-day Saints the opportunity to discuss the great doctrines of the restored Church of Jesus Christ in captivating settings that will naturally inspire them to understand the value of their membership in the Church, and at the same time help them appreciate the great moral contributions to the world made by faithful men and women of other faiths. It will take them to gorgeous mountains, fabulous palaces, stunning churches and synagogues, historically significant sites and monuments, world-class art museums, as well as history museums, a concentration camp, play castles, beautiful parks and gardens, and the world-famous passion play in Oberammergau. In addition to the doctrinal instruction, they will also learn how to “read” churches, better understand art history, as well as the history of Europe, both religious and secular, with an emphasis on central Europe, and the political realities of the 20th century. 

Tour Director: Jerry Hansen

Jerry Hansen was born in Munich, Germany and was raised in several places, the most formative years being in Nebraska, Iowa, and Flagstaff, Arizona. He served a mission in France and Switzerland from 1974 to 1976. He received his B.A. in English literature from Eastern Oregon State College and his M.A. in English literature from BYU. He taught 9 years in seminary and institutes, 19 years in the religion department at Ricks College/BYUI, and 10 years in the Political Science department at BYUI. During many of those years he also taught GE courses with heavy doses of art history, as well as a class on Western European Peoples and Cultures.

Jerry’s experience in Europe includes two dozen trips over a twenty-five-year period, either leading student tours, faculty tours, or for research purposes. Married to Sharlene Wilkerson, they have eight children. He is the author of Sacred Walls: Learning from Temple Symbols, as well as several articles on the Book of Mormon.

Day 1 (Wed. July 6)

Fly to Berlin

Day 2 (Thurs. July 7) Berlin, Germany

In spite of its beautiful palaces, lovely gardens, and excellent museums, Berlin is an undervalued and often overlooked tourist gem. I love it for many reasons, but perhaps most importantly because of its ability to provide visible context to the history of modern Germany, Europe, and much of America’s 20th century.

We will start our exploration of this amazing city, with a visit to the Berliner Dom, the beautiful and highly symbolic Lutheran cathedral, a great monument to the spread of Protestantism in Europe. From there, a short distance away is the DDR Museum, a small but interactive museum which presents many aspects of what it was like to live in East Berlin during the communist era. Next, we head to Berlin’s symbolic center, the Brandenburg Gate. This monumental entryway to the long avenue named Unter den Linden (Under the Linden Trees) takes its inspiration from the triumphal arches of the ancient Romans. During the communist era, Brandenburg Gate stood just inside the Berlin Wall a few yards to its east, a symbol of the painful loss of democracy in East Berlin and all of East Germany. It provided a dramatic backdrop for several iconic, well-photographed scenes, when almost miraculously on November 9, 1989, after 28 years, East Berlin found access once again to the west. To the north of the gate, sits the Reichstag, the German parliament building which suspiciously caught fire in 1933, an event which played an important part in Hitler’s suspension of civil liberties, the arrest of many of his opponents, and the solidification of his power. To the west, lies the Tiergarten, the beautiful, large central park of Berlin that contains many attractions, the most famous being the 220-foot tall Victory Column, inaugurated in 1873 to celebrate the creation of Germany as a new country. Highly symbolic, it glorifies the German victories in its unification wars with Denmark, Austria, and France in the 1860s. To the south, we find the sobering 200,000 sq. ft. Jewish Holocaust Memorial. Berlin has much to offer and we will waste no time on this first day in taking advantage of its splendid offerings.

Day 3 (Fri. July 8) Berlin, Germany

Today, we head to our first world-class art museum, the Gemäldegalerie. After our visit there, we will wander through Postdamer Platz, which before WWII was the busiest intersection in Europe. Totally destroyed during WWII, it was left largely undeveloped during the Cold War era. Today, it once again boasts a bustling intersection surrounded by modern stores and architecture. It allows us a small glimpse into the challenging process of rebuilding Germany after WWII. From there we will head to the Topography of Terror, located on the grounds of the Gestapo’s headquarters during the Second World War. It contains both a yet surviving strip of the Berlin Wall from the communist period, as well as an outdoor and indoor museum explaining the terrors of the Nazi period.

