Deutschland and beyond

Living in Germany

Debates, Stars, and Copenhagen

Okay so a lot has been happening in the past few weeks including the Fulbright seminar in Berlin, a weekend trip to Copenhagen afterwards, and lots more around Wuerzburg. I’m going to save the Berlin seminar for a separate entry since I want to do it justice. So I’ll work backwards and start with stuff that’s been going on around here then go onto the Copenhagen trip. School’s been going really really well lately. I kind of fell into a funk in February where I was a little bored with my schedule, wasn’t really feeling challenged, and was wondering if staying for a second year was a realistic option. But since I’ve gotten used to my new schedule for this semester, it’s been great. The kids are so talkative and I’ve had some really great conversations in my classes, especially with the 11th and 12th grades. They’ve watched An Inconvenient Truth in class and we had a great discussion about global warming (right up my alley), and in practicing for the oral exam at the end of the year, the students have shown themselves competent in current events knowledge ranging from Gutenberg’s resignation due to plagiarism to the earthquake in Japan and debating about nuclear energy. Also on that topic, at least for the past two Monday’s there have been rallies in town protesting the use of nuclear energy in Germany. Chancellor Merkel did temporarily suspend activity at a few plants after the earthquake in Japan, but people speculate it’s only for political reasons (especially since the greens just took power in Baden-Wuerttenburg, traditionally a conservative stronghold). But the debate on nuclear energy hasn’t been pushed to the back burner yet here, and people are adamant about reducing the amount used since the waste poses such strong potential danger. It’s been interesting to witness the reactions, especially since I get the feeling people are more directly politically involved here than back home.

Lacrosse has had its ups and downs. We’re in the semester break right now (school doesn’t start back up again until May 1st. Crazy, I know) so attendance has been low at practice. But in the past week we’ve gotten a few more new players, so it’s nice that I can devote my time and energy to them at practice instead of worrying about running practice and teaching the game. Our team is looking into ordering jerseys (!!) and I’m still trying to organize practice games. I actually get to play this weekend which I’m so excited about! I have a friend who plays for Kaiserslautern, and they won’t have enough players this weekend so she asked if I could play with them. (Since I’m not officially registered with a team, it’s not a problem for me to get a player pass through her team). We have two games in Karlsruhe on Sunday against Karlsruhe and Munich II, my former team! I’ll be heading out to Erlangen on Saturday to watch the men’s team play so hopefully I’ll have lots of good news to report after!

Last weekend we had an international film festival here in town, and my Canadian friend and I went to see an Italian film (with English subtitles) about four guys who travel across their small island by foot to reach and perform in a music festival. It was pretty entertaining. Afterwards we went to Hettstadt, a nearby town, for an astronomy viewing night. My friend is doing her PhD in Astrophysics, so there was no shortage of knowledgeable scientists on hand to explain the constellations, planets, etc.

Pretty much what Saturn looked like through the big telescope

There was one HUGE telescope and about 3 large ones (all bigger than any I’ve ever looked through). We could see the moon up close, craters and all, and saturn with its rings! I loved the astronomy unit back in the 6th grade- 6th grade science was the best, what with that, anatomy, ecology, a frog dissection, and we were still young enough to watch Bill Nye in class. Awesome.

Me and Nadiya at Nyhaven

The weather here has been amazing, bordering on summer, which was a really really nice change from Copenhagen. I dumbly didn’t realize just how far north it is, and it was definitely still winter when we were there (last weekend in March). Nadiya and I headed up there from Berlin after the seminar and spent Thursday-Sunday in Copenhagen. I liked it, but if I ever go back it’ll have to be in the summer months. I just got the feeling that there’s a lot more to do/the city’s more enjoyable in warmer weather. But we still made the best of our time there. We ate a lot of traditional Danish open-faced sandwiches, though I didn’t go so far as to have any with raw fish on them. We went to the Royal Palace and watched the changing of the guard, walked along Nyhaven (the part along the canal with all the colored houses) and took a boat tour of the city. We also visited quite a few museums but I’ve got to admit I really enjoyed all of the exhibits. My favorite were probably the motion of light exhibit, the best photographs of 2010, and the Picasso exhibit out at the Louisiana Museum. It was unbelievable and had so many of Picasso’s famous works, as well as information about his life.

Our last night there, Denmark was playing Norway in a qualification match for the European Cup in 2012 (this is soccer we’re talking about here) so we asked at our hostel where a good place would be to watch it and found ourselves in a small, crowded smoky pub where we were the only tourists. It was awesome. The Danes speak English better than probably 70% of Americans (it’s unreal) so we had no problems communicating and quickly made friends at our neighboring table.

They take changing of the guards pretty seriously

We played some strange dice game after the game was over (if you watch Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s the dice game they play in the second movie where Will tries to win the key from Davy Jones), and after we all moved on to a bar to celebrate one of the guys birthdays. I made it to the train station the next morning in time for my train and promptly fell asleep (as I do on any means of transportation) only to be woken up about 3 hours later by some woman telling me to go upstairs. Our train was stopped in what looked like a lit-up tunnel and there was almost no one left on the train. Groggily, I grabbed my bags and followed the last few passengers up these stairs only to find out that we’re on a boat. Our train had driven straight onto a ferry which was now carrying us across to Germany. What?!? I was pretty confused/astounded for the first five minutes, but eventually got used to it. When the boat landed in Germany, the train was already lined up with the tracks and simply drove off the boat and on to Hamburg.

I’ve got the next two weeks off for Easter (yippee!) so I’ll be updating a little bit more regularly (although there probably won’t be too much to update on). Bis dann!

