Posted by: bfarmer14 | July 8, 2010

Around Europe in 30 days…and a 21st Birthday!

In June I was infected with the travel bug, and it was a great feeling. Since I had busted my tail to get presentations and other small assignments done in the beginning rather than waiting until the last few weeks of the semester, I was able to fully enjoy each weekend in June by travelling. The first weekend I decided to go to Vienna to visit some friends I had met there last year and the following weekend a friend and I took the train to Budapest and stayed a few days.

Then it was time to celebrate! I turned 21 on June 25, and was able to have a very unique birthday gift. I’ve always wanted to celebrate my birthday in Germany – and behold! not only did I celebrate it in Germany, but in the beautiful beautiful Alps. The Resident Director of Junior Year in Munich is an avid hiker, and led along with a colleague of his a group of about 10 or so JYMers through one of the most beautiful (and steepest) hikes – the Schachen Tour. We left on Friday for Garmisch-Partenkirchen (the host town of the coming Winter Olympics), spent the day hiking up an incredibly steep mountain to reach a Berghütte – where I enjoyed a nice, cold birthday beer and an increadible lookout – and then hiked down the next day. It was indeed a difficult hike – and since my shoes had bitten the dust a few weeks before, I was forced to wear paper-thin fake 8 Euro chucks – but we couldn’t have asked for better weather, a better group, or a better experience.

I’m happy to be able to actually REMEMBER my 21st birthday too. It was a relief to celebrate it in Germany because it was not such a big let down if I said I’d rather do something different – drinking we can do anything, but hiking the Alps? Not so much.

Boy o boy was I hurting the next day. I could hardly move! And I consider myself to be rather athletic and had actually been working out the month leading up to the hike….!!!

June flew by, really. Before I could blink an eye July was already here. I had been promising a friend Jessica *pronounced the Swedish way> Yessica) from Webster that I would come and visit here in Sweden (she is Swedish!!) and visit I did. Since June had broke the bank and more, and for the short time I had a train was not feasible, I travelled again with Ryan Air – also known as Sky Mall Airlines.  I left Munich at 5pm and reached my friend’s house 70 km outside of Stockholm at… 2am! Good times, goooood times.

We had a blast! She lives in Uppsala, home to many a famous man – including actors, Celsius, and others. The first day she took me to this most amazing church right in the center of town, I got a decent pair of shoes, ate some excellent burgers, and then enjoyed watching Germany obliterate Argentina. It was a great day to be a Germany fan! The next day we woke up late and took the train to Stockholm. Stockholm is truly a beautiful city – so much water and liveliness! Here’s a few pictures from Stockholm (unfortunately the memory card from Uppsala was lost)

[coming soon]

Summer School, hä?

It’s rather difficult to go to school in the summer if you are not accustomed to it. I mean, who likes slaving over papers while looking longingly at the beautiful weather outdoors? NOBODY, making the summer, at least for me, extremely productive. You get busy to get it done, because when you’ve got it done you can enjoy the freedom.

July is already proving to be a great month, but the thought of returning home is looming over the horizon. I have enjoyed my time here the most because it has been an esacape from the same-old same-old of waking up, going to class, working, working, homework, a few meetings, homework, then sleep. Germany is for me the best breath of fresh air I have had in a while, and I’m reluctant to let it go.

Posted by: Kennedy | July 8, 2010

Rocking the European Boat (Brussels: part II)

My remaining two days in Brussels proved interesting and informative on a diverse array of subjects. I visited each of the main EU institutions, ate the obligatory dish of mussels and fries with relish, and saw Manneken Pis in an African outfit. Our multi-international crew, united through our common residency in Berlin, also proudly watched Germany beat Ghana on Wednesday! My roommate and I marveled at the displays of chocolate/whipped cream/strawberry & banana-topped waffles for the tourists, but privately decided the plain street waffles were the best. We took a tour of Cantillon Brewery, one of the few remaining traditional breweries in the world. Of course, the process is fully automated, but the famous sour “Kriek” beer is flavored with real pitted cherries instead of syrup, and ferments in old-fashioned oak barrels worth 800 Euros apiece. “Greuze”, the “champagne of Brussels”, did prove interesting to an unaccustomed palate, but delicious—surprisingly bubbly like champagne, but definitely belonging to the beer family.

Our group also made a pilgrimage to Planet Chocolate for a presentation on the unique production of Belgium truffles. Undoubtedly, the morsels doled out to those who answered questions correctly were delicious, but I am dubious that their chocolate is really better than Godiva, Neuhaus, Leonidas, or any of the other thousand Belgian chocolatiers that we encountered in the course of our stay. What Planet Chocolate did have in its favor, however, was that the lady giving us a demonstration solicited two group members to don caps and aprons and repeat the demonstration of making truffles, which provided a good half an hour of entertainment for the rest of us (although they did quite well and are certainly now qualified to become chocolatiers themselves if the economy doesn’t recover— there will always be a market for chocolate, at very least in Belgium!).

