Tuesday, February 19, 2013

“Wherever a man may happen to turn, whatever a man may undertake, he will always end up by returning to that path which nature has marked out for him.”

592 Days Since I left Germany!


Wow, I almost forgot about my blog. I haven't updated this thing in over a year. The whole point of this blog was to chronicle my time in Germany and to let the people back home see what I was doing across the pond. I've been back in the USA for almost 2 years and talking to my friends and host family in Germany has just about been the extent of contact with Germany as a whole. That's the reason I haven't updated this in so long. 

But now, once again, I have a reason to update this thing. As you may have seen at the top of this post, I will be in Germany in less than 100 days. I figured it was about time I get back on a plane and go back to visit the place I had such a hard time leaving. The timing could not have been better. I will have just finished my freshman year of college and will be there for my class' and my host sister's graduation from their version of high school. I will be in Germany for 6 weeks and I could not be more excited. That countdown timer is plastered on almost everything possible. I have a countdown timer on my phone, my computer, in my room and in my school planner. Im sure you could ask any of my friends how many days are left until I go back and they'd be able to answer. 

Of course I have big plans for things I want to see and do while I'm back in Germany but mostly I'm just excited to be there. I'm looking forward to sitting down with my host family for dinner, going out for schnitzel or ice cream, and seeing my friends again more than I am looking forward to the sightseeing and traveling. Of course anyone whose asked me about going back to Germany knows that the first thing I do when I step back on German soil is go to an Imbiss and get a döner. Through the christmas/birthday packages from my host family and their 2 visits in the time I've been home, I've been lucky enough to have everything from bratwurst to maultauschen and more chocolate and German beer then I know what to do with (shout out to the best host family ever). The one thing that unfortunately can't be shipped or stuffed in a suitcase is a döner, and boy do I miss them. 

I don't have a set idea of what I am going to do while in Germany but hey, I didn't know what I was in for last time and that worked out pretty well. I think I am headed to London with my host sister and some friends but that's about all I know so far. 

Not much is really new in my life here. I'm taking German here at college and it is the highlight of my week. It not only takes care of a gen-ed credit but also helps me practice my German for this summer. 

I'm sure most of you know that my brother is doing a college study abroad semester in Italy right now. It's kind of fun to see it from this point of view; to check his blog everyday to see if he has written anything and to check his facebook to look for pictures. I hate to say it but watching him go through his milestones (first day with the host family, first day in school, etc.) is not only making me nostalgic but also really jealous. He is definitely having the time of his life. He gets back from Italy about a week and a half before I leave for Germany.

I wrote a little about the time my host mom and sister visited (August 2011) but I haven't updated since my whole host family came to visit last May. They came for my high school graduation and spent 2 weeks with us. That was like 8 months ago so I don't really remember all of the details from the trip (check the photo site, I'll upload the pictures from their visit later). 

I don't really have much more to write about in my post but make sure to check back to see what I write about my time in Germany (and the picture site too).

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

“When you're safe at home you wish you were having an adventure; when you're having an adventure you wish you were safe at home”

51 days since I left Germany. 
That right there is the weirdest feeling ever. I've been back in the States for about two months now so I have gotten back into my routine and things are starting to get back to normal. I am constantly looking through my pictures or reading the book that my class gave me. You look back and think "I can't believe it's over. I can't believe I spent a year in Germany and it's already over". The parts in the beginning feel like they happened forever ago. 

Leaving Germany was really hard. It was even harder because I had to say goodbye to everyone like 4 extra times. I said goodbye to my class about 4 times and each time they would all surprise me with another meeting (which was of course another goodbye). I left on Friday so on Wednesday my class had a little presentation in English class. They all said goodbye and gave me a scrapbook they made. They all wrote letters and then pictures in with them. Then at the end of the day, they did their "real" goodbyes. I had plans Wednesday night to go to a bar with some guys from my class. So we are walking and we pass the bus stop. They said we were getting a ride from someones mom so I didn't think anything of it. Instead of going to the bar, my class threw me a surprise going-away-party. That was definitely in the top 10 best memories I have of Germany. 

Then Thursday we drove to Frankfurt (the city we departed from) and spent the night with some friends because we had to be at the airport early Friday morning. Of course they gave me the wrong boarding pass, checked my luggage in someone else's name and charged me for extra bags. I didn't think to check the boarding pass they gave me so I just put it in my backpack and kept walking. It wasn't until actually boarding that I realized the boarding pass wasn't mine. So I had to wait an extra 25 minutes at the counter as they printed off a new boarding pass and assigned my luggage to me in the computer. The actual flight wasn't too bad until the very end. We hit some major turbulence and couldn't get clearance to land for like an hour. The turbulence made it really bumpy, we suddenly dropped altitude a couple times and of course the lights in the part of the plane started flickering. It was pretty horror-movie-esque. 

