Saturday, September 25, 2010

My First Three Weeks in Germany!

Dear Everyone,
I have not updated in about three sorry!  However, this means I have SO much to tell.  Rather than rewriting it all I am just going to copy and paste what I wrote for my academic journal.  It is not in first person, but tells what we have done and it has pictures!  So, I hope you will read it and enjoy!  It is very long....but...I hope you will read it anyway!

Also, I do apologize for the way some of the pictures are.  They did not want to cooperate!


4 September 2010
Germany.  The land that is at the geographical center of Europe and in the past century has dealt with two world wars, depression, division, reunification, European Union, and currency change (list idea courtesy of Kelley Orr).
A brand new country to explore and learn.  The wheels of the airplane touched the ground and a new adventure had begun.  As the people walk off and make their way to the shuttle it is clear from the language of the signs that they are now in Germany.  Customs was an easy walk through.  Once luggage had been collected the group met up.  Exploration began with downtown Munich.  The park was lovely with an interesting attraction most parks do not offer.  River surfing.  Three men with their surf boards would jump on the white water as it came under the bridge and would surf until they lost their balance.  While walking through the park the trees just exuded beauty!  It was incredible to think…this is Germany!!! 
Downtown Munich was extremely busy due to it being a long Saturday.  One Saturday a month the stores stay open all day instead of closing in the early afternoon.  There was no parking so while driving around a small area of the city was able to be observed.  Mainly the nicer shopping area.  Once a parking spot was found the centre of the city called.  There were painted people posing as statues, street bands playing, and vendors selling their wares.  The buildings were beautiful and the flowers decorating them brought the feeling of a different period in time.
The hofbrauhaus was the stopping place for dinner.  It is a typical German cultural experience of dining.  People sit at large table, even if they don’t know each other, and drink their beers (or apfel schorle) and partake of their yummy, hearty dinners!  Sometimes they will sing a traditional German song _______ and as they sing they all raise their glasses, sing, sway, and then toast their drinks (but never toast and empty glass)!!!  All in all a good introduction to German culture, however, I would suggest returning when the jetlag has diminished and you are more familiar with German culture to perhaps appreciate it all the more. 
The Youth Hostel, or the Jugendherberge as it is called in German, in Regensburg is very nice.  Having now lived in two, the Regensburg Jugendherberge is much appreciated!  The rooms are nice and clean and the meals are very good.  There is a “German” way to make the beds.  The sheet is not like a normal bottom sheet.  Rather, it is the same as a top sheet but is tucked in all around.  The comforter goes into a cover that is inside out which helps to get the comforter in properly.  The pillow has a case with a hole in the top and a kind of flap that closes over the pillow.  Very comfy to sleep on!

5 September 2010
Sunday was the first day of German travel.  Amberg is beautiful!  It is a walled city that used to be surrounded by a moat (now it is just grass).  The town is very quaint with cobble stone streets and small store fronts.  The town centre is lovely.  The “court house” is beautiful!  When a couple wants to get married in Germany there are two ceremonies.  One is in the court house and the other is in the church.  Another interesting marriage fact is, many years ago couples who wanted to get married were required to own property.  There was a very small house that one couple would buy, get married, and then sell to another couple who wanted to get married.  This house is now, supposedly, the world’s smallest five-star hotel : )  There are yummy places to eat, pretty shops to see, lovely flowers, pretty water ways, and even an ivy covered dentist office in a beautiful, old building!
On a hill overlooking Amberg is a beautiful church with a monastery attached to it.  The view from the top of the steps is magnifico!  There is also a restaurant next to the church that specializes in desserts but mainly massive cream puffs!  These cream puffs are not like the American cream puffs that are small with a thin pastry shell that is filled with scrumptious cold cream.  Rather, they are giant pastries with a soft bread inside and an indention in the top.  The indention is then filled with real whip cream and drizzled in either cherries, chocolate, or with ice cream!  The opinion of those who partook of these delicacies said they were good!
6 September 2010
The Regensburg Jugendherberge is on an island surrounded by the Danube River.  On one side is the old city and on the other side is the new city.    The mall is in the new city and is rather different than in the United States.  There are the shops but some of the shops are different and the food places are scattered around and there are more of them.  One fantastic looking place was a stand that sold bread.  The bread smelled delicious. 