As to the more important uses of our time (though this point might be debatable as far as the chocolate shops go), we had opportunities to learn about the activities of the European Commission, to speak with a member of the Secretariat of the European Council, and to sit in on a plenary session of the European Parliament. In an attempt to avoid another unusually long blog post (no promises), I’ll simply focus on this last point. A member of the Communications Staff gave us an introduction to the European Parliament before we listened in on the session. The basics were unnecessary, as I’d managed to successfully grasp those in my classes about European Environmental Policy, European Union Economics, my current political science class, and our visits to the two previous EU institutions… the EU is unavoidable in Europe these days! I was grateful for the introduction, however, because she explained EU political parties and provided some background for the debate that we heard shortly thereafter.

As I understand it, having jumped into the middle of the plenary discussion (and having been greatly delighted and distracted by being able switch my translation device back and forth from French to German to English), the Parliament met to debrief about an EU Council meeting held last week. This meant that not only the President of the Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, was present, but Manuel Barroso, the Portugese President of the EU Commission—an unexpected treat for us. The key bit of information provided by the communication staffer was this: a number of British Tories, Italians, and a few other MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) split off last year to form their own political party, definitely of a conservative ilk. They call it the Party of Europe for Freedom and Democracy (EFD)—by which they mean that they support the freedom and autonomy of their own states from the EU.

In the course of the debate, one spirited British MEP chastised his colleagues for admitting Greece (and presumably Bulgaria would fit this category as well) to the European Union, knowing that the government lied and cheated. “My country does not use the Euro, and we never will, but we still hope the Eurozone experiment will be successful,” he stated, but proceeded to strongly imply that this is exactly what the Eurozone would not do unless member states used more common sense in choosing their economic bedfellows. His speech went further, questioning the penultimate purpose of the European Union and demanding what the Parliament itself was actually doing. (Remember, the EU has no actual power over the member states except using lawsuits to keep them accountable to their promises. Otherwise, it is incumbent on the member states to enact and enforce common EU policy.) He finished with a rebellious flourish, a prediction, and a gesture to his fellow party members, whose ultimate aim is to dissolve the very union in which their constituencies participate: “in the end, it will be we who will be the better Europeans.”

So there you have it. Most definitely not what I had expected from my first EU Parliament plenary session! Yet, after hearing the usual aggravated blunderbuss from a Green party member and the Utopian espousal of a French-speaking Leftist (“we are the envy of the world”), it was rather refreshing to hear my feisty British friend bring some practicality and accountability to the table. On the other hand, an eloquent report from (what I presumed to be) a security committee neatly and logically condemned Iran for its secretive proliferation of nuclear weapons, then urged the EU to take a speedy and appropriate response. An assessment of the economic crisis suggested that its effects would have been much more drastic in Europe without the Euro.

In the face of the evidence presented to me throughout this week and this year, I suggest that the truth likely lies in between the assertions of the Freedom Party MEP and the Leftist: like anything else, the EU has advantages and disadvantages. Since officials still refer to the “eurocracy” (an extensive bureaucracy indeed!) as an “experiment”, I believe it is good to demand accountability from the EU as such, even if the source if a parliamentary firebrand.

Supplemental Notes:

My apologies that I did not dig up the name of the speaker and make sure my quotes are exact. You may blame the demands of final papers “auf Deutsch” for monopolizing my time.

If you are curious, you can find more information on the website of the European Parliament, in German or English (or any other language you could possibly desire, really): http://www.europarl.europa.eu/.

For the website of the EFD, go here: http://www.efdgroup.eu/

This post was written on June 25th. Again, apologies for the delay in putting it up!

Posted by: jansen86 | July 7, 2010

Sommer in Freiburg!!

Hey everyone,

Well I’m sorry once again that it’s been so long since I’ve updated my blog, but I’ve had a lot going on here in Germany from traveling to sickness to tons of school work so it’s just been really difficult to find the time to update. But now that I have 2 term papers out of the way I have some time to inform you all about what’s been going on here in Germany. On my last post the new semester had just started here in Freiburg so I’ll pick it up from there. This semester I signed up for a total of 5 classes, which may seem like a lot, but it really hasn’t been so bad compared to last semester. I really have enjoyed my professors this semester and that goes a long way especially when you are expected to write a Hausarbeit for the class. My professors this semester have been really easy to talk to and eager to help in any way they can so it’s been great preparing for a Hausarbeit (term paper) because I know what exactly the teacher is looking for compared to last semester when I had absolutely no clue. The German term papers are set up much different than U.S. term papers and it was difficult at first to figure out what exactly the teacher wanted. But my study abroad program IES here in Freiburg have been great and were able to give us a lot of helpful information on how to write a proper German Hausarbeit, which really prepared me for this new semester.