Coming home was great. It was such a weird feeling to walk into our house again. I basically just picked up where I left off with friends and everything so I guess the whole reverse culture shock thing didn't hit too hard. I read other people's posts and status' about how hard it was to readjust to life in the USA but it was pretty easy for me. Of course I get homesick for Germany and crave speaking German with people but adjusting wasn't too bad. 

My host mom and host sister spent the past two weeks visiting so that probably helped too. It was nice to have them here. It was like a stückchen of mein deutsches Leben here in America. We went all over the place. We showed them Toronto, Niagara Falls, Buffalo and Niagara on the Lake. I had just gotten used to speaking English again before they came. Now I am back to having German come first. I start school in about a week so I should be pretty busy from here on out. 

Going to Germany was something that I didn't really think over for too long. I knew it was something I wanted to do. I was right. It was definitely worth doing. If I had the chance then I would definitely do it again. I think I probably will do it again. Maybe for a year again but probably just for the summer. 

I didn't have much to say in this post but I figured I had to end it somehow. Check back periodically in case I do write something.

Monday, June 27, 2011

"Every goodbye is the birth of a memory."

10 Days left in Germany.

These past two weeks since I last posted have been Pfingstferien (school break because of Pentecost) over here in Germany. Not only is Germany not overly religious but we get more days off for Pentecost than for Christmas or Easter. I don't entirely understand the logic there but obviously I am not complaining. 

Before Pfingstferien started, the neighboring village (Neckartailfingen) had another festival. I think I wrote about Kinderfest in the last blog post. It was a very typical German festival. Basically there is a huge party tent filled with tables, live music, bars and everything else necessary. You find a table and then the band plays everything from German folk music to modern techno music. When it starts, everyone is pretty much just sitting there and talking. Depending on how many litres of beer (usually the beer is sold by the litre) everyone drinks, the fest ends with everyone standing on the benches singing with the music and having a good time.

We then had to get up bright and early the next morning to catch our train to Hattingen. Hattingen is the city where my host mom's sister lives. We stayed in Hattingen for a few days. Hattingen was pretty cool. We took a tour of an old iron factory and saw how the ore gets made into iron. 

It was Pentecost while we were there so we went to this big church service. It was right on the river and they had a big Italian buffet afterward. It was both a service for the church-goers but also a gathering for the whole city. The big part of the ceremony was when they baptized like 60 people. It was pretty interesting.

At the beginning of the year I wrote a lot about MANY times I embarrassed myself in front of the Germans. Well it happened again. This time I embarrassed myself in front of my host mom and my host aunt and uncle. We were sitting on the balcony eating cherries and spitting the pits over the side of the balcony. So everyone is seeing how far they can spit the pits out and eventually it was my turn. So I eat the Kirsch and then spit the pit out. I thought it went pretty far. Wrong. Somehow it went almost sideways and hit my host mom. Everyone just kind of laughed but it was still awkward. 

Eventually we boarded the train again for another 5 hour train ride to Berlin. This trip to Berlin was pretty different from the last two mainly because we spent a good amount of it in German prison. 

You can relax now, the prison was our hotel. It was an old East German prison that they turned into a hotel. For once being a prison, the hotel (I just sat there wondering which article to use with Hotel, luckily English only has one) was really nice.

I don't remember what we did on which day but I'll try anyway. One day was spent in what may be the 2 smallest villages I have ever seen. They happen to be the villages that my ancestors immigrated from. Wallmow and Bergholz (both in Brandenburg) were the villages that we visited. We started out in Wallmow. Wallmow was a village of 300 people (who knew that there were places smaller than Altdorf?). They had a really nice old church and then a little convenient mart. The guy who let us into the church gave us the whole history and even recognized the names of my ancestors from the church records. He explained the immigration and then asked if I knew about the "Neu-Wallmow" in New York. He was pretty excited when I said I am from there. 

The next village was Bergholz. Bergholz was slightly bigger and had another nice church. We weren't allowed in it but it we got a tour through the historical museum instead. They had anything you could ever want to see about the Huguenots in Germany and the Germans who immigrated to the USA. They even had the names of everyone who emigrated from Bergholz pinned up on the wall. After that we went back to the hotel. 

