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.