Towards the end of May we had a week off for Pfingsten (Pentecost), so I decided to travel during this time to Croatia with a few friends. I found some really cheap tickets to the beautiful city of Dubrovnik, which is where I spent 5 days of my break. Dubrovnik was amazing and is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. The weather was great and it was just the perfect location to just relax and get away from classes for a while. There was a wall that surrounded the entire city, which is actually one of the best-preserved walls in the world. I ended up climbing the wall twice because it had such a great view from the top. My third day in Croatia, I decided to get up early and join a kayaking tour, which I had never done before. After 6 hours of Kayaking I was exhausted, but it was such a great experience. However, I think the best part of our trip was when we found a small pebble beach with nearly no one there and started jumping of cliffs into the water. I’m pretty scared of heights, but I ended up jumping off anyway and was so glad I did because it gives you such a rush. After my trip to Croatia, I decided to go and visit a friend of mine in Konstanz, which is nearly 3 hours by train from Freiburg. Konstanz is gorgeous and the weather couldn’t have been better on the day I went. We ended up taking a ferry to Meersburg, which is small town on Lake Konstanz and happens to be the home of Germanys longest occupied castle. We ended up going inside the castle and had a great view of the lake and the Alps from the top.

Unfortunately, shortly after my trip to Konstanz I came down with a horrible cold. I had a cough, sore throat, chills, and a headache so I immediately went to the doctor to see what was wrong. This was the first time I had ever gone to a doctor while in Germany so it was all a new experience for me. I was shocked at how quick and smoothly everything went. There were no long forms to fill out and I only waited 15 minutes to see the doctor. I was thoroughly impressed. The doctor told me I had a virus that was going around and that it should be gone in a week or so. However, weeks past and it got worse and worse. One day I woke up with a horrible back pain in my lower back and found out that I had a pinched nerve, which he thinks was caused by my coughing. The doctor wanted me to get some tests and x rays done and I was once again amazed at how fast and smoothly everything went. Within 1.5 hours I had seen the doctor, took my x ray, and even got my results back. The x ray didn’t really show anything serious so the doctor just prescribed me a muscle relaxer and suggested that I go to a physical therapist for a month. It’s now been 3 weeks since my back pain and unfortunately it’s still not gone yet, but it’s much better than before. It’s just been really difficult to sit and type papers or do homework because sitting was pretty much impossible for the first two weeks. Luckily, it’s gotten much better than before so I’ve been able to work on my term papers and have even been able to attend all of the Weltmeisterschaft (world cup) Germany games.

In Freiburg people have been going nuts for the Weltmeisterschaft and I have never seen so many German flags before. I have been going to a huge “public viewing” of the game where thousands of people gathered together dressed up in black, red, and yellow supporting Germany. The last viewing I went to Germany creamed Venezuela 4-0 and I ended up leaving completely covered in beer because the fans got nuts and couldn’t help but throw their beers in the air after a goal. However, unfortunately tonight was a sad night as Germany lost against Spain. As an American I have never really been into soccer as much as other sports, but after my year in Germany I have to say I’m a fan. It’s been a lot of fun and I am looking forward to the next Weltmeisterschaft. I can’t believe that I only have 3.5 weeks left in Germany before I go back home. I have so many mixed feelings. I really miss my family and friends back home, but I really don’t want to leave Germany. This year has been one of the best experiences of my life and I really don’t want it to end. I love it here so much that I’m possibly thinking about coming back to Germany for graduate school. But I have a little while before I have to make any big decisions. I also just recently found out that I was chosen for the DAAD Young Ambassador Program so I’m really excited about meeting the DAAD crew in New York as well as being able to present my experiences in Germany with other students back home at my University.  Well that’s about all I have to update you on for now. I’ll try to write once more before my return back home. Bis dann!!

Grüße aus Freiburg,

Jansen

Posted by: Kennedy | June 21, 2010

Bigwigs and Trappist Beer in Brussels

"Manneken Pis"

“Je voudrais…hmm.” I took French for more years than I would care to admit at the moment. I am in Brussels (Bruxelles to Belgian French-speakers) and disappointed to realize that the Flemish in the Metro stations is more immediately comprehensible to me than the French. What else can one expect after living in Berlin for nearly a year? I am, however, determined to redeem as much French as possible!

Since yesterday afternoon, I have been visiting the “capital of the EU” with a group of 20 students including Americans, a Lithuanian, a Ukrainian, a Brazilian, a Turkish national now living in London, and an assortment of students with two passports, including aTaiwanese/German. American and European students enrolled in the Duke exchange program German-language course on “Germany’s role in the EU and Europe today” forms the core of our group, plus a few randos drummed up by our resourceful professor so that we could receive personal tours of important institutions.