Before I talk about our trip to Szczecin, Poland let me just talk about German cars and Poland. We have rented a car twice since I have been here. Once when my family came to visit and once when we were in Berlin. When we went to pick up the car the first time, they asked "will you be taking the car into any other countries?". It's a pretty normal question so I didn't think anything of it. So we answered "yeah, we're going to Switzerland and France.". She then replied with "that's no problem, but will you be going to Poland?". We weren't so the conversation kind of died off there but it left me wondering why we couldn't take the car to Poland. Apparently German cars are worth big bucks in Poland (let's face it, the Germans all drive Mercedes, Porsche, Audi and Volkswagon. Their cars are worth big bucks everywhere) and I guess Germans drive to Poland and then their cars vanish. They wake up the next morning and their cars are on their way to the black markets of Africa. 

We planned on going to Poland this trip so my host mom said yes when the rental lady asked if we were leaving the country. The lady responded with a "WÄÄH?!?!, no you can't take it to Poland.". So we ended up taking the train to Szczecin. We spent the day walking around and seeing the sights. Polish is borderline impossible so we got by speaking German and English with the locals. The older generation can speak German but not English and the younger generation could speak English but not German. Szczecin was right on the Oder river and had a lot of really nice buildings. 

One day was actually spent in Berlin. We went around and saw the sights. We went souvenir shopping and that kind of stuff.

The last day was spent in Hamburg. I don't know if Hamburg of Frankfurt is my favorite city in Germany. They are both really nice. We met up with a friend of my host mom and she took us around the city. The city of Hamburg is famous for two things; the fish market and the Red Light District. Hamburg is the biggest harbor in Germany (and maybe all of Europe) so every Saturday morning the fisherman all come and sell fresh fish from the harbor. The Red Light District in Hamburg is probably the biggest one in Germany. Prostitution is legal here so that contributes to the abundance of Red Light Districts here. The City Hall is something you have to see in Hamburg. One really cool part of Hamburg is that because it lies right on the water, they have boats and ferries instead of trains and buses (they have both but not as many).

On Tuesday, we took the train back to Stuttgart and on Thursday my host parents took a bicycling trip around Bodensee with their friends. On Saturday I went to a night club with some friends from school. Yesterday I went out with my friends from language school. 

Ok so the past few days I have had to defend the USA quite a bit. I think I have said it before but some of the language school friends are from Serbia. Sometime last week the comedian, Chelsea Handler, made jokes about the genocide in Serbia and flat out called Serbia a shame and disappointment. I can't find the video but here is a news article about it http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/chelsea-handler-hot-water-serbians-205147.  You can only imagine the things they had to say about the people in America in return. Then today, one of the girls did a presentation about Franz Kafka in German class. She played a biographical video from the USA. Somewhere it mentioned that his sisters died during the Holocaust. It also mentioned the Gestapo and Nazis a couple of other times too. So then the people were all up in arms today because in America when people hear "Germany" they automatically think of Nazis and still think the Nazis are in Germany. So again, that was kind of awkward.

One thing I think that people need to understand is that making jokes about Hiter/Nazis/the Holocaust to Germans is a terrible idea. They find it way more offensive then they do funny. My host sister was talking about how one of her exchange student friends was in school and her history class baked her cupcakes with swastikas on them. I see it all the time, people tell jokes about Hitler and then the Germans just get uncomfortable and upset. It would be like someone making a joke about slavery or the trail of tears to someone in the USA. 

Ok that rant is over.

So I have about a week and a half left in Germany. It's a pretty busy 10 days too. One day this week we are going to Europapark. It's like Germany's version of Disney (http://www.europapark.de/lang-en/Park-Attractions/Overview/Germany/c246.html). I can't wait for that. The Women's World Cup is taking place in Germany this year. We have tickets to go watch a game on Thursday. Germany is playing Nigeria in Frankfurt. Let me just say that since the Women's World Cup started, the amount of flags and patriotism in Germany has skyrocketed. Then on Friday, we are going to Bodensee. I was there for a day when my family came to visit but this time we are spending the weekend down there. Bodensee is a lake between Germany, Austria and Switzerland. You can stand on the German side and see the lake with the Alps in the background. 

Here is a picture of Bodensee

Next Wednesday is my last day of school. Thursday I will probably do all the crazy last minute things. I have to get up early on Friday and drive to Frankfurt to catch my plane to Washington. Then we have a "return orientation" in DC until Saturday. Then Saturday afternoon I will be back in Lockport. 

Saying goodbye to people is so weird. When I left the USA, I kinda thought "It's just a year, I will see you then" so it wasn't that bad. Saying goodbye to people in Germany is hard because I know there are people that I probably won't see again and I don't know when the next time I will see the rest is. Luckily, my host family invited me to come back for February break/Faschingsferien next year and friends from school invited me to spend Christmas with them. Hopefully I'll make it back here sometime soon. 

Well I guess that's all for this one. Expect another blog post sometime around Wednesday of next week.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

"Never knew before what eternity was made for. It is to give some of us a chance to learn German."

 25 days left in Germany.

