The Summer in Review August 1, 2012Posted by t3sides in Travel Log.
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[written before and during my flight home on 7/28]
It’s been a while now since I stepped foot on the plane that brought me here to Europe—almost 11 weeks—and it is with mixed feelings that I prepare to enter the one that will take me home. I cannot wait to see my family and friends again, but I’ve become attached to Germany, to the beautiful land, the castles, the cities, and the remarkably friendly people. One thing I will say: this is just the first of many visits to ‘Schland.
It all began in Düsseldorf, one of the largest cities in the highly industrialized German Ruhrgebiet, and capital of the most populous German state, Nordrhein-Westfalen (NRW for short). One of my best memories of that time was a visit to the medieval castle Schloss Burg. To get there, we walked through a pastoral German forest, part of which was outfitted with something like an expansive playground, continued along a beautiful river for a while, and ended with a comfortable ride up to the castle by ski-lift. Our tour guide for the castle was an American, a history expert who married a German woman, moved to Germany, and claimed to have subsequently learned the language in about a month. When not giving tours of Schloss Burg, he explained that he worked as a trainer with several European soccer teams.
Enjoying the “playground” in the forest
After two-and-a-half weeks in Düsseldorf, we continued on to the tiny but historical city of Weimar, the longest portion of our program. There we continued our studies and visited quite a number of German companies, nearby cities, and museums. Highlights of this portion included the accommodations—an entire guesthouse for our program’s use in a beautiful part of town—and the tutors—students around our age who we quickly became friends with. Afterwards, we spent an action-packed five days in Munich, trying to take in as much of this major cultural center and economic engine as we could in such a short amount of time.
Fourth of July bash at our house in Weimar
Our last city was the German capital of Berlin. A massive city in terms of area, Berlin is also renowned for its culture and numerous attractions. The Brandenburger Tor, the Reichstag, the Holocaust Memorial, Potsdamer Platz—just a few of the many fascinating sights we visited. Some surprises: a fantastic zoo, KaDeWe (the second-largest shopping mall in Europe), and a small but exciting theme park at Babelsburg Studios near Potsdam. But Berlin is also notable for its history, particularly in the recent past. Our course during this part of the trip covered that very topic, from post-WWI Berlin to Hitler’s plans for the world capital he termed Germania to the Berliner Mauer (the wall) and finally reunification. I came away from this last portion of the trip with a much deeper knowledge of the city’s importance in recent world affairs.
On top of the German Reichstag
Over the course of this summer, I have seen myself grow and learn in ways that I know are unique to this experience. There are the obvious ones, of course, such as vastly increasing my German vocabulary, speaking, and writing through ten-and-a-half weeks of linguistic immersion and really getting to know German culture through countless visits to museums, memorials, and neighboring cities, but the effect of my time in Europe has been much more than just this added knowledge. I’ve gained increased confidence in my ability to take care of myself, to plan, and to work with other people. I’ve forged friendships with people in another country and made business connections abroad. I even cooked my own food!
I suppose it may be a while before I realize all of the implications of this trip—perhaps further study in Germany, or even an internship here—but I can already say that this has been one of the most impactful and exciting experiences of my life.
All the best,
The Ubiquitous German Cathedral July 20, 2012Posted by t3sides in Travel Log.
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As part of the program I’m on, I’ve visited a lot of German cathedrals. And I mean a whole lot of them. In almost every city we’ve been to, we visited the local 1000-year-old cathedral, and at a number of them, we’ve hiked up flights of spiraling stairs to the top of the church tower. There are some standouts, like the Aachener Dom (in Aachen, a city in the western part of the country) and the Kölner Dom (in Cologne), but each one we’ve visited has had its own special charm. Following are a few of my favorites.
Cologne – By far the biggest one we visited (or climbed, for that matter), the Kölner Dom was an impressive piece of architecture just out of sheer size, and while the interior wasn’t as breathtaking as some of the other cathedrals’, it was certainly very nice as well.
Aachen – Perhaps my favorite cathedral, the Aachener Dom is actually made up of three different styles, and construction first began during Charlemagne’s rule from the city of Aachen. The Byzantine interior is completely covered in murals made of the tiles seen here, creating an altogether astounding effect.
Charlemagne’s original throne in the cathedral at Aachen
Leipzig – While not the most intricately done or biggest church we saw, I was intrigued by the palm tree-like columns, a motif repeated in other parts of the city as well. It was definitely one of the more unique patterns I saw.
Prague – One of the few I actually had to pay to go into, this one was totally worth it – look at the level of craftsmanship that went into all of those sculptures and decorations. Fantastic.
