Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The End of the Trip

The final few days in Germany seem like a blur.  I spent a lot of time with my host family and the pace was much more relaxed.  On Sunday morning I ate breakfast with the host family and gave them my gifts.  They really liked the Big Red stuffed doll.  We left around 3:30 to visit castle Nordkirchen.  The building is now used a school, but it looked really impressive from the inside.  They had an English tour scheduled for us which was really nice.  The highlight of the tour was the chapel because all of the other rooms had no furniture.  The tour was mostly descriptions of the paintings on the walls.  It definitely was not as impressive as Neuschwanstein, but the tour was more informative.  Sunday evening was the barbecue with the other host families.  I got to meet the people other student teachers were living with.  We also ate some really good food.  The weather was so cold, however, we had to stay inside.
The next week we were back at Anne Frank instead of the elementary school.  I did not have to be at class until 11:40, so I spent the morning working on job applications.  I was actually very productive.  My host grandmother who speaks no English took me, Kayla, and Jennay to Werne because buses don't run that late.  I did not have to teach today and we were finished after one class.  A group of us were going to go shopping in Dortmund, but Kayla and I decided to tour around Herbern a bit.  I had not really had the chance to see the town - I was always on a bus.  I liked walking through the streets and going into the stores.  It is a really small town surrounded by farmland.  I also spent some time with Kayla's family that afternoon playing piano and dancing with the Wii.  That night I introduced my family to Skyline Chili.  We had coneys.  Since they did not have any shredded cheddar cheese, we had to put gouda cheese on top, but it still turned out okay.  My host family liked them.
On Tuesday I was able to teach more.  I really like doing group work with the students.  We would help them correct English papers or write a new English text.  We also led short activities in their English books.  After school I went with Kayla and Chris to Dortmund.  It is not really a tourist town but it does have a lot of stores.  The biggest things we saw were a super cool humongous teeter-totter and the town's soccer stadium.  We spent a lot of time browsing the stores and finding last minute souvenirs.  I intended to use the last day of my 5-day rail pass on this trip, but we went the whole day without getting ticket-checked.  Upon return home that night I went on a walk with Ursula, Esther, and the family dog Dublin.  The farmland area is really pretty.
Most of Wednesday at school was spent finishing our video project.  We were asked to make a video to be shown at WKU as promotion, so we were busy adding pictures and music.  Lauren, Kelli, Kayla, and I were the only student teachers to stay for lunch.  We had a farewell from the teachers in the morning and then everyone was allowed to leave.  After lunch we walked to downtown Werne and got our last look at all of the German supermarkets and stores.  I spent the rest of the evening playing games and watching movies with my host family.  I will miss them.  I was packing until 11 and we left for the airport at 3 in the morning.
The journey home took much longer than expected.  We were already dreading the long layovers and our last flight was cancelled making the journey even more exhausting.  Sleeping in an airport is not fun.  The trip was all worth it, however.  I have seen a lot, taught a lot, and learned a lot as a result of this trip.  I hope my experience can inspire others to go abroad.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Cologne and the Weekend