7 September 2010
Old City downtown Regensburg was absolutely incredible!  The architecture was amazing and the overall feeling of the city was old.  It is a walled Roman city and the walls are still there.  No, it does not look like a fortress but it is mainly stone.  The streets are very narrow and are not paved but are cobble stone.  Bicycles are a regular sight and mopeds are not in the minority.  Yes, there are many cars but it is possible the bicycles may have them out numbered. 
There are many quaint cafĂ©’s with outdoor seating, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and a wonderful little gelato place that sells three scoops for the price of two.  Shoe and clothing stores are numerous as are churches.  There is a train station (bahnhouf) that is on the outskirts of the old city and the University of Regensburg is past the train station.
8 September 2010
Rothenburg is also a walled city North West of Regensburg.  However, the wall goes around the entire city so a person could walk around the entire thing if they so chose.  The town is the epitome of a quaint German village.  Small houses and shops line the streets.  In front of the shops hang their signs or guilds which show what they do.  In times now gone forever a shop must belong to a guild (now a day union) in order to be in operation.  The guild helped keep prices about the same across the board so no one could charge exorbitant prices.
For those people who like Christmas, Christmas-esque towns, and Christmas shops will be quite content here.  There are three Christmas shops and the entire town looks as if it needs snow dumped on it and Christmas decorations hung from all the roofs, store windows, and the town square.  There is even a Christmas car that sits outside one of the shops.
Rothenburg also houses a museum about torture during medieval period.  It is a depressing museum but very interesting.  The top floor does hold some funny little stories.  There are pictures with notes next to them explaining what form of discipline went with what crime.  Some of the crimes were so ridiculous.  One in particular was about drinking coffee and the common folk were not allowed to drink it.  Only the upper class people were allowed to drink coffee.  Another crime was bickering among women.  When two women would argue they would be put into a contraption that went over their heads and held their hands together.  The catch was, it was all one piece.  There were also masks that people who broke certain rules had to wear.  A person who acted like a pig had to wear a mask that resembled a pig.

11 September 2010
Neuschwanstein is a castle that was built by King Ludwig but never finished as he died in 1886.  The cause of his death is not known.  The possibilities are suicide, murder, or an accident.  His doctor died with him.  Just the day (or days) before King Ludwig had officially been declared insane.  This probably had something to do with his untimely death.
The train ride from Regensburg to Neuschwanstein was quite the adventure.  The first train was from Regensburg to Munich.  It lasted about an hour and a half and some school work was accomplished.  From Munich there was a one stop transfer which lasted about two minutes.  As there was construction on the track for a while buses were provided to transport people from that station to the station where they could catch the train that would take them to Neuschwanstein.  The train car looked as if it was from a different time period and the whole group was practically by themselves.  The scenery was absolutely phenomenally beautiful!  It was the most amazing to see the Alps come into view for the very first time.  They are magnificent and stand high above everything else.  Green, rolling hills with quaint houses and the occasional lake were lovely.  One of the best parts was passing a crowd of men all dressed in lederhosen and were herding cows that were wearing ornately decorated cowbells.  It was very exciting! 
When the bottom of the mountain had been reached it was time to search out a bathroom and buy tickets.  Tickets were bought but the tour time was not until 17:30 which would just barely give time to catch the bus back to the train station.  Toilets at the bottom of the mountain were 50 cents and at the top they were free.  However, when nature calls….well, it calls.  So, 50 cents was doled out and the toilet was used.  Next on the list was food, however, there was only time for one bratwurst to be bought because it was time to meet at the most lovely and beautiful lake!  Coming up over the hill and seeing the sun shining over the mountains and reflecting off the lake was practically breathtaking!  It seemed as if it could have been out of the book Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley.  The swans provided entertainment to the tourists in the area.  At one point a dog trotted by attached to a lead and several of the swans raised their heads, opened their mouths, and hissed loudly until it had walked by.
The hike up the mountain was very lovely and took about 10 minutes less than the pamphlet had said.  However, it depends on the pace of the people walking.  Half way up there is a place to take photos, however, save the camera space and go to the top where there is an overlook that provides views over the whole land at the foot of the mountain.  If there is a desire to see the castle from the top keep hiking and half way up that hike there is an even better view of everything below.  Then there is a swaying bridge that provides a lovely but very crowded view of the castle from above.  It is only crowded because of the mass of people who squeeze onto the bridge to capture on their camera’s the magnificent view.
The castle was lovely.  The outside was beautiful and the inside was magnificently decorated.  King Ludwig was a fan of Richard Wagner’s operas and had the room in the castle painted to depict the myths that the plays were written after.  The castle was unfinished as King Ludwig died before its completion.  The intricate detail that was put into the castle was magnificent!  His private room was very lovely as well.  He would have had magnificent views from his breakfast corners had he lived to be able to enjoy them.
Note to all who want to embark on a journey up Neuschwanstein.  Wear comfortable shoes, especially if it is thought one may have to run down the mountain.  Loafers simply do not cut it!
17 September 2010
A slightly overcast day makes for good traveling as do good company.  Leaving Regensburg and driving to Weimar takes a bit over four hours, including stops.  Weimar is considered the Athens of Germany and has been home to many influential people in the intellectual, artsy, and religious world.  Nietzsche came to Weimar to die, Goethe lived here and did much writing, Martin Luther lived here, Hans Christian Anderson, and Bach spent time here.  Nazi Germany also had a place in Weimar history.  Weimar is also in East Germany and therefore was under U.S.S.R. rule.
Nietzsche’s house is now home to students in the upstairs, but the downstairs is essentially the way it was when he lived there.
Goethe’s original house was along the Ilm River and is now labeled “Goethe’s Gartenhaus.”  It has exquisite gardens that are filled with rows of beautiful flowers, lovely meadows, and an interesting and fun climbing tree.  His house is on the edge of an absolutely wonderful park that is full of greenness!
18 September 2010
Goethe’s town house was given to him and is on the street facing a small town plaza.  It is incredible that his house is behind that street front.  It does not look as if it houses a courtyard, large house, and extensive gardens all in town.  It does.  Goethe’s carriage is beautiful and it was strange to imagine it was the very carriage he would sit in.  The decorations in his home are very interesting.  The rooms are filled with statues, busts, and paintings from many famous people and some are even sketches Goethe did himself. 
Weimar is really an extraordinary town.  It is not the stereotypical, quaint German town.  Rather, it has aspects of the quaint small village feel but it is more expansive than Rothenburg.  It is not walled like Rothenburg or Regensburg.  The streets are not as narrow and it has an incredible park. 
The more modern parts are not wonderful and there is a lot of graffiti on many of the buildings.  However, it is thought provoking to walk among the more modern buildings and to wonder who lived there and what it would have been like to live through WWII and the Soviet Union ruling. Part of the residential area is very lovely.  The houses are old and have lovely architecture.  It feels a little bit like walking through Bristol, England or Bangor, Maine…but not really.
There are several building that are very near the park in Weimar.  Two or three of them are part of the Franz List Music School.  Another building nearby was the area where prisoners were brought before being sent off to concentration camps during WWII.  
19 September 2010
Church in the protestant church in Weimar was an interesting experience.  It was traditional, but not as traditional as the Catholic Church.  The attire of the priests seemed as if they were out of a different century which added to the older feel of the church…except when one looked around everyone else was wearing modern clothing (of course).  An interesting part of the service was the very end.  There was a mini concert of Bach’s concerto in G.  That is definitely not a typical ending to a service in the United States (maybe it is not typical here, either, however, it was a lovely ending).

