February 7, 2005
Alive and Thriving in a New Environment.
Hello friends and family! I am happy to report that I safely arrived in Wittenberg 3 days ago and am doing well here, truly I am. The flight was manageable (seeing the Alps from the sky...spectacular) and my host mother greeted me with open arms when I arrived in Wittenberg. Literally. Her name is Frau HHHH and she is very patient, gracious, and sincere. She lives alone with her dog, Billy, in a 3 room apartment on the outskirts of town. It's quite a bike ride into town, but that is no problem for me! I have a spacious room, a great view of the city, enough room for my daily runs, and lot of books to keep me company. I started reading 'The Divinci Code' in German (it's known as 'Sakrileg' here) and I find it a welcome and captivating challenge.
I believe I am doing well with the language thus far. My host mother has told me that I am very proficient, better than previous students she has hosted, so I took that as a good sign. It certainly is a shock to hear people around you in the airport, on the streets, or in shops conversing in a 'foreign' language, but is at the same time very invigorating. We had our first lesson here at the Leucorea (the university at which we are studying) and it was exceptional. The teacher, Frau Karnetzki, is a very talented instructor of German as a foreign language, so I look forward to learning a lot from her.
I've been taking it slow as far as sight-seeing and shopping are concerned, but yesterday a group of us toured the Altstadt (old city) by foot, although it was absolutely freezing out! Anyway, we saw the Rathaus with gorgeous statues of Martin Luther and Phillip Melanchthon, the Stadtkirche, and the Schlosskirche. It is just incredible to see a vibrant, living city in the middle of all of this incredibly old architecture. I find it also very interesting to see how the building style changes as one moves out of the city center. My host mother, for example, lives in a large apartment complex that was constructed during the DDR-days of function and practicality, and several other such structures fringe the city. Now, however, these buildings are being torn down (my host mother's, for example...we have to move out in March) because there aren't enough people in the city to fill them. The unemployment in East Germany is so bad that people are migrating to big cities or to the West to find work. Again, to use my host mother as an example, she has only one more week of work before she is laid off from her job in a natural food store. She's had probably 7 different jobs in the past 5 years, and all what we would consider part-time jobs that high school and college students typically fill, although she has a college degree. Crazy.
Okay, that is enough for today, I think. It would be excellent if I could hear back from some, if not all, of you at some point. I'll try to update you regarding my activities at least once a week. Hope all is well with you and that your semester/work/family/all of the above are also successful and fulfilling.
Your Friend in Wittenberg,
February 21, 2005
Weekend in Dresden Report
Just when I was starting to feel burned out and bored
by Germany, I got exactly what I needed: a refreshing look at a vibrant
and intruiging city. Yes, the trip to Dresden was a complete success,
thus the majority of this email will be a description of the wonderful
time I had there with four of my friends.
We took a train out of Wittenberg on Friday afternoon.
This was my first experience with train travel, and I found it a very
peaceful and manageable way to travel, with little to no stress or
discomfort. If only America offered such a simple and affordable
opportunity! Anyway, we had to transfer trains in Leipzig, and the
Leipzig train station was incredible! There was literally a shopping
mall in it. We went into the lounge to wait (we had an hour or so
layover) and as we opened the door, we heard someone speaking garbled
German at the top of his voice. Sitting on a bench not far from the
door was a man who was either drunk or mentally disabled, but at any
rate, I could not understand anything he was saying, but it must not
have been too pleasant, because it didn't take long for a severe
looking blonde employee to march over to him and point at the door and
say, " 'Raus!!!!" He did not heed her, despite the fire in her eyes,
and continued to bellow whatever nonsense he was saying. She turned
curtly and chirped at Sabine (I guess another employee) to call
security, and a few minutes later, two portly middle aged men dressed
in black jumpsuits and wearing red berets came in and forced him to
leave. Although not extremely gripping, this little event helped pass
the time while we waited for our train. And my friend recorded it all
on her digital camera. Yeah for technology!
After we arrived in Dresden we decided to hoof it to
the hostel, which required reading a very small map out of Alex's
travel book...in the dark. I probably don't have to tell you all that
we ended up getting turned around - we actually went in the extreme
wrong direction - but I'm actually glad it took us a while to get where
we were headed, because I was just eating up the sights and sounds of
Dresden. I cannot describe via email the vitality and energy throbbing
from this city. Especially in comparision to Wittenberg, everything has
just such a great 'vibe' to it! The young people look intelligent and
approachable and not at all pretentious. It was just great to see other
interesting, college-aged people. The neighborhood in which our hostel
was located is in the part of Dresden known as Neustadt, and this area was spared during the fire-bombing of WWII. This
is what Alex called, 'the coolest part of town' and had several incredible shops, restaurants, bars, record shops, etc.