We experienced the first of these institutions today: NATO and the Ständige Vertretung des Bundesrepublik Deutschlands. We arrived at NATO an hour early this morning, having been duly warned that it would take an hour to go through security, that under no circumstances could we take pictures there—not of the inside, not of the outside, not of the statue outside, not of the guard at the entrance, etc.–, and that all of our names had to be on the list three weeks ahead of time. It came as a pleasant surprise, therefore, that we came through security in 15 minutes, that the guards admitted one of our companions whose name had not made the list in time, and that the coffee they offered us while we were waiting was, well, good!

As the name Duke University hints at a group of North Americans, two officials from the U.S. greeted us. You may attribute it to ten-month-delayed homesickness if I say that I was delighted to hear a true-to-life North American accent (or lack thereof, depending on how you describe the lilt of a Californian tongue). The first official spoke to us as a representative of NATO, the second as a representative of the American government. (I suppose it all comes down to which next-door office signs your paycheck.) In particular, the history of NATO as an organization created in opposition to the Warsaw Pact dominated the following discussion. Facing a room of students, the U.S. State Department official took the occasion to push us to question the existence of an organization that originally derived its existence through opposition to the Soviet Union and its communist hangers-on: What good, exactly, is a security organization of 28 allies whose enemy disintegrated nearly twenty years ago? I will leave my reader to hypothesize on the many answers to that question, just as our guide did for us.

His role as devil’s advocate triggered some interesting historical discussions, as well as building on his colleague’s introduction of current NATO operations, most frequently sending soldiers as “peacekeepers.” Afghanistan is by far NATO’s largest operation at present, participated in by the 28 allies and “third nations”, despite the public perception of “interference” in the Middle East as an mainly American activity. NATO’s designated representative to us also reiterated emphatically that the concerns of commanders and “peacekeeping” forces in Afghanistan are usually very different from those touted by the media, often for the worse when allied publics misunderstand the actual dangers and challenges of the military and political situation.

Despite frequent claims I’ve heard in Berlin about the waning of American influence as a world power, the stats presented at NATO very much substantiated the importance of American funds and public opinion for the other allies. The present U.S. administration certainly aligns with European inclinations toward non-proliferation more than the previous did, as well as seeking opinions from the allies more often than taking autonomous action. That said, the U.S. still provides much of the operational muscle behind NATO, namely in the form of funds and weapons. Interestingly enough, the EU has discussed the creation of a European Army, which would definitely shift the nature of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Given the present economic crisis, however, NATO officials were dubious that a European Army would be a forceful reality anytime soon.

The Ständige Vertretung is nothing other than a euphemism for the German embassy to the European Union. Of course, as the EU is not (yet?) truly a state, national representatives in Brussels cannot be called ambassadors. Even so, the German nation has a fully equipped building with four full-time ambassadors in meetings four times a week, plus an additional office purely for the eyes and ears of the German Bundestag. An “ever closer union”? I think so.

Famous comics painted on Brussels buildings

Other than frantic note-taking on political topics and frequent outbreaks of laughter as we try to remember which students in our group speak German, which English, and those of us with a background in French try to rally in restaurants and with security guards, we have tasted “un petit peu” of Belgian culture. Last week, I read a number of concerning articles in the New York Times and the Frankfurter Allgemeine on the questionable solidarity of the Belgian state, but our tour guide today assured me that the question of Flanders and Wallonia becoming independent is as old as Brussels itself (freed, with the help of the British, from the Netherlands in 1830). Brussels, as a major French-speaking city in the center of Dutch-speaking Flanders, and the monarchy have proved strong enough symbols of unity to hold the nation together through the death of the last king and the reign of the present King Albert (II). The stronger the supra-national EU grows, however, the more the separation of Flanders, Brussels, and Wallonia from one another becomes an increasingly likely reality.

On a more cultural note, we have already sampled a few Belgian favorites: Trappist beer, Belgian chocolate, and street waffles. We also visited the famous statue of the peeing boy “manneken pis”, saw adorable beret-ed children on the bus, photographed the mural comic strips on building walls throughout the city (Tin-tin, Asterisk…), and saw the Brewers’ Hall where Karl Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto. Belgium had unprecented freedom of speech in 19th-century Europe, apparently, which made it an attractive refuge for Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, and several other critical writers of the age. Much more to come, of course… the week has barely begun!

Posted by: shuneke | June 15, 2010

Summer School

I can’t get over the fact that Germans have to continue going to university in the summer. My semester here in Heidelberg began only in the middle of April, and will continue on until the end of July, at which point I, and my fellow exchange students, will have about a month of summer left. But I am somewhat unsure as to whether I prefer this system over ours or not. I am certainly glad to have gotten two months off from mid-February until mid-April, but at the same time, those months are a good deal drearier than June and July. On the other hand, I have noticed that I, and many of my friends, work more efficiently in the summer. It might be that the sun puts us in better moods; it might be that we simply want to get out to the Neckarwiese, the beautiful lawns on the banks of the Neckar, as fast as possible. But no one seems to complain as much as they did during the Winter Semester about the amount of work that they have.