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April 15, 2011 Posted by | Germany, Travel | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Winter” (spring) break

So, we had the first full week of March off for our “Winter” break here in Bavaria (it’s really spring break, but whatever I’m not arguing details) and my original plan was to travel solely to Portugal. Then due to a culmination of factors, including but not limited to cheap flights, gatherings of friends, Hoboken St. Patrick’s Day, and travel opportunities, I decided to add New Jersey/New York into the mix. I left early Friday morning (mind you, I hosted an American drinking games seminar at my place Thursday night- not the best timing on my part) and landed in Newark, New Jersey Friday afternoon! First time back in the US in over six months and it was exciting but weird- not to speak English, but to hear others around me always speaking English as well as seeing my friends again. Looking back on it, the whole thing feels like it was just a dream.

After I landed, I made my way over to Hoboken where I stayed with three of my guy friends who went to BC. Various other additions of friends as well as people I didn’t know proceeded to make their way over to the apartment throughout the night and it ended up being a good time. Mind you, I was proud that I somehow stayed awake until midnight without napping which proved to be the best thing to fight off any potential jet lag. Saturday morning we were up early (about 7) and ready to take the first Irish car bombs at 8.

Girls celebrating St. Paddy's

Hoboken celebrates St. Patrick’s Day the first Saturday in March (like U of I and Unofficial) and I was not disappointed. I felt like I was back in college- in a very good way. I headed to the bar around 9.45 (yes, a.m.) and met up with some of my other friends- a few of the boys didn’t read their email very closely and didn’t know I was coming which made for a great unexpected surprise. The rest of the day was great just catching up with friends and everyone attempting to relive the glory days (so long ago… less than a year)

Sunday the weather perfectly reflected everyone’s hangovers moods and proceeded to downpour the entire day. I said bye to Jersey and headed into Manhattan. Had a casual night of sushi and New York style pizza for dinner while watching bad reality tv with most of the group from the bar the day before. Monday wasn’t too exciting except that I finally got my laptop fixed! I wholly appreciate the Genius Bar as well as the ability to explain the problems in English. I took advantage of being in the city and the nice weather and explored a bit (but not too much since I was lugging my suitcase everywhere) and later met up with Becky (my other half while studying abroad) after work! We met up with another friend for drinks after work (it feels so grown up saying that) then off to dinner where yet another friend joined us. Seriously, it was a great extended weekend for seeing/catching up with friends.

Tuesday came and after a relaxing morning and extensive shopping in Soho (Forever21 anyone?) it was time for me to leave the US yet again, at least until July. But don’t worry, my spring break adventure isn’t over yet. After my overnight flight, I landed in Lisbon Wednesday morning! I wasn’t meeting up with my friend until later so I explored the city by myself for most of the day. I took the Santa Justa lift (100 year old elevator which still functions) up to a platform for a great view of the city, then walked around to find some ruins and a cathedral (of course) which I went in and walked around (you’re welcome, dad). I walked down to the harbor/port and sat there for a while enjoying the warm weather. Later I met up with Philipp, a German friend of mine who I stayed with, and we went out to dinner at this great Brazilian-style restaurant. The plate comes with raw meat, a side of sauces, and a steaming hot stone on which you grill your own meat. Amazing doesn’t even begin to describe how good it was. Afterwards, we bought some beer and enjoyed an even better view of the city at night (the views just kept getting better).

view of Lisbon

Thursday Philipp took me around the city and it’s safe to say I’m in love with Lisbon. I knew absolutely nothing about it before going, had no expectations, and now I would definitely go back in a heartbeat. We rode the old classic streetcars which are from the early twentieth century and are not really modernized at all. Lisbon may seem small at first glance, especially from some of the lookout points, but it’s deceiving. It’s made up of a series of hills (I think 7?) which makes it much bigger- and confusing- than I thought. The streetcars ride all over up and down the hills and were probably one of my favorite parts (along with the great views). Grabbed some coffee/breakfast in a park then did some more streetcar riding to various beautiful parts of the city. We took the metro out to the World’s Fair grounds (Lisbon hosted in 1998) which is right along the water. As Philipp explained to me, the theme of that year’s worlds fair was the ocean and everything was somehow connected to it.

Jesus, up close

Thursday was much more relaxing (not that any of this is stressful). Philipp had an interview for an internship so one of his roommates offered to make me lunch. She made some traditional Brazilian food (there was no shortage of good food this trip) and Philipp returned by the time we were done. Since he had rented a car for the day, we went to one of the premier attractions- the mall! We met up with two other friends of his since they had to go wetsuit shopping. The three of them were going to learn how to surf on Sunday at their friend’s beach house (yeah, their study abroad year has been really tough). After that fun excursion the four of us drove across the bridge to Cristo-Rei, or the Jesus statue. Yes, it looks exactly like the one in Rio de Janeiro but was surprisingly built after (and is 2 meters shorter, I think).

Thursday night we all went over to one of the guy’s apartments to cook dinner together- shrimp scampi, I was impressed, not to mention all of the seafood is incredibly fresh! We went out that night in Bairro Alto, a really fun area and right by the apartment, and I somehow woke up on time for my flight the next morning. Back in Germany it’s been cloudy and not as sunny, and I’m longing to go back to Lisbon already. This next week will definitely keep me busy (and hopefully give nicer weather?): I leave tomorrow for Berlin since we’ve got a week long seminar there for the Fulbright program. More updates after I get back!

March 18, 2011 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Weimar and German pride

Well, I had the best intentions to write this post about 2 weeks ago, but my computer died (yes, flat out died. All I get is a blinking folder with a question mark in it) so Ive been forced to rely on the internet solely at school. Also- if anyone has any idea how to fix my computer, Id appreciate any insights. In addition to my computer, my ipod stopped working back in December and now my camera isn’t functioning properly either. Technology and I are not mixing well here.