Since my last post, my class took a trip to Berlin. There were about 25 students and then 2 teachers on the trip. We had to meet up at school at like 4:45 in the morning. Needless to say we were all half asleep. We took a bus from Neckartenzlingen all the way to Berlin (about 8 hours in total). Not that many people ended up sleeping though. Probably because they knew the dangers of falling asleep on a bus full of bored teenagers. 

On the first day, we went into a museum of Germany. It covered basically anything you could ever want to know about Germany. It explained everything from Germany during the Roman era to World War 2 to the reunification of Germany. We even got to go into a real Nuclear Bunker from the Cold War. After that, the teachers went home and we had free time to do whatever we wanted in the city. I think most people went to either a bar or club and hung out there. We ended up at some beach bar in the middle of Alexanderplatz. "Alex" is the Time Square of Berlin. It's kind of like the city center. They brought in sand and turned one of the corners of Alexanderplatz into a little beach. Eventually we hopped on the Straßenbahn and went back to our hotel.

The next day was the Bundestag and sightseeing. AFS also did a day with the Bundestag when we went to Berlin with AFS but this was completely different. With AFS, we just sat in on a meeting of the German Parliament and listened to the German government discuss military reforms. With my class, we got a tour of the whole building and got to go up into the dome of the Reichstag. Going up into the dome is definitely something to do in Berlin. You can see the whole city of Berlin from there. After that we had more free time. We went and got lunch on our own and then explored the city in groups. We saw the Brandenburg Gate and then just walked around. Then (much to the night manager's dismay) we all hung out in the hotel lobby for a little while. 

The next day was our sightseeing tour around Berlin. It was a three and a half hour walking tour of Berlin. It was like 85 degrees that day so a three hour walk through Berlin was borderline torture. The rest of the day was spent both hanging out at the hotel and seeing the parts of Berlin that we hadn't seen yet. That night we went out again. We went to a different bar this time. This time it was an actual beach bar on the river.

The next day was our river cruise on the Spree. The Spree is a river that runs right through Berlin so another way to see the city is to take a boat through the heart of it. That lasted for a few hours and then we just hung out in the city for the rest of the day. We just hung out at the hotel that night. 

The bus ride home was so much wore than the one there. The traffic was terrible. For all you Germans, it took us about 2 hours to get from Berlin to Potsdam. Normally that takes less then 40 minutes. I think it took us about 12 and a half hours to get home. The cool part about that was that when I got home, my host sister Verena was there. Verena just got home from her year in Kentucky. It's kind of cool because we can speak English with each other (we rarely do though). My host parents don't exactly like it when we speak English in front of them so we usually stick to German. Philipp did a year in the US too (so his English is basically perfect too) but I haven't spoken English with him since September. 

On the topic of speaking English, I have gotten pretty good about lying about my nationality here. It's not that I don't want to be American or anything. I just don't feel like speaking English with people here. I also hate the ensuing political debate that happens when you tell people you are from the USA. It's always awkward because when they find out I am from the US, they always try to speak English me. I can never tell if they are speaking English because they want to or because they think I can't speak German. Not to mention, they always insist on debating American politics with me. So now I just tell people I am from Iceland, The Faroe Islands or Armenia. It actually works out pretty well because no one speaks any of those languages nor do they know much about their politics. Of course I don't tell everyone that, just the check out lady at the market or the worker at Media Markt. It just makes things easier. 

On Thursday, we went back to The Black Forest. The Black Forest is by far my favorite part of Germany. It is still very traditional and nature-oriented. The little villages and the dialect are really what makes it great though. The best village is Schiltach. The last time we were there was December. It was cool because it's right in the middle of a valley and the hills are lined with trees. 

Here is a picture of Schiltach

The point of going to the Black Forest on Thursday was for Verena to see her grandparents after her year in the US but also so I could buy a traditional Black Forest Cuckoo clock. They're basically what the Black Forest is known for. 

Here is the Cuckoo Clock I bought

After we got home, I started the worst part of the exchange year. I started to organize my things from this year into what I want to take home and what I am leaving here. It's the first step of packing up and leaving Germany. Im going on vacation for a while before I leave so I thought I'd better get started now. 

Here is everything I plan on taking home

Yesterday was Philipp's graduation ceremony at school. First there was a ceremony in the Auditorium where they all got there "diploma" type things. Unfortunately they don't wear the graduations gowns and caps like we do. After the ceremony, we all went to some banquet hall and had what might have been the biggest buffet I have ever seen. The graduating class then puts on a show with pictures, videos, games and dancing for everyone to see. We stayed there until like 1 and then came home.   

Today is the Kinderfest in Neckartailfingen. It's basically a festival for the entire village. I don't really know what there is to do there but it's supposed to be good.