Luckily, though, German university is not demanding enough to prevent leisure time. A few weekends ago I hiked up to Kloster Neuburg, a monastery down the Neckar from Heidelberg, where famous authors and poets have written. I was originally motivated to see it when I learned that Klaus Mann, who I will write my senior thesis on, worked on his earliest novels and plays there. But, upon arriving, after a relatively short walk from Heidelberg’s Altstadt, I was struck by the serenity of the place. It has a gorgeous enclosed field with a massive tree, as well as rose gardens near the walls of the enclosure. The whole building looks out over the Neckar, which bends right between the monastery and Heidelberg, so that a view of one is blocked from the other. After finishing exploring, I hiked through the Odenwald, an activity that I had missed from the fall months, back to Heidelberg.

Posted by: trierbound | June 14, 2010

Fußball and Eurovision

Five weeks left. Temperatures still 70ish, but with some rain. Hopefully that’ll go away soon.

For the next five weeks I’ve got some major plans. They revolve around seeing new places, enjoying time with friends, and writing papers to get good grades. These are good goals, right?

My daughter and I will be traveling to France this weekend, which is exciting! We’ll be doing some touristy things, but also just taking the time to hang out, be lazy, and enjoy our surroundings. Hopefully the weather will favor these plans. Before that, though, I will have written one paper. Outlining starts tomorrow, and Wednesday will begin the writing portion. I would start writing tomorrow, too, but I have a mini-paper due Wednesday morning. Priorities.

Tomorrow promises to be busy. I’m baking cupcakes for my daughter’s birthday party at school on Wednesday, having lunch with a friend, and going downtown to pick up a present for another friend whose birthday is Thursday. Plus writing this outline and paper and making calls about my research project. Pretty much every day is like that. I mean, I’m not making cupcakes every day (though it’s not the worst idea…), but I’m packed to the minute. It shows, too. My calendar looks ridiculous. I’m a big calendar person, so I spent fifteen minutes this morning before my class started redrafting my calendar for the next five weeks and moving this week’s events to my planner.

Hopefully by this time next week, I’ll have visited France and written out two of my five papers, at least in first-draft form.

The most important thing happening right now in Germany is the Weltmeisterschaft, or the Soccer World Championship taking place in Africa. It’s everywhere. The Kabab place by the school has a high-def tv right outside for people to eat and watch the game. If your establishment doesn’t have a tv, you’re not getting any business durning game times for the next few weeks. Even the club room in the basement of my building has dedicated an entire wall to a huge screen to play the games on. Everywhere you look there are people wearing jerseys, especially German ones (of course). My Luxembourgish class had a discussion about soccer and which team we thought would win and why. I’m, of course, rooting for Germany (Germany-Australia 4-0!!), but I think Spain has a good chance. I got some ugly looks for saying that in class today…but I got backed by my teacher who’s majoring in Spanish, so I didn’t die. Yay! Plus it’s not an unfounded thought. (See European Cup 2008) And this from the girl who absolutely does not watch sports. When I came to Germany two years ago the European competition was taking place, and the excitement was infectious. I was so excited to know I’d be back in Germany for the Weltmeisterschaft. It’s life here. Every afternoon you can hear soccer songs being sung around campus. It’s such a wonderful atmosphere. So animated, so patriotic! It’s wonderful to see Germany exhibit national pride, which is something they haven’t really done since WWII until a few years ago…and all because of soccer. I, personally, am glad that Germans as a whole have stopped being so hard on themselves for WWII. I’m not saying that any part of what happened was good or right. I *am* saying that I hate to see children 60 years later feeling guilty and carrying an emotional burden for something they had no part in. Germany is very good about staring their faults in the face, which I admire, but there’s a point where it becomes a problem, and I’m glad that people my age are starting to say “Yeah, it happened, and it was terrible. But it wasn’t me. I didn’t make that decision, and I’m proud to be German in spite of that part of our history.” Coming from a land with a strong sense of national pride, I can honestly say I support supporting one’s country and having a sense of pride in where one comes from. And soccer (as well as other things) has allowed Germany to do that. Friends of mine say that five years ago you would never see a flag in the streets or on someone’s car window. Now you can.