Eventually we figured out where we were and where we
needed to be, though. Our hostel was called Hostel Louise 20 and was a
delight. The employee was helpful, kind, and patient, the building was
clean and cozy, and our room was spacious and tasteful. I couldn't
have asked for a more comfortable place to stay for a weekend for such
a cheap price: only 15 Euros per night!!
After we'd settled in the hostel, we took a cold walk
around the city in the evening to get our bearings and to find
somewhere to eat and relax and warm up. When I say cold walk, I mean I
could not feel my feet. Of course, it doesn't help that I only brought
Chucks along with me to wear (notoriously thin shoes...don't know what
I was thinking) and that we all couldn't agree on where to go and
didn't know what was a 'cool' cafe and what wasn't, so we ended up
walking in the frigid German night for a good 45 minutes before we
collapsed into an Italian restaurant. Hoo boy...pasta never tasted so
good to this weary frozen traveler!
The next morning we (of course!) trekked over to the Altstadt,
the part of the city across the Elbe that has been completely rebuilt.
Wow. Wow wow wow. Everyone should call their travel agents NOW to
figure out when and how they are going to go to Dresden. It is simply a
must, in my opinion. Walking over the bridge one can see nothing but
old, gorgeous buildings. We started off by gaping dopily at the Semperoper (Laurie, let's make a date to see Die Zauberflöte HERE, ok??), which is a huge opera house just near the river. Directly next to it is the Zwinger, a large, gorgeous complex that houses spectacular museums. We toured the Gallerie der Alte Meister
(gallery of the old masters) and saw paintings by Raphael, Ver Meer,
Boticelli, Dürer, Cranach and several more. Needless to say it was well
worth the 3.50 Euro entrance fee. We grabbed lunch at a Bäckerei, where I finally found my first pretzels of the entire time of been in Germany and man, were they ever tastey!
It was beginning to get increasingly more bitter cold in the city, but we simply HAD to visit the Frauenkirche,
the majestic church that has almost been completely rebuilt (see
attachment). It did not disappoint. We could not go inside, however,
because the line for the tour was too long. We did walk through the Hofkirche and were dutifully impressed by the extragency of it. I'll have to come back to see the Frauenkirche when its finished, I think. Who's coming along?
On the way back from the Frauenkirche we ran
into an obscure outdoor market, complete with tents and men calling out
prices, selling their wares. It was a bit unexpected and quite an
interesting little bit of culture. There wasn't much there, just a lot
of cheap junk...but maybe I found a little something for a certain
sister of mine...and maybe I didn't. We'll just have to see! (hee hee)
Alex and I headed back to the Neustadt while the others stayed to take pictures and he and I checked out a record shop and then bought some Müsli
(like cereal, but better) and ate it while sitting on the floor of our
hostel. When the others got back, we decided we were exhausted from all
the walking and being icicles, so we snuggled under our down blankets
and took a Nickerchen (a little nap).
When we awoke, we headed down to the cafe under the
hostel, where we ordered our drinks of choice (mine=cherry juice..I'm a
baby) and talked politics for a few hours, thus attracting a few
curious gazes from some young German people nearby. I wish they would
have joined in on our conversation! It would have been interesting to
hear their opinions. Perhaps later when I have a bit more confidence in
my speaking abilities I will invite them to our discussion.
We all ordered Dresden Döners, just to see what they were like there compared to Wittenberg. Have I described a Döner
to everyone yet? They are in the same family as a gyro, with
vegetables, pita, and lamb (except mine, of course), but the pita is a
little different - and by different I mean better - and the three
sauces they put on there are mysteriously delicious. At any rate, the
one I had in Dresden was spectacular. In the restaurant there were two
absolutely wacky British fellows. One of them looked exactly like
Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands. He had dark place hair, a pale,
washed-out, filthy face, and ratty clothes. He had a blue acoustic
guitar with broken strings and when he wasn't playing with a tiny
pumpkin he had apparantly just found in his pocket that morning, was
drawing/scribbling nonsense with a charcoal pen in a ratty notebook. He
and his friend spoke with cockney accents and were absolutely
hilarious. It was really strange to hear English being spoken around
us, as we are accoustumed by now to German white noise.
The next morning I woke up early - like I always do -
and I knew the others would be asleep for at least another 2 hours, so
I decided to walk around the streets of the Neustadt alone
and really get a good look at it on a peaceful, bright Sunday morning.