Day 4 (Sat. July 9) Potsdam/Berlin, Germany

We will spend most of the day in two large, lovely, impressive parks in the town of Potsdam, about 25 miles south-west of Berlin. Two things here are very much worth seeing: Cecilianhof and Sanssouci Park. Cecilianhof, the 176-room palace built by Kaiser Wilhelm II between 1914-1917 was the last palace built by the Hohenzollerns, the family name of the rulers of Prussia. Later, in 1945, it was the site of the highly influential Potsdam Conference at which Harry Truman, Anthony Eden, and Josef Stalin met to decide the fate of post-WWII Germany and Japan. It was here that Truman told Stalin the U.S. had developed the atomic bomb, and, in many ways, here that the Cold War began.

Sanssouci Park is the site of the rococo palace, also named Sanssouci, built by the Prussian king Friedrich II the Great in the 1740’s. It is the located in an impressive 741-acre park filled with various other buildings and amusements, such as the much larger Neues Palais (also built by Friedrich II), and fantasy pavilions such as the Chinese House, the Dragon House, and the Roman Bath House. It is a great place to talk about Prussia’s place among the five-great European powers of the 18th century, as well as its role in the Seven-Years War, which Friedrich more or less started. Also known as the French and Indian War, we will discuss its impact on Europe and the early British colonies in America.

Day 5 (Sun. July 10) Berlin, Germany

We will attend sacrament meeting at the Berlin Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which meets in their own chapel just south of the Tiergarten. After church, we will head to the Alte Nationalgalerie, an impressive art museum containing great works of art from the 18th century onward, but specializing in the works of several important German artists.

Day 6 (Mon. July 11) Wittenberg, Germany and Prague, Czech Republic

We travel to Wittenberg and to Prague. At Wittenberg, the Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, changed the world by nailing his 95 theses to the chapel door of All Saints’ Church in 1517. It will be our first stop. Then we will visit the Stadtkirche (city church), often considered the mother church of the Protestant Reformation, partially because Luther performed the first Protestant church service in the building. Lastly, we will visit the monastery (now a museum) where Luther lived, both before his break with the Catholic Church, as well as afterward. Wittenberg is an ideal spot to discuss the Protestant Reformation and its relationship to the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After our visit to this small, charming German town – that you may fall in love with – we will head to our hotel in Prague.

Day 7 (Tues. July 12) Prague, Czech Republic

One of the most beautiful cities in Europe, if not the world, Prague was the capital of the kingdom of Bohemia for most of the second millennium AD, as well as a prominent part of the Holy Roman Empire (it even provided a few of its emperors). Today it is the capital of the Czech Republic, and the only city we will visit that doesn’t speak German. Our visit begins at the gorgeous plaza called the Old Town Square. Here, standing by the Jan Hus monument, we will talk about the effort that Hus made, a century before Luther’s time, to try and reform the Catholic Church. We will then visit the lovely gothic church, Our Lady before Tyn, whose beautiful towers make it recognizable from all over Prague, and whose baroque decorations inside are meant to inspire deep religious devotion. Not far away is the old City Hall with its mechanical astronomical clock made in 1410. A crowd favorite, it displays the passage of time and the need to repent with symbolic reminders such as a skeleton, which rings a bell once each hour to announce the processional of the figurines of the twelve apostles as they pass by in two small windows found just above the clock.

From there we head to the Jewish Quarter, to visit the beautiful Spanish synagogue, as well as a museum on Judaism, a holocaust memorial, and a graveyard (it contains an estimated 100,000 bodies, crowded underneath 12,000 gravestones, layer upon layer in a topsy-turvy heap). This Jewish neighborhood is a great place to discuss the Jewish religion, its customs, and the history of its people, and to compare the symbolic architectural plan of a synagogue with those of churches and temples.