Also, German singer Lena won Eurovision. Eurovision is best compared to America’s “American Idol”, though it’s much older. Each country sends one singer/group to represent their country in a singing competition that selects one winner for all of Europe. There are five countries -The Big Five- that automatically make it into the finals because of their important role in the funding and founding of the competition, and both before and after the finals countries compete for a spot in each new round. More information for those of you interested can be found on wikipedia. Here’s a link to a youtube video of the winning song “Satellite”:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QSgNM9yNjo

Posted by: Kennedy | June 14, 2010

Flags and Fußball

About a week ago, I got up at 6:30 and went for a run around the Schlachtensee, a small lake directly near my host family’s house. The weather is finally summery, so my routine is idyllic until the morning Müsli has been eaten and my partially-to-totally-unwritten Hausarbeiten descend upon me, demanding attention. I was surprised to see 5 cars proudly bearing German flags, one on either side. Five diplomats in a residential area at 6:30 am? Unlikely. It took several more hours of passing flag after flag on my way to class before understanding dawned on me: this sudden display of German patriotism was solely because of the World Cup!

The carefully orchestrated quashing of nationalism after World War II has left a stark imprint on Germany. In all my ten months of living in the capital, I have rarely seen a German flag except for those on the Reichstag. I’ve known for ages that one of my good German friends doesn’t really like soccer, but she told me this weekend loves watching every single German game in the World Cup because of the “patriotism.” For a girl whose father, grandfather, and cousins have served or are currently serving in the US military, the idea of patriotism being evoked most strongly by soccer players is a strange one.

Another case in point: for the USA vs. England game on Saturday, I joined a group of Germans, Americans, and Brits in watching the game at a Strandbar along the Spree. We switched on and off between German and English and joked with the Brits about stereotypes and the outcome of the match. When the teams entered the stadium, another American military brat and I quietly put our hands over our hearts and sang along to the national anthem. Particularly after spending the past year outside of my home country, not to mention having to put up with extraordinary quantities of America-bashing, our national anthem represents the positive values that America stands for: everyone’s equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Acknowledging that does not mean I think the USA does everything right, and I cringe at the stereotypes of Americans who are loud, obese, and arrogant that tourists too often confirm. But I am proud to be an American. A German friend near us watched in some amazement; then she simply commented that she didn’t know her national anthem.

The record of World War II in Europe is not limited to history books, understandably so. But it is my hope that Germany’s younger generations rediscover the love of one’s homeland that is possible outside of pure Europeanism and is different in every way from fascist nationalism. There’s more to patriotism than just Fußball.
Posted by: trierbound | June 6, 2010

Six weeks left?!

Yep, you read right. I only have six weeks until I’m stateside.  And in honor of my last six weeks, I am promising to write one blog a week, both about things I’m doing as I finish up my semester and prep for going home, and about my own observations about Germany. And yes, I know I should have been doing this all along. Hindsight: 20/20. But I’ll try to make it up to you guys, and I’ll be posting about re-acclimating to the states as well. Though I can tell you right now that the thing I’ll miss most is pretzel rolls. Ah-mazing.

So, Germany is finally warm. I say that, and now it’ll start freezing again, but I wanted to let people know that it does actually get warm here. The past two days have been in the low 80’s, and this whole week is supposed to be in the 70’s, and most of last week was as well. It feels pretty amazing. And the sun doesn’t set until around 9, 9:30 at night, so this weekend I developed a nice little routine where I tuck my daughter in bed, make a cup of tea, and go out on the balcony to watch the sun set.
The sun also rises at 5 in the morning, which wasn’t so great at first, but now my eyes are used to it and I don’t wake up until around 7 and I wake up to beautiful sunshine. Not a bad way to start the day. It is a little unfortunate when it’s cloudy, though, because my body sees the lack of sun and thinks it’s 4 a.m. and wants to go back to sleep. So, that’s hard sometimes. But in general it’s pretty nice.
My daughter and I have spent a lot of time outside this weekend. We’ve played in the fountain outside the grocery store at midday (the high point of the sun here is around 2), we’ve spent lazy late afternoons picking daisies, and we’ve played soccer in the grassy fields behind our apartments after supper. Both of us have been trying to soak up every second of sun we can manage. She’s also been flourishing in her language abilities. Sometime in April it just clicked. We went away for a few weeks, and it was like that little break made everything come into focus for her. I pick her up from school sometimes, and we speak German all the way until it’s time to get ready for bed. Unfortunately, I usually falter around there because I never learned things like “remember to put your clothes in the hamper”, but it’s very exciting nonetheless.