The afternoon was spent in Buchenwald. Buchenwald was the largest concentration camp (in Germany) and was the camp that the others were modeled after.  It was a very sobering visit.  No amount of study in school or preparation beforehand can prepare a person for what was seen there.  It was not very graphic but the thought that where people are walking was where people died is sobering.  Walking into a room and seeing the crematorium full of furnaces where the dead bodies were burned or the outer “room” where their belongings were cleaned in giant sterilization chambers puts new perspective the history lessons learned.  Walking through the building where new prisoners were taken to be checked by a doctor and given prison clothes while actually seeing shoes that were worn by the prisoners was very thought-provoking.  Trying to imagine what the people were like who wore the shoes and what they must have been thinking.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was held at Buchenwald for two months during this time in concentration camps before his execution at Flossenburg.  There were rooms in the entry building where religious leaders were tortured.  So many people died all throughout the camp.  There were many children who died, as well.  It is so sad to think that children were caught up in this brutality.  Everyone was affected.
In the evening there was the opportunity to have a Q&A time with Frau Friedrich who was born and raised in East Germany.  She was able to share what it was like living under Soviet rule.  Everyone had a job and was provided for, however, luxury items were not in great quantity (example: the waiting list for a car was 14 years).  Televisions were allowed but western shows were not supposed to be watched.  They would question the younger school students to find out if they recognized any western characters.  If they did it was assumed they had been watching western shows and their family would be put on a list to be watched.  If they did anything suspicious they could get in trouble. 
When the wall fell everyone was ecstatic!  They could see family again and buy whatever they wanted.  However, after a while the East Germans realized things were very different.  They wanted the wall back up.  They had had everything they needed to survive:  housing, food, job, vacation time, etc.  Why unify?
In retrospective, after researching Marxism, it has become clear that if a communist society was able to function at the perfect level it would work well.  However, since this is not a perfect society it still leaves much to be desired.

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