In Germany, EVERYTHING is closed on Sundays, so I didn't have much
company on my walk. Except for one very special interaction. I was
about to turn the corner that would lead me back to the hostel when I
happened to look across the street. There, perched on the ledge of a
window and mewing softly was a gorgeous cat. I love cats. I love them
so much. I miss mine so much. So, guess what I did? I petted that cat.
I petted it and sang to it and told it I loved it and we had such a
magical time. It was the first feline I've seen for almost three weeks.
That made my day.
Well, that was the last really interesting thing that
happened to me this weekend! I'm so glad that I got to go on this trip
and get out of Wittenberg for a while. This week is our Project Week
and I'm spending my time at a high school, shadowing a student teacher
and talking to English classes. Today was the first day and it went
very well. It's great to be around young people and feel apart of the
Wow, I apologize for how long this little letter got! If you stuck with it this long, you get a treat. Here's a little poem:
Erin's in Germany,
Isn't that neat?
There, I hope you enjoyed
Your little treat.
Yeah, I'm looking to get that published. It's a big hit here in Deutschland.
Hope you all are leading extravagently wonderful lives there in the USA. Tell me all about them, okay?
Love and Döners,
March 7, 2005
DON'T go to Berlin.
Just kidding. I'm sure it is a marvelous place if it isn't -10 degrees, cloudy, windy and if you're not forced to walk for three hours two days in a row while a really tiny tour-guide makes you stop every 15 paces so she can point at some really rad building and mutter some really fast German really quietly, even though you want to tell her to stop working so hard, because your mind and your feet were already frozen within the first hour of the tour and you're retaining absolutely none of the trivia that she is spewing your way. Oh, and it would probably be better if you could go INSIDE some of the structures, as well, not only to warm up, but to get a more detailed and thorough history of the places you've been studying for a week.
It isn't my intent to disparage my entire weekend in Berlin, although I was not particularly impressed by the Hauptstadt (capital) of Germany. I found it dirty, cold, impersonal, and just really too big. As I stated in my intro, I'm sure that if viewed under different conditions it would be much more vibrant and exciting. I plan on going back in April or May to give it another chance.
On Friday, after we arrived and checked into our hostel, we ventured out into the city center for our first of the two frigid tours. We started at the Rotes Rathaus, saw the Berliner Dom, the Marienkirche, the Fernsehturm, Nikolaikirche, Gendarmentmarkt, the Berliner Oper, the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) and the Reichstag....from the outside, remember! They were all very neat, don't get me wrong. I know that I just listed off a bunch of crazy German names that probably mean nothing to you all, but if you have a few extra minutes and can't wait for me to get home in June to show you my pictures, I encourage you to copy-and-paste a few of the names into Google and take a look at these structures. I will give you the full lecture on their historical significance when I return, I promise. Heh heh.
After the tour we went back to the hostel for an incredible buffet dinner where we all stuffed ourselves beyond capacity, which wasn't the best of all possible ideas, because directly after this we had to stuff ourselves into nylons and dresses and suits and fancy shoes and all. What for? THE OPERA, SILLY!!!! Yes, we simple run-of-the-mill Midwesterners enjoyed the highest of class and culture by taking in a production of Die Zauberflöte on Friday night. While I would love to say I understood the entire thing, my integrity demands me to admit that I was lost more often than not. The costumes, production, special effects, and musicality made my confusion worthwhile, however, and maybe I found a little something there for my auntie and cousin, hmmm????
Saturday, after a correspondingly delightful breakfast spread at the hostel, we found our way to Potsdam (only 20 minute from Berlin by train) to torture ourselves with another city tour with the same sadistic tour guide. Actually, I really liked this city. It was much smaller, cleaner, and prettier. We saw an enormous, sumptuously opulent palace of Frederick the Great called Sanssouci (see attached picture) and then hiked another two miles to look at an equally extravagant masterpiece of architecture called the New Palace. Frankly, I was a bit bored by all the lavishness and found the next site way more my speed. It is called Cicilienhof (see attached picture) and is of significantly interesting historical significance: the Potsdam Agreement was signed here! Churchill, Truman, and Stalin met here to decide how to partition Germany after WWII. We actually saw the round table at which they sat to determine Germany’s fate! I just loved being in a place with such a vibrant and accessible story to tell to which I could relate and understand. Plus, it was really warm.
