Archive for July, 2010|Monthly archive page

Isolated in a city called Home

In Deutschland im Juli on July 28, 2010 at 9:05 PM

As much as I was hoping this feeling wouldn’t ever reach me, unfortunately it has. For the first time since my arrival in Europe, I am lonely. I made it almost the entire month, but today it really started to set in. A certain sense of fear as well, strangely. Thinking ahead towards the upcoming weeks with nothing really planned for almost a month is kind of scary. I love having a set schedule. I don’t do well with not having anything to do. Yet I am looking forward to some things. Some of my plans might be changing, which would be sad, but if they do, then I think I am going to stay in Wurzburg and read and study. (Just as a side note, someone outside my window is playing Indian music with a singer singing with a Judy Garland type of vibrato but sped up to make you want to shoot yourself in the face and it’s making the five story jump outside my window seem a lot more attractive. This is of course only a joke; I just don’t understand why someone would listen to music like that. Some people!) I realized how much I love Germany and want to continue learning German. Almost all day today I felt as if my German wasn’t getting any better and I wanted to just sit at home and review vocabulary for three hours. Yet once we got in town I realized that I could understand more than I thought I could, and as long as I can continue to pick things up through context, I can continue to get by and my German will improve little by little. For example, yesterday we learned a great expression in German: Gewohnungsbeduerftig! It means acquired taste and is a very essential word to have in one’s vocabulary in order to talk about things like Wine, Wagner, and Weisswurst, just to give an alliterative example.

Mike and I were going to travel in Italy for a few days, but after going to Prague and experiencing the difficulty of traveling in a country where you don’t understand the language, we decided that we want to stay in Germany and visit some of the other areas we have yet to see. So I think we are going to go to Cologne next week for a few days and see what life outside of Bavaria and on the west side of Germany is like. But even still, as much as I am looking forward to traveling with Mike, I miss my friends from home. I miss knowing that I could call any of them and talk to them for hours or get together with them and hang out for hours. The other day when I saw Melissa we were bemoaning the fact that we were just getting to the point where we had gotten past the basics of conversation and the awkward part and could just talk without any pressure. I miss that with my friends.

Heiko left today and unfortunately I didn’t get to say goodbye. I know Flo and Marci are still here but not for much longer as the school year has just ended. But Barbara and Philip are still in town and hopefully I will be able to hang out with them a couple times this month while I am still in Germany and as well I am hoping to be able to go visit Stefan for a couple days, if possible. But in spite of all of these seemingly grand plans, the sense of comfort one has from friends and community is still missing. I odn’t mean to belabor the point, but I think because I have been on such a high for the past month, falling into such a very deep low is quite possible. This afternoon I started to feel a certain sense of depression come over me, but then I bought a Brezel and everything was better. German food has that effect. I would really appreciate prayers and notes of encouragement of any of you who read this have a chance to write something. It would really mean a lot to me right now. I will write more over the past few days later. That’s all for now. Bis Spaeter!


Questions of Tolerance and Respect over Weisswuerst Fruehstuck

In Deutschland im Juli on July 26, 2010 at 2:03 PM

These past few days I really haven’t found much time to write because of all of the traveling that we have been doing. However, the time that I would have had to write more about different things going on has been spent instead getting to know some of our German friends a little better. First of all, I would like to say how grateful I have been to Marci, Heiko, and Flo for the generosity to our whole group during this trip. This past Tuesday night a few of us were invited to Flo’s for Weisswurst Fruehstuck for dinner and we had an absolute blast! Weisswurst Fruehstuck is an amazing Bavarian tradition of having white sausage with sweet mustard, pretzels, and beer for breakfast. Marci and Heiko told us that it was essential for us to have this experience if we were going to be staying in Bavaria so naturally we took them up on their offer to make it for us for dinner instead of breakfast because we always have class in the mornings. We went to Flo’s to make it and then after dinner we sat out on the lawn and had a few more beers, jaegermeister, and Schnapps from the former GDR. We talked and laughed and for the first time here I started to have a real sense of a home with friends. And if that wasn’t enough they then met us for lunch the next day in the cafeteria and then Marci invited three of us to go with her to her class so we could experience an actual German university course.  Afterwards her professor invited us to go with them to a Greek restaurant for dinner where we were immediately served Uzo and I ordered Saganaki and Mousaka with a glass of white wine that was generously paid for by Marci’s professor who paid for the whole table’s drinks. Then after that we all met up again and went down to the Main with some wine and Radler and beer and hung out until it started raining. The girls left because they wanted to get some sleep but I of course took the attitude of only being in Germany once and so Heiko Flo and I went to get another beer and after the rain stopped went back to the Main to hang out for a while longer. We talked for about 2 hours and then I had to walk almost an hour home because the buses had stopped because it was after 1am. Yet in spite of the long walk, it was probably the best day I have had in Germany yet!

For those of you who don’t already know this about me, two of the most important things to me in the entire world are my friends and gifts. Heiko, Marci, and Flo have become great friends to me in the few weeks that we have known each other and they have been so generous I feel like there isn’t enough I could do to thank them. They have really shown me such an amazing time while I have been in Wurzburg and I will miss them dearly. But even more than their generosity they have really helped show me and open my eyes to how Germans think and live. Of course, I still don’t know a lot of what is important to Germans but I have definitely seen a side of life through my friends that I hadn’t ever expected. Dr. Geyer always tells us and our friends reinforce the sentiment that Americans are always so excited about everything. I guess I always feel like Germans must think we are very strange because we are so optimistic and laughing about everything all the time. We find life to be so much more carefree and as a result we come across as very excited, happy, and overly dramatic. Sometimes I think perhaps Heiko and Marci and Flo just have us around for their own personal entertainment because we are so ridiculous.

They might think this is unnecessary, but I want to thank Heiko and Flo especially for our conversation the other night. When we were down by the Main we had a conversation that really encouraged me in many ways. Although we had differing opinions about the different issues that we discussed, it didn’t affect our friendship or our conversation in a negative way. So often in conversations I have with Americans, if you disagree with the other person it becomes a personal attack. When Heiko and Flo asked me questions about things, I could answer honestly and still joke about it as well showing that I wasn’t a one-sided bigot. Being in Germany there has been good conversation among the group, but mainly only over issues relating to Germany and our experience here. Of course this is important and it is the reason why I am here. Yet, there has definitely been a certain longing to talk about more personal “higher” things Dr. Arnn might say. The lack of personal conversation has been hard for me especially have just lived with my best friend for a year and having other family friends to talk to before I left. Yet I felt like during my conversation with Heiko and Flo we reached a certain point where we could talk about these things and not let it affect out opinion of the other person. Of course this is not an easy thing to do, but the fact that they have grown up in a culture where everyone is taught to respect other people’s beliefs makes this much more possible.

I would like to clarify right now that I was very intentional in using the word respect. I think that it is very important to respect what other people believe from the perspective of awareness, not ignorant “toleration.” The idea of respecting another person’s ideas and beliefs has been lost in America in favor of “tolerance.” It doesn’t matter what someone believes, it just matters that what they believe doesn’t affect you in a public way or cause you to react negatively against society. Unfortunately, this is how our government has responded to respecting others, and as a result there is not respect for others, merely tolerance that is leading America closer and closer back to harsher and worse days of racism.