Tomorrow is back to reality after a wonderful weekend. I’ve got several papers to write in the next month so that they can get graded and given back to me before I leave. My daughter’s birthday is also coming up, which should be really exciting!! In other news, I’m trying to decide which of my books and clothes and things I’m going to part with and which absolutely *have* to be taken back to the states. I feel pretty good about it so far, but it’s also incredibly hard to assess things when I’m not actually trying to put them in the suitcases. We’ll have to see how that goes. Fortunately, all of my daughter’s winter stuff (aside from a hat and a scarf) will get left here because she’s still growing. I’ve made a pile of books to give away or sell or whatever I can do, and I’m sifting through my papers trying to decide what’s *really* worth keeping. I’m normally a huge pack-rat. It’s only in the past two years that I threw away my notes from classes in high school. It’s that bad. But I’m learning out of necessity. Fortunately, a lot of my classes use an online system and put the texts up as PDF files, so I’m cheating by bringing them home on my computer 🙂

And that’s about it from this side of the world. I’ll be tackling research for at least two papers starting tomorrow…and I’ll be back next week!

addendum: if anyone has something they really want me to write about… something about Germany you’re curious about, let me know

Posted by: Raphael Orlove | June 6, 2010

Berlin By Car

From the stoic, neoclassical columns of the Museum Insel to the graffiti-covered TOAD factories in Friedrichshain, Berlin puts a lot of its history on display. New waves of architectural expression flow through the city with every political Wende, cultural movement, or military campaign. In the Innenstadt especially, where all buildings share an identical height restriction, buildings from different periods mark the stark contrasts in political and ideological agendas over the years. The Denkmaeler memorializing the site of a former prison or a former street demonstration seem no different to me than block after block of peeling grey soviet apartments or playgrounds built in the empty lots carved out in the Allied bombing campaigns of 1943-45. They all share the same announcement – that many years ago, something great, something momentous happened here. But these are just some old buildings. They fill up the speeches of every tour guide and the pages of every guidebook. But buildings aren’t the only way to engage and view the past. Let’s look at some cars.

I was surprised to find this 1944 Dodge just down the street from my apartment, parked in front of some trendy fashion store, just like all the other ground-floor real estate in my neighborhood. I can’t imagine that this representative of Allied industry met a similar street scene when it first arrived in Berlin, presumably sixty-six years ago. Certainly the Berliners don’t look at it in the same way as they did back then. I do feel like I understand better how out-of-place Americans must have looked in the Nachkriegszeit after seeing how this Dodge still stuck out on Berlin streets. How it must have towered over the rubble of occupied Berlin!

Twenty four years later and just across town, the Freie Universitaet played host to the student protests of 1968. Berlin has been a hotbed of alternative culture and Studentenbewegungen ever since. Just as the 1944 Dodge brings to mind not only the position of Berlin at the end of the war, but the varied process of how the city itself has taken on and integrated that history, this clapped-out ’70s Citroen Acadiane  could tell the story of how the legacy of  ’68 has changed and developed over the years.  When new, this car was practically synonymous with young academia. Its nickname, the Rieseente (huge duck – as to exactly why it has this nickname…your guess is as good as mine), which betrayed a loose casual attitude towards ownership, is emblazoned on its plain, minimalist sheet metal. I found this car still on the Freie Uni campus and I can easily imagine that this beater is still driven by a student today, maybe even by a professor who hurled tomatoes and called out for a new social order right here, some 42 years ago. What can one say about the peeling stickers and fading stripes on this Acadiane? Has this car, or the Freie Uni for that matter, moved on since its wild protest years?

Whatever lessons whan chooses to draw from this old Wohnmobil, it still putts along, making and perpetuating history as it goes. Indeed, regardless of what either of these two vehicles represent, they both have quite a lot to say. They had elements of their time and place of birth stamped on them, even contributed to the sense and feel of their day. Their messages changed as the world cast forever a different light upon them. It’s all part of why I love cars, and why I love this city.

Posted by: bfarmer14 | May 30, 2010

Crazy Germans…then Barcelona!

American Students’ Survival Guide for Studying Overseas

Alright, alright, I give in. Studying here in my second home was indeed a bigger leap of faith than I had expected it to be. The week after Nuremburg was crazy crazy!

For our Advanced German Language course, I feel absolutely never “good enough.” For the presentation that was set to give on Monday 17 Mai, I had turned in the handout at last three weeks before it was due (and the due date for the handout is even one week before the presentation!) only to get it back numerous times with the smallest, ittybittiest Kleinigkeiten ripped apart. I submitted the handout a total of five times before receiving one back that did not have red marks. I lied if I ever told you German was not hard. The presentation I had practiced a million times over since I knew we had to use specific Redemittel, and that ended up a mess too. The gap between what I am told about my German and what is the reality about my German is ever increasing…while some hail my German to be surprising akzentfrei, the professor for our AGL course pulled me aside and suggested I download a free voice recording program to seriously work on my Aussprache…

I don’t know what to do now!!

Then came an ENORMOUS Referat at the University for my course about forms of protest in Munich since 1945. The text on which we were to give a presenation was twenty pages, yet it was so incomprehensible that I read it…oh, maybe seven times. Every where I went for two weeks I was reading this text – on the U-Bahn, during my breaks, in my dorm, in the restaurant. The text concerned Ulrich Beck’s, a leading German sociologist, ideas about the strategies of civil societal and advocatory movements within the context of forms of protests … *gah* I don’t know how I made it…

A few days later I was due to give a Referat for my Contemporary German Culture course concerning guest workers in Germany and the recent developments in integration politics. This one actually went pretty well – (thank God I had already spent last summer and the fall semester researching related topics for my thesis!) two bad presentations had taught me many a lesson : how to use complicated Redemittel to elevate my presentation to a level of sophistication, how to engage my audience more effectively in this awful (but lovely) German language, and how to convey my philosophied thoughts to folks who may or may not share those same opinions.