After Potsdam, our group had free time to tear around Berlin, but my friends and I were so severely drained from the cold and the walking (a total of 12 miles in one day. No lie. My friend Katie was wearing a step-counter) that we decided to just hang out at “home.” We ended up going to a quaint little Italian restaurant with our professor and then just gabbing for a couple of hours before we fell asleep…at 10pm. Berlin sure knows how to party, huh?
Sunday morning was a waste. After we checked out of the hostel, we stowed our luggage at the train station and hoofed it to yet ANOTHER palace of Frederick the Great, where Dr. Lazda said a few words, and then we crossed the street to go to the Egyptian Museum, where we were greeted with a not-so-pleasant surprise: a sign on the door that said, “As of March 1st (it was March 5th when we were reading this) the museum will be closed. We apologize for the inconvenience.” Great. Disappointment reigned supreme within our group for a while, but that was until Dr. Lazda said that we could just have more free time to tour the city on our own. My friends and I decided to cough up the SEVEN FREAKING EUROS to ascend to the top of the Fernsehturm (TV Tower) which is the tallest tower in the European Union and gives an astonishing view of the city. It turned out to be worth the money. After that, we conqueered the complicated U- and S-Bahn system (trains and streetcars) to make our way across town to the Jewish Museum. While disturbing and overwhelming, I found this to be a wonderful and thorough tribute to the ethnic group that suffered so severely during what I consider to be the lowest point in German history.
We barely made it back in time from the Museum to the train station to catch the train. You should have seen us, it was like a bad teenage movie: tearing through the station, dodging old ladies and wheelie-suitcases, frantically grabbing our luggage out of the lockers, scaling the stairs, at arriving at the gate just seconds before the train arrived to take us back to Wittenberg (we even had a soundtrack: some hobos playing an accordion duet in the station! What fun!).
I never thought I’d be relieved to be back in Wittenberg, but it definitely felt nice to unpack my bags, talk to my host family, talk to my REAL family on the phone, read for a while, write in my journal and cuddle into my bed to sleep away the exertion of the weekend. It makes all the difference to be living in a place where it actually feels like a HOME, not a prison.
Right now, however, I am feeling a little depressed and homesick. The weather is just wretched here still and my classes are proving to be quite boring and unchallenging. I’ve been here four weeks already, but still think I’m in the adjustment stages of culture shock. Although not exceedingly different from America, it is still exhausting to try to carve out my own “turf” in this foreign environment, to get into a routine that with which I can feel comfortable and in control. Maybe this is impossible to do completely and would be a good lesson for me in compromise. We’ll just have to see.
I really appreciate all of your emails, though. They help with the homesickness a bit, so I thank you for them. AND for sticking with me during this long update! I apologize for the whining, but promise happier news ahead! We have only two more weeks of classes, and then it is off to Italy for 10 days of Spring Break! If anyone has a care basket they want to send with me to give to the Pope, let me know, seeing how I’ll be in his territory sooner than later.
All right, that’s it from this side of the pond. Skip a stone over my way sometime this week, won’t you?
From the lady who has learned to drink tea in Europe,
March 29, 2005
Tan and smiling after a massive adventure!
Hello all of you wonderful people! My week in Italy and Austria was superb, of course. I would like to tell you all about it, if you don't mind sticking around for awhile while I recount all of my experiences.
I left with four of my friends on Thursday night on an overnight train direct to Venice. We were stupid and didn't rent couchettes (little beds on the trains) and ended up with very stiff necks and little to no sleep when we arrived in the Sunken City...that is Venice, of course. Venice is an island that is underwater, so instead of roads and cars, it uses canals and boats for transportation within the city. What a blast! And beautiful, to boot! We took a bus out to our "hostel," which actually turned out to be a campground miles and miles out of the city, but it was still very clean and pleasant, which made up for the inconvenient 40 minute one-way trip we had to make each day. We had a bit of an 'incident' our first night in Venice, however, as we accidently took the wrong bus back to the campground and instead of asking for directions, we stayed on the bus like the timid, frightened little tourists we were until everyone else had vacated the vehicle and we were left alone with the imposing, angry busdriver in a parking lot literally in the middle of nowhere: we'd been riding with no clue where we were for approximately one hour. Yeah. Not good AT ALL. The driver slammed out of his little cockpit and said to us in heavily accented English, which did nothing to mask his rage and annoyance, "One hour. You sit on my bus for one hour. And you don't ask for help. I done now! I go home!" We just stared at our feet in shame and terror. We didn't dare look at him or each other. He turned his back on us in disgust and shaking his head, dialed a number on his cell phone and ranted in Italian for awhile as we helplessly looked into each others wide eyes and shrugged. Should we start walking? Was there anyway we could find a cab? Thankfully, however, the man had good news for us after he hung up the phone, for a different bus would come pick us up and take us back to the city, where we could start all over. So, 2 1/2 hours later, we found our way back to Camp Alba D'oro. I have never felt so lost and hopeless in all of my life. It was a wonderful learning experience, however, because the rest of the trip, we made sure to ask every time we got on a bus EXACTLY where it was going!