Day 8 (Wed. July 13) Prague, Czech Republic

Today we cross over the Vltava River on the Charles Bridge, amidst the vendors and street musicians who ply their wares as you pass by. This justly famous landmark is inhabited by 30 statues and statuaries commemorating Christ, Mary, and various Catholic saints. Our goal after the bridge is the Prague Castle, site of the defenestration of Prague, where Protestants threw two Catholic ministers of the Holy Roman emperor out of the window, exploding the religious tensions of the time and precipitating the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) – the bloodiest war fought in central Europe until WWI. After the castle complex, our visit on the hill continues with a tour of St. Vitus Cathedral, a large edifice that greatly influenced several other late gothic churches in central Europe, including Stephansdom, the cathedral of Vienna. St. Vitus contains many art treasures but my favorite is a beautiful stained glass window by Alphonse Mucha, the famed Czech illustrator and artist. If we have time, we will visit the Loreta, a popular and beautiful complex of religious structures built in the early 1600s to facilitate those who wanted to show devotion through pilgrimage. We will discuss what that means on site.

Day 9 (Thurs. July 14) Prague, Czech Republic

We visit Vyšehrad, one of the oldest parts of Prague. It has an interesting view over the Vltava River and peaceful gardens surrounding the Church of St Peter and Paul. Every inch of the church’s interior is immaculately covered with decorations much like those on the pages of an illustrated manuscript, making its interior one of the most unique and beautiful in the city. Some of Prague’s greatest artists, musicians and politicians including, Dvorak, Smetana, and Mucha, lie buried in the cemetery adjacent to the church. It’s worth noting that European graveyards often contain large, interesting, and memorable monuments. They always give me pause to reflect on a culture’s treatment of the dead. It’s worth a look.

Our next stop is Wenceslas Square, the main street of Prague’s commercial district. It was first utilized over 600 years ago and since then has been a regular parade ground for every kind of person, organization or political party. The plaza can comfortably hold 400,000 people. In the upper part of the boulevard stands an equestrian statue of St. Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia. This vast square is famous for two uprisings against communism, one in 1969 and another in 1989. Today the street is a hustle and bustle of commerce: tourist shops, restaurants, casinos, and hotels. We will then head to an even older market, Havel Market Square, which dates back to 1232. Today it contains a selection of shops selling fresh fruits and vegetables, arts and crafts, and tourist souvenirs. We will make sure and stop. Other worthwhile sites, if we have time, are the Jerusalem Synagogue, and the beautiful baroque Church of St. Nicholas in Mala Strana across the river.

Day 10 (Fri. July 15) Vienna, Austria

Because Austria is not a major international player in the 21st century, it is easy to overlook the immense power once wielded by the Habsburgs, who ruled Austrian territories from the late 13th century until 1918, as well as the Holy Roman Empire for three hundred years. The glories of Vienna, however, bear witness to their past influence and power. We begin our visit to this amazing city with the Hofburg, the Habsburgs downtown palace. From there we will wander past the magnificent Rathaus (City Hall), past the neo-classical Austrian parliament building, and end up at the neo-gothic Votivkirche to look briefly at some of the decorations in the interior. From there we will head into the middle of the city and explore the shopping district at Graben.

Day 11 (Sat. July 16) Vienna, Austria

Today we start at the Schönbrunn, the huge summer palace of the Hapsburgs. In the afternoon, we will visit Stephansdom, Vienna’s cathedral. It contains many valuable art works, and one of my two most favorite pulpits in all of Europe. The Greek Orthodox Church and the Jesuitenkirche (The Jesuit Church) are both nearby and are well worth an inspection. The first will help us understand the Great Schism which occurred in 1054, dividing Christianity into two main groups, and the second, with its marvelous trompe l’oeil (an French term that means “deception of the eye”) ceiling will provide an opportunity to discuss how the Jesuit Order helped turn the Catholic Church into the first global institution of the modern world, a fact that impacts even current missionary work in the restored Church of Jesus Christ. There’s lots more to see in this area and we should have some fun exploring other possibilities (and sampling the great pastries available in the downtown area).

Day 12 (Sun. July 17) Vienna, Austria

No trip to this part of the world should take place without experiencing a Catholic Mass as part of its cultural experience. This we will do today, after a brief description of what will transpire in this important Catholic ceremony. Afterward, we will visit the Kunsthistorisches Museum, another of the top quality art-museums of Europe, and end up in the beautifully decorated Karlskirche (Charles Church).