Anyway, the past two weeks have been pretty interesting and I want to try and get everything in here (moreso my observations/cultural notes than historical ones). A few weeks ago I had the chance to accompany the 11th grade on an overnight class trip to Weimar. First off, never in high school did we get to take overnight field trips so I automatically thought this was super cool. Second, Weimar is an important place for more than one reason so I was glad to have the opportunity to go. (and third, I only had to pay for the hostel since the students’ fees covered the teachers’ tours 🙂 ) Weimar was home to both Goethe (pronounced Ger-tuh. roughly) and Schiller, two of Germany’s most famous writers. Schiller was more of a playwright and is known as ‘the German Shakespeare’. Goethe’s best known works are ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’ and ‘Foust’, a story about a man who wagers his soul with the devil. We had tours of both Schiller’s and Goethe’s homes, as well as a tour of the city to cap off our time there. And, one last fun fact, Weimar was the birthplace of the Bauhaus art movement (I learned way too much about German art during my class in Munich).

The name Weimar may also ring a bell because, after World War I, it served as the place where Germany’s first democratic constitution was signed. This trip also marked my first time into the former East Germany (aside from Berlin) and Weimar was one of the best-rebuilt towns due to its tourist attractions. Unfortunately, some of the other former East-German towns havent fared so well. (I have good pictures to make this post less boring, I promise, they’re just stuck somewhere in the black hole that is my computer).

After leaving Weimar we had one more stop to make before heading back home: Buchenwald Concentration Camp. This camp was especially known for hosting foreigners, and at the time it was liberated by the American soliders in 1945, less than 5% of the inmates were of German nationality. Buchenwald wasn’t an extermination camp, technically, but the number of deaths was still astronomical due to harsh living conditions and the fact that it was a work camp.

When some people heard I was coming over to Germany, one of the first questions I was asked besides ‘Why Germany?’ was somewhere along the lines of ‘what do the Germans think about WWII?’ In my experience, and from talking to the students I know, the immensity and wrongdoing that occurred during WWII is drilled into students’ heads. They learn so much about it and, quite frankly, I think it’s embarrassing that one of the first, if not the first, thing we still equate with Germany is World War II, not Angela Merkel, soccer, green technology, or even cars for that matter.  It would be like a foreigner asking you about slavery, or the genocide of Native Americans every time you said you were American. Those things happened in the past, you weren’t there for them, you know they were wrong, but there’s so much more to your country than just that one horrific event. Imagine not being able to show your national pride, or not having national pride, for a period of around 60 years. It wasnt really until hosting the World Cup in 2006 that Germans could wave their flag proudly, something a lot of Americans fail to understand due to our strong patriotism. In a lesson recently, I explained to a class how we have an American flag in every classroom and every day starts with the Pledge of Allegiance. The students were shocked. Aside from government or official buildings here in Germany, I have yet to see flags waving all over the place.

That being said, our trip to Buchenwald was still a very emotional one for both the students and teachers, myself included. There were very few dry eyes by the end of our tour and the immensity of the past did not fail to take hold of us. But, my unintentional rant aside, I urge you to see Germany with new eyes, not through the history books, but focus on what is actually happening today. Germany’s an amazing place with truly amazing people, and I’ve already made some fantastic friends while here. Let’s try and focus on the present and future together, instead of the past.

February 25, 2011 Posted by | Germany | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

January in a nutshell

So I realize that in using other people to write for my blog I’ve grown increasingly lazy and haven’t updated in a while. This will just be a short post since I’m off on an overnight class field trip to Weimar tomorrow, followed by a weekend in England.

Christmas break was obviously great, and after that I went to stay with a friend of mine from the lacrosse team for a few days. It was really nice to be in a home and we made the most of the rainy weather by installing her family’s new tv and watching lots of movies. Since getting back to school I’ve done a bit more teaching, some on the American school system but the big topic has been the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords from Arizona. In the older grades we’ve read some articles on the event which led to discussions about gun control laws in the US. Here in Germany it’s pretty simple: hand guns are illegal. In fact, the only guns allowed are for hunting and even then there’s a debate going on regarding whether the guns need to be kept at a shooting range instead of locked up in the home. It’s been interesting to criticize and defend my own culture from the outside, especially when required to explain the history behind the need for the 2nd amendment (had to look that one up). Outside of the classroom, I went with a few teachers from the English department to see the University theater group put on a production of “The Importance of Being Earnest”. I’ve never read the play by Oscar Wilde, but really enjoyed the show and thought the actors did a great job, especially as English wasn’t anyone’s native language.

Aside from school, I finally moved into my new apartment! It’s beyond wonderful (especially in comparison to my prior living arrangements). My room came fully furnished as I’m only a sub-letter, and my roommate is super nice. Not to mention that she’s German which requires me to practice my German even more. Now that I’ve got a fully functional kitchen my goal is to learn how to cook, but don’t cross your fingers.

Last weekend I went to Heidelberg with my friend Nadiya who, as you loyal readers surely remember, is on a Fulbright up in Kiel.

view of Heidelberg from the castle

There was the Fulbright “winter ball” which in my opinion, was a little too expensive for an average dinner. But we did meet a really nice couple who sat at our table for dinner and had actually met at the Fulbright winter ball six years earlier (they were both German. The Fulbright commission also provides scholarships for those from other countries to come to the US either to study, teach, or act as a teaching assistant in their native language).

Nadiya and I took advantage of our time in Heidelberg (where Nadiya studied abroad during her time at BC) and I got a full city tour, complete with walking up to the Schloss (castle) and over the oldest bridge in Germany.

 

To end, I want to thank everyone who’s been asking about Jessie in Cairo and say that she’s safely back in the US now. Before she left she did partake in a few of the protests, get some great pictures, and get interviewed by Anderson Cooper on CNN:

Let’s hope the country continues to listen to what the people want and support them as they demand change.

February 8, 2011 Posted by | Germany | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pre-Christmas (by Mom)

This is the last of the family updates, and it’s out of order. Sorry. Chronologically, this one should come first but then the rest all fall into place. It’s been nice and easy having ‘guest bloggers’; now I’ll have to go back to actually writing and updating. Anyway, here’s mom’s take on our few days before Christmas:

Whew!  I wasn’t quite sure if we were going to make it to Germany for Christmas this year.  But on the day we flew out, they had just re-opened the Frankfurt airport, so I knew all was well.