Friday was our last day at the elementary school.  It was very bittersweet.  We helped all of the students make Mother's Day cards in English.  We also had enough pennies to share with every student.  I could tell that they really enjoyed spending time with us.  As we left at the end of the day, many of the students were chasing us down the street and waving.  We had to go straight to the train station after school for our trip to Cologne.  The group of travelers included me and my host mother, Kayla and her host sister, and Jennay and her host sister.  It is easy to plan trips together since we all live near Herbern.  The train ride took an hour and 40 minutes and then we were pulling into the station.  The town's main train station is right next to the cathedral.  Upon arrival we met up with my host mother's nephew and his friend.  They both attend college in nearby Dusseldorf and they were going to be our tour guides for the day.  The weather was very threatening but the rain held off for our entire visit.  We started at the cathedral.  The churches are always right in the center of town, and there is only a sidewalk's length between it and the other buildings.  It is hard to get a picture of the enormous building when the other buildings are so close.  There is no such thing as a church parking lot - it seems that everyone walks or rides a bike if they want to attend mass.  It seems to be a trend in old churches that the bishops and priests were buried behind and under the altars.  We looked at all of these graves.  Additionally, this church allegedly houses bones from the 3 kings offering gifts to Jesus in the manger.  The bones are kept in a gold box behind the altar.  After touring the inside, this church allows people to climb the tower, so we did that next.  I had heard from the previous student teachers in Germany that the climb is challenging, so I was prepared.  There are 509 curling steps from bottom to top.  It reminded me of climbing lighthouses in Michigan.  It was very tight and hard to pass people who were coming down.  There were two places along the way where you could rest.  One of them showed the bells of the cathedral, and I jumped when they started to ring.  The view from the top was amazing.
 The church has two towers at the front and we were in one of them.  I could see to the other tower and it looked like they were installing an elevator, but it was not yet finished.  Even if there was an elevator, I would have preferred the stairs.  That is something you do not get to do very often.  Upon returning to the ground my legs were twitching.  Surprisingly I am not sore from the climb, but others were not so lucky.  After the church we walked to a nearby bridge which crosses the Rhine river.  It is the bridge we used to enter the town on the train.  All trains have to cross the bridge to the station.  It has become a tradition to place locks on this bridge.  Most of the locks are placed by couples who want to remember their wedding day.  We wondered if there was a divorce if the couple would come back and remove the lock.  We tried to find the oldest lock on the bridge, and we found one from 1961.  It would take several days to look at every lock - the bridge is covered!  In some places there would be a chain, and then even more locks would be attached.  You can see the locks in this picture with the cathedral in the background.
For the rest of the visit we walked along the Rhine and into the town a bit.  It is a very old town - the city hall dates back to the 900s.  Unfortunately the chocolate factory had closed for the day, but it was still cool to see all of the restaurants and shops along the river.  The nephew has researched facts about the buildings and history and he shared them all with us.  We did not get back to Werne until 11:30 that night.  I really enjoyed the town.
On Saturday we had some information sessions in town to educate us about teaching in Germany. We learned how the college classes and student teaching programs work and compared them to the U.S.  We discovered that student teachers get paid in Germany, but they also have to go to school for longer.  It is harder to get accepted into a college, and all college students have to master Latin before they can begin their program.  After eating some delicious pizza together, we had someone come and show us games we can use in our future classrooms.  Although her games are usually meant to teach English, we found some ways to adapt them for other subjects.  At the end of the day a member of parliament came to talk to us.  I learned a lot throughout the day.  It was also good to see everyone again.  The 10 of us were sharing stories about our adventures and our plans for the rest of our stay.  We finished around 4 and I spent the rest of the night with my family.  I was able to attend church with them.  I am glad that all Catholic masses are the same and I could follow the mass as it progressed.  I really enjoy making comparisons between American and foreign masses.  I noticed that there was not a second reading.  It was also cool to see some of my elementary students at church.  When they saw me they waved energetically.  After that we went to a barbecue with family.  I met my host mother's sister and her family.  We ate pulled pork sandwiches which were really good.
Today is going to be more relaxed.  The only plans are a tour of a castle at 4:00 and then a barbecue tonight with all of the student teachers and host families.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Week of Teaching

I have really enjoyed this week in Germany.  There has been much less traveling and more interactions with the people here.  I love to interact with the elementary students.  It has been really fun teaching the lessons.  We taught the 1st and 2nd graders about body parts using pointing and lots of repetition.  Then they sang "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" while I played the piano.  Since the 1st and 2nd graders are still learning how to read in German, we are not allowed to use any English text.  All learning has been verbal.  The 3rd and 4th graders are learning about family vocabulary.  They draw a picture of their family and then we discuss in small groups.  On the second day of classes, the students came to our room during recess and begged us to come outside and play.  I played "Fangen" which is  the German form of Tag.  I want to suggest a different game tomorrow because they always chase me!  Soccer is also a common game on the playground. The elementary students use simpler German words to speak to each other, so I have been able to understand them often.  They keep asking me to talk more in German.  Yesterday after our classes at the school in Herbern, we went to an elementary school in Werne to do some activities with the students there.  We were able to play some very fun games.  All of the teachers are very nice and welcoming.
This week was my first chance to really spend time with my host family.  They have been serving delicious food!  I offer to help prepare dinner but they do not let me, so it is like I am at a restaurant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  In Germany it is the season for spargel, which is white asparagus.  I had so much at dinner last night that I could not eat anymore today.  They put this really good cheese/butter sauce on top.  Breakfast is always bread and jam.  My host mother has some homemade jam from a fruit I cannot name.  Here is a picture of me and my host sisters Esther and Judith.  We are about to eat some ice cream.
The family also has a piano, so I have been able to play some songs.  Judith and my host mother are both very good pianists, and they played some songs for me on Tuesday - it was very relaxing.  It turns out that I only took one trip this week.  On Tuesday one of the host mothers wanted to take the 3 Herbern teachers to a nearby coal mining museum.  They had a very realistic replica of a German coal mine that we were able to tour.  They showed how all of the mining machinery works.  It was fairly interesting, but I would have liked it more if the tour was in English.  The host mother had to translate some for us.  Last night I watched "Rock It" with my host sisters (with English subtitles).  Judith described it as the German High School Musical, and that is a pretty accurate description.  I really enjoyed relaxing with them.  The big trip of the week will be tomorrow.  I will be going to Cologne with Kayla, her host sister, Jennay, and her host sister.  I know there is a big cathedral and a chocolate factory, but I do not know what else we will do.