Tomorrow we are leaving for a week in northern Germany. We are going to visit my host mom's sister in Hattingen for a few days then going to Berlin. From Berlin we are going to Hamburg, Poland and Wallmow/Bergholz. I'll talk more about that when I come home. 
As I said in the beginning of the post, I have only 25 more days in this country. It's weird because it feels like I have almost no time left here at all. The next two weeks are school vacation (for the Ascension) and after that, I have like 5 more days of school. It's weird saying goodbye to people here. Like last night at Philipp's graduation, everyone was saying "Goodbye and have a safe trip home". It's weird because I probably won't see these people at all before I leave. To be completely honest, I don't want to leave. If staying here another year was an option, I'd take it without hesitating. I definitely want to do another exchange year though. With this year, I knew I wanted to go to Germany. I don't really know where I want to go next time but I narrowed it down to a few choices. You can vote on the side as to where you think I should go.

I guess that's all for this post. I will post again after we come home.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"That shook me. You just don’t expect the place you’ve lived in for sixteen years to vanish like that."

I have been putting off actually updating this thing for a while now. I'm waiting for the washing machine to finish so I thought I'd update it now. Even though it has been about a month since I last updated, I don't have that much to blog about. The main topic of this blog post is going to be about going to Berlin with AFS.

Before I talk about Berlin, let me remind everyone that it is now June. June is a good month for a couple of reasons. I have a couple of trips planned and my host sister is coming home from her year in America. June is also a not so good month because it is my last one in Germany. It didn't really hit me until we were waiting for our trains in Berlin. One of the other AFSers was like "wait a minute guys, our End Of Stay Camp just ended". That really put things in perspective and made me realize that I only have 35 days left in Germany.

This past week was our End of Stay Camp with AFS in Berlin. All of the 50 AFS scholarship students in Germany meet up in Berlin for 5 days. We got to see the city, meet the German government and (of course) do a bunch of AFS workshops. 

We'll start with the train ride from Stuttgart to Berlin. It is about a 6 1/2 hour journey and it started at about 8. I sat with 2 other AFSers going to Berlin. I got lucky enough to get one of the seats that faces backwards so I rode almost 7 hours facing back. We spent most of the train ride listening to music and talking about this year. About halfway through the train ride, I started to get a little motion sick so I took out some Dramamine. The little container said I had to rip it open on the marked line. I tried for about 10 minutes to open this little packet. I tried ripping it, slicing it, ripping it with my teeth, I tried everything to rip it open. Finally I gave up and let the others try to open. They got about as far as I did with the packet. We were sitting with a German who was giving us condescending looks and laughing at these 3 unfortunate foreigners trying to open the Dramamine. After a while he just said "you know you just have to push right?". The box said to tear along the line so I never even thought about having to push it out but sure enough, he was right and it opened right up. It was funny but also another one of those embarrassing moments. 

We finally arrived at the Berlin Train Station at about 3. For those of you who live in Buffalo, the train station was about twice the size of the Galleria and had about twice as many stores in it (plus all the train platforms). We met up with the people from AFS and went back to the hostel. The hostel was just down the street from the train station so that was nice. One of the nice things about this camp was the fact that all 50 of us were there. I hadn't seen some of the people since September. 

Wednesday night was free time in the city. AFS let us all split up into groups and do whatever we wanted in the city. We just walked around and explored Berlin. We walked along random streets and saw downtown Berlin. We had to be back at 12 so we had a lot of time to explore the city. 

Thursday morning was a bus tour to all the major parts of Berlin. We went to a building that contained a bunch of 3D maps of Berlin. It showed which parts belonged to the DDR and which parts belonged to the BRD. It also showed which parts were new and which ones were rebuilt after the war. After that we went across the street to a park. The park had a few pieces of the Berlin Wall left on display. We then got back into the bus and drove to the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. Then we went to the Brandenburg Gate. The Brandenburg Gate is one of the most famous things in Germany. It is definitely worth seeing. 

After the tour we had a couple more hours of free time to go into the city. A group of us went to find Döner (we really are becoming German) for lunch. Then we came back and did a couple of AFS workshops. AFS workshops are where we get separated into groups and discuss things like "what do you still want to do in the next 5 weeks?" and "how can you do everything you want to before you leave?". After that we all split up into three different museums. I ended up going to a museum of ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian artifacts. We ended up getting thrown out of the museum because we didn't have tickets with us. We went in as a group so they gave us a group ticket but when we split up in the museum we couldn't all have a ticket so we didn't have one when they asked to see our tickets. We ended up just going outside and going to see the Berlin Cathedral and sit along the river. 

