By Ken Hunt '69
Fifty years ago last September, 38 students, one professor, and one high school junior started a “life-changing” adventure. We set sail from New York City on a repurposed WWII Italian troop ship, the Aurelia, with over 900 other students from around the U.S. After joining two other students, another professor, and his spouse in England, we would spend the next four months living, learning, and maturing in Europe as a family.
Only a few years earlier, when the Cold War was in full swing, the administration and faculty of a small liberal arts university in Southern California had the vision and audacity to create a residential foreign campus in the heart of Europe. From the time of the construction of the Berlin Wall to its collapse and beyond, U of R students have been provided the unique opportunity to broaden their education by experiencing other cultures, languages, and forms of government. No matter how much material you read or videos you watch on other countries and their citizens, unless you experience them first hand, your understanding may be superficial.
In 1968, we landed in Southampton, England, and over the next several weeks we visited Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral, Oxford, Stratford upon Avon, London, and Paris. History and our place in the timeline of humankind are much more understandable when you broaden your horizons. Most of the historical sites in the U.S., other than those of Native Americans, date to the 1600s at the earliest. Many sites in England and France date back to the Middle Ages and before.
Throughout the years, other U of R alumni and friends have asked why our group has remained so close over the many decades. There is no one answer. However, it was fortuitous that the fraternity brothers and sorority sisters of our group remained close, and one of us conveniently stayed in Redlands and hosted Salzburg breakfasts at every fifth-year reunion of the Classes of ’69 and ’70. More important, however, was the unique character of the Salzburg experience. Redlands placed the 41 of us in an unfamiliar environment that required us to mature socially, intellectually, and emotionally. After being coddled for most of our lives by parents and the U of R, we had to survive as a group outside our comfort zones, where we didn’t speak the language, understand the culture, or appreciate living on a budget. Additionally, we had never lived in close proximity to the other sex. Unlike the groups that go to Salzburg now, we had several days in New York City, a nine-day boat ride (six to a room and a bathroom down the hall), and several weeks in a bus to really get acquainted. We knew a lot about each other before we even got to Salzburg.
On October 1, 1968, we arrived in Salzburg, a beautiful and historically significant city. The Hotel Rupertihof was our home base for classes in German, history, art, religion, etc. We took day and weekend trips to Munich, Innsbruck, Yugoslavia, and more. Group trips were taken to Italy, Vienna, Budapest, and Berlin. Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Mozart, Pompeii, the canals of Venice, the Oktoberfest, the Berlin Wall, Tito, communism, opera, theatrical plays, and symphony concerts were only known by most of us in the abstract before the Salzburg experience. It was an adventure that influenced most of us for the rest of our lives.
Our group made an effort to be inclusive, even though there were a number of sorority sisters and fraternity brothers who were good friends before the trip. Everyone was invited to the stube (lounge) or tavern Augustiner Keller for regular get-togethers and stomps. We had a “birthday and sickness committee” (BS Committee) that made sure all those who had birthdays or got sick during the semester were celebrated or consoled. To this day, we still send emails to the group when a birthday occurs or if cheering up is needed.
In the five decades since Salzburg, we have had mini-reunions with the five-year reunions of the classes of ’69 and ’70 at the U of R, plus numerous functions in the off years. While most of us finished up our college careers at the U of R, some of our most loyal Salzburg alums didn’t even graduate from the U of R but pursued studies elsewhere. In 2005 and 2010 we had reunions in Salzburg, which included staying in the Marketenderschossl (the current digs for the program) in ’05. Typically, 10 to 15 of our original 41, plus spouses and other family, show up to the mini-reunions. Within our group are many who have given back to the U of R. One of us ran the Salzburg semester for two years; another serves as a trustee; and many have contributed to Salzburg-specific endowments and funds.
In 2018, we decided to up the ante to celebrate our 50th year since the Salzburg adventure. The preceding year, we sent out save-the-date notices and regular reminders. We asked people to send pictures and other memorabilia from our time in Salzburg and to answer questionnaires about the experience. Last September (exactly 50 years after we were in the middle of the Atlantic on the Aurelia), we held a three-day Reunion of the Fall ’68 Salzburg Group in San Diego. Over half of our original group, together with spouses, friends, and some kids, attended. Thankfully, we had the usual attendees, plus some who had been incommunicado for as long as 50 years. Yet, no matter how long the separation, the conversations harkened back to those college days and picked up where they left off. Filling in the blanks of the many years apart was seamless and fascinating.
On Friday, September 14, we converged on Coronado Island for biking, lunch, lawn bowling, cocktails, and dinner. Saturday was the highlight of the weekend. We gathered mid-afternoon for an Oktoberfest meal with live music and Bavarian bier. Tables were set up with pictures, the questionnaires and memorabilia, including a blowup of our group picture taken in 1968 on the Monchsberg with the Festung in the background, which all of us signed. After dark, we viewed a video of those old pictures set to 60s music. The evening ended with a sing-along, which included our old favorites and some new ditties. On Sunday, we again met on Coronado Island for a farewell brunch.
We grew up together and have continued to celebrate for five decades. The nicknames remain, the personalities still charm, tease, and rankle, and there remains a loyalty born of the intimacy developed during our Salzburg semester exploration.
Return to the class notes section of Och Tamale.