Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Visit to Munster

Today I was able to sit in on more classes.  Yesterday we were busy with the film crew so we just got our class schedules today.  I do not need to be in classes all day, and today I was finished at 1:15.  Tomorrow I will be finished at 9:30.  During the classes today we were allowed some time to teach.  Mostly we watched the teacher teach first, and then we repeated the process.  We will always be working in English classes, so it is all spoken in English.  Even our talking is a great way for the students to learn correct pronunciation and accent of English words.  In one class, we were able to work with small groups and discuss the differences between small and big towns in America.  All of the students at the school know enough English to communicate well.
Some of the day was spent finishing plans for this weekend.  My host mother has a friend who lives in a town near Fussen and the castles and we are going to stay there tomorrow night so we have more time in Fussen on Thursday.  We had to reserve our train tickets so that we can leave tomorrow after school.  I am a bit nervous about the transfer times, so pray that we do not miss any trains.  I am thankful we only have 2 transfers.
For the rest of the evening we visited nearby Munster.  It is a much larger town with a lot of old buildings and churches.  I liked the town almost as much as Potsdam.  We walked among the streets and saw two of the biggest churches.  There is also a castle that has been made into a university.  The streets were all cobblestone with lots of small shops along the way.  Germany has many more walking paths in towns.  Instead of inclosed malls that you find commonly in America, the malls here are all open connected by pathways.  I went with my host mother, Kayla, and her host sister. Here is a picture of one of the churches.  It seemed like I was looking at a life size poster when standing in front of the church.  It was really cool.

The plans for this weekend include the first night near Fussen at the friend's house, and then one night in Fussen where we will visit castles and hike the alps.  On Friday we will go to Munich probably in the afternoon and then spend two nights in Munich.  We want to see a concentration camp on Sunday and then return to Werne.  I do not think I will be able to blog during this time, so stay posted and I will write when I return.

Monday, April 28, 2014

First Days in Werne

I did have some time to visit the Tiergarten on Saturday in Berlin.  It is the largest city park in Europe.  You can rent row boats and row in the lake.  We also went to a flea market that afternoon.  They were selling a lot of interesting things.  To end the day we went out to eat as a group.  We were all happy with our stay in Berlin but ready to move on.

Now I am in Werne with my host family.  They are very nice!!  I live with a mother and 2 daughters on a German farm.  The oldest daughter, Judith, is 15 and the younger daughter, Esther, is 14.  They were waiting at the station as we exited the train on Sunday.  They live in a big house and they have given me my own room.  They also have a big yard with horses, cow, pigs, and chickens.  Here is a picture of the house:

To get to school I rode the bus with Judith from the house to Herbern, and then from Herbern to Werne.  Today at school we did not do much.  We were introduced to the teachers and given a tour.  Tomorrow we will get our schedules and start teaching.  The town center is not far from the school, so we walked there afterward.  I really like the town.  Upon returning to Herbern, I went to visit a nearby castle.  The surrounding park was really beautiful, green, and quiet.  I have spent the evening back at home trying to make more plans for this weekend.  My host mom is being very helpful.  I am also eating some delicious food.  The biggest thing I miss about America right now is the ice.  Germans do not use ice in drinks, and most drinks are actually kept warm.

Some Pictures from Earlier

 The destroyed church that is halfway under construction.

 The top of the Reichstag government building.  You can walk through the dome.

 Me at the Brandenburg Gate.

 The Holocaust memorial

Me at the East Side Gallery

Friday, April 25, 2014

Thursday and Friday

Unfortunately, I will not be able to add pictures until next week, which stinks because they would really help me tell about my experiences.
Yesterday we went to Potsdam just outside of Berlin.  We were able to take the regional train.  There are several types of transportation in the city.  We have 5 day passes that allow us to use all of them.  There is the S-Bahn, which is an above ground train, the U-bahn is underground and similar to a subway, there is a tram which runs on a rail in the middle of the streets, and then there are buses. They do random ticket checks in all transport, but I have only been asked twice throughout the week.  It would be really easy to ride for free.  The regional train is entirely separate from all of these.  It does not make as many stops in town.  It was a 2 story train, so I obviously sat on the top.  Upon arrival in Potsdam we went directly to the bike station and got our bikes.  Although the day started gloomy, it ended up to be beautiful.  I really liked the bike tour.  It was approximately 12 miles hitting all of the major attractions.  I decided that if I lived in Germany I would live in Potsdam (but I might change my mind when we get to Werne).  There are several parks surrounding the city and we rode through all of them.  Within each park are some great castles, houses, and restaurants.  The beautiful buildings seemed never ending.  There was not enough time to stop at all of them so I tried to take mental pictures.  One big attraction was the castle Celilienhof where the Potsdam conference was held in 1945.  All of the world's great leaders walked on the same lawn as I did.  Another big attraction was a king's castle.  There were some beautiful gardens.  The entire ride was flat and I did not get tired or sore. After Potsdam, we went back to Berlin and visited the Berliner Dom, or the cathedral.  Unfortunately we could not go inside.
Today we took a historic walking tour.  I learned a lot more about Berlin's history.  We started at the Brandenburg gate.  The gate represented unity throughout the separation.  The land around the gate was empty until reunification, so all of the other buildings are new.  Then we went to the Holocaust memorial which takes up a whole block of the city.  The memorial only looks like a series of cement blocks from the outside, but as you walk through the square you realize that the ground sinks and the cement blocks grow around you.  It was interesting to decipher why they might have chosen this as the memorial.  I am glad that Berlin and Germany as a country did not decide to forget what happened here.  They are brave enough to build memorials that highlight a bad part of their history.  I guess it is a way for Germany to show that they have grown from their mistakes.  A lot of the historical buildings from before the war have been reconstructed.  They are still building more.  The rulers of East Germany tore down a famous palace and built a more modern building instead.  Now the city has demolished that building and is reconstructing the palace.  There is a lot of construction throughout the city.  We continued to Checkpoint Charlie, a place of exchange while the wall was still there.  It is famous as the site for many escape attempts.  There were also a lot of other interesting pictures.  After lunch and some shopping, we went to the East Side Gallery where the wall still stands.  We walked the whole length and looked at the pictures.  A lot of the phrases were in English.  We also went to an outdoor museum that explained the extra security that was on the other side of the wall.  You did not just have to get over the top to escape.  There were also mine fields, a barbed wire fence, sand pits, and other barriers.  The museum showed how the building of the wall prompted the destruction of many apartment buildings and churches since they stood in the way.  We walked through what used to be the high security part just over the wall.  The way the grass grew signified the existence of stone and metals underneath.  I thought it was really cool.  I have definitely learned a lot about Berlin on this trip.
I am sure I am leaving a lot of things out, but I don't have the time to write about everything.  If you have a specific question about something, feel free to comment.  Tomorrow will be our last full day here.  The plans have not yet been made final, but it will probably include walking through the Tiergarden, which is the largest city park in Europe.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Second Day in Berlin