For example, if I grow up in a tolerant community, I can go my whole life never having met a Buddhist. But when I finally do meet a Buddhist, I am not going to know how to respond to this person’s very different lifestyle and worldview. My tolerant community ideals tell me that I can live with this person without knowing what they believe or ever needing to know anything about them because I can tolerate him as long as he doesn’t interfere with my life. But if I see this Buddhist walking around and doing things I don’t see as “normal” for someone to be doing, because of our human instinct to respond negatively and defensively to the unknown, I am going to begin to harbor resentment against this person at first unconsciously, and then consciously through conversations with others and various observations of this person that will eventually erupt in some sort of negative outburst.

This whole situation could have been avoided with another example. I am the same person as the last example, yet I grow up in a community that has respect for other people’s beliefs, opinions, and ideas not simply toleration. My initial impression of meeting a Buddhist is now not to merely tolerate this person’s existence silently, but instead to treat them as an equal member of the community and learn about who they are so that they might feel part of the community and I can feel safer and more informed about what this person believes. This is always necessary when someone new or different enters into a community. Some people will naturally respond negatively to the “intruder.” Others will take the risk of getting to know them in order to better understand why they came to join the local community and seek to help them become more accustomed to the local traditions. This is exactly what Heiko, Flo, and Marci have done for the rest of the group and me. They respect who we are and don’t judge us, simply because we are foreigners.

To give a better example of this, at Hillsdale this past year a new student came who suffers from Turret’s and Asberger’s syndrome. Immediately, people were put on the defensive by his consistent running around the student union building and “ticks” where he seems to burst out for no reason whatsoever. During his first semester at Hillsdale, I heard more conversations about him based purely off of hearsay, and only one or two personal accounts of people actually talking to him and getting to know him. Yet once people got to know him and heard more accurate representations of who he is and why he came to Hillsdale, people stopped responding so negatively to his behavior. The staring stopped, the consistent whispers were no longer heard, and instead people were able to not only go about their own business, but actually keep an eye out for this student if he needed anything. It was really remarkable to see the difference a little knowledge about a person will make once people make the effort to respect the person enough to get to know them and not merely tolerate their existence within their community. Hopefully America is not completely lost in a society of tolerance. Hopefully respect can be found again within the lives of American citizens as I have found it to exist so well within the citizens of Germany.

Prague and Czech Welfare

In Deutschland im Juli on July 25, 2010 at 7:12 PM

Prague! The so-called “Jewel of Eastern Europe.” At first my impression of this jewel were not that great. The jewel looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in about 600 years. But after getting over initial impressions and seeing some of the famous areas in Prague I can definitely see now why so many people want to come to see Prague. Unlike in other large cities where attractions are very spread out, many of the city’s attractions can be found quite easily and without having to deal with the hassle of cars. The streets are so small they are only meant for people to walk on making you seem as if you really had stepped back in time. The streets everywhere are old cobblestone that I noticed were not designed for rolling suitcases. Clearly the builders of the city of Prague weren’t thinking in terms of the future and the necessity of rubber wheels for tourists. In any case, due to the Czech Republic’s position in WWII they don’t have much if any damage from WWII bombings. Although they have had to deal with the damage done to the country from being part of the Soviet Union the city maintains a large portion of its architectural and aesthetic beauty.

There is one thing I would like to see happen in Prague. Everywhere in Germany I have seen many restoration projects being done to make cities more beautiful and restore the beauty that once made the city so great. This modern makeover is exactly what Prague is lacking in right now. I saw only a couple of the cities many buildings being restored. Yet there were thousands of tourists. And from my conversation with a local girl on the train, she informed me that Prague has now been quite the tourist attraction since the country gained independence in 1993. I suppose I don’t understand why when the city has so many people coming in and out of it all the time, they don’t invest more money into making the city more beautiful. The architecture is incredible but dirty. In German we say it is schmutzig, like it needs a good wipe down, and that is kind of what the whole city needs. It is as if the city is a piece of silver that normally shines bright but needs polishing. Just looking at the silver you can see that the design is beautiful, and you can appreciate it for what it is. However, the original luster it once had has now been covered by hundreds of years of dust and dirt.

But in spite of the lack of luster, the city still thrives quite well. There are hundreds of souvenir shops demonstrating the things for which Prague is most well known: beer, partying, crystal, and puppets. Never in my life have I seen so many puppet shops, and creepy looking puppets too. But the crystal is beautiful and one can definitely see through how many different varieties of china, glassware, and chandeliers how much the Czech people take pride in their crystal. Beer of course is not a surprise. Everyone here drinks tons of beer and it’s because it’s really cheap and really good. We purchased four beers for 40 crowns, which is the equivalent of two American dollars and almost two euros. As well we also had a chance to see the chocolate museum and watch the process of making Rock Candy. I have always wanted to try rock candy and at last in Prague I found my chance. I purchased a bag and was blown away by the intricacy of the colors and flavors and how the designs with the candy are so precise, as if it were a piece of artwork. They even offer the opportunity for them to make candy with your own writing in the middle of it. This was probably one of my favorite parts of the trip.

I would have to say though, the best part of the trip was getting to go to Pilsen, where the Pilsner beer was invented, and visit with Melissa Stewart for the day. I remember last summer staying at the Stewart’s house visiting Elyse and being very jealous of Melissa for being over in Europe learning and practicing as much as she could while I was staying at her house enjoying spending time with her family and wishing that she had been there as well. Well this time I got to visit her in Pilsen and we spent the day walking around, eating crappy pizza, amazing ice cream, and climbing the tower of one of the main churches in Pilsen and looking over the entire city and seeing Europe’s third largest Synagogue that is indeed quite beautiful to witness and leaving the impression that the Jewish community in the Czech Republic is still alive today. Although, interestingly enough I heard that the Czech Republic is the 2nd most atheistic nation in Europe only behind Estonia as the first.

Later in my visit with Melissa we made a great pasta dinner with bacon that after we cooked, we poured the grease straight out the window hoping it wouldn’t blow into anyone’s rooms. To go along with our bacon red sauce we had cheese and avocado and carrots and fresh baguettes with chocolate pudding for dessert. After hours of great conversation and losing track of time Melissa and I then ran almost thirty minutes to the train station not really knowing where it was just in time for me to find a seat on the train two minutes before it left. It was indeed, very exciting and very memorable. Something I know that Melissa considered to be important thanks to the always kind words of her sister, Whitney.

The next morning we woke up to another chilly day in Prague. The whole weekend was rather cool, which we were grateful for, considering the past three weeks have been over 85 degrees every day and some almost 100. Yet in spite of the cooler weather, I still managed to find myself sweating over something. I think I am just going to have to accept seating as a consistent part of my European experience. Yet, unlike the Czech people, I will continue to wear deodorant. Throughout the city it is made almost blatantly clear that personal hygiene is really not that important to the people. The lack of desire to make one’s self clean didn’t necessarily make for the most enthusiastic experience of Eastern Europe. But in spite of the flaws of the city of Prague, I still found the whole experience to be a positive one and I was very encouraged once I met Czech people who spoke English and enjoyed having conversation just as much as I do.