Maura and I had an uneventful flight after that.  We caught our connection in Amsterdam, although I wish our layover had been longer- I would have loved to have done some shopping at that airport.   We landed in Frankfurt, connected with Tim and Cala, but  looked frantically for our luggage for 2 hours. Fortunately, those scanning baggage claim tickets saved us and Maura would be able to see Germany (she packed her daily contacts in her checked suitcase)  Off to the train to Wurzburg to see Colleen!!

We found our way to the hotel, settled in and Colleen came over after her lacrosse practice.  We headed off to a quaint pub/restaurant for dinner, where I took her suggestion and had currywurst, and the rest dined on schnitzel (veal,) and pasta and toasted  the holidays with their great beers. Off to slumber early as it was a long day.

Wednesday we had planned to attend an authentic Christkindl (Weihnachts) market and we definitely weren’t disappointed.  The weather was perfect, cold and a little snow to add to the atmosphere, just like Chicago. We walked around the market, enjoyed some Gluhwein, Cala found a place for chocolate crepes, and did some souvenouir shopping for friends back home. Colleen’s friend Jessie was arriving that day, so she went to meet her at the train station while we continued shopping. Our plan was to meet at 3:00pm at the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, Würzburg’s Residenz.

 

This is one of the most important Castles in Europe (so they say about all of them, don’t they?). Built in 1720-1744 based on the design by Balthasar Neuman  with help from L.von Hildebrandt and M.von Welsh of Mainz. Not destroyed in 1945 were the magnificent staircase with its self-supporting vault and the brilliant ceiling painting by the Venetian artist G.B Tiepolo. Also known for its ornate stucco ornamentation by A. Bossi. This is also the site where they were filming the 3 Musketeers with Orlando Bloom, Colleen does claim a sighting of him during the production (not claim, it really happened. And I ran into him and his wife Miranda Kerr at our outdoor market. My only celeb sighting but pretty awesome).

On our way back to the hotel, we opted to stop for coffee/hot chocolate at a cute little place. We warmed up, then headed back out into the cold, back to our hotel.  We asked at the desk for dinner recommendations and they suggested a great Italian restaurant within walking distance.( No wonder the people are thin, they do walk a lot, but their one bad vice is smoking!) Everyone was able to find something on the menu that tempted their tastebuds, as well as dad,  though he wouldn’t quite splurge for a 50 Euro bottle of red wine, which led us to out last stop for the evening, a very nice Rathskellar. We did indulge in a very nice red (can’t quite remember the name) but the bottle was intriguing (note from Colleen: I’ll look for a picture but all of the wine bottles here in Franken are shaped differently than normal ones- see here if you’re really curious).  The shape reminded me of a fatter Hershey syrup container, short and fuller in the middle, but the wine was delicious, the conversation was constant and the company was priceless!  Back to the hotel to get ready for Christmas.

(for real continuity, you can refer back to Cala’s blog from here, if you’re desparate). I’ll add in pictures when I can; unfortunately the wi-fi on my laptop isn’t working but once I move (Feb 1st!) it’ll all get settled. Some brief updates other than the move:

– currently working on my mid-term report for Fulbright. It’s due by the end of the month (whoops)

– successfully applied to grad schools and am waiting to hear back

– teaching is going well. We dont start our new semester until the end of February so I’m on the same schedule until then.

– We’re working on getting a few scrimmages/practice games scheduled for lacrosse which would be awesome

– I have no idea where I can watch the NFC championship tonight (it doesn’t start until 9pm here.. uh oh). But  GO BEARS!

January 23, 2011 Posted by | Germany | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cologne (by Jessie)

First off, it is imperative to say any adventure with the O’Connor family will inevitably be a good one.  So I was sad to see Dr. O’Connor and Cala return stateside as the rest of us left Munich for Cologne.  I cannot speak for the others’ time in transport because I took different trains than they did.  I know what you’re thinking: who cares about the transport?  To which I respond: apparently I do (yes, this was a bit of a surprise for me as well).  While taking trains may seem mundane, they constituted an essential part of my German experience, providing many cultural lessons about the country.

I traveled from Munich to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Wurzburg and Wurzburg to Cologne between 12:30 and 21:10 on one day.  In Frankfurt, I had two minutes to get off the train and board the next one.  Two minutes.  I didn’t believe Colleen when she said the arriving train would arrive at exactly the right time and the departing train would leave at exactly the right time and I would be just fine, so long as I hurried. I honestly didn’t believe it was possible.  Guess what?  It is.  I am still amazed as I write this retrospectively.  From then on, I simply set an alarm for ten minutes before the train’s expected arrival time and would prepare to get off the train when the alarm went off.  The order of it all was baffling and fantastic.

I also enjoyed being able to people watch from within the train and view the sights outside of it.  Things I now know about thanks to people on the trains include: German children are adorable; everything in Germany is done very systematically; and apparently until I open my mouth or look confused, I could pass for someone who knows German.  The latter lesson proved embarrassing on a couple of occasions, but tangentially led me to learn a significant proportion of Germans speak English very well.  Something I now know thanks to looking out the trains’ windows: small German towns look exactly like towns a “type A” preschooler draws in their coloring book.  I guess I should explain that statement.  Houses tend to be very linear, with pointed roofs rising to a point exactly in the middle and equidistant space between them.  They also tend to be in bright colors, although side by side the effect is coherent and planned rather than random.  At the very least, these towns—nestled in a sea of snow—were very picturesque. One last good thing about the trains: napping possibilities.

Appearance-wise, Cologne has quaintness to it which the larger Munich did not, though it is undoubtedly a major city in the way Wurzburg isn’t.  Think Munich : Chicago :: Cologne : Boston.  Since we all arrived in Cologne late in the evening, we spent the rest of the night relaxing in our hotel room, reading and watching Monsters, Inc.  Every viewing of a Pixar movie is a fantastic one, so needless to say it was great.