Munich – Just somewhere in the middle of the city, on a street we went through during our city scavenger hunt. I don’t even remember the name, but it was absolutely beautiful.
Until next time,
Top 10 from Europe (so far) June 25, 2012Posted by t3sides in Travel Log.
Ten thoughts I’ve compiled from my experiences in Europe so far:
10. Another cathedral?! Didn’t they ever get tired of building those things?
9. So, basically, they don’t sleep in Europe.
8. Mercedes makes dump trucks, and yes, they’re the best dump trucks ever made.
7. Citroën C4: drive carefully
6. Every single automobile ever made by Renault has a different name
5. All Opels are named “Astra”
4. The Czechs would appreciate it if you ordered off the menu, thank you very much.
3. Yes, the Germans do like soccer – was it the fireworks that tipped you off?
2. The temperature control knob in the train is apparently purely ornamental.
1. Oh, so that’s not illegal in Europe?
Until next time,
Weimar, et al. June 16, 2012Posted by t3sides in Travel Log.
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Update! They’ve kept us pretty busy, but this is a more relaxed weekend for us, so I’m going to take a moment to show you what we’ve been up to. There are links to all kinds of extra information, and most of it is in German, but most of them are also Wikipedia articles, so you can always just change the language, if your Deutsch isn’t quite up to snuff ;)
For almost two weeks now, we’ve been in the small, historical German town of Weimar. Weimar is home to nearly everything Goethe-related you could think of, including the Goethehaus (his residence of about 50 years) and Goethemuseum, numerous Goethe statues, and even a Goetheplatz (town square). The most prominent statue, located right in the middle of the Goetheplatz, celebrates his work with another famous German poet, Schiller. The city is also known for being the birthplace of the Bauhaus art movement and includes the Bauhaus University, founded around the beginning of the movement in the early 20th century. We have five awesome tutors for our stint in Weimar, and all of them study at the Bauhaus University. Other than that, the city also once hosted Franz Liszt and J.S. Bach, but most people probably know the city from the pre-WWII Weimar Republic, which was so named because the constitution of the earliest democratic German government was written and signed in this city.
Despite all of the history, present-day Weimar has only about 65000 residents, though I hear they get several million tourists every year. Given the number of tour buses I’ve seen here, I’m really not surprised. We’ve also had the chance to visit a number of nearby cities in the German Bundesländer (states) of Thüringen, Sachsen, and Sachsen-Anhalt:
Naumburg, another fairly small but quaint city
Erfurt, the capital city of Thüringen
Wartburg, a castle near Eisenach
A statue of Goethe in Leipzig, an important trade and business city
That’s just a brief overview of what we’ve seen so far, but more is on the way!
Week 1 in Germany: A Retrospective Look May 29, 2012Posted by t3sides in Travel Log.
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Sunday marked my one-week anniversary in Germany, and what a fine week it was. It started with me meeting my host family here in Dusseldorf, a nice older couple living in the small Dusseldorf suburb of Garath (Gah-raht). I also had the pleasure of meeting the family of one of their children (which included a grandson only a year or two younger than I) at lunch when I first arrived as well as the other student staying with them right now, a med student from Bahrain studying at the language institute in town. They’re a very friendly couple, and we talk sometimes over breakfast in the morning or TV at night, all exclusively in German because they don’t speak a lick of English.
This week has been in part adjusting to the German way of life and in part traveling all over NRW (Nordrhein-Westfalen, the province I’m in) with the study abroad program I’m part of. A typical day involves getting up around 7 for breakfast, taking the train to the university, starting class precisely at 8:30 (German punctuality is no joke), and then doing something interesting that afternoon. I’m currently just taking one class, on the Rhineland, but will be taking more German-themed classes over the remaining 9.5 weeks. “Doing something interesting” so far has meant visiting the well-known German cities of Cologne (home to an enormous cathedral), Essen (an industrial city that used to have huge mining operations), and Aachen (famous as the city from which Charlemagne once ruled the Western Roman Empire). We’ve also visited a modern art museum, the well-to-do Japanese area of the city, and even a jazz festival that was going on this past weekend.
All in all, the program has kept us students pretty busy over the past few days, but we’ve also been able to adjust and get a little more comfortable living in Europe. A few interesting things we’ve learned so far: nearly all shops are closed on Sunday, so be sure to buy your Brotchen (little rolls that the Germans eat in astronomical quantities) the day before; the fast train that goes downtown doesn’t run some weekends; and handball is apparently a real sport in some parts of the world. There’s much to say about Germany, but more will have to wait until next time because we have tests to study for here too!