On the train back from Pilsen to Prague I had a very nice conversation with a Czech college student who is studying International Business at Florida Southern University. We talked about various different aspects about Czech culture and politics because before our conversation I was almost completely unaware of everything Czech with the exception of the music scene, which is very impressive to hear and witness. The life that exists within all the music being played that I heard came alive as it was being played. As if the Czech people had the secret to musical life that everyone other nation had chosen to ignore in favor of more scientific methods of expressing the beauty of music.

During my conversation with this girl, we talked about how the Czech Republic is having just as many and the same problems as America. For example, they too have foreigners coming into their country and working and sending their Czech money out of the country into other parts of Eastern Europe like Ukraine or Poland, similar to our problems with Mexicans in America. As well, they also have people living off of welfare because the amount of money they would make working is less than they would make simply continuing to live off of welfare, so many of them don’t get jobs. I am interested to see how this will affect the economy of the country in the near future because although they are dealing with the same problems as America in this sense, I wonder if the problem will explode faster because it’s a smaller country. In any case, I think America should keep its eye on the Czech Republic in order to see as a pre-cursor what might happen to us. And in terms of the economy, although the Czech Republic is a part of the EU, they still have their own currency of the Crown, but they don’t adopt many other features of the other European nations simply because their place in the EU is not as important. Where other countries have many industries that they bring  into the EU to benefit it, the Czech Republic doesn’t really have an industry that really makes it stand out. It’s top industries are beer, crystal, and the car, Scoda now owned by Volkswagen. But that’s not really enough to be a strong player in the political spectrum of Europe.

All in all, it was a very good experience and I learned a lot about being in a foreign country where you don’t speak the native language and how different of a culture the Czech people have in comparison not only to Americans, but Germans as well.

Initial Impressions

In Lyrics on July 24, 2010 at 8:03 AM

So I decided that in order to keep with a musical tradition that is my life, I would post some lyrics every once in a while that correspond to music I am listening to and thoughts going through my head. This song has always been one of my favorites, but it definitely has been important to me over the past couple months with leaving Hillsdale and now with having to say goodbye to great friends in Germany. If you don’t know the song check it out!

Alicia Keys: Why do I feel so sad?

Friends we’ve been for so long
Now true colors are showing
Makes me wanna cry oh yes it does
Cuz I had to say goodbye

By now I should know
That in time things must change
So it shouldn’t be so bad
So why do I feel so sad

How can I adjust
To the way that things are going
It’s killing me slowly
Oh I just want it to be how it used to be

Cuz I wish that I could stay
But in time things must change
So it shouldn’t be so bad
So why do I feel so sad

You cannot hide the way you feel inside I realize
Your actions speak much louder than words
So tell me why oh

By now I should know that
That in time things must change
So it shouldn’t be it shouldn’t be so bad
So why do I feel so sad?

Is education necessary for sincere faith?

In Deutschland im Juli on July 19, 2010 at 9:32 PM

Although I wrote a lot yesterday on the train on our way back from Berlin I had a very interesting conversation with my friend Barbara today at lunch. I met Barbara at a Doener shop in town on a Sunday when I needed some help with German vocabulary and her and her boyfriend Philip gave me their phone numbers and offered to hang out with us sometime in the future and show us around, so last Wednesday we hung out with her and Philip at this great beach bar in Wurzburg and then once the thunderstorm rolled in we moved to another bar and talked for hours and hours with two other of their friends Kristina and Anna. It was a wonderful evening and I was looking forward to hanging out with them again when this afternoon as we walking into the city cafeteria I happened to see Barbara walking in to the cafeteria with a few of her friends and she invited me to eat with them. Looking for any and every opportunity to be exposed to more German people and culture I happily accepted the invitation.

During our conversation we happened to stumble upon a very controversial subject matter. Yet interestingly enough, in Germany it’s not really controversial because the problem doesn’t exist as prominently and because of the secularization of the culture, it’s not considered to be as important of a matter to discuss or try and find resolution. Barbara was telling me about her year that she spent in America in a small rural town of Florida and similarly about how her boyfriend Philip spent the same year in Philadelphia. What I found to be most interesting and frustrating about what she told me was the impression of religion that she had from Americans due to her host family. Three things she mentioned specifically stuck out as to why she now holds the opinion of religion in America that she does. First, the father of her host family was a Methodist minister. Second, the first thing he told her after being introduced was that she wasn’t supposed to date a black man. Thirdly, the area in which she attended high school was a very poor area making for a poor quality of education and most of the homes in the area were trailer parks and the house in which she stayed was very small.

As a result of the second and third facts, she found it very difficult to trust or respect her host family because they appeared to not only be racist, but also very closed minded because they wouldn’t answer any of the questions she had concerning Christianity or what they as a family believed. They kept telling her what she needed to do in order to not go to hell, but wouldn’t provide any reason for why that was the case. In comparison to this experience however, her boyfriend Philip had a very positive experience in respect to religion in America because the area in which he lived in Philadelphia was relatively prominent and the culture seemed a lot more open-minded and willing to discuss issues and why people hold the beliefs and opinions that they do. She wished that her experience had been better and I credit her for looking at the surrounding situation that she was put in and see it from a more objective perspective. Yet what she said about her really upset me. Not because of how she responded, but because of the stupidity of certain people in America. Of course this is not only a problem limited to America, but the fact that we have so many “Christians” who don’t even know what it means to actually clarify their beliefs and remain the so called stiff necked generation is infuriating. Especially considering she was staying with the family of a pastor I felt even more ashamed.

Here is a 16-year-old girl, who has been taught to ask questions and have quality discussion to challenge what she knows and believes, and she comes to America and from a pastor she doesn’t receive any edification whatsoever. But instead comes to the conclusion that these Americans are so poor that because they aren’t educated they don’t even know how to answer questions like the ones she was asking. She blames the problem entirely on the lack of education and the poor lifestyle of the people in the area. Whereas Philip lived in a very suburban area with many differing opinions in Philadelphia and had his questions answered. She believes his experience was that much more positive because of the higher quality of education in the Philadelphia area and the more middle class lifestyle.

Is her perception correct? During our conversation I did my best to try and help her understand why she had the experience that she did, but I had a difficult time saying that it wasn’t the education level that affected the perspective and lack of willingness to discuss questions that she experienced from her host family. I did tell her that it is a very large problem in America that we have many churches that don’t even know what the Gospel stands for, or what it means to be saved. There is a harsh sense of legalism that burdens much of what is the so-called Evangelical church in America. Yet this term makes no sense to the German people because here they only have Catholic and Protestant known as Evangelisch or Evangelical. The fact that we have so many denominations is really just quite dumb to the German people. They don’t understand why we have Wesleyans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and then non-denominational churches with names like “Church of God” as well as smaller denominations only within the Reformed community I know if the RPC, PCA, URC, the PCUSA which isn’t really that reformed, and the EPC. And there are differences between each of them. And that’s only within the Presbyterian Church, and that’s only a few of them. This sort of complicated system of different churches with no one united under one name or body, is almost incomprehensible to Germans. It’s completely absurd and every single denomination thinks they are right. I know my reaction is not a new frustration, but knowing that it transcends into international waters is even more frustrating than before. We clearly don’t understand that our actions as Christians and particularly as Christians in America have a large affect on the perception of Christianity as a whole across the world.