I could go on and on about Cologne, so in order to spare everyone, I’m going to provide highlights/observations from the next few days.

  • The Cologne Cathedral is very impressive, both in its interior and exterior appearances and in its location.  Adjacent to the train station, the Cathedral simply rises majestically out of the town square, with the Modern Museum and Greco-Roman Museums at its back, entrance to the shopping avenue on the opposite side of the train station and an open square at the front.  Even with the modern infrastructure surrounding it, the Cathedral is by far the largest, and commands the attention of the entire scene. (see Colleens previous Cologne blog for a picture of the church)
  • German food and beer is awesome.  I am suffering withdrawal.  We had a fantastic lunch one day with traditional food and great wheat beer, followed by espresso and coffees to warm everyone up before venturing back into the cold.  The food, environment and company were wonderful.  Another food lesson: non-German food in Germany is equally awesome.  I had a taste of America in the form of a barbecue cheeseburger and fries and an amazing NYE dinner.  But I’ll explain that separately.
  • Cologne is—thankfully—home to a Chocolate Museum.(note from Colleen: I neglected to take pictures of my family while they were here but I have no less than 12 pictures from the chocolate museum)  Since going, I am very knowledgeable about the making of chocolate, the trade routes of chocolate, the biggest consumers of chocolate and the nutritional properties of chocolate.  Don’t challenge my chocolate knowledge.  That aside, the most exciting part of the museum was by far the area where you could see chocolate being made.

    the machine which caused us a lot of stress

    Most people walked through the room in about twenty minutes or so.  Not Colleen and I.  We had to figure out exactly how it worked, because when the chocolate wasn’t right in some of the phases, we were worried it would be thrown out.  It was very, very stressful.  I know reading this you won’t be able to grasp how stressful it was, so I guess you’re going to have to trust me on this one.  Colleen and I were literally running around, following specific pieces of “problem” chocolate (aka chocolate which didn’t fit in the mold perfectly or didn’t fall out of the mold perfectly onto the conveyer belt), to assure they were not thrown out.  Luckily, we discovered a large majority of “problem” chocolates were simply re-melted.  The magical robot arm knew when there were problem chocolates, and they were released into a churner of hot, melted chocolate.  There was one exception, in which case the problem chocolates were thrown into a bucket, presumably to be tossed away.  I don’t like to think about it.

  • Shopping.  Cologne is known for being a wealthy city containing lots of shopping.  We didn’t really indulge, but a walk from our hotel to the city center required walking through the shopping area.  The streets of the shopping area were mobbed, thanks at least in part to post-Christmas sales.
  • New Years: apparently we under-celebrate it in the US.  Because in Cologne, everything was closed New Years Eve day and New Years day.  This included the museums being closed and even the cathedral not giving its twice-daily guided tours.  While this created a bit of a stumbling block in our planning, as we had anticipated going to the modern museum, it provided for some very nice reading and relaxation time.

    truffles

  • I couldn’t have planned a better NYE.  (Thanks, Colleen, for doing it!)  We went to a great Spanish restaurant which had a five course set menu for the evening.  Good wine and great food ensued.  The plan was to head out to a bar or club after dinner (we finished our scrumptious chocolate mousse around 11:30), but apparently Colleen and I have turned into old and boring people in less than a year since graduating from BC.  We opted instead for a bottle of champagne and ringing in the new year on the street.  It seems as though everyone (us excluded) purchased fireworks in anticipation of the holiday.  The fifteen minutes leading up to midnight, everyone came outside and lined the streets.  As the clock struck, fireworks went off from every which way.  They were so many in number and so big in size, by 12:10 you could barely see more than thirty feet in the distance.  It was very exciting and a great experience to be a part of.  I can’t believe the sheer size of the fireworks people were setting off every which way!  Definitely not high on the safety list, but it was an incredible experience.

I am very glad to have had the chance to experience Cologne and its wonders, even if some of these wonders were closed during our time there.  Cologne provided the relaxation and fun, laid-back experiences I craved during my holiday.  I know I’m responsible just for writing about Cologne, but I want to say the entire Germany experience was a remarkable one.  Coming from Cairo, I wanted to travel to an atmosphere which felt like Christmas.  (Seventy degree weather in a Muslim-majority state isn’t very conducive to Christmas cheer.)  Both the ambiance of Germany—the snow, the sights, the food—and the wonderful and caring company of the O’Connors made this Christmas holiday a very memorable one.  I can’t express my gratitude toward them enough!

January 20, 2011 Posted by | Germany | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Post-Christmas (by Dad and Moe)

Alright, Maura claims to have a decent amount of input in this post, I’ll let you judge for yourself. Also, fair forewarning: Dad talks a LOT about art and history. I’ll let you know where to cut off and skip ahead to. Enjoy all the pictures he included as well!

Enjoying some German beers

I was able to see the white German countryside on our 3 hour train trip from Wurzburg to Munich the day after Christmas. My 5 companions all slept while we stopped at every little burg along the way. Our hotel was only 2 blocks from the Bahnhof (hey – I’m getting pretty good with this translation lingo). First stop in Munich was the local bierhalle (Schneider-Weisse). Maura like the weissbier and the hefeweissbier and even the dunkel. We ventured out to dinner near the South Gate (Sendlingertor) while Cala entertained us. She insisted on learning to count to ten in German. After multiple attempts and many corrections from Fraulein O’Connor, Cala got beyond fuenf (five) without laughing out loud and made it to zehn. Then she tried counting in French. Now we were the ones laughing as she grunted her way to dix. We all agreed she should stick to Spanish. Dinner at Ocui (open cuisine) was perfect. There are separate stations for pasta, stir-fry, salads, and beverages. Our adopted daughter Jessie stayed in the girls’ room – a forced quad. She won the single bed. The O’Connor girls all slept in the double bed and fought for covers all night. They were not happy until extra blankets were borrowed from an empty room.