Monday, May 5, 2014

First Day at Elementary School

Heike has been organizing our trip to Germany, and she came to the elementary school today to help us begin our lessons.  She took some pictures and shared them with us.  Our school is in Herbern, closer to my host family.  Today we only had 2 classes.  It turns out that we will see all of the children at the school at least 2 times this week.  Three of us have been placed at this school and we were given our own classroom where the students will visit.  For the first time with each class, we are going to teach about the American Flag, as you can tell in the picture.  The students were able to count the stripes and color their own flag.
We have been trying to plan what to teach for the rest of the week.  We decided to focus on learning body parts, family vocabulary, and then an activity for Mother's Day.  It is a challenge to plan because the first grade students only know numbers, colors, and simple phrases in English.  Thankfully, their classroom teacher stays in the room to translate when necessary.  I know already that I will like this much better than the school in Werne.  We have a lot of independence and the three of us are putting our heads together to come up with ideas.
The weather was sunny and warm today, so I was able to go on a bike ride with my host family this afternoon.  We spent much longer on the bike than I expected, but I really enjoyed the ride.  They have been so nice.  Tonight I have had the most free time ever (hence three blog posts at once), but the rest of the week already looks busy.  The host families are constantly planning small trips to take after school.  They want to show us around and do a lot of things with us.  We also have group activities in Werne planned for Thursday and Friday.  Hopefully I will still have time to update you this week.


We arrived in Munich around 6:00pm on Friday.  We instantly started searching for our hostel.  There were 5 of us and none had ever stayed in a hostel before.  It was really close to the train station. 
Other than the fact that no towels are provided and we had to make our own beds, it was not a bad experience.  The rooms are made for 6 people with one bathroom.  We were all together, and both nights we had another person sleep in the room too.  We never met these people because they went to sleep before we returned and left before we got up.  Each person has a locker in the room to put things while away, and there was a really cool conservatory room in the middle where people could go relax.  We had a picnic in there once, and we played cards in their one night.
So Friday night we went to the famous Hofbrauhaus.  It was very crowded and we were really lucky to get a seat.  I really liked the place.  It was much cleaner and spacious than I imagined.  The food was amazing!  Every time we ate at a restaurant in south Germany, the food was unbelievably good.  There is a large pedestrian street that runs through the middle of Munich.  There are many shops and churches along the street.  It was not hard to walk to and from the Hofbrauhaus and back to the hostel that night.
On Saturday we went first to the Deutsches Museum.  If you have been to the Air and Space Museum in D.C., it reminded me of that.  There were a lot of model airplanes and boats showing the progression of technology.  There were also rooms devoted to toys, paper, glasswork, and ceramics.  My favorite room, however, was the music room.  They had two pipe organs and a lady was in there practicing songs.  I was very surprised when my request to play came back positive.  I played the pipe organ shown below (it was the older of the two) and it was amazing.

 After the museum, we went to the soccer stadium (Allianz Arena).  Soccer is a big deal in Germany, but I could not take much interest because I am not a soccer player.  Munich has a soccer team and there was a huge fan store on site.  The stadium looked really cool.  Since it was out of town a bit, we did not get back until around 3:30.  Next we did some shopping in the stores along the pedestrian path.  Although it was very cold and rainy all day, there were still a lot of people out in the streets.  I found the cuckoo clock store to be most interesting.

 We also went into some churches in the downtown area.  The town cathedral usually allows people into their bell tower, but unfortunately it was closed for construction.  Being a Saturday night, many of the churches were having evening services around this time.  Within each church I heard the pipe organs and choirs.  It was very pretty.  I wish all the churches in America were more like the churches here.  All of them are finely decorated and include magnificent pipe organs.  We also saw the Glockenspiel this evening.  The town hall in Munich has a large cuckoo clock where characters dance around at the top of the hour.  A lot of people were gathered on the square to watch despite the weather.  We all wanted to experience a beer garden while we were in town.  The Hirschgarten is the biggest beer garden in the world.  We called ahead to make sure they had indoor seating (because it was so cold outside) and then we went.  I wish the weather could have been better so we could have head the real experience, but our indoor experience was just as nice.  I took a glimpse outside at the many tables for seating.  It seemed enormous!
Finally on Sunday we visited a concentration camp.  Dachau was only 15 minutes outside of Munich.  It was one of the bigger camps in Germany.  To enter, you walk through the gate and most of the exterior walls were still intact.  The main hall of the camp is now the museum.  As you walk through you are shown where the prisoners would bathe and eat.  The contents of the museum were similar to the Holocaust museum in D.C.  There were a lot of pictures and descriptions of their daily life in the camp.  Behind the museum was the camp's jail.  Prisoners who were misbehaving or did not do their work would be put in jail cells.  It was really hard to walk through the halls and not feel something. Some rooms in the jail had pictures of who used to stay there.  All of the sleeping quarters had been destroyed, but 2 of them were recreated.  The worst part of the memorial was the crematory and gas chamber near the back of the camp.  Both were original.  I saw models of these things at the Holocaust museum in D.C., but it is very different to see the real thing.  I still think I have not fully processed the fact that I stood in an actual gas chamber where innocent people were killed.  It is hard to write about, but you can ask if you would like more details about my experience there.