The major sites we saw in Venice include St. Mark's Bascilica and Bell Tower, the Grand Canal, and the Island of Murano. The church of St. Mark's was gorgeous and all, but the REAL thrill was the square before the church, because it was literally FILLED with pigeons!!!!!!!!! Yea!!! Animal friends for Erin to play with = always a fantastic time. The evidence? I laid on the ground while my friends sprinked pigeon food on me, and in less than 30 seconds, I was covered in birds. Those things are vicious! You'd think they never got anything to eat, but from what I saw, I would wager heavy money that these dudes are among the best fed birds on the planet. At any rate, it was really fun and we captured the event on video and on film, so you will definitely get to see pictures of that. The trip to Murano was interesting, too, because we got to see a Master Glass Blower perform his craft...for free, too, which is always nice. We checked out the glass museum after the little show and were duely impressed by the artwork. Venice is famous for its canals, gondolas, and glass, and we experienced everything except the gondolas (um...40 € a person to float around in a boat for a half an hour??? Yeah, I don't think so...I've got college to pay for, jerks.) I liked the city, but it was so packed with tourists and tourist-hating vendors that it sort of had a disturbing, fake vibe to it. Although it was a spectacular place visually, I was ready to leave when we did.
Rome was the next stop. This time our hostel was RIGHT in the center of the city, an easy fifteen minute walk to the Colosseum, which we saw a good three times in our travels here and there. The place was kind of dirty and crowded, though, and located on a main street, which made trying to fall asleep interesting, to say the least. Let me tell you something about Italian drivers: they are absolutely brutal! They don't stop for pedestrians and lay on their horn the minute a light turns green to signal to the car in front of them to get moving. After a day, however, we were pretty used to dashing in front of the speeding beasts and felt like old pros in no time. The three days we spent in Rome were pretty packed. We saw the ruins, Colosseum, and other random, big, impressive buildings and sites one day, and then the next day took the bus to the Vatican City.
The Vatican City. Wowzers. St. Peter's Bascilica rocks the pants off any other church-like structure I have ever seen before in my life, largely due to the fact that "The Pieta" by Michelangelo stands within its walls. I never thought I would see this sculpture in real life, but there it was, behind a glass wall so no lunatics could hack it with a hammer again, but just bewilderingly beautiful, nonetheless. We stopped in the post office after walking around the church to try to get our passports stamped, when my friend Kate noticed a group of people run by the windows. She said, "Hey, should we go see what that is all about?" Yep, you guessed it. Mr. John Paul Pope-man himself decided to grace us with his presence on this Wednesday afternoon of Holy Week! He was so cute and small and white as he waved out of the window! I tried my best to get a picture, but I'm not sure it will turn out. Isn't that just the neatest, though! How many people can say that they ACTUALLY saw the Pope in real life? And this one isn't going to be around much longer (oooh...sad!!!) which makes it all the more special!
As with Venice, I was ready to leave Rome when we did. Italy was the most foreign place I have ever been - and the first place where I couldn't speak the language, which made things more difficult. Thus, when we arrived in Vienna, Austria on Friday I was relieved to actually be able to understand signs, labels, menus, and questions people asked me once more. But regardless of the benefit of being in a German-speaking land once more, I considered Vienna to be the most beautiful and wonderful city I have ever seen in my life. It is difficult to describe exactly why I feel this way. You just have to go there to understand! It was sort of like Dresden for me - with a really great feel to the place. It was quite peaceful and serene, yet vibrant and culturally rich at the same time. Although there are no really huge tourist attractions there, I could have stayed there the entire week of Spring Break and been satisfied. As it were, however, we did visit two castles (see picture), a bunch of fountains, an old fortress and some historical gates to the city. I was sad to leave on Sunday - Easter Sunday, actually - but very exhausted from traveling so much and looking forward to a home-cooked meal and good conversation with my host family.
