Deutschland and beyond

Living in Germany

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

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


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.


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