But I did have to ask myself, is she right? Is her experience with the Methodist pastor and his family in Florida indicative of a lack of education in the area? Really, I am curious if better education is really the solution? I have been very impressed by the majority of the German students that I have met because they understand their own history, as well as the history of other nations and how that history directly affects their personal futures. They understand that the purpose of learning history is that we might learn from our mistakes or others mistakes in the past, that we might make a better future. We try different methods of figuring out what the best sort of life is, and we need to learn from them. This idea might seem common to many of us who understand these concepts because our education has enabled us to learn about how important history is, but when the questions was asked to my high school world history class, Why learn world history? I was the only one to answer the question with the answer, “In order to learn from the mistakes of the past in order to learn to make a better future.” I was the only one out of almost thirty students. And I know that this is not uncommon in typical American schools. So perhaps education is really more important than I had first thought? It would be very beneficial to talk to a professor or someone who has studied the subject more thoroughly. In any case, I would be curious if someone might be able to offer me some sort of answer, or a place I could potentially start doing research into the subject. If anyone knows of anything, please let me know. Those are today’s thoughts. Bis spaeter. Ciao!

Berlin and the Northern German Culture

In Deutschland im Juli on July 19, 2010 at 2:10 PM

For the past four days our group was in Berlin from Thursday until late afternoon Sunday. My expectations of Berlin were honestly less than enthusiastic. Dr. Geyer had compared Berlin to New York in the sense that it’s a city that never sleeps and that is not really my idea of a great city. Although I have only been to NY once, and even then I didn’t have much of a chance to see that much, I have learned that I prefer smaller cities with less people. I am not really a city boy. Sometimes I like to think I might enjoy living in a city for an extended period of time; renting a flat, living the “high life” and knowing a big city like the back of my hand. But in truth, big cities not only annoy me, they give me the distinct impression of being alone. There are so many people, all of whom give the impression that they are too busy to even look at you, and only when you finally get the courage to ask someone for help, the first five people keep walking and the person that finally helps you doesn’t even give you directions that make sense. This is how I have always felt in cities like Washington, New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago.

Even more than the lack of consideration of people, the mass chaos of hundreds of people whirling around in circles makes one feel isolated and doubting God’s purpose for all of these people. When one has the opportunity to be part of a community, there is a sense not only of comfort and security, but also knowing the goals that people have and seeing how God is working in their lives. When walking through Berlin’s main train station, the largest in Europe, one wonders if God even exists just at the sight of some of the people as well as the consistent people walking on trains asking for money or playing lousy music and going around to everyone asking for tips. Just yesterday we were sitting outside at a very nice Vietnamese restaurant in downtown Berlin, when an accordion player who looked like he hadn’t showered in 3 months with 7 teeth came over about ten feet from us and started playing his accordion. It was not for us by any means, he was a far enough distance away and he didn’t ask us if we wanted to hear anything, but he just played and then we gave him money. Seeing someone like that always angers me. It doesn’t make feel sad that this person has to go around begging for money, it makes me angry that he won’t take the time or put in the effort to get a real job. His appearance was abysmal. But I am sure if he wanted to find a place to shower he could. I will give the environment some credit in this instance that this guy probably doesn’t live in the best area or have a lot of opportunities. But that’s not an excuse to go around begging. It’s a tough issue to talk about, and perhaps I am being too critical, but it makes the experience of being in a big city that much more burdensome.

I didn’t feel very safe in the city of Berlin. Although, I felt safer than I thought I would. The neighborhood where we stayed was kind of sketchy, but the hostel was very nice, quiet, and very well guarded with a gate that one had to ring the bell to get into so people don’t bother even trying to get in unless they are guests. Breakfast was definitely something to write home about, as the expression goes. So I will describe what was probably the most wonderful breakfast I have had perhaps in my whole life. As in most hotels in Europe they have a breakfast buffet, yet they are very different than breakfast buffets in America. Where American buffets focus more on eggs, waffles, pancakes, muffins, and a little bit of fruit, European breakfast buffets offer no eggs, pancakes, muffins, and only small waffles that are meant to be eaten with jelly or Nutella. And this is the main difference. Where American buffets offer jelly and other condiments as optional sides, in Europe it’s largely focused upon. There were large bowls of fresh apricot jelly, strawberry jelly, Nutella, as well as yogurt and granola to go along with four different types of meat, three different kinds of cheeses including brie, and 6 different types of bread including the most amazing cheese rolls I have ever had. And to top it all off, they offered a sort of Caprese dish to go along with breakfast that was incredible! It was a small slice of tomato with fresh mozzarella and basil picked fresh from the basil plant outside the window, this wonderful combination of flavors I then combined with a meat that is kind of a combination of bacon and ham that combined with the other three flavors impeccably within a hot cheese roll. I ate three of them. I couldn’t get enough of how delicious it was. It was refreshing, it incorporated the major food groups, it was light to eat, and the flavor made me want to eat more but not in a ravenous sort of way, but more as if the flavors were so well combined that my body said give us more of this heavenly treat that we might give thee energy to last thee throughout thy days. I will indeed miss the breakfast from Berlin; it was so good it’s almost worth coming back to the city to visit.

And please, allow me to say that I by no means hated Berlin, if someone likes big cities they will love Berlin and I think everyone should visit Berlin at least once or twice. I would like to go back and give it another shot because I know there is still so much more to see and experience that I didn’t get to do during our short visit. And the history of the city definitely makes it worth visiting. While we were there we learned a lot about how much of Germany’s history can be seen simply by walking around a few of the cities museums and seeing the remnants of the Berlin Wall. In fact, there is a line going around the entire city where one can see where the wall was before it fell. It serves as a constant reminder to them of the socialism that once took over their country and divided them and of the unification they now have as one German state. Museum after museum has been built, there is still restoration being done all over the city from buildings that were destroyed during WWII that had never had the opportunity to be restored until twenty years ago. Major improvements have been made and the city is flourishing more and more every day. Yet there is still graffiti everywhere. Literally EVERYWHERE! It’s impossible to walk even ten feet without seeing some sort of graffiti. But in comparison to some cities where they give off the impression of being nice when in reality they are pretty gross, Berlin has accepted that it is kind of trashy and incorporated that within its culture. Is this a reflection of the lack of godliness of the culture? Perhaps, but I don’t think that I am qualified to say that graffiti indicates godlessness within a culture. But the city is also has many monuments symbolizing the democracy that now governs the land including the Capitol which we got to tour.

The building is absolutely stunning to see because of the cultural significance it has on the people. There are many reminders of the suffering that Germany has been through, but as well as the suffering that they have caused others and how they seek to move past those errors towards a brighter future. Does this sound a little too patriotic in a fake sense? If it does, it is the exact impression that the Capitol presents. There is a seriousness and sincerity that is conveyed throughout the art and architecture of the Capitol. Even the room in which the Parliament meets is a unique color that nowhere else in the world has and all of the chairs, desks, and positions are all the exact same measurements, even with Chancellor Angela Merkel to symbolize the equality that exists within their positions as leaders of the people. It was very interesting to see especially in comparison to America’s capitol as well as how many museums there were neighboring the Capitol like in America as well.