Our train home left from Munich around 2:00.  I was not as stressed about travel this time, but we also had less transfers.  The seats we reserved for this train ended up being a private room with a table.  The 5 of us were able to reflect on the trip and play some cards.  The train was late again, so we had to wait a little longer before catching the train to Werne.  I arrived back home around 9pm Sunday.  It was good to be back.

Kempten and Fussen

I have returned safely to Werne from a weekend of travel.  We accomplished a lot in 4 days.  I am going to make two different posts to help organize my thoughts.  I was very stressed about the train travel, and I knew I would be.  I was constantly anxious about making the next train in time.  We left Wednesday at 4:00 on the way to Kempten.  The family friend, Rainer, lives there and we were going to stay with him for a night before continuing to Fussen.  Our high speed train got up to 290 km/hr at some times.  There was bad weather, however, so we were delayed and missed the next transfer.  I was very stressed, but thankfully we were able to catch another train to Kempten that left an hour later.  We got to Kempten at 11:30pm.  Rainer is approximately 50 years old and lives alone.  He picked us up at the station and brought us to his house.  He is very nice.  He gave us a place to sleep and breakfast in the morning.  What we did not expect was his offer to tour us around Kempten.  Kempten is the supposedly the oldest town in Germany.  We were able to see some very old buildings and churches.  Part of one building was from the 1200s.  I cannot wrap my mind around the age - it was built 500 years before America even became a country.  Then he brought us to the train station for our train to Fussen, but he surprised us again when he insisted on driving us to Fussen.  So we all piled in his car (it was only meant for 5 people so we had 4 smushed in the back) and went to Fussen.  I went on the Autobahn to Munster on Tuesday, but this time Rainer drove faster.  We got up to 205 km/hr.  We arrived at our hotel around 11.  We were going to stow our bags before touring the town, but Rainer surprised us again by offering to stay and hike with us.  I highly doubt we would have been able to find this hike without him.  The hike started at the foot of the alps and followed a stream up the mountain and around Neuschwanstein.  A portion of the hike was a sort of bridge sticking out from the rock over the water.

At the end of the hike we were able to go on the famous Marienbrucke bridge that overlooks Neuschwanstein.  The view was unreal.  The bridge was very high over the waterfall.  It was fairly crowded because this was a holiday weekend in Germany.  We spent a good amount of time on the hike taking pictures.  It was a pretty day.  We also were able to drink some of the Alpine water from the stream.  When we got back to the car, something was mentioned about Austria, so Rainer surprised us again and offered to take us to Austria.  So for the next few hours we got a private car tour through the Austrian Alps.  We stopped at the Plansee overlooking the mountains to eat lunch.  I had some delicious Mac and Cheese there.  We also stopped in a small village that reminded me a lot of Gatlinburg between the Smokies (only this was between the Alps and much better).  Rainer did not head home until around 6 that night.  That evening we settled in the hotel and ate at a local pub.

The next day (Friday) we got up early to take a bus up to the castles.  We were able to reserve tickets through the hotel and it is a good thing we did because the ticket line was forever long.  The weather was not as pretty today.  I am sure we could not see many mountains because the clouds were so low.  We took time to browse in the tourist shops and walk around the smaller castle (Howenschwangau) that King Ludwig lived in as a boy.  Our tour of Neuschwanstein was at 1:00.  Although the inside of the castle was very impressive, it was actually a lot smaller than it looks from the outside.  There were tours coming through every 5 minutes, so we could only stay in each room for a very short time.  Pictures in the castle were not allowed, so I wish I had more time to study the artwork and designs.  Every inch of every wall and ceiling was covered in the decoration.  We saw the throne room, bedroom, living room, and ballroom.  King Ludwig was probably religious because he had his own private chapel near the bedroom.  He also liked operas because many of the wall paintings depicted operas.  The king only lived there for less than 200 days before he died.  The 2nd floor of the castle was never finished (the other rooms were on the 3rd and 4th floors) so now they have a shop and restaurant there.  This was the only place we could take pictures in the castle.  This is a view from the balcony of the castle - you can see the mountains, a city on the right (probably Fussen), and his yellow boyhood castle on the left side hill.

After finishing the tour we left for Munich that afternoon.