Monday, Dec.27th: Cala and Jessie took the train to Dachau. Maura and Colleen visited churches, churches, and more churches.

at the Residenz

There was a beautiful white stucco church, churches with lots of stainglass windows, more churches that were bombed in WWII, and some more churches. Colleen and Maura also visited three out of the four gates of the city, and climbed the stairs of the Alter Peter, which provided a phenomenal view of Munich no matter where you looked. Karyn and I had a wonderful day at the Residenz – the former royal palace of the Bavarian monarchs (and here’s where you stop reading until the next paragraph, unless you’re a history buff). The Wittelsbach rulers used it as their residence and seat of government until 1918. The antiquarium (66 metre banquet hall with wall and ceiling frescoes and end-to-end statues) is over 500 years old. The architecture, interior decorations, and works of art range from early Baroque to Rococo to NeoClassical. The 4 hour short tour covered less than half of the 120 rooms. The royal treasury (schatzkammer) next door is 10 amazing rooms of jewelry, crowns, tiaras and many priceless religious items confiscated from the local monasteries since the time of Charlemagne (he be dead in 814).

St. George slaying the dragon

I especially liked the gold and enamel statue of St. George slaying a ruby and emerald dragon atop a gilded box decorated with opals, agate, chalcedony, pearls, and many other precious stones (1597). For history buffs, the cross of Queen Gisela of Hungary is in perfect condition – commissioned for the tomb of her mother Gisela of Burgundy, Duchess of Bavaria who died in 1006 and was buried in the Niedermunster (Abbey) in Regensburg.
After a siesta (Cala and I adopted a few Spanish customs), the group convened at THE Hofbrauhaus for a Happy Hour. The place was packed, the oompa band was playing, and nonstop prost, cheers, salud, na zdrowie, and a rare ege’sze’ge’re from Prague.

At the Hofbräuhaus

No matter what we ordered, most of the beers were served in the traditional one liter glass steins. It may have taken Cala 2 hours, but she finished her bier! Stumbling through deserted streets on a very cold winter night, we found our way to Cafe Osteria La Vecchia Masseria – ranked the #1 Italian restaurant in Munich by Lonely Planet. Plain wooden tables, a waiter with a sense of humor, and great food. Ravioli, pizza margherita, penne gorgonzola, and even lamb chops were excellent – with red wine of course.

 

December 28th– Karyn, Cala and I (Maura- I think the rest is supposedly by Maura) took the afternoon and went shopping around Munich. We found store after store full of scarves. We were also touristy and went into the little tourist shops to get gifts that say Germany. The one store that seems to be quite popular around Germany is H&M (here I- Colleen- will mention that H&M is actually a European store, not American). Every other block there would be an H&M: women’s, men’s, or both. Jesse and Dad walked up to the Alte Pinakothek – the art museum spanning the 14th to 18th centuries of “Old Masters”. (again, art and history. this is obviously by Dad. proceed to next paragraph)

art

A great way to spend a very cold day wandering through the Reubens, Rembrandts, Durers, a few old Italians, and even one El Greco (The Disrobing of Christ).The special exhibit was a group of 12 paintings from the city of Amsterdam’s Historical Museum. They were group portraits peculiar to the Dutch 17th century with their traditional black outfits, white collars and wide brimmed black hats with a tall crown (capotain) often decorated with ostrich plumes.The rare group painting of women displayed the black puritan style with immensely detailed white lace collars.Very austere. Needed a splash of color from Giovanni Battista Tiepolo – he of the fresco ceilings of the throne room in the Royal Palace of Madrid and the massive ceiling in Wurzburg at the New Residenz (1744) above the famous entrance staircase (Treppenhaus). Cala FAILED to mention this (english) guided tour through many many cold rooms which was one of the highlights of Christmas. Maybe all that bratwurst has dulled her memory.

(back to Maura?) Later that night we met up with Colleen’s old friend Basti, from the German exchange program way back in high school. We went to an Italian place with what I would have to say was the best pizza in Germany! After a brisk 4km walk, Colleen and Jesse went out with the guys “for an early night”. Cala’s definition of early is 11pm, so she started calling the Bavarian polizei at 2am to track them down (not really). I cannot say any more since she is a wonderful travel companion – but all ended well.

The next day we split up (none too soon!). Karyn, Colleen, Jessie, and myself took the train to Koln, and Cala and Tim took the train to Frankfurt for their flight home the next day!

January 15, 2011 Posted by | Germany | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas (by Cala)

Well Loyal Readers (who am I kidding, it’s pretty much just my family anyways….) I realize these posts will be out of order and while that may bother no one else besides me, apologies anyways. But way to go Cal for being the only one on top of your game. Here goes (oh and of course I can’t refrain from making comments so mine are in italics)

Hello everybody! First, I’d like to thank my director, and all the cast and – oh. It’s just a blog. Never mind! But really, big thanks to Mom and Dad for providing the necessary funds for this fantastic Euro-trip! I’m supposed to write about Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, since I know the most about Christmas, clearly. Let’s see… Christmas Eve is the BIG DAY in Germany, whereas the 25th is the big day in the States. So pretty much everything is closed on the 24th and 25th because everyone in Germany celebrates Christmas (sorry, no Chinese and movie theaters around). So we had to find our own ways to entertain ourselves.

snowy view from the Residenz

We woke up on Christmas Eve to a white winter wonderland! It was a lovely little flurry, so we decided to trek up to The Fortress of Würzburg (not sure if that is the official title, but you get the idea) (Festung Marienburg). The Fortress is over the river and through the park and up a grand hill, prime location for the upper hand on attacks – however, a bit tricky for tourists to get to. So we bundled up and headed out, through the now – heavier snow, over the bridge, through the park and started up when Colleen says, “Oh I thought we would take the scenic route up, and we can take the stairs through the park back down.” Of course, my mom is thrilled that there is a scenic route, so we instead start walking up steep, slippery, icy hills up the backside of the fortress. I, being ill-equipped in the winter hiking footwear department (as well as athletic department), required a bit of assistance up the hill, but we made it in good time. The fortress was initially home to the royalty of Germany (?) and the Prince Bishop of Würzburg until the Winter Palace (aka the Residence) was built in the 1700s, at which point they moved there (also a very chilly place, not many torches or ovens. Here I should mention Cala’s body fat is probably around 2%. On a good day) Anyway, the real highlight of the trip was the view of Würzburg from the top of the hill. Despite the heavy snow, it was a fantastic view of the city on the river. We walked by the keep, the horse pool (no joke) and around the entire fortress before heading back down for some lunch.