Included in these museums is the incredible Zeughaus that takes over 5 hours to go through because it catalogues all of German history for over 5,000 years. As well as the Pergomon museum that houses one of the world’s greatest collection of ancient artifacts from around the world. In addition to these museums, I also had the opportunity to see the opera Orlando by George Frederick Handel, see the Bertol Brecht museum where he lived, walk through the most beautiful cemetery I have ever seen right next to Brecht’s house where he is buried, and go to the Berlin Zoo where I saw my first real Panda as well as many more animals that I had never seen before. The quality of the museums here is simply top notch. They do not spare a single detail in any museum thus giving you the potential of being there reading for more than the five hours we were already there. We also went on a great bout tour of the city where we had a chance to learn some more of the history as well as take in the sights of the city along the river Spree, pronounced like the word spray. It was an amazing city to see and I know I would love to come back to visit. I just wouldn’t want to live there permanently. Yet again, I find myself comparing all of the cities that I have seen so far in Germany. Berlin was great, but I think I liked Munich better, but I think that’s because I like Bavaria better. Honestly though I feel a little guilty saying that because Bavaria is a little bit like California. Everyone from there loves it, and everyone else around the country resents them. But honestly the people in Bavaria I think are much nicer than what I saw in Berlin.

But after a few days gone from the city of Wurzburg, I am definitely ready to go back and relax for a few days. The very fast pace of life that we have been living for the past week seeing three of the major highlights of Germany in 10 days has been exhausting. But Friday we have a free weekend, and because we don’t want to waste any time, six of us from our group are going to Prague in the Czech Republic for a few days. I am very excited about getting to see Prague and hopefully will have another city within my repertoire to be able to compare. It will be interesting to see how Prague compares particularly to Berlin, as both are the nation’s respective capitols. More details about that trip will come. Ciao for now!

Personal Thoughts on Music

In Deutschland im Juli on July 15, 2010 at 2:35 PM

I realized that I have been in Europe for almost two weeks, and have written hardly anything about what music I have been listening to, or what music I have heard during my time in Germany. Primarily, the majority of the things I have been listening to have been the same as they were in America. Still listening to a lot of the Glee soundtrack that I purchased before I came, as well as the Kina Grannis album that I purchased when I went to her concert in Ann Arbor with Claire. But interestingly enough, there isn’t much popular music in Germany that the people listen to. I have had amazing opportunities to see two operas thus far, Deer Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss and Les Dialogues Des Carmelites, by Francis Poulenc and then tomorrow evening in Berlin I am very excited to have an opportunity to see Orlando by Handel. It really has been an amazing blessing to have the opportunity to see three operas in less than three weeks. Indeed music is alive and well here in Germany. In Wurzburg I consistently see people walking around with instrument cases. Violins, cellos, trumpets, trombones, and I am sure that there have been flautists or clarinetists that I haven’t even noticed because their instruments are in their bag. Every day on our way to the Mensa we walk by the music school on the way, and I hear glorious music, generally brass music, as we walk to eat lunch.

I have been truly impressed by the quality level of music here in Germany so far. Munich was simply breathtaking in terms of musical quality at the opera, and consistently on the different tours we have been taking there have been musicians playing their instruments in public for the sake of exposure and a little extra cash. Particularly in Marienplatz in Munich, kind of like a much smaller version of Times Square, there were many musicians including a band from Australia, a string trio, and an old gypsy couple playing music on an accordion and tambourine. Even in Rottenburg there was a duet ensemble of a violin and cello right outside of the town playing in the park. I am very excited to see what I will hear in Berlin once we arrive.

And although I am hearing great music and in many respects broadening my horizons every day, I realize I am not doing as much with music as I used to. It’s been great having to focus my energies on learning the German language. It has been marvelously beneficial to my understanding of the language and knowing how to get along and around in a foreign country. But I miss getting up at 7am on a Sunday to play violin at Countryside. (In fact I have been missing Countryside so much I have been listening to the sermons that I have been missing at night so I can still feel a part of the community in some way.) I miss playing in an orchestra and having “music nerd moments.” Of course these are all a part of moving on after college and focusing on different things, but nevertheless there is a sort of emptiness right now that shows me how important music is to my life and how I could never let it go. I will continue listening to classical music to help keep me awake as I drive at 2am on my home and play my violin as often as possible. I love to pull out my violin and simply play hymns. I would love to be able to find a string quartet that I could be a part of because playing with other people always makes the musical experience that much better.

Every time I put on my headphones, the incredible beauty of music blows me away. Listening to Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis I always hear something new that I have never heard before. With 40 individual voices each singing their own part in many respects it is what I imagine heaven being like upon entrance. It is almost as if when walking through the gates of heaven one hears this music and can’t help but fall on one’s knees in complete awe and fear at the first sight of our Creator. It is this imagery that keeps my interest in music growing day by day. Every note I here causes me to dwell that much further on God’s glory and how it abounds through the music that he inspires people to write. Many people are familiar with the Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber. I can honestly say that as often as I have been thrust into the passion of incredible music, this is the only piece that makes me cry. I often here someone say, “Everytime I hear this piece it makes me cry.” Never in my life have I had this experience. There are moments in certain performances where I might shed some tears, recently I actually broke down hearing Barber’s Adagio for Strings, but in general I am so fascinated by the music that I am searching as I listen. Searching for the magic that exists within the notes as they are being heard by the audience. I imagine the chords and the notes leading up to the climax of the music and how if those notes didn’t exist, the who context for the climax would make no sense.

Yet even beyond the mere scientific aspects of the music, the emotion and the drama and symbolism of the music is nothing in comparison to the moments when one’s senses are blended together and one loses all sense of time and is overcome by a wave of sound that envelops one’s entire perception of existence and for a brief moment, it is as if God reveals His presence through music and an immediate sense of comfort, peace, love, refreshment, and energy rush over the entire body. That is why I listen to music. To find those moments that one can’t control but happen in performance, or when you least expect them because the music was turned up too loud, or when one hears a musical masterpiece for the first time and is amazed by its beauty. These are the moments that as musicians we all live for. It is the fire that keeps us going. Our goal is not only to create those moments for ourselves, but for others as well. We don’t merely make music for our own pleasure, but for the pleasure of others, that they might take as much joy from the music as we do, and in turn realize that the One who makes all of this possible is more beautiful than all the music in the world.

Many times I imagine being in heaven and hearing God write a symphony that is more beautiful than anything ever written. All of the music written in the history of man pale in comparison to this piece of music. And yet as soon as the piece is finished, God begins with a new symphony 100 times more beautiful than the one before. And the ritual continues over and over and His people remain in a continual state of awe and worship being in the presence of their Creator and Savior. Of course, as a musician, this is what I hope heaven will be like, but I can imagine artists and any other craftsmen having the same idea about their own craft. Ultimately, it is the reflection of God’s nature that is omnipresent within creation that man pays tribute to within his craft or trade. It is toward this goal then as a musician that I hope to have the privilege to continue in for the rest of my life.