My parents and sister sent me an Easter basket from home with some delicious American treats with which to break my 'no candy fast,' so I got to celebrate the holiday a little bit in this way. Karin and Frank also had little gifts and candy waiting for me in my room when I arrived, which was incredibly kind of them! Last night we watched "Der Herr der Ringe" (The Lord of the Rings) auf Deutsch together on TV and that was a DELIGHT! There is just as much of a nerdy fan following here surrounding those movies as there is in America. My host dad has read all of the books, too, although I would think that Tolkein's masterpieces would lose a little something in translation. Who knows! Maybe I should pick up the German version to read on the plane back to America and compare!
As far as my mood and outlook on life goes, I would say I am in the best place I have ever been since my trip began right now. The weather is much nicer, school is manageable, I love my host family, I feel healthy and satisfied and there is an end in sight. For a while there, I felt like I would be trapped in an uncomfortable and foreign situation without end, but I think that I am coming to terms with my being abroad now, and just getting the most out of my time in Europe, with the knowledge that I have a stable, loving home to which I will return in two months.
I take comfort in that.
Thanks for your attention. You will be rewarded in the future. For now, however (while I am booking airfare and lodgings for a 30 person paradise escape to the Bahamas) please take care of yourselves and write me back if you have time. Your emails are like birthday presents for me.
Love and Roman Holidays,
April 4, 2005
RIP John Paul II
Welcome back to Erin's Email Updates. I hope you have all had a relaxing week and are prepared to hear about my latest exploits. Nothing as exciting as last week awaits you, but I hope I can dredge up enough gripping information to hold your attention for at least two or three paragraph. Here goes!
Thursday afternoon the group of us toured the Haus der Geschichte (House of History) right here in Wittenberg to see what life in the DDR looked like. It was a pretty neat set up that reminded me a great deal of the Chippewa Valley Museum. They took a house and crammed each room full of everyday items from the 50's, 60's and 70's. Honestly, all of the colors and retro stylings reminded me a lot of American items from that time period, but nevertheless, it was super nifty to see.
Friday we spent the day in Leipzig, which was another city that struck me as one in which I could live someday. It is another university city, so there are plenty of interesting young people wandering around - a treat for someone who spends most of her time in a city where bratty, "rebellious," little teenagers reign supreme, whipping snowballs and catcalls at me as I ride by on my bike. Leipzig is also famous for housing the German candidate for Best Author in the World: Goethe. We actually saw Auerbach's Keller, a pub in which a scene from Goethe's "Faust" takes place. Another little interesting trivia tid-bit is that Leipzig made an attempt to host the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, but unfortuntely got taken out of the running a few months ago. I was pretty disappointed to hear that!
We toured the city, walked around a museum (also about life in the DDR...I get the impression that that is something they want us to take away from this trip with us...) and then had a good 3 hours of freetime. After that followed a most spectacular organ concert in the St. Thomas Kirche, a church in which Johann Sebastian Bach did much of his musical work and performances. There is a stained glass window with his face on it for proof of this! At any rate, the concert just blew me away. Typically I hate organ music, but then again, the only experience with it I can claim is the muscial stylings of the old, q-tipped-haired lady pounding on it on Sundays in church at a tempo that a snail could overtake, if given the chance. An acappella choir was also featured at this concert and successfully gave me chills, something I always appreciate.
Saturday was a gorgeous day in Wittenberg, so my friends and I played Ultimate Frisbee until we could play Ultimate Frisbee no more in a field outside of the Schloss Kirche (the church where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses. I am SO in the midst of history, it's almost funny.) Later that night we got together again and watched a good, old, American teen movie together. A guilty pleasure, but very necessary. Sunday I just hung out at my house and took naps in the sun.
Needless to say, I feel pretty relaxed at the moment. I'm anxious for my travels after the semester is over, but also content here in Wittenberg. It is strange to think that in only two more months I will return to the States! My time here in Germany is half over...or half begun...but I can't say right now which is a pessimistic or optimistic view. I guess it depends on the day.
Well, I hope that that wasn't to painful for you all! The last thing I would want to do is to make my loved ones suffer. I hate to ask you this, but would you do me a favor and email me back? I don't have any travel plans this week or weekend, so I'd appreciate your help in escaping to another world through tales of your lives and adventures.
Hope you have nice weather and a good week.
Your friend who is missing her friend, the Pope,
April 18, 2005
It's been a long time...too long.
German greetings to all!
Yes, I am still here, still healthy, still having a fun time. Nothing that monumental has occured, however, just daily life in Wittenberg! I've had several opportunities to get to know REAL LIFE GERMANS a bit better and have made several friends here, many of which are scattered around the country--which promises easy, cheap travel in the future!! Hooray for bumming an overnight stay at a friend's house!