We stopped in a little café, one of the only places still open, and grabbed a bite to eat. After some delicious hot chocolate we headed back to the hotel for some relaxation time before dinner.

Girls on the bridge

Colleen managed to get reservations at one of the only restaurants open on Christmas Eve – and a Mexican restaurant at that! The food was delicious, as well as the margaritas, Maura’s favorite part. After dinner we went to 10:30pm mass at St. Killian’s Cathedral. It was, of course, a bit chilly inside due to the fact that it is huge and made of stone, but there were a lot of candles, and pretty soon with everyone huddled in the pews (it was packed!) it warmed up a bit. We didn’t understand any of the mass, despite Colleen’s best efforts to translate while whispering for all of us, but there was one part we understood: the songs. They had the lyrics printed on our pamphlets, so we got to try our best at German pronunciation while singing Silent Night, Greensleeves, Away in a Manger, and Hark the Herald Angels Sing. I would give us a B- on pronunciation, but an A for effort!
We returned to the hotel for our last bit of tradition – our Christmas Eve gift exchange. For those of you who don’t know, it is an O’Connor tradition that the three girls all get to open one gift each on Christmas Eve, and that gift is always matching pajamas! Although now that we are older, they more coordinated than matching. So we opened our pajamas – even Jessie! And hit the sack, with hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be at the Novotel room 220.

Fortress in the snow

Christmas Day! Since we were told ahead of time that literally every single shop and café would be closed on Christmas Day, we prepared for total laziness. Colleen and I had gone to the grocery store the day before and bought bread, cheese, sausage, chips, fruit – pretty much anything non-perishable that did not require cooking. We feasted all day! We actually ate breakfast in the hotel lobby, and German breakfasts are a little different than the American buffets. Of course there was toast, jam, cereal, eggs, sausage, the usual – but there was also little packets of Nutella for spreading (Maura’s favorite) and an assortment of cheeses, meats, and fish to put on your bread (Dad’s favorite). Of course they had coffee (Mom’s favorite) and the best part – the served black olives with breakfast! My favorite!
Basically we spent the entire day in bed. Literally. The rooms were a bit small, so we didn’t have a lot of room to sit so we all just sat/laid on the bed all day, playing cards, watching movies. We got Mom and Dad hooked on Modern Family – great show, for those of you who don’t watch it. We played Phase 10, watched Love Actually, ate lots of cheese and sausage and M&Ms, and oh I remember CALA WON WIZARD!!!! For pretty much the first time in a long time. I’m awesome. We exchanged the few gifts we had brought from home, and Jessie had brought us presents from Egypt! She gave her adopted sisters exquisite silver necklaces (mine’s the prettiest) and for her adoptive parents a beautiful hand-crafted leather bound book for all of our photos, with “O’Connor Christmas 2010” on the cover. We loved having Jessie be an O’Connor for Christmas!

Overall, Christmas celebrations in Germany were wonderful. We got to spend time with our fantastic family, eat good food, and did I mention that I won in Wizard?

January 10, 2011 Posted by | Germany | , , , | 4 Comments

Resolutions

So, one of my resolutions is to keep up on updating. I actually thought I did pretty well up until December, but really I wasn’t near a computer for the last half of the month so not completely my fault. My family and Jessie came for Christmas and New Years which was absolutely great, and I’ve forced them all to become guest bloggers for various parts of the trip. So, as the reports trickle in I’ll post them. Until then, here’s a quick catch-up of what’s been going on:

zurich at night

Second weekend of December I headed down to Zurich with my friend Nadiya to stay with a friend of hers. Zurich is ridiculously expensive (in comparison to what I’m used to in Germany) but apparently people earn much more there so it all balances out. From what I experienced in Zurich, I liked it, but I don’t think I could live there permanently. It’s a hub for a lot of businesses and of course has tons of the infamous watches and chocolate. We were lucky enough to take a day trip to Luzern (Lucerne), about an hour away from Zurich, which is absolutely beautiful. It’s still in German-speaking Switzerland (thankfully) and the views are wonderful due to the lake and backdrop of mountains. A side note about Swiss German, or Schwitzerdeutsch- it is nearly impossible to understand if you’re not from Switzerland. The Swiss can easily understand the Germans, and everyone understands one another if you speak Hochdeutsch (high German, which is taught in the schools and is what I learned, no dialect), but Swiss German might as well be another language.

Luzern

Back in Würzburg, school rolled right along until Christmas break (which didn’t start til the 23rd!), but during my conversation lessons with the students, I did learn a great deal about Christmas in Germany. It’s celebrated on the 24th, instead of the 25th, and the 25th and 26th are two observed holidays. So, really, Christmas is 3 days long. Awesome.

There’s a pretty distinct North-South divide when it comes to the Weihnachtsmann (the equivalent of Santa Claus) or the Christkind (has the same role as Santa, but is an angel with long blonde hair, or the baby Jesus; my students were always split half and half on how the Christkind looks). Anyway, bottom line is the kids still get their presents from this foreign, magical source but they get them on the 24th. Apparently sometime after church (which is attended on the 24th as well), back home all of the children have to leave the living room and the doors are closed so they go watch tv or something. Then, magically, 15-20 minutes later a bell rings from the living room. The bell means the Christkind/Weihnachtsmann has come and the kids can come into the room and open their presents. This is where I have a problem. What?! Presents on the 24th? Okay, I could deal with that. But no build up of anticipation, dancing of sugarplums in their heads, waking up at 6am to race down the stairs and see what Santa brought? No. Not to mention the complete lack of imagination involved here (a bell, that’s it?). Somehow it still works. Good for them.