Munich..ok, Rottenburg….I’ve had better, Wurzburg….now I feel at Home!

In Deutschland im Juli on July 14, 2010 at 5:47 PM

The past few days here in Wurzburg have been great. After getting back from Munich Wurzburg seemed like a much smaller city and I realized as well how wonderful of a city it truly is. Those from Hillsdale will understand that one of the things we miss the most when we are gone from Hillsdale is the community and the sense of security that comes with that community. We don’t even lock our doors at night because we know that it is so safe. Would we ever do the same thing in Detroit, no way! Yet I am beginning to have a similar feeling about Wurzburg. Although of course I am still careful with my things here and lock my door when I leave, I also feel in some senses protected when I am in Wurzburg. In comparison, Munich was a completely different experience, and when we got off the train from Munich to Wurzburg, as Dr. Geyer said would happen, I felt like I had come back to a very small city with not much going on. I felt more confident, although I still have trouble speaking the language and understanding people, I am getting better and I can now get around the entire city without being lost which helps with the sense of security as well.

On Monday after class Katie, a good friend of mine here from Lebanon Valley College, and I spent most of the day with our officially adopted German parents Marci and Heiko. We met Marci because she is roommates with Kristine, one of the other girls in our program, and it turns out she is studying to become an English teacher and so she wanted to meet other Americans who she could speak English with. Well of course we want to practice our German as well so we have found a really good balance of speaking both and helping out each other. During our afternoon yesterday Katie and I talked with Marci and Heiko for a good three hours about different language things in both German and English and joked about creating positive international relations and that we should send pictures to the UN of us exchanging German and American salads and enjoying a couple bottles of wine together. We went grocery shopping at Aldi and I almost a weeks worth of groceries for 10 euro, it’s a great deal. The food is actually a much higher quality than in America and cheaper. In Bavaria they have this amazing mustard that I am pretty obsessed with at the moment. It’s like a brown mustard but sweeter that makes eating anything a million times better. They eat it here with Weisswurst as part of a breakfast tradition they have. It’s Weisswurst (White Sausage) with Bretzels (Pretzels) and beer, FOR BREAKFAST!!! It’s a great tradition. America is really missing out on this one. I demand the immediate enforcement of alcohol with breakfast! Someone inform me when it’s happened. Until then I will continue to put SuessZenf (Sweet Mustard) on everything I can and enjoy food more than I have in my entire life.

And since we are talking about food, let me also mention the drinks here. Beer is indeed oftentimes cheaper or the same price as water and pop is actually more expensive and the worst thing of all, NO FREE REFILLS! Does the pop taste better, yes! But still, I thought this was something I could assume wouldn’t be a problem. However,  the increased price for carbonated beverages has actually caused me to appreciate them that much more  and to be grateful for the opportunities when I can find a Coke for under 3 euro. But water here in bulk is very cheap. Everyone here drinks carbonated water and they buy it in bulk. Fortunately, regular water (Stille Wasser) can be bought in bulk as well but in a very interesting fashion that we don’t have in America. Our bottle sizes are different than they are in Germany. We are used to a 20 oz. bottle of pop or a 2 liter or pop, in Germany these sizes exist, but are not found in nearly as much plenty as the 1.5 liter bottles. Everyone here carries a 1.5 liter bottle with them full of either water or ApfelSchorle (Combination of apple juice and sparkling water) and drinks it throughout the day. Actually yesterday after our excursion to Rottenburg for the afternoon I went back to Katie’s room and chugged a 1.5 liter bottle of water in under 30 seconds. It was amazing! Katie and Mike were quite entertained by this apparent skill, as well as the groans of enjoyment that occur as well as I am chugging 60 ounces of water into my system. Today I bought a 6 pack of these 1.5 liters to keep my supplied for a while, but I get the feeling that I too will drink one a day, if not more.

It’s also really cool that you can take these bottles with you into the cafeteria. You are not required to leave anything outside of the cafeteria which means not buying a beverage in the cafeteria and making my meal almost 2 euro cheaper every day. In general, lunch in the Mensa (cafeteria) is quite good. It’s like they actually have standards of quality or something? I pay less than 4 euro every day for lunch, the largest meal of the day, and it keeps me quite full for almost the entire day. I snack in the evening and I am set without ever eating dinner. However, along with my SuessZenf, I am eating many many Doener. For those of you who don’t know, an “e” after a vowel in German means that there is an umlaut on the vowel preceding the “e.” Hence Doener and not Doner. A Doener is like our Shawarma, but better! In fact, they sell lakhmajoon and boreg at every single Doener shop in Wurzburg. It’s incredible! So it’s like bread with meat off of a spit with tons of onions, cabbage, tomatoes, lettuce, garlic sauce, and a little bit of chili powder. It’s amazing! I have probably had 6 or 7 in the almost two weeks that I have been here. And it’s under 4 euro, which is even better! It’s equivalent in America would be something like Subway in terms of popularity, but the quality here is so much better than Subway.

On Monday during mine and Katie’s day with Marci and Heiko we went to a Doener Café and ate dinner and then went to this amazing bar called Till Eugenspiegel. Till is a very famous German legend from which Richard Strauss actually wrote a tone poem that is quite famous. The bar was awesome! It was all wooden with private booths that had a very rustic wooden feeling that the Germans have a specific term for referring to the idea of wooden, rustic, old, almost fairytale like. So Katie and I went with Marci and Heiko and Kristine and Mike from our program and then Heiko’s best friend Flo (Florian) joined us as well. We had a blast!!! We had three quite strong German beers, and then walked around the streets with three bottles of wine because in Germany you can walk around with alcohol in public and it’s LEGAL! We went over by the Main and hung out there for a couple hours drinking wine and speaking only in German because Flo can’t speak English well which was really helpful for our German because he didn’t slow down how he was speaking at all forcing us to have to understand what he was saying. It rained for a little bit which was such a blessing because the weather finally cooled down to under 80 degrees for the first time since I arrived. And then, the girls were tired so the four guys went and got another beer and then we went to a club. My first club in Europe! It was so much fun. Unlike in America, people in Europe actually dance at clubs and Heiko was up on stage almost the entire night dancing having a blast. We left the club at about 2:30 in the morning and I burst out laughing the next morning when I woke up and looked in the mirror. I looked in the mirror and said to myself, “Ben, the most drunk you have ever been was at a club on a Monday night in Germany. And that’s what I call, “When in Germany….” Of course, this will not be common practice, but I figured if I had Germans that wanted to show me a good time, I couldn’t offend them. I would want to do the same thing for them if they came to America. Heiko and Flo are really cool. (Ganz Toll!)  I hope I have more opportunities to hang out with them while I am in Germany because there are mainly girls in our program and having a chance to hang out with the guys was great!

