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.

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