And while we’re addressing slight cultural differences, New Years here is called ‘Silvester’, named after a Pope who apparently did lots of important things, among them converting Constantin I to Christianity. What I found to be one of the coolest things about Silvester here though, is the fact that everyone lights fireworks at midnight. No, not just the official-sponsored city fireworks show, everyone. It’s like the 4th of July, in the middle of winter, and probably way more dangerous. We were in Cologne and the street we were on clouded up within 3 minutes of midnight, people had sparklers left and right and fireworks were being shot off literally from street corners. Of course this lasted about 30 or 45 minutes, and I can’t forget to mention the legality of open containers so of course we popped open some champagne as well. I already mentioned one ‘resolution’ (to update this more often), but I’m really not a big fan of New Years resolutions. I think from age 8-16 I vowed to stop biting my nails which of course never lasted more than a few weeks (still guilty), so instead I like to make goals.

Other resolutions/goals:

– Get the lacrosse team officially registered and have a schedule for next season

– Don’t turn down an invitation. My friend Pat, in Russia, has commented on this more than once in his blog, but you never really know who you’ll end up meeting or what kind of fun you’ll have when you get invited somewhere.

– Keep traveling/taking advantage of my current position. I have absolutely NO idea where I’ll be next year (the possibilities are literally all over the globe) so I’d like to take advantage of my place in central Germany, not to mention central Europe.

Hope everyone had great holidays and look forward to entertaining updates coming from my family and Jessie!

January 8, 2011 Posted by | Germany | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Holidays in Hamburg

I swear the closer we get to Christmas, the more slowly time moves. I can’t believe I was in Hamburg only last weekend! After school on Thursday, I booked it to the train station as quickly as possible to make sure I made it up to Hamburg in time for Thanksgiving dinner. Brendan, an American Fulbrighter from BC, graciously offered to play host to me for the weekend, ensuring I wouldn’t be spending such an important American holiday alone. I made it up with plenty of time to spare, and joined the group of four American Fulbrighters in Hamburg and one American Fulbrighter visiting from Berlin. Our group grew to a size of 8, including a French Fulbrighter as well as a German who wandered into the kitchen claiming that ‘it smelled good and he was just curious to see what was going on’. (of course you can’t turn anyone away at Thanksgiving…)

Fulbrighters and our Thanksgiving meal!

What may be most impressive is the fact that the group of boys cooked the entire meal! We had a turkey that I think was about 4kg (so 9lbs), mashed potatoes, carrots in brown sugar, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and to top it all off, a pumpkin cheesecake complete with a walnut maple glaze. This whole time, mind you, we two girls sat at the table, chatted and drank wine- a welcome change of pace! The meal turned out really well; everything tasted wonderful. We even all ended up going around the table and saying what we were thankful for- it started off as half-joking but we all had a lot to appreciate- that much was clear by the end.

Oh I should also mention that Germany has perfect timing in welcoming the winter season. Thanksgiving day was the first day it snowed over here, and it’s snowed at least every 2 days since. Granted, we don’t have a huge accumulation of snow but it definitely helps get you in the Christmas spirit. That being said, the next day Brendan and I went out and enjoyed Hamburg in the snow. Hamburg is different from any German city I’ve visited for a number of reasons:

It’s actually the second largest city in Germany with about 2 million people. (Berlin is first with I think 3 mil and Munich comes in 3rd with a little over 1 mil). Hamburg is a huge shipping port and there was no shortage of boats/barges/cruise ships out on the water. Due to its proximity to a major body of water, seafood is abundant. That translated to fish sandwiches for breakfast, something I wasn’t totally on board with at first but ended up being pretty good (I still prefer the southern German breakfast of bread and butter/jam/nutella/cheese/meat). So we walked around the harbor for a while and then took a ferry ride so I could see a little bit more of the city. Stopped in St. Michael’s Church (because every good self-respecting German city has at least one must-see church), walked through town some more before finally ending up at the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market).

at the Weihnachtsmarkt

Almost every German city has a Weihnachtsmarkt, with the one in Nuremburg being the largest and most famous. They tend to open the weekend before the first Sunday of advent and stay open until the 23rd or Christmas Eve.

The stalls at the Weihnachtsmarkt sell anything from socks to cooking utensils to the more traditional ornaments and candles. We spent a good amount of time just walking around, taking everything in before warming up with some Glühwein. There really is no American equivalent for Glühwein, though the Brits call it “mulled wine”. It’s basically warm wine with spices. This was the first Weihnachtsmarkt where I saw white wine Glühwein (though it turns out they also have it here in Würzburg). You have to pay a 2.50 Euro deposit for your mug, but that’s because each city, or sometimes even stall, has unique mugs which they use to serve the Glühwein in. (obviously I thought 2.50 was a good price for the mug and took mine with me).

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the same manner (Glühwein, walking around Hamburg, back to the Weihnachtsmarkt) before going out that night with other American, French, and Spanish Fulbrighters. That was one thing I was really jealous about, that there’s such a contingent of Fulbrighters/international students in Hamburg. Then again, it is a much larger city, but still.

Hamburg town hall and Weihnachtsmarkt

This week back in Würzburg was actually pretty busy too. It snowed here as well, we had our usual lacrosse practices three times this week (two of which are outside. yes in the snow and negative-celsius-degree weather), our Weihnachtsmarkt is open, I signed my subletter-lease for my apartment AND successfully celebrated my 23rd birthday! A group of girls from the lacrosse team joined me in celebrating which included Glühwein, beer, champagne at midnight on the bridge over the Main river, and dancing away until the late hours of the night/early hours of the morning. Very successful overall.

December 5, 2010 Posted by | Germany | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment