Nürnberg: eine Stadt Führung

Day 3, 2009: A City Tour
nurntour5I woke up at 2:30am with the songs from the choir concert and German voices running through my head. Swear I was about to go insane at one point. My group and I met at the Box at 7:45am to go on a tour of Nürnberg with Herr Birkelbach. Herr Reynolds, our American chaperone, was nowhere to be seen. Since neither chaperone had shown up by 8am, we decided to explore the city on our own. A small group of us headed back after 15-20 minutes of exploring–after all, we didn’t know the city at all and wouldn’t be able to get back if we got lost. Everyone was present at 9:15am and we were finally able to start our tour!

Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg was the first part of our tour. I think it’s wonderful how college tuition in Germany is free. All you have to pay for is room & board, but even that’s not too expensive. We also passed by the House of Tucher. The Tuchers were one of the richest families in Germany because of all the breweries they owned. They bought up all the land outside of the Nürnberger Wall (Nuremberg City wall) at insanely low prices through insider trading. Apparently quite the scandal at the time. 

nurntourHerr Birkelbach also explained to us how German license plates work: basically the bigger the city, the shorter the abbreviation. For example, Nürnberg’s is just “N” but Roßtal’s would be “Roß”. The blue part of the license plate tells you which country the car is from, so D = Deutschland, S = Spanien, F = Frankenreich (France)…usw (“und so weiter”, the equivalent of etc.). There’s also a little clock sticker that tells you when you have to take the car back to be checked.

We also went to the Kaiserburg, an ancient castle where all the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation lived between 1050 and 1571. The climb up the cobblestones was steeper than I wanted it to be. On the way up, we stopped by the dried moat and Herr Birkelbach told us the story of a man who was sentenced to death but given one last wish. His last wish was to ride his horse one more time. Once he was on the horse, the two of them jumped over the moat and city wall; his horse left hoof print on the wall. We all rubbed it for luck! Up in the towers of the castle are shafts where soldiers could shoot arrows from any angle when the castle was under siege. It’s presently used by the people who work at the castle to shoot spit balls at tourists (HAHA).

nurntour3Our tour led us across the Pegnitz River, which runs through the city. We then went into the St. Lorenzkirche, a medieval church dedicated to Saint Lawrence. No pictures were allowed, unfortunately! Also short stops on our tour were the Frauenkirche (Our Lady’s Church) and Bauermarkt (farmer’s market). The Bauermarkt was enormous! Took up the entire square in front of the Frauenkirche; a sea of red-and-white-striped tents. Fresh fruit everywhere~.

nurntour2The last official stop on the tour was the Schönbrünn (Beautiful Fountain). Welded through the gaps in the fencing around the fountain is a bronze ring–legend says if you spin it twice, you’ll find success in love! The backstory of the ring began with a young blacksmith’s apprentice who fell in love with the mayor’s daughter. The mayor exiled the apprentice because he thought his daughter was too good for him. Yet the apprentice returned in the shade of night and welded the ring to prove his worthiness as blacksmith. The lovers eloped soon after. There are currently two rings on the fountain, but only one is real.

We had free time after seeing the Schönbrünn to visit the area nearby and were given an allowance. Game changer. Each of us were given €25 to spend on anything we wanted to. I didn’t have time to buy any souvenirs or visit the Frauenkirche in the time given. Something more important was to happen: we were to meet the mayor of Nürnberg at the Rathaus (city hall, literally means “Advice House”). It was such a nice reception! There were drinks and large plates of Belegtebrot (slices of bread with meat & cheese on it). The mayor welcomed us to Nürnberg, and someone from each of the American groups (there were 5) had to go up to talk a bit to show our appreciation for the sponsorship provided.

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When my Gastmutter picked me up afterwards, we went home for some delicious tomato/bell pepper ragout she had made for lunch. Happy belly. Then we went to Charlotte’s graduation ceremony. German graduation ceremonies all start with church service, or Gottesdienst. It was held at the Frauenkirche; there was a short sermon, and some worship and prayer. nurnday3The reception was back at the Rathaus, where I tried some Sekt (Champagne). Didn’t like it too much, so I stuck with apple cider.