My host sisters, Claudia (25) and Annette (26), came home this weekend to visit Karin and Frank. It was a thrill to meet them, as they are wonderful and intelligent young ladies. I must confess, I was quite nervous at the thought of speaking my shoddy German in front of them, but they both complimented me on my language ability. Who knows, maybe they were just being polite, but at any rate, 5 minutes after I was introduced to them I already felt completely comfortable talking to them. They must have inherited their patience and kindness from their parents.
Out-of-the-blue I was invited to ride along with Claudia back to her apartment in Erfurt on Saturday afternoon to spend the night at her place and see how a German college student lives! Of course I accepted and had a very nice experience wandering around the city, meeting her friends and just hanging out. It was just good to be out of Wittenberg for a while, after spending two weekends in a row at my host parents' house.
School is going well...and going by quickly, at that! We have only four more weeks left of the program. I'm sure before I know it I will be climbing aboard a train for my 3-week whirlwind tour of Europe, something all kids my age should do.
While I really am enjoying my time here now and feeling more like I have carved out a home of my own in this foreign landscape, I still think fondly of my return home. It gets harder and harder to say goodbye to my family and Matt when they call. I cling to thoughts of my community like a koala to a eucalyptus plant. Soon enough, though, I will be back to my zone of comfort, to my center.
That is all I really have to say this time around! Hopefully you guys are still managing to live your lives without me. Keep in touch, okay?
April 20, 2005
Although he is not half as cute and cuddly as my friend John Paul II was, there's a new Pope, and he comes from Germany! Joseph Ratzinger from Bayern is now Pope Benedict XVI. I watched it all live from my living room here in Europe. What excitement!
April 25, 2005
!Worthwhile Week to Report!
I know! Isn't it marvelous! These past seven days in Germany have been magnificent and I would like to tell you all about them. If you happen to have a listening ear handy, this could be a lot of fun. Let's get started, shall we?
Let me begin by saying one day I woke up and the trees were suddenly abundant with leaves. Overnight the buds blissfully burst open and shared with all their bright bounty. If that doesn't raise the spirits, I don't know WHAT will. Spring time in Germany is so gorgeous that it more than makes up for the wretched winter through which I was forced to suffer. Those painful memories are harder and harder to muster up with each fresh inhalation of fresh, crisp air and each grin thrown sky-wards at the chirping, fluttering birdies. It is so nice to be alive!
A kitty let me pet it yesterday while I was taking a walk with my host mom!!!!!!! Most German felines are painfully shy and skittery and run away from me, despite my best attempts to assure them - both in English and auf Deutsch - that I only want to show them the love and affection they deserve for being so gosh-darn adorable. Yesterday, however, this tiny, tortoise-shell cat actually purred and rubbed against my leg as I pet it and I would have stayed there all day if Karin wasn't standing two paces ahead of me, looking back at me and my new best friend with annoyance. She doesn't share my love for these most perfect animals, otherwise I would have tried even harder than I did to convince her to let Meowmert (his new name) live in my room with me. Oh well. At least I know that I have Cosmo waiting for me at home!
Okay, now on to the meat-and-potatoes of the week (although in my case, it would be just potatoes). On Tuesday our class took a trip to a place called the Piesteritz Werksiedlung. This is a neighbourhood in Wittenberg that is actually a historical monument. What makes this collection of houses so special? Well, it was built after WWI by the owners and managers of the nearby industrial area/chemical factory for their workers with the hopes of providing a clean, safe, protected neighbourhood nearby their place of work. The place is so well-kept and gorgeous. After our tour, the 12 of us sat in a café with several members of a club for elderly citizens, with whom we discussed the pressing issues relating to Germany, past and present. It was enlightening, inspiring and invigorating. What a joy to learn from these wise, wonderful people! Going into it, we all thought it would be incredibly lame, but we were all pleasantly surprised by the experience.
Wednesday we were lucky enough to partake in a theater workshop with an actor from Berlin. At first, most of us were pretty shy and embarrassed, but with the encouragement of our guest teacher, we all ended up relaxing and just acting foolishly and laughing together at our ridiculousness. It was a nice release.
We visited a Train Museum on Thursday. Do I need to say anything more? Yeah, it was really boring. Yeah, I didn’t really understand what our guide was saying. Yeah, it was pretty cold and windy. Oh well. You can’t win them all, as they say.