To begin the day we went to Reichstag, the German Government Building – the equivalent to the American capitol.  Before our tour, we walked around the surrounding areas and learned a lot about the Berlin wall and divided Germany.  I never knew that West Berlin was entirely within the boundaries of East Germany.  There was a wall through the middle of Germany that separated East and West, but Berlin had its own wall to separate the city.  People from West Berlin were not allowed into East Germany, so they had to take planes or stay on designated highways in order to enter West Germany.  There is a prominent line throughout the middle of the city that shows where the wall used to be.  There are memorials along the border to remember those who died trying to escape.  Upon walking through the glass dome on top of the Reichstag, I could recognize prominent differences between East and West Berlin. There is a lot more construction on the East side. All of the government buildings are mostly glass to symbolize transparency (hence the glass dome on top of the capitol building).  They want the government to be visible by the people.  We were also able to talk to a parliament employee and sit in the assembly room.  After finishing our time at the government buildings, we made a short stop at the Brandenburg gate.  It is a strange feeling to look at something that you have always only seen in pictures.  It is hard to grasp the attraction as a real object when you are actually there.  We finished the day at Potsdamer Platz.  It is sad to look at pictures of the city before WWII and compare them to now.  Almost everything had to be rebuilt.  Most of the buildings look very modern, including the Sony Center and mall where we walked.  I was surprisingly excited to see a T.K. Maxx.  Another random thing I have noticed about the city is the stoplights.  Instead of just a yellow light before red, there is also a yellow light before green.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

First Days in Berlin

We have landed! I am typing this from a German computer at the hotel, so if some of my letters are mixed up that is why. Yesterday was probably one of the longest days ever.  We left at 6:00 eastern time and landed at 8 am Berlin time.  We still had the whole day ahead of us.  The hotel is really nice, but it does not offer free wi-fi.  For most of the day we just walked around the surrounding areas of the hotel.  We are in a really nice part of Berlin with a lot of shopping.  There are lots of trees! Green space was designed between all of the roads and I really like that.  We walked past a church that had been bombed in the war and they decided to leave it.  It looks really cool and the pictures to come won´t do it justice.  We also walked through the KaDeWe, one of Germany´s largest department stores.  They had a whole floor devoted to food! One of my favorite sections was the American section where they sold pop-tarts.  Some of them were different, German flavors.  We saw the famous Berlin walk symbols.  After naptime in the afternoon, we walked around some more and then went to dinner.  Even though it can be expensive, I really liked where we ate.  There was a courtyard entirely surrounded by ivy.
Now that we know the surrounding area, we plan to venture to the government district today.  I slept really well last night, so I should not have trouble adjusting to the time change now.  More to come hopefully, but the hotel computers are in high demand.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Easter Blessings

It seems only coincidental and somewhat inconvenient that I would be leaving the day after Easter, but I have grown to like the idea.  I will get to celebrate one of the most joyous holidays before embarking on an extended trip.  As a part of Lent, I made efforts to pray more and attend mass more often.  During these times, I was able to calm any fears and anxiety I had about the trip and I now feel strangely at ease.  I am ready to go! (Well, after I pack at least)  Since this time abroad will be different than last year's religious trip to Brazil, I have found some ways to keep my faith in mind while I am in Germany.  I will take time to pray at every meal, every night, and every time I travel.  I will also make extra efforts to visit churches when possible.
I feel very blessed.  I have had a wonderful college experience, but my days left at WKU are limited.  Student teaching was a great experience and I was able to meet some inspiring teachers and some fantastic students.  I am going to spend tonight with some amazing friends before they head home for Easter.  I am so thankful for all of them.  Then I get to spend Easter with my amazing family.  Only 3 more days!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Only 2 more weeks

Now I am only 2 and a half weeks out.  I have been trying to gather gifts for host families and students.  I am also finalizing my packing list to make sure I have everything I need.  I have started counting the days.  As my student teaching work finishes up, I am beginning to feel more at ease.  Now that I have more behind me, I can get more excited about the trip.  Hotels have been booked for our weekend travel.  We are going to Fussen for one night to see the castles and hike in the Alps, and then Munich for 2 nights to visit tourist attractions there.  I am even excited about riding in trains.  I will write again when it is closer to fly time.