Also met Clara’s grandparents, who were sweet. I fell asleep during the ceremony because there were way too many speeches, and the 5 hour walking tour had wiped me out…It was a cute scene when all the students gave presents to their teachers and finally received their Abitur. Charlotte got a €1,000 Stipendium (scholarship money) because she received one of the top grades in her class. Yay!

My Gastfamilie (host family) and I then went to the Schießhaus, a restaurant where there was a huge buffet and party for all the graduating students and their families. There wasn’t any vegetarian food 😦 other than dessert and fruit. Really delicious though. And I finally got to meet Konrad, my Gastbruder (host brother)! He’s about 3-4 years older than Charlotte (I think?).

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Nürnberg: Gymnasium

Day 2, 2009: 

gym2Summer nights in Germany are cold, at least in my room. I was unfortunately awake at 3:30am by jetlag. My first day of German high school! Frühstück (breakfast) in Germany consists mainly of toast with marmalade or nutella, and butter, paired with a cup of coffee or tea. Pretty simple. My Gastvater (host father) packed me and Clara snacks for school: freshly-baked brownies…mmmm. We rode the 6:40am train and arrived in Nürnberg around 7:10am. The Gymnasium was about a 5 minute walk away.

I spent the morning with the group of American students I flew with, and met my German chaperone, Herr Birkelbach. Clara and Charlotte swooned every time he spoke because it was like melted dark chocolate: so deep and velvety. Haha. Our group met at “der schwarze Box” (the black box), a flat-faced 3-story building painted all black. Inside der schwarze Box was a foosball table, a ping pong table, a computer lab, a super sweet sound system…list goes on. My favorite place in dem Box was the “chill-Eck” (chill corner), a rest area with bean bags, books, and games.

libI then went to Chemistry with Clara–thankfully it was only an hour of confusion in trying to understand orbitals in German. We had a “Pause” (break) for 15-minutes after Chemistry. Since Clara needed to go to choir rehearsal, I went to her friend Sarah’s German class. Man what a raucous class! Students walked in and out as they pleased; if we did that at my high school, we’d get penalties. Got to read Oedipus in German, which was a surprisingly easy read.

My group and I were treated to a tour of the school when we were done shadowing our host sisters/brothers. Melanchthon is about 500 years old, with a “secret” vault in the library that held valuable books. They had everything from first edition copies of Shakespeare’s plays and early editions of Dante and Voltaire.

German school days end around 12:30–so short! We got home around 1:30pm, just in time for lunch. My Gastmutter made this tasty fettucine alfredo with fresh zucchini:alfredo

I later helped Charlotte bake a cake for her graduation ceremony and dry the dishes. With about an hour or two before Clara’s concert, my Gasteltern (host parents) took me on a small excursion through Nürnberg. It was adorable how much my Gastvater loves chocolate and tea; we went through every shop selling either (or both) as we explored. To quote my Gastmutter, “he’s in his element”.

We passed the Ehekarussell (Marriage Carousel) when we were walking around. My Gastvater explained to me that the Ehekarussell was created in the spirit of the poem “Bitter-Sweet Married Life” by Hans Sachs. The poem basically follows marriage through the first stages of passionate love to disputes and struggles, all the way until death. The work starts with beautiful and youthful figures and gradually deteriorates into old, weary souls.

nurnbergThe concert was wonderful! Great orchestra, the kids’ choir was sweet, and Clara sounded wonderful. Lots of wonderful solos too. To be honest, I struggled to stay awake for much of the concert because of how early I had woken up…

 

Nürnberg: First Impressions

Day 1, 2009:

My host family greeted me with bear hugs and a beautiful bouquet of flowers at the airport. The shock–from landing in an entirely different country, speaking a language I didn’t grow up with, and living with a family I had never met–finally hit me and left me awkwardly speechless for most of the car ride. Beyond being absolutely wonderful and warm people, my host family was so…tall. I believe the shortest person, my host sister Charlotte, was 5’8″. Verrückt (Crazy)!