Yesterday, we went to Rottenburg, oftentimes referred to as the German Disneyland because walking into it is a giant tourist trap. Everyone speaks English and everything is super expensive because there are so many tourists. It’s a small city but it’s absolutely beautiful to see because of the traditional German style in which the city was built. They have a very famous Christmas store here that is the largest and mot elaborate I have ever seen. Everything was absolutely beautiful. If you love Christmas, you could live in this store. There are so many different ornaments and treasures that one could display during Christmas, I can only imagine how much people love the store in the winter, and I was told as well that it’s best to visit Rottenburg near Christmas because everything covered in snow makes you believe you have stepped into a fairytale.

To be honest, I thought the city itself was just ok. I didn’t really appreciate that people just assumed they should speak English with me and I felt like I was just another tourist that they could make a quick buck off of. The city wall was great and they have this great sort of funny pasty that ever shop has called Schneeballtraum (Snowball Dream) it’s kind of like a big ball of pastry mess covered in chocolate or stuffed or just glazed. But of course the tourists and especially kids love them so every store has them. I bought a nice scarf that I am looking forward to wearing once the weather gets colder in France or even once I am home. And we also saw the Criminal Museum that was honestly quite disturbing to see. Not only were there instruments of torture everywhere, but they told you who was tortured and for what reason. For example, there was a cage for dunking people in as a sort of public embarrassment and punishment for naughty behavior which included prostitution, ungodliness, and baking bread to small. Another favorite was when young girls were punished for jumping during dancing because jumping is not only inappropriate but more importantly, exhausting! And we can’t have exhausted jumping girls in 16th century Germany now can we?

After returning home for the day, I was yet again reminded of how much I like Wurzburg. I felt again an established sense of community, like a hidden treasure that you have to be really “in the know” to be a part of. Not many tourists and everyone is skinny. I have seen one fat person since I got here. I am not even kidding, ONE!

Tomorrow, we leave for Berlin. I charged my camera so hopefully taking pictures will work in Berlin unlike in Munich. I will have more to report then. Ciao for now!

Weekend in Munich!

In Deutschland im Juli on July 11, 2010 at 4:57 PM

Unfortunately, my camera was dead for the entire trip in Munich, and so I have no pictures of the amazing sites that we saw. I brought my computer charger with me but for some reason it didn’t work so I have no pictures. Yet the weekend was fantastic. We arrived after long exhausting very late trains ride at about 5:30pm and checked into the “Easy Palace” student hostel where we were staying. If you are sketched out by the title, so were we. But the place wasn’t that bad, actually. The room came with enough amenities to make the stay comfortable and the bar downstairs had a free beer tasting that we partook of on Saturday evening followed by a whole pizza with a half a liter of beer for just under seven euro and mixed drinks for $2.50. Considering we were in downtown Munich, these prices were incredible, and to top it all off, Germany beat Uruguay 3-2 for the 3rd place title in the World Cup, (Here it’s called the Weltmeisterschaft or WM) and so we got 2 free shots at the bar of Jagermeister. So I can officially say that I had Jagermeister in Germany as well as multiple different German beers which are indeed, much better than American beers.

On Friday after we arrived and got settled in, I had the amazing opportunity to see the opera The Dialogues of the Carmelites by Francis Poulenc at the Bayerische Staatsoper or the Bavarian State Opera in downtown Munich. The opera house is absolutely gorgeous. The way it is designed is really interesting. They have the normal bottom level with rows of seats, but instead of having a large balcony level, they instead have five levels of balconies with about thirty or forty seats each forming a perimeter along the opera house with a huge place for the king, Ludwig I or Ludwig II, right in the center of the balcony. The orchestra is directed by Kent Nagano, one of the premiere conductors in the world today, and hearing the orchestra you can tell why. They sounded absolutely incredible. Every single note was spot on, with the exception of one. In the middle of the first act, two horns were on a unison entrance and one of them scooped up to the note and the whole orchestra turned and Kent Nagano gave the player a dirty look and started forcefully conducting the poor horn player. I felt really bad, but it was the only thing that happened, in the entire opera. They were flawless! The music swelled beautifully, and the singers were spot on. Not a single one of them gave a weak performance.

I can honestly say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it was the best opera production that I have ever seen. The quality was absolutely fantastic, and the experience could have only been better if the super titles hadn’t been in German and the libretto and performance sung in French. It was hard to understand what was going on, but by not being able to understand the plot as in depth as others, it meant I could focus purely on the music, which was incredible! I am so glad that Dr. Chamberlain gave me the opportunity to go with him to see this opera. It is something I don’t think I will ever forget. Being able to come back to the states and say that I saw an opera at the Bavarian State Opera House is absolutely an amazing blessing that I never thought I would have had the opportunity to do. After the opera a few of us went out for a drink at the bar right next to our hostel. British high school brats were terrorizing the bar at the hostel and we really didn’t want to be near them so went next door where it was much quieter. We had a great time just getting to know each other a little bit and realizing that we were in downtown Munich, Germany having a drink with great friends and that this was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to be with these people in Europe. It’s been absolutely incredible!

The next morning, we got on a bus and had a tour of downtown Munich that included the University of Munich where a few brave students sought to raise awareness about the true intentions of Hitler and the Nazi regime in Germany and were executed for their anti-Germanic actions. Today, however, they are remembered in Munich as heroes. We then continued downtown where we saw multiple beautiful churches, each in a different architectural style, showing a different side of how people in different periods sought to use art and architecture to bring glory to God. The churches were indeed, majestic. Each one not only has incredible artwork through the sanctuary, but an amazing ability to lead you to the center of the church, of Jesus Christ on the cross surrounded by golden rods of light and the angels singing around Him, and praising His majesty and His sacrifice for the world. And behind each of these tremendous altars, behind the rows and rows of pews, sat a huge beautifully ornamented organ that would play and overwhelm the church in sound giving its congregation the feeling of God’s real presence among them through music. It was absolutely amazing to see each of these churches and the feeling that they offer that we truly serve a great God!

We also saw the brand new synagogue on Munich as well as I had the opportunity to go look at the new Jewish Museum in downtown Munich with my friend Kristine. The exhibit talked about the history of Jews in Munich before and after WWII and the return and growth of the Jewish community in Munich during the 70s and 80s and their positive effect on the rest of the community in Munich. It was truly a testimony to how much things have changed in Germany in 70 years, and the amount of tourists and the number of languages being spoken in the city also provide testimony that Germany is changing a lot. In fact, Munich is a candidate for the winter Olympics in 2018, which would be an amazing opportunity for the city. As it is, there are always tons of tourists, and the city lends itself to having multiple people in it all the time as there are businesses everywhere downtown at the cities center called Marienplatz. Named for the Virgin Mary to whom a golden statue lies in the center of the city, this incredible golden monument is simply stunning to see as it glistens in the sunlight.

After our tours and sightseeing were done, we sat down right in the middle of Marienplatz where there was a fountain with incredible fresh water that we took many helpings from, due to the very costly price of water here in Germany. We sat there for 45 minutes listening to a band from Australia relaxing in the shade after a hot day, and resting our legs after walking for almost 6 hours. We had pretzels with cream cheese and onions, and an amazing tomato and mozzarella sandwich and enjoyed watching multiple different bachelor parties go by. We knew that they were bachelor parties because the groom is always dressed up in some sort of animal costume, in this case it was a pink bunny, and his buddies all around him are all wearing the same t-shirts and making the groom do all sorts of embarrassing things. It’s an amazing tradition and one that I hope we bring to America.