Friday was our big day in Berlin. All 50 of us had to get dressed up and walk over to the Reichstag. That is the building where the German parliament (Bundestag) meets when in session. There we met up with 200 other exchange students from different organizations. We got to listen to the President speak and then listen to the members of Parliament debate reforms in the military.

We listened to the meeting for a little while then all 250 of us went into another room to meet with a couple other members of Parliament. We asked them questions about German politics and things that had to do with the German government.

Then we left and went to the American Embassy in Berlin. We basically had a big party at the embassy. There were people rapping, food, speeches and of course there was Lydia awkward salmoning complete strangers (AFS people will know what I am talking about here). We spent a couple of hours there just hanging out. Then we went out to dinner and had more free time in the city. 

Saturday morning was filled with AFS workshops and other AFS things. Then we had the rest of the day to enjoy Berlin. We ended up getting on the train and doing the rest of the big touristy things. 

Sunday morning we just went back to the train station and caught our trains home. 

Other than that, not much has really happened this week. This blog post wasn't a very good one because I leave for Berlin at 5 o'clock tomorrow morning. I am trying to pack, do laundry, buy snacks and write this at the same time. I'll write again sometime next week and it'll be better next time.

Monday, May 9, 2011

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”

It probably goes without saying that I think everyone should visit Germany sometime in their life. I haven't really been up to much lately but I still wanted to write a blog post this week. 
I thought I would write a blog post about all the stuff to do in Germany for a vacation. 

If you are planning to travel around Germany; there are two options. Germany's public transportation system makes it easy to travel from one end of the country to the other in less than a day. The trains are a little expensive for a long trip but still affordable. If you plan on staying in one part of Germany, you could also rent a car to use. 

Along with most of Europe, Germany has both resorts and hostels. A resort is basically the same thing it is in the USA. A hostel is kind of like a motel. They cost very little but you get what you pay for. Sometimes there is only one bathroom for the entire floor or the rooms are the size of a broom closet. They are ideal for the people who are just looking for a cheap place to stay. 

Most tourist attractions offer different prices for different "groups". Seniors pay one price, kids pay another, students (people between like 10 and 19) pay a reduced fare and regular adults pay the normal price. Make sure to distinguish the different types of tickets you want to buy so you don't pat more than you need to.  

Germans will be happy to use their (near flawless) English with tourists but it's always better to learn some German before you arrive. They don't expect you to speak German and are usually more than happy to switch over to English but it usually makes them really happy if you say a few words in German. Basically everyone under the age of 65 in the former West Germany will speak some amount of English. I have heard that the older generations in the former East Germany don't speak as much English. The students in East Germany had to learn Russian instead of English so people over the age of 35 or so might be a little harder to communicate with. I think that you will still be able to find people who speak English in the former East.

Shopping is usually pretty important when someone takes a vacation. There are certain places to buy things and certain places to avoid. Things are usually pretty expensive in Germany but you can usually find a good deal. I think this might be common sense but don't buy things in the gift shop of the tourist attraction. Look around in the town and there will be probably be a way better deal. There are street markets a couple times a week and usually they have pretty good deals. 

Germany has a lot of things to see and I thought I would write about which ones are the best. 

Make sure to go and see Munich while you are here. It is the city to go to if you are looking for that traditional German feel. You will probably see a couple of people wearing Lederhosen and Dirndls but that's all part of the atmosphere. You can see the old City Hall and listen to the famous Glockenspiel, see a Bayern München soccer game, check out the Olympic Park and even see the Dachau Concentration Camp. It doesn't matter what you do in Munich but make sure to have a beer at the Hofbräuhaus. The restaurant is like the size of a castle and they serve beer by the litre. It's also a good place to get that traditional German atmosphere. 

The German Alps are another thing to see here. A good place to see them is in the city of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. I went to the Alps in Austria so I don't know much about Garmisch-Partenkirchen or the region but the Alps in general are something to see. 

I think everyone knows about Neuschwanstein Castle or better known as the big castle in southern Germany that looks like the big castle in Disney World. It is quite possibly the biggest tourist destination in Germany. I have never been there but everyone I talk to says you can skip it. They all say that it is flooded with tourists. Of course its nice to see but driving by and taking pictures is plenty. 

Moving onto my personal favorite area in Germany; the southwest corner. Stuttgart is also a good place to see while in Germany. The area around Stuttgart is full of rolling hills, vineyards and the best food in Germany. The region is also home to the Black Forest. It's hard to explain the Black Forest because nobody gets excited when you say its a large forest but once you see it, then you know why it's one of the best places in Germany. You can stand on up of a hill and see just forests and nature as far as the eye can see. The Black Forest is full of little villages and amazing scenery. If you are looking for a traditional, quiet and scenic vacation then make sure to see the Black Forest.