I followed Clara, my other Gastschwester (host sister), to  her high school, Melanchthon Gymnasium. A Gymnasium is a type of high school that runs from 5th to 13th grade (if I remember correctly, but correct me if I’m wrong). Final year students such as Charlotte have to take the Abitur (final exam) before moving onto university. The Abitur, or “Abi”, contains all the grades of the student and essentially dictates what major students are allowed to study in university. 1 is the highest grade possible for a Gymansium graduate, which means you can become a doctor. Anything below a 1,3 or 1,4 on your Abitur and you can basically forget about every becoming a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. Rough.

gymThe celebration at the end of testing probably parallels the intensity and competitiveness of Gymnasium: this was probably the craziest party I had been to at that point. Water guns filled with beer, fights with balloons filled with beer or water, streamers, DJs blasting electronica/house music, live bands jamming to Tokio Hotel, drunk soon-to-be-graduates dancing and singing sloppily on stage, and a smokin’ BBQ. In short: college.

My favorite part of their Gymnasium was an abandoned streetcar that the students had refurbished and turned into a cafe serving drinks and snacks during recess. Genius. The outside was decorated in graffiti and paintings, while the inside retained the rusty, antique quality of the old streetcar. After spending a good hour or so meeting all of Charlotte and Clara’s friends, I followed Clara to choir practice. They sounded so good! Their set list was West Side Story. 🙂

rosstalThe sun was barely setting at 6pm, which was when we took the U-Bahn (subway) to the Nürnberg Hauptbahnhof (main train station). From there we took the classic and ever-romantic choo-choo-train all the way home: Roßtal-Wegbrücke. Roßtal-Wegbrücke is about 25 minutes from the heart of Nürnberg. Basically in the countryside. Bayern (Bavaria) is breathtakingly idyllic: green pastures and wheat fields, small ponds lined by trees and a quaint bench at the edge, rolled up bales of hay with cows roaming about. We chugged past tiny, brick houses, with potted flowers on the balcony or fresh laundry breezily dancing on a line hanging by the window. Cobblestone streets paved the way to houses several hundred years old, with bakeries sprinkled in between. They even had their own history museum! 

haus2I can’t lie about feeling slightly uncomfortable about our house being next to a cemetery. But if I was to spend a month here, I couldn’t let superstition get the best of me! They had a huge backyard blooming with flowers and fruit trees (peach, apple, cherry, lemon…etc.). They even had blueberry and blackberry bushes! Clara showed me to my room, which was the only room downstairs in the house. Everyone else lived upstairs, where the kitchen and bathroom are located. My room was so adorable and quaint! A fully-stocked bookshelf, a small table with a silver teapot, cup, and silver tray. Soft pastel colors–lilac and mint green–decorated the room. There were no curtains shading the window, but the rose bushes outside hopefully saved me from giving outsiders a peepshow…

hausFor dinner, my Gastmutter (host mother) made Pfannkuchen. They’re the German equivalent of crepes and delicious! I smothered mine in Nutella and homemade jam that Clara’s grandmother made from the berries picked from their garden. What a huge selection, too! Raspberry, strawberry, peach…something to dream about. And then my Gastmutter brought in something I–to this day–have not been able to forget and doubt I ever will: freshly-picked strawberries. Nothing like the lipstick red ones in the US; these were half the size and very pink. More like raspberries than strawberries. But boy were they the absolute sweetest and most delicious strawberries I’ve had in memory. You could pop them in your mouth like M&M’s. Paired with the strawberries was Schlagsahne, German whipped cream. Schlagsahne is more liquid than the one familiar to Americans, and much lighter. What a perfect meal.

My first day ended with watching Friends and Grey’s Anatomy with Clara  and my Gastmutter, while we all sipped on one of the 30 varieties of tea my Gastvater (host father) has in the kitchen cabinet. I feel like I should also add that their kitchen is essentially my dream kitchen:  knotty, wooden shelves and tables, cookbooks stacked high, sugars and spices of all kinds hanging around, home-grown vegetables on the window sill…

NYC to Frankfurt, 2009

It was truly a blessing waking up at 10:30am my third morning in NYC, given that I had been sleeping only 3 hours a day since arriving. That wonderful NY bagel that was waiting for me in the fridge was finally toasted and devoured. Definitely lived up to all the crazy hype surrounding it. I do not exaggerate when I say that it legitimately took me over 30 minutes to finish my one bagel because of how chewy it was. My jaw was sore for a good while after breakfast.

And then I was shipped off to the airport! Thanked David and Joyce profusely for their generous hospitality and my luxurious NYC experience, before tackling one of the scarier tasks in life: not being socially awkward. I was a very shy kid before college, when it came to meeting complete strangers, and am still quite the introvert. This was daunting: 36 students from all over the United States, whom I share no mutual friends and no relation with at all.

But worries aside, I discovered quickly that these were some of the most open and friendly kids I had met. A group of us played card games to kill the 3.5 hours before our 4 o’ clock Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. I was introduced to Mao: the greatest card game I had played at that time. It is absolutely frustrating if you don’t get it, hilarious if you do. Those of us new to the game were victims of embarrassment: singing requested songs in front of everyone, specific dance moves, whatever the Chairman could torture us with. Our game was interrupted by wailing fire alarms that would not go off for an entire hour. What a relief it was to begin boarding and escape the screeching alarm.

frankfurt

My anticipation to arrive in Germany was exhausted by the 90 minute delay before take-off; there were a ridiculous 13 planes lined up ahead of our flight. LaGuardia definitely became one of the worst airports for me at that point. Then we were off! I sat next to a sweet, elderly German couple. At this point in my life, I was abstaining from cheese (due to animal rennet) and did not want to wonderful block of Swiss served at lunch to go to waste. In my general awkwardness, I said the only thing I could to this German couple: “Wollen Sie meine Käse?” (Would you like my cheese?). And that’s all I had to say about that.

I was ecstatic when we landed in Frankfurt. So ready to get out of the claustrophobic and stiff seats of Lufthansa. Frankfurt wasn’t our end destination–Nürnberg was, and so we had about 90 minutes to explore the beautiful Frankfurt Airport. Everything was sparkling clean and new. It was glorious compared to dratty Newark/LaGuardia and dysfunctional LAX. 

NYC to go, 2009

 

nycviewWe hit essentially every tourist hot spot in the span of a day. I was pretty exhausted, but pretty impressed by how much we covered on foot. First stop included the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. libertyBeing a history buff, David explained to me the story behind the Merchant Mariners statue. All I remember,unfortunately, is that the Merchant Mariners are people who can use civilian ships for battle during wartime. The Statue of Liberty was essentially a 10-minute viewing session when we got off the ferry. There was construction on the statue happening and the top of the Statue was closed until July. Ellis Island Museum had some pretty cool things, such as the holographic flag of the US that transitioned into a wall of faces of the different immigrants who came to the US.

ellisWhat stuck with me most from the museum, as I walked through the corridors of each exhibit, was the poem, “The Sweatshop” by Morris Rosenfeld. When I think of my time at Ellis Island, that is the one distinct memory I have–a glimpse into the bleak labor conditions of the Lower East Side garment factories.

 

The machines are so wildly noisy in the shop
That I often forget who I am.
I get lost in the frightful tumult —
My self is destroyed, I become a machine.
I work and work and work endlessly —
I create and create and create
Why? For whom? I don’t know and I don’t ask.
What business has a machine thinking?

You can find the rest of it here.

After returning from Ellis Island, we lunched at Jean Georges in one of the Trump Towers, near Columbus Circle/the southeast corner of Central Park. Little did I know at the time that I was dining at a 3-star Michelin restaurant. Had I known, I would have eaten my food more slowly instead of inhaling it. Missed opportunities! It was incredibly unfortunate, however, that Jean Georges does not cater to vegetarians at all.

jeangeorgesThere were literally only two dishes on the entire menu that were vegetarian-friendly: warm asparagus salad and green pea soup. Best pea soup I’ve ever had. Ever. EVER. Presentation and taste for the two dishes was indeed top-notch, albeit not filling in the least. Wonderful macarons as well, and a beautiful rasperry sorbet topped with a delicate lavender sugar crisp. I left pretty hungry. Would not pay $30 for soup and salad at this place again.

jeangeorges2

After lunch, David and I walked through Central Park and Central Park Zoo. If there’s one thing I had to love about New York City, it’s Central Park. animalsWhat a beautiful green space! Never had I imagined that there could be a park of this magnitude and size in a city so congested with people, concrete, smoke, and grime. The zoo was tiny but housed a surprisingly diverse array of animals. Snow leopards, polar bears and toucans, oh my! David was incredibly bemused and amused by the amount of pictures I was taking.

After the zoo, it only made sense to walk down the famous Saks 5th Avenue. It was pretty much as I expected–lots of high-end clothing shops. Our stroll also included swinging by the Guggenheim on 90th Street, which was celebrating its 50th anniversary at the time.

guggThe major architect on exhibit was Frank Lloyd Wright, whose work I can honestly say did not resonate with me. Even more confusing and less pleasant to look at (for me) was the other Trump Tower–gilded in shiny brass and gold from floor to ceiling. Truly an eyesore like no other.

darbar

By evening, my body was ready from food. 4+ hours of walking with only a cup of soup and salad for sustenance had swept away whatever energy I had. Darbar Grill was where we ate dinner; my first experience with Indian food and certainly not the last! The food was absolutely delish. We had some potato naan, vegetable biryani, and lentil curry (or soup? can’t quite remember). I left with my belly much satisfied.

Hello NYC?, 2009

I know I’ve written a lot about my travels through Asia, so I decided to switch it up briefly with a series of journal entries I kept when I lived in Germany for a month with a host family. 🙂 

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Before the 11th grade/junior year of high school, I had never been away from home or family. Never been to summer camp, music camp, overnight school field trips. Sleepovers were always at my house. Traveling alone was this amorphous, grey monster that I wasn’t sure if I was ready to tackle. Yet there was absolutely no way I was passing up a scholarship-sponsored opportunity to live in Germany for a month at no cost to me. There were a total of 36 students funded by this amazing scholarship program, sponsored by the American Association of Teachers of German, and we were all to fly out to Germany together from NYC. I decided it would be fun to arrive in NYC early and get to see one of the most famous cities of the world first-hand.

So I stood at the entryway for security check at LAX, tears in my eyes, waving goodbye to my parents for the very first time. Only my iPod to keep me company. My cousin David picked me up from Newark and we rode the train from Newark into Manhattan. I was surprised by how run down buildings in Newark were, and how dated the train system was. The cascade of rain and gusts only added to the gloominess of the scenery. This was not SoCal.

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SO MANY TAXIS.

David and his wife, Joyce, treated me to bibimbap at this hole-in-the-wall Korean place. Delicious! I hadn’t had bibimbap in years and remember taking the business card…can’t remember the name of the place anymore though. 😦 They had delicious kimchi pancake as well. Mmm. We later stopped by a takoyaki shop since Joyce was craving them, and a bagel shop with over 30 different kinds of cream cheese! It was amazing to smell and see the infamous New York bagels. Breakfast for the next day: done.

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Big surprise at the end of the day was that it was David’s birthday! What a good man–inviting me to his home, housing me, and feeding me when it was his birthday we should have been celebrating. Joyce brought out a beautiful taro cake when we returned home and we all sang Happy Birthday. Even Buttermilk, their little tabby with sparkling, emerald eyes, meow’d along.

buttermilk

here kitty, kitty

First impression of NYC: hectic, a little grungy, pretty exciting. 🙂