Day 13 (Mon. July 18) Munich, Germany

As we travel to Munich, about an hour out of Vienna, we will stop and visit Mauthausen, a Nazi concentration camp, reminding us again of the horrors of war and the dangers of propaganda and bad government.

Once settled into our hotel in Munich, we will head to Marienplatz, the center of the old city and its shopping area. This main plaza is dominated by the magnificent Neue Rathaus (new city hall), three wonderful Baroque Churches – St. Michaels, St. Peters, and the Church of the Holy Ghost – and is typically the location for many different interesting street performers, as well as restaurants, and stores of all kinds. If you want a cuckoo clock, lederhosen, or a dirndl, this is the place for you.

Day 14 (Tues. July 19) Munich, Germany

Munich is the capital of Bavaria, the largest of the 16 German Länder (states), and was home to the Wittelsbachs, the royal family of the kingdom of Bavaria. It has a very different ambience than Berlin, much more laidback and relaxed. The first thing we must do today is visit the Residenz, the large downtown palace of the Wittelsbachs. There is method in this madness. By the time we have finished our tour of this immense building, you will have seen the amazing palaces of the Hohenzollerns in Berlin, the kings of Bohemia in Prague, the Habsburgs in Vienna, and the Wittelsbachs in Munich, illustrating the fact that for hundreds of years, central Europe, though supposedly governed by the Holy Roman Emperor, was in fact divided into hundreds of kingdoms, duchies, and principalities. While technically they owed allegiance to the empire, in actuality, they often fought and squabbled among themselves, and many experienced high levels of autonomy.

We end the day with a visit to the Alte Pinakothek, the last of the world class art museums we will see on tour.

Day 15 (Wed July 20) Oberammergau, Germany

Today we will enjoy participating in the moving and memorable Oberammergau Passion Play. According to legend, the idea for this historic play occurred in 1633 during the Thirty Years’ War when 81 villagers – over half of Oberammergau’s population – died of the bubonic plague in a 33-day period. Desperate for help, the people of Oberammergau promised God that they would perform a passion play, presenting the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ, once every 10 years if no one else in the village died. When no more deaths occurred, the citizens of Oberammergau fulfilled their promise and produced the first play in 1634. By the middle of the 18th century, spectators from all over Germany came to the small village, attracted by the great power and atmosphere of the play. The year 2022 will see the 42nd instalment of the play. In a five-hour performance (with a three-hour intermission for dinner), more than 2000 participants bring the story of Jesus of Nazareth to the impressive open-air stage of the Passion Play Theatre. Almost half of Oberammergau’s population will devotedly act out the story of the man whose tidings for more than 2000 years have brought hope and power of life to an incredible number of people. We overnight in the area.

Day 16 (Thurs July 21) Munich, GERMANY

We head to Linderhof, a wonderful, small palace and park in the beautiful Bavarian mountains, located about 8 miles away from Oberammergau. Built by the same Wittelsbach king, Ludwig II, who commissioned Neuschwanstein, it boasts a small French rococo inspired palace, as well as several other fun things in the park, including a small opera stage in a grotto built inside a hill and a Turkish kiosk.

Next we visit Neuschwanstein Castle, allegedly the inspiration behind Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. For me, its greatest attractions are the beautiful murals of stories from German mythology and Ludwig’s spectacular bed that took 14 woodcarvers approximately four years to create. We overnight in Munich.

Day 17 (Fri July 22, 2022) FLY HOME

We fly home from Munich

Or for those continuing to the Holy Land:

Day 17 (Fri July 22, 2022):   FLY FROM GERMANY to Tel Aviv

Today we fly from Germany to TLV. When we arrive we will go directly to the Mount of Olives for a view of ‘the Golden City’. We overnight in Jerusalem where our hotel is only steps away from the Old City.

View Holy Land Tour Details HERE.

Early Registration for Passion Play

Price for “Passion Play” Option:  $1,500 (Includes 3 night’s deluxe Hotel, Play Tickets, in country transportation, 2 meals daily. Not included: international flight from USA to Germany, lunches)

*NOTE: Participation in the Passion Play requires early payment of that portion of the Tour ($1,500) due at the time of registration. Participation and payment of the Passion Play is non-refundable within 6 months of the performance (Feb 20, 2022)