If you are going near Stuttgart, make sure to go to Tübingen. It is kind of like the Venice of Germany. You can take a ride on a gondola-type-boat along the river. You can see the city and see the old architecture. Its a really nice city and definitely worth seeing.

If you are looking for a busy vacation with a good night life, then go to either Berlin, Cologne or Frankfurt. 

Cologne is a cool city. It's a pretty normal big city but there are definitely things to see there. The most popular thing in Cologne is by far the cathedral. You can't go to Cologne and not climb to the top of the church. It would be like going to NYC and not seeing Times Square or the Statue of Liberty. The cathedral is said to house the bones of the Three Kings who came to visit Jesus. The church was started in about 1300 and is still original because it was one of the only parts of Cologne not to be bombed in the war. Another thing to do in Cologne is to visit the Chocolate Museum.

The Cathedral of Ulm is like the one in Cologne but a little bigger. The cathedral in Ulm is bigger and has a better view (in my opinion) but you still have to climb the Kölner Dom if you have the chance. It's just one of those things you have to do if you visit Germany. We made my grandma walk all the way up to the top of the one in Ulm so there really is no excuse not to make the climb. 

Frankfurt is really different from the rest of Germany. Frankfurt is the banking capital of Europe so it is full of skyscrapers and big modern buildings. Besides Berlin, it's the one of the few places in Germany with skyscrapers. It's like a miniature NYC. Chances are, you will see Frankfurt on your visit. Most flights into Germany fly to Frankfurt. The airport is the size of a whole other city. If you have a long enough stop, you will either want to take a short cruise on the river or go to the Main Tower and get a view of the city. 

I haven't been to Berlin yet but I will talk about Berlin once I have been there. 

Nuremberg is the place to go if your trip falls around Christmas. The Christmas market is famous and definitely something not to miss. The whole city is decorated for the season. There is also an old castle in Nuremberg and that was also nice to see. We went to Nuremberg for the Christmas market so that's all I know about the city but it was a nice city.

Bonn was the former capital of West Germany so all the old government buildings and things like that are located in Bonn. If you are into politics or history then make sure to go to Bonn. 

One of my favorite places in Germany is Lake Constance. You definitely have to see it if you ever take a vacation to Germany. You can stand on the German side and see the German countryside or turn around and see the lake with the Swiss and Austrian Alps in the background. Its a popular place to go in the summer. You can take the ferry across to Switzerland but you can also drive the lake and see the scenery in the 3 countries. There are a lot of people who take a couple days and bike around the lake. Lake Constance isn't one of those extra touristy areas but it is definitely somewhere to see. 

The places in Germany that I haven't talked about are Berlin, Hamburg, Bremen, Leipzig, Dresden and Magdeburg. Those are all popular cities in Germany that I haven't seen yet. Hamburg is supposed to be a city on the water with that type of scenery. I don't know much about Bremen, Magdeburg or Leipzig but Dresden is supposed to be a really nice city. It had to all be rebuilt after the war and it is apparently a very nice and active city. Berlin is kind of a no-brainer. There is a lot to do in Berlin. The Brandenburg Gate is something you have to see if you are in Berlin along with Potsdamer Platz, Checkpoint Charlie and remaining pieces of the Berlin Wall. 

That's all I got as far as traveling through Germany and that basically wraps up this post.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

“When I was young, I used to have this thing where I wanted to see everything. I used to think, ‘How can I die without seeing every inch of this world?”

Sorry I haven't updated this thing in a while but I have been really busy lately. Hopefully I will go back to updating more often. 

Last week was Easter Vacation here. I had vacation from the Wednesday before Easter up until the Monday after Easter Monday. I like having the two weeks at Easter again. Normally back home, I have one week of break in February and one more at Easter but two weeks at Easter is way better. 

What did I do with my almost two weeks of Ferien? I spent it the best way possible. After 8 months without my family, they came to visit me for the break. My parents, brother, grandma and aunt all came to visit. We rented a big van and basically toured across southern Germany and central Europe. They stayed at my host family's house so needless to say, every couch, air mattress and pillow was taken for the week.

I am so glad that my family came to visit. Eight months is a long time to go without seeing your family, friends or even speaking your own language. Not that I am complaining about any of that though (still glad to be here). Having my family come to visit was kind of like having a reset button on the "days since I have seen my family" countdown. I think normally, family visits make the student more homesick but it did the exact opposite to me. I hope you guys get what I mean here.

They got here on Friday and we just kind of hung out. We just took a walk and then hung out at home. It's kind of hard to plan anything big for the day after a 10 hour plane ride. We picked up my family from the airport and to make the event more memorable, I wore my lederhosen to the airport. I'd say that I got two different reactions from almost everyone in the terminal. The actual Germans just kind of looked at me like I was crazy but the tourists all gave me thumbs up. 