Then came the weekend, and what a weekend of bliss it was! Lots of Frisbee, bike-rides, picnics and movie watching ( “Finding Nemo,” “X-Men” and “Star Wars, Episode II” all in German). The weather was exquisitely sunny and made relaxation very easy. I did something very special on Sunday. My friend Danielle invited me to travel with her host mother and her to a city called Torgau. This city is of particular historical importance, as it is the site where the Russian and American forces met on the Elbe 60 years ago today before united and marching towards Berlin, which fell on May 8th and with this followed the end of WW2. This entire past weekend in Torgau was a celebration called “Elbe Day,” with exhibitions about the history of the city, as well as a re-enactment of the meeting of the soldiers. Oh man, was it ever cool! I was so thankful for the opportunity to see this. The drive there and back was also quite enjoyable and Frau Beck treated us to tea and cake at a very quaint roadside café. Oh! Such wonderful memories!
This week promises to be very informational, if not a little disturbing. We are preparing to visit the city Weimar and a component of that is a concentration camp called Buchenwald. I’m very nervous to see this tragic site, but also think that it is a necessary experience to endure. Tomorrow we are watching a German film about the Holocaust and then on Thursday my friend Jeremy and I are invited to listen to a survivor of a concentration camp speak at youth center here in Wittenberg. Don’t be surprised if I’m a little depressed this week.
Well, we have three weeks left of the semester and then I have a week of individual travel before my Matthew meets me in Stuttgart for two more weeks of even more blissful globetrotting! Ooooh, so exciting! So, altogether that means that I have only 6 weeks before I return to all of your hugs and smiles and sweetness. Despite all of the fun I am having here, I am still more than thrilled to be returning to all of that in the near future.
I hope that spring has put you in as high of spirits as I am currently enjoying! Even if it hasn’t and you are a little grumpy, I would still love to hear from you. If you have time, please drop me a line!
With kisses as sweet as German gummi bears,
May 2, 2005
PSYCH!!! Ha ha, I'm actually in fine spirits, friends! Let me tell you why: a little something I like to call 90 degree weather! You guys should try it. I tell you, it's a blast.
Well, I wanted to write a farewell email, for I will be leaving tonight to go to the cabin with my host parents until Friday, so I will be out of contact until then. I'm really looking forward to "getting away" from Wittenberg and school for the week and just communing with nature and putting on lots of miles, both on my running shoes and my bike. Dad registered me for the Twin Cities Marathon in October, so any exercise isn't going to hurt my chances with that, am I right?
As far as the update goes, we took a group trip to Weimar on Friday and Saturday where we visited a concentration camp and Goethe's house...sort of a strange combination. Buchenwald was as disturbing as I thought it would be, but I'm glad I had the opportunity to see a camp for myself: it makes the horror more realistic when you actually see where it occured and are forced to visualize it. A somber, yet necessary experience.
The city itself was compact and pretty and made for a very pleasant weekend. At the same time, however, I'm getting pretty annoyed with all of my peers on the trip. We see far too much of each other, are far too homesick and far too small of a group to always be on good terms. That's another reason why I'm looking forward to getting away this week. I need a break!!!! No, I shouldn't whine. I have it very nice over here and am so thankful for this opportunity to learn about myself and expand my proverbial horizons.
Well, I have to head home and pack! I hope you're all doing well and that the weather on that side of the world improves.
With Love and Deutschmarks,
P.S. I've officially seen two swans IN THE WILD here. Isn't that nifty? Still, it doesn't make up for the pitiful lack of squirrels. A travesty! How I miss those little rodents. SNIFF.
May 10, 2005
Hello cherished ones!
I just wanted to write a quick letter, letting you know I'll be heading off to Amsterdam on Saturday to begin my Grand Adventure. Why am I writing so soon? Well I figured I would need at least a half a week to read all of your delightful replies, wishing me safe and fun travels, considering how I won't have Internet access for a good three weeks after that! Don't prove me wrong, please....
My mental health is fine. Saturday a group of us took a day trip to Berlin, and I'm pleased to report that the city impressed me much more the second time around. We ate at a nice Italian restaurant and then took our time wandering through the city, stopping to look at the junk at a flea market (sorry, Auntie Wendy. Not junk. Treasures). It was relaxing and fun....
...as was my week at the cabin with my host family! Jeepers, am I ever going to miss them.
I'm ready to come home now, however. My bed and kitties are calling my name.
Well, if you want to track what I'll be up to over the next few weeks, just read the attachment called "itinerary."
Thanks for all of your support of me during this whole experience! I wish you a happy and exciting start to the summer. I will be back soon to enjoy it with you all!
Love and a sturdy German pat on the back,