A tough but fruitful week of learning indeed!

In order to boost my already wavering presentation confidence (I love public speaking and performance, but in German is something different…) I was dressed to the nines for each and every presentation. Let’s just say that I haven’t worn the high heels since…

Pfinstferien – Erholungszeit in Barcelona

Then came Barcelona!! I am grateful to be in a country (yes, Bayern is a country of it’s on… didn’t you know?) where there is a religious holiday at least three times a month, if not more. I am indeed a faithful person and believe that these periods of Erholung help set your mind back on what’s important. It’s amazing – I’m getting so much more done because I have time to take a proper break from everything, something that is relatively non-existent at home. Me and five friends – Nicole, Shelby, Emily, Alex, and Erica – all decided to use the five day long Pfinstfeiern time to travel to Barcelona. We had bought cheap tickets through Ryan Air, but let me tell you, we did not just fly. We took first the U-Bahn from our dorms to the Munich Hbf, then had an hour and a half bus ride from there to Memmingen (where a small airport is located), boarded the flight to Reus (which is best described as a two and a half hour Sky Magazine on wings..they tried to sell us every product imaginable!), then another bus for two hours to Barcelona. Nicole and I wanted (and needed) to save money, so we opted to Couch Surf rather than spend the week in the hostel. Couch Surfing is Facebook for travellers. Not knowing our way through the city but getting by on German-laden Spanish, we eventually found our way to our Couch Surfer host’s, Anni, home. Three streets from the spectacular Barceloneta beach!

A good three weeks of gray skies and rain in Munich had really gotten to us, and we rejoiced to see and FEEL the sun on our arms like fruit flies to a candied apple!!! We were estatic! A great week, here’s the recap, and then a slide show below:

Day 1, Thursday, 20 May

– travelling from Munich to Barcelona

– poor Nicole losing her purse

– finding our hosts home and going for a late night walk near the beach

Day 2: Friday, 21. May

– filing a report in hope of finding Nicole’s purse

– unsuccessful attempt to find the “lost and found” office – no pun intended

– hanging out and meeting with some of the others at the beach

– seeing the coolest more elaborate sand castles I have EVER seen

– getting hit on by random men

– finding out that none of the cards to withdraw money work in Barcelona…and I have very little cash on me…

– standing in awe of how beautiful and relaxing the old city is, including clothes lines from balconies, neat doors, and people talking in the U-Bahn

– paying lots of money to enjoy food at a restaurant that was good, but in the most touristy and therefore most expensive street in all of Barcelona (La Ramba) (a German Maß of Pepsie was eight Euro…)

Day 3: Saturday 22. May

– enjoying a really awesome African festival and the food and meeting a nice (?) guy

-getting hit on by random men

– being mysteriously locked out from our hosts’ apartment (turned out she had the radio on and didn’t hear our frantic knocks haha)

– hiking all over Olympic Park at 1am and getting some neat pictures

– coming home to find out our host had been robbed for the third time in her own home (not to mention six other times outside of her own home – especially a problem with the recession)

Day 4: Sunday 23. May

– enjoying Barcelona’s gorgeous architecture – La Sagrada Familia and a few of Gaudi’s homes

– attending a bull fight in the La Monumental arena (Nicole’s favorite highlight)

– eating Doener – too broke to eat anything else, and it was delicious!!

– visiting the Magic Fountain (my favorite highlight)

– enjoying the best and fruitiest gelato I’ve ever tasted

– experiencing what it’s like to really be broke…

Day 5: Monday, 24. May

– finding a backery where just about everything is under two Euro (the only advantage to a declining economy…)

– getting awesome pictures with Grafitti

– another failied attempt at finding the “lost and found”

– eating Doener – again too broke to eat anything else, and it was delicious!!

– walking around the city and by chance discovering some of the most significant buildings – three churches/cathedrals, Gaudi, Gaudi, Gaudi, (!!), and a zip line to one of Barcelona’s castle, giving us an unparalleled view of the entire city and ocean!

– getting hit on by random men

– picking up souvenoirs

– eating at an amazing traditional Catalonese restaurant to bring a close to a great trip

Day 6: Tuesday, 25. May

– U-Bahn to the train station

– train

– cab to the Reus airport

– flight to Memmingen

– cab to Memmingen airport

– train to Munich Hbf

– U-Bahn to our dorms

– SLEEP SLEEP SLEEP!

Barcelona in Pictures

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