On Sunday, we took the train to Dachau to see the memorial of the concentration camp. To say it was unnerving would be an understatement. It didn’t really know what to think, and saying things like, “let’s get on the train for Dachau,” didn’t seem right to say. Once we arrived the first thing one sees is the very small gate with the words, “Arbeit Macht Frei.” There was an absolutely huge museum talking about the entire camps history from its opening in 1933 to its destruction by American troops on April 29, 1945. After seeing the museum and viewing hundreds of photographs of victims of Dachau, not only Jews, but Yugoslavians, French, Belgians, even Germans, were all murdered. It was really incredible to learn about how many people the Germans murdered and how they tried to cover it up in its early years. They would have different dignitaries come through, and hide everything to avoid it getting out in the public what they were doing. The one thing I still can’t get around, is how can they build camps, and somehow convince people that it’s normal? In what world has it ever been traditional to build camps for the sake of work? It doesn’t make any sense to me. After the museum we viewed the barracks and the showers and crematorium where they cremated the dozens of dead bodies after they gassed them. Touching the walls made my hands shake knowing that only 70 years ago people were clinging to the same wall in utter desperation for their own lives. It was truly humbling to witness. In memoriam of the tragedies that occurred, there is a Russian orthodox chapel, a small synagogue, and a small chapter of Carmelite nuns on the site of the Dachau concentration camp. I realized, I think I am probably one of the first, if not the first member of my family to go to Germany since WWII, and I believe as well that I am the first to ever view one of the concentration camps in Germany. However, I hope and pray that I will not be the last.

1 Week of Germany!

In Deutschland im Juli on July 9, 2010 at 1:23 PM

Unfortunately, it has been a while since last I had the chance to write anything about the goings on of Europe in the month of July. I am trying to adopt the more formal sentence structure of the German language and therefore have been thinking much more structurally about the English language. My skills have been improving in German, quite a bit actually. Sometimes I feel really good, and other times, I feel like I can’t understand a single word of the German language. This will probably be a consistent theme of my time here in Germany, but I keep reminding myself that the discipline of learning the German language is a good one to develop, and I can’t get frustrated, but as the expression goes, “keep on keepin’ on.” Although, yesterday I was a couple different shops and although I asked if the people I spoke to could speak English, I ended up speaking to them in German, which has been very good for my practice. At first I was very concerned about blending in, and in some respects I still am, but more so now than anything I am trying to just talk to as many people as possible and get as much experience as I can in learning this language, because I know the opportunity isn’t going to last forever. In many respects, as my dad said, I am going to miss learning German. It has been an amazing experience so far being here and learning another language and experiencing a different culture. The people here are really friendly and love life. They definitely try to live life to the fullest at all moments and don’t really seem to live with any regrets. Perhaps this comes from their experience in WWII and the lessons they learned from being so verboten by the rest of the world.

Interestingly enough, it has only been within the last two world cups, or here in Germany, Weltmeisterschaft, that Germany has finally started to show pride in being German, and even then, only during the Wrold Cup do they pull out flags and scream DEUTSCHLAND!!! at the top of their lungs after they have won. Unfortuantely, Germany lost in the semi-finals to Spain, the second best team in the world, and the city of Wurzburg, as well as the whole country of Germany, was saddened because they knew it was a very good chance for them to win the whole thing and it has been twenty years since that happened. It was a completely different thing to witness after Germany lost. People just seemed quieter. In many respects, I think they want Germany to win and gain a little bit more world attention in a positive way. It is very cool to see all of the flags, jerseys, t-shirts, and especially these amazing mirror covers with the German flag on them that go over one’s side view mirrors on the car. But amazingly, no one rioted after Germany lost. That’s not how people respond here. The attitude is more as if someone had died, not lost a football match. People seemed pensive and quiet. On the train people were talking about the match, but only in a very sentimental sort of way. As if after a funeral for a good friend one talks about the friend with such tenderness because of the blessing the person was on their lives. That’s the closest I can compare the experience too.

And the next day people were back on their feet, ready to get back to the grind. Classes here are really good. I am learning a lot of vocabulary, and it’s sticking in my head more and more like glue as I practice and apply the knowledge. The group here is also great. There are four of us from Hillsdale, four of us from Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania, and then one from Wisconsin Lutheran college who is a cousin of one of the Hillsdale students who is majoring in German but had no program of her own to go on through her university. And we all seem to get along really wall. We have all been really easy going about the whole thing and simply enjoying what time we have and making the most of every day and trying not to waste any moment. When we have the chance to hang out we all end up doing something with our new friend Marcy. She is absolutely one of the coolest people I have ever met. Unlike what seems like every American I have ever met, Germans don’t suffer from identity crises or struggle with self esteem. Or at least if they do, they don’t really seem to show it. And that’s what I love of about Marcy. There is no sense of any regret about her and she is always excited about doing anything with us. There is not sense of “that’s not the cool thing to do.” As I said earlier, they live life to the fullest looking for any and every experience to make themselves better people full of amazing life experiences, loving people, and living a life that in many humanist respects, is worth living. Do I agree with everything that they do? Of course not. The lack of Christian value makes it difficult to fully identify with the people here and I haven’t really had much of a chance to talk to anyone about the perspective of religion here in Wurzburg. Although, 90% of the city is Catholic. Many people do go to church, but the Catholic church is undergoing many difficulties at the moment due to controversy that has arisen from Rome regarding priests and their actions. People are not trusting the church anymore and it makes having a positive impact on the community very difficult.

The city of Wurzburg itself is fantastic. Very much like an Ann Arbor type of city, but with more restaurants, less drugs, and very friendly people everywhere eating ice cream all the time and drinking wine and beer in the street. It has been wonderful to get to know my way around the city where there are always many people around shopping or getting their exercise for the day. Everyone here walks, and because the weather has been so hot, between 85-100 degrees every day, they have all been getting good tans, and I have as well. I have been walking probably an average of 3 miles a day, with some days being between 5 and 8 miles. It’s been great. I love walking around with people and simply enjoying life in many respects, the way God intended it to be lived. Of course there are trams everywhere that we take for convenience sake, but I have only been in a car once since I arrived.

Today, we are going to Munich for the weekend and I am very excited. I have been told that Wurzburg is merely a relatively small town in Germany in comparison to Munich or Berlin. I am excited to find out what that means. Tomorrow a majority of us are going to Dachau. I won’t say that I am excited, but I am looking forward to the opportunity. We watched a film this morning about one of the German resistance groups by college students in Munich during WWII. Many were beheaded for trying to raise awareness about Hitler’s true motives for Germany and that was only within the German community. I took a WWII literature course at Hillsdale this past semester in French and I really learned a lot about WWII that I had never heard before. To actually have the opportunity to go and see the place where such crimes against humanity were committed, I hope I will learn a lot and take a lot from it. I have been told that once you go to a concentration camp to visit, you don’t really ever go back. You don’t forget what you see. It stays with you. I will report more about Munich later. Ciao for now!