Deutschland and beyond

Living in Germany

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.


  • 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

Orientation in Köln

Phew first day of school starts Wednesday so I’m using this weekend as a catch up on sleep before I get basically none…

Have been getting used to Würzburg since I got here last week. Pretty much know the downtown area now, well at least I can get myself around. Still no Orlando Bloom sightings though the Residenz is all covered with trucks and gates and such so that means theyre filming soon. I had orientation in Köln (Cologne) from Monday-Thursday. It was for all the American teaching assistants, and some of the British ones as well. Germany has an average of about 1000 foreign language teaching assistants per year, only 140 from the US and about double that from the UK. We stayed in a small retreat-like center outside of the town and got boatloads of information thrown at us and I’m now very overwhelmed about everything I have to do, in German. Get a visa, open a bank account, get all this paperwork done, find an apartment. And I thought buying a phone was an accomplishment.

The famous church in Cologne

I had some time to kill when I got into Cologne and then again before I went out so I walked around a little bit. The church is HUGE (yes dad, I even went in it) and there are tons of stores to shop in. On the bridge above the Rhine river there are tons of locks locked to the gates. It was explained to me as some “Romeo and Juliet” thing. Couples write their names on the locks (the really nice ones have them engraved) and lock them onto the bridge signifying their love. It looked pretty cool.

Orientation wasn’t anything too special, but it was nice to get to know some of the other teaching assistants here and I figure we can all mooch off each other when we want to go places in Germany (very similar to the BC-hostel situation abroad). We did get to practice team teaching, and it turns out I’m not supposed to be solely responsible for a classroom so that makes me feel a lot better. There were 4 former teaching assistants there who helped answer our questions and give us idea of extra ways to make money (tutor).

Before I left for orientation, I’ve been walking through Würzburg a lot and was given a tour of the Residenz by my “mentor-teacher” ‘s husband. It’s “Betreuungsleherin” in German so not exactly simple to translate. Her husband was extremely knowledgeable and I must have missed what he does because there’s no way an average citizen would have the depth of knowledge that he did about the art and history. The city was bombed in WWII two weeks before the war ended, and the roof of the Residenz was destroyed and almost all of the rooms had to be restored. Except for this one massive mural on the main ceiling which shows each of the four (then-discovered) continents personified. Oh and the Residenz was modeled after Versailles but it’s much smaller and only has one room of mirrors instead of a hall. I guess it looks enough like Versailles since they’re using it as a French castle in the 3 Musketeers

And there are really nice (but small) French gardens in the back. I’ve been there a few times since there’s a park behind them where I “run” (see: walk somewhat quickly)

Another favorite spot I’ve found is along the Main river. Not on the bridge, which is decked with I believe statues of 12 different saints (St. Kilian is their favorite. More history) but on a walkway below it. So looking back on this blog entry my life looks pretty boring up til now but I’m sure it’ll get more exciting once school starts (I hope). If anyone wants to come visit I’m serious please do. This weekend is actually a street-dancing festival as well as the Würzburg Hofbräu festival so I’ll try and check those out.

Bridge and Residenz

September 11, 2010 Posted by | Germany | , , , , | 1 Comment