On Saturday, we went to the Ritter Sport chocolate factory. My brother and I did some kind of tour and then made some chocolate. It was us and then about 8 little kids there for some 7 year old's birthday. The only thing worse than being stuck with a group of 7 year olds in a room full of sugar/candy were the dirty looks that the birthday girl was giving us for crashing her birthday party. 

After that my family about 25 pounds of chocolate from the store and then we went into Stuttgart. We went up to the top of the TV tower. My family was amazed by how many people in Germany drive BMW's, Porsche's and Mercedes'. Of course, we had to take pictures with the random Porsche in the parking lot. Then we just went home and hung out.

We got up extra early on Easter Sunday. My family insisted on going to the church service in Altdorf. The service started at 5:30 and we got up at about 4:30. It was a really different kind of service. I don't know if it was an Easter thing but the church was lit by candles and then they prayed and sung hymns. They didn't really do all the regular parts of a normal mass. Then we walked home and had breakfast. 

After breakfast, we piled back into the van and drove to the Black Forest. If you are ever going to be anywhere near Baden-Württemberg, then going to see the Black Forest is something you have to do. We stopped a couple of times but mostly, we just drove through it on our way to France. We went to see Strasbourg, France for Easter. We spent the day walking through the city. Strasbourg has a really nice Cathedral. The inside of the Cathedral was by far the coolest and nicest of all the Cathedrals I have seen. Then we bought some souvenirs and sat at a little cafe for lunch. Most of us ate Flammkuchen. It's kind of like pizza but the dough is like a tortilla and it's topped with sour cream, bacon and onions. After that, we walked around the city more and then went home.

Easter Monday was spent in Ulm, Germany. The world's highest church is there. They let you climb up to the very top of the steeple. There are 768 spiral stone steps to the top. We all climbed up to the top (including my grandma) to see the view of the city. 

On Tuesday, we all went to Lichtenstein Castle. That's the castle I talked about a little while ago (it's the one right on the edge of a cliff on shutterfly). We also all did a ropes/adventure course nearby. It was like an obstacle course but way up in the trees. You had to get from end to the other. That's another thing you should do if you ever visit this region.

Wednesday was the day we drove into Munich. We started the day off with a typical weißwurstfrühstück. Weißwurstfrühstück is a special type of breakfast that consists of the traditional white sausage, pretzel and mustard. After that we walked around the city, saw the major sights, listened to the Glockenspiel and did some shopping. Then we went to the famous Hofbräuhaus in Munich. That might be the biggest restaurant I have ever seen. The cool thing about the Hofbräuhaus is that they serve beer by the litre. They serve big glass litres of beer for each person. There are two things that everyone who wants to see Germany has to do. Drink a litre of beer at the Hofbräuhaus is definitely one of them. I will get to the other in a minute. Even the atmosphere there is great. All the food, music and clothes are traditional and the building itself is even something to see. 

We drove into Esslingen on Thursday. Esslingen is a town about 20 minutes from here. The first thing we did was climb the castle. The castle is located on top of a hill. We toured around the castle and then went to a little Swabian restaurant for dinner. After dinner we went to the Frühlingsfest in Stuttgart. I'm pretty sure that everyone knows what Oktoberfest is. Frühlingsfest is basically a smaller Oktoberfest but held in the spring. There are rides, food and of course; beer halls. We hung out there for a while then went home.

On Friday, we drove to Tübingen and toured the city for the day. The river runs ride through the middle of the city so we took a gondola-type boat ride down the river. After that, we went to go get more ice cream and then went home. 

Saturday was one of my favorite days. We drove down to Lake Constance and Switzerland. We started out at the Rheinfalls in Switzerland. It is the biggest waterfall in Europe. We took some pictures and walked around before driving to Stein am Rhein, Switzerland. Switzerland is really nice. Everything is clean and it has that European feel to it. Unfortunately, it was ridiculously expensive. Everything in Switzerland is expensive so be prepared for that. Then we went to Romanshorn and took the ferry across the lake to Friedrichshafen, Germany. I said that there were two things that everyone who visits Germany must do and taking the ferry across the Bodensee is the other one. Make sure you go on a clear/sunny day so you can see the Swiss Alps. It really is something to see in the summer. 

The last day was spent getting ready and relaxing. We didn't go anywhere special. They just packed up and got ready to leave. That night was a big festival in one of the nearby villages. They all celebrated the beginning of May/Spring. There was a band, food and beer. Then people came over to our house afterward.  

I haven't really been up to much else so I don't really have much more to blog about. 

I will post again next week.