Dinkelsbühl

Day 19, 07.12.2009

a hearty breakfast of potato salad with parsley and buttered string beans after a late night

It had been a long night. I woke up at 11:15 and was still exhausted. Sleeping late and waking up late just doesn’t work for me. I showered at 12:00pm, which felt so bizarre. My Gastmutter [host mum], Clara, and I went to Ansbach to kill some time while my Gastvater [host dad] visited his mum. We walked around the city, went to a Kirchweih, which is basically a carnival hosted by a church, and ate “gebrannte Mandeln”. Caramelized almonds–crunchy and sweet. After a giant Tüte [bag or cone] full of almonds, my jaws began to lock up from all the chewing.

kirchweihMy host father picked us up and we went to Colmburg. I fell asleep on the way there, still exhausted from the night before. And woke up to the most stunning landscape–a breadth of dense woods, a serene lake in the center, a small island of baby firs floating on the surface. A sheer veil of fog cradled the face of the lake. Then came a lonely white swan, drifting across, downcast and leaving dimples on the water. We zipped past this breathtaking scene, as i fumbled to get my camera to no avail. Beauty is only in passing.

Colmburg is an ancient fortress that sits atop a huge hill and from where you get a fantastic view of the German countryside. There was also a medieval toilet jutting out from the side of the wall of the fortress. You can look up the hole where the people of ye olden days discharged…stuff. What if someone crapped on you while you were walking? I shudder to think.

My Gastvater gave me a break down of the different names for puddle, pond, lake…well, there was an endless number of classifications for bodies of water! My mom finds the English language silly with all the classifications used for big cats (leopards, panthers, cougars, cheetahs, jaguars…etc.). In Chinese they just say 豹 [bao]. She’d have a hoot with German. I also got to see deer everywhere! So exciting! I’d never seen deer in the wild before. They peacefully nibbled on the grassy tufts sprouting along the fortress.colmburgcolmburg fortress

Our next stop was the quaintest town–you could get through all of it in 15 minutes. It’s called Dinkelsbühl. Dinkel + bühl = “spelt hills”. Hills of spelt, roughly? Dinkelsbühl is one of the only remaining walled medieval towns in Germany and one of the many stops along the Romantische Straße [Romantic Road].

dinkelsbuhlRed-tiled roofs bob up and down along the hills, cobblestones pave the way to pointed Gasthäuser [inns] with potted flowers hung over window sills. Because my host father is a huge history buff, he told me about how Dinkelsbühl was saved from destruction during the 30 Year’s War.

There was a woman who gathered all the children of the town and ordered them to stand guard at the front of the fortress, for when the enemy came. And when the enemy reached the city walls, they were met with singing children at the city walls. The commander’s heart softened, and so Dinkelsbühl was spared. Talk about a really gutsy move.

kinderzeche

Kinderzeche is an annual children’s and folklore festival that takes place in July in Dinkelsbühl. The festival celebrates the children of Dinkelsbühl and how they rescued the city during the Thirty Years’ War. Townspeople reenact the story and all participating children are given Schultüte, paper cones filled with goodies.

Rothenburg has an equally fascinating 30 Year’s War story that stays true to the seriousness with which Germans approach their beer. The Bürgermeister [mayor] challenged the leader of the opposing army to a drinking contest. The Burgermeister won, and Rothenburg was spared. Hooray!

Dinkelsbühl has the most delicious strawberry ice cream I have EVER had. It was creamy and thick like gelato, but didn’t have the “milkiness” to it: I could have sworn I was sucking on the juices of the plumpest, perfectly-ripe strawberry.

Before we went home, my Gastfamilie [host family] and I hiked up a rather steep hill, some 600m up. Panoramic view of Bavaria; I could see for kilometers. The plush, verdant landscape of Germany is something that I’ll never tire of.

strawberry ice cream

some afternoon tea and people watching

We passed the American military base on the way home, which made me think of the drunk Americans we ran into my first week in Germany. We got home around 19:30. For dinner we ate German burritos. Germans call them “tacos”. We used tortillas. Whatever you call it, it was delicious! We stuffed them with mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes…and essentially everything you could find in the produce section of a Whole Foods. I awkwardly asked for seconds, even though everyone was full after the first…not that i was actually ashamed at all ;).more german countryside

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Nürnberg: A Wild Housewarming

Day 18, 07.11.2009

Die Einweihungsparty (house-warming party)

We left Berlin today, which was devastating given how much of a blast it was. I was really looking 19forward to playing some more President or Palace, but my friends just wouldn’t shut up about politics. It snowballed from gay marriage to the 2008 election, and eventually spoiled children. I stayed silent for the most part because I felt pretty insecure about my grasp on current events…(shamefully so). The train ride went by pretty quickly otherwise.berlin train home

Once we were back in Nürnberg, Abby said her sister was planning on taking her to the Disko, which I super duper über excited about! Yet when I called Abby about it, she couldn’t give me any details because, well, not even her host sister knew which Disko she wanted to go to! My Gastschwester [host sister], told me that Abby’s host sister can be rather indecisive. So we ended up not going. 😦

house

cute house, right?

Everything turned out alright though, because Conrad, my Gastbrüder [host brother], and his friends picked me and Clara up to go to his house-warming party. They lived in Würzburg. Such a beautiful city! His house was situated on the side of this huge hill, where a fortress sat on the tippity top! Too cool. The hills were decked in miles of vineyards.

It was surprisingly and ridiculously cold that night: around 48F. I was totally unprepared and spent the first hour or so shivering. I was puffing out clouds of condensation. Even after Conrad had given me his jacket and this huge wool blanket, it still felt chilly. Everyone else at the party just sort of smirked at me the way everyone in the world smirks at a Californian who says it’s cold.

I spent time talking to a girlfriend of Conrad’s friend (who drove us to the party). She is a ballroom dancer and is also vegetarian! It was so fun talking to her because we were basically the same person. She and her boyfriend are dance partners, apparently. So cute!

house indoors

I hid in here for about an hour because I was so cold…I think the house was actually colder than outside.

The selection of music at the party was on point. Germans have such great taste in American music–which is kind of a funny sentence now that I read it. They had classics like The Clash and The Who, and newer bands like We Are Scientists (which I adore) and Kings of Leon. There were so many artists to choose from. I’m sure people living at the edge of the hills could hear us with how loudly the music was blasted. Everyone just rocked out around the bonfire. The flames licked the cool air at a height of 7 feet.

And boy do Germans know their bread [das Brot]. Conrad and his friends made phenomenal garlic bread. Oh my god. Crispy baguette, fresh out of the oven, with butter and garlic sauce dripping off the sides. Crunching on a steamy slab of garlic bread in the freezing cold was just perfection.

At one point, Goldfrapp’s “Strict Machine” came on–which is…full of sexual innuendo. One of the guys at the party, who was completely and utterly drunk, started grinding…with a wall. Totally uninhibited and probably unaware his dance partner was made of drywall. Nearly everyone at the party was drunk. The guys were hyperactive monkeys: happily rocking out to music one second, and faux-fighting the next. They kicked poor Miri in the face. There was also some pot-smokin’ going on. People were just rolling up joints like the pretzel dogs getting rolled up at Auntie Anne’s. I never thought of myself as conservative, but the dancing, drinking, and smoking with such wild abandon came as culture shock to me.bonfire

We got home at 3:15am. I dropped dead on the bed. Back at home, I would never go to bed without showering. My mom would flip out and have my entire bedroom quarantined for disinfection. But boy was it liberating to…just…fall…….asleep.

Berlin: Jewish Museum, Reichstag, and KaDeWe

Day 17, 07.10.2009

holocaust towerWe went to the Jüdisches [Jewish] Museum (if you care to read in detail in German), where for the first time my entire trip thus far I could understand the tour guide. She spoke in simple and slow German, whereas the other tour guides we had spoke in frustratingly brisk German.

The museum was architecturally intriguing.There was a room where the ceiling converges into a single corner, leaving you in complete darkness, save for this one shaft of light coming through the tip of the ceiling. The Holocaust-Turm [Tower]. Every decibel resonates through. An incredibly eerie experience of utter loneliness, helplessness, and desperation symbolic of the plight of the Jewish during WWII.

IMG_2791We were given time to walk around the museum on our own and there was a byzantine maze of 49 pillars called the Garden of Exile, or Garten des Exils, that is a must-see exhibit. Steel columns rise 6 metres above you, and the sloping ground makes it seem as if the world is slipping underneath you. Olive trees–a symbol of Peace and Hope in the Jewish tradition–line the corridors. The 48 pillars represent the year the state of Israel was founded in 1948; the 49th pillar in the middle represents Berlin.

There was a special exhibit of literally 10,000 faces made from sheet steel, that looked like the sad masks from Greek theatre. This was called Shalechet – Gefallenes Laub, which translates roughly to “Fallen Leaves”. Each face remembers not only those murdered during the Holocaust, but also all those sacrificed in the war. As you trek through the field of faces, each responds with a resounding clang–thereby giving back these faces their “voices”. A deeply profound and poetic message for many of us. For others, aka one of the guys in our group, a message worth stealing (he took a face!!).

IMG_2799It was pouring–again–when we left, like it had for most of the week in Berlin. We ate lunch at this Turkish restaurant where I had falafel for the first time. I had been missing out on a lot; this stuff was delicious. My friends and I played Mao during the meal, and one of them made us sing a song every time we put a card down. It was terrible. By the 10th card I put down, I had run out of songs and was singing “Mary had a Little Lamb”.

Completely out of context now that it’s been 6 years—but my travel diary noted that one of the guys called one of the girls a “fat f*k” and that we females served him a solid verbal beating. I would hope all men know this by now, but never call a girl fat, especially to her face.

IMG_2802We then went to the Reichstag and were forced to sit through this 2-hour long speech about how German politics work. It could have been interesting if I could understand the speaker and if she didn’t speak in a monotone. I fell asleep multiple times, jerking myself awake, as did those who weren’t even in our group. There were a lot of sleeping old people.

After the speech we got to go up Die Kuppel, a glass dome that overlooks Berlin’s cityscape. The dome symbolizes that the people are above the government, in contrast to National Socialism. We actually had to go through security check before we were let into the Reichstag; my friend with the metal contraband from the Jüdisches [Jewish] Museum set the metal detector off. When we were leaving, he got the face back from the security people, who had a good laugh about it.reichstag

H. Birkelbach gave us our last 10 Euros of the trip for dinner because we had free time to explore Berlin in groups. All 20-or so of us stuck together for the first 1~2 hour(s). We visited the Frauenkirche, shopped at stands (I bought a piece of the Berlin Wall!), and went to KADEWE [Kaufhaus des Westen, or “Department Store of the West”]. It’s 8 stories tall and so huge that it’s split into two different buildings across the street from each other. Mostly window-shopping and luxury brands.

Upon looking at the directory, the three of us immediately knew which floor we were going to first: the chocolate [Schokolade] floor. It was heaven. I had never seen so much chocolate in my life. I bought 4 boxes of Lindt and a bag of Haribo gummy bears for friends (I swear!) and a bag of stracciatella Lindt that my friend introduced me to on our trip. Literally the best flavor of Lindt.

kadeweIt was still raining when we stepped out of KaDeWe. My pants got wet–ugh. We made our way back to the Brandenburg Tor, where our group split up. Clara, Laura, Abby, Jon, Cory, and I wanted to go to this bar with spiffy graffiti and a beach-like setting we’d visited the day before and the rest went off to do their own thing (I don’t remember what). Then began another downpour, so we took shelter at a nearby store. When the rain eased up a bit, we ran to the Hauptbahnhof and ate at Burger King for dinner. Ain’t nothing wrong with french fries for dinner.

I was pretty disappointed when we got to the sand place because I was expecting to see a band playing, like last time, but alas, no. There was also not that many people. Nevertheless, we settled down and everyone else but I got drinks. Clara, Laura, Abby, Cory, and Jon started arguing about gay marriage again. The debate continues!

There was no dancing either: I was bummed because I was hoping the place would be like a Disko [club]. Phooey. Cory and Jon got vodka because the lady who ran the bar didn’t care if they were 18 or not. After Clara and Laura got tired of arguing with Jon, Cory started arguing with him about Obama being voted into office, because Jon is a total Palin/McCain fan. Their argument got really heated and after a while, Cory just got up and heaved a frustrated sigh and went, “UGH, MEN.” And the Americans/Germans who were sitting in our vicinity laughed about it. As for me, I quietly sipped my water.

firedancing

Whaaat? Impromptu fire show!

Eventually, the rest of the group that initially objected to going to a bar, showed up at the sand place. They sat on the other side of the bar though. It was hilarious because when they saw my friend with a drink in his hands they all glared at him or watched him anxiously. They’d also check up on him everyone 20 minutes or so, going “Drunk yet” or “Please tell me you’re not drunk“. He and my other friend drank so much hard liquor that night that even my friend with steely tolerance said she was feeling a little tipsy. My friend was red, but not wasted like he was at the Zitadelle. He did break a bottle on the way back to the hotel though, and it almost hit one of the girls. Eek!

We played concentration on the U-Bahn. It was fun and I fared surprisingly well! I remember playing Big Booty with Glorystar–my middle school choir–and losing in like, the first second. Clara also taught us this hand game similar to slide called “Schokolade” [chocolate]. I rocked that.

My last night in Berlin: nostalgia setting in before I had even left. A truly epic week.

Berlin: Checkpoint Charlie, Pergamom, and SOAP

Day 16, 07.09.2009

you are leaving

Checkpoint Charlie–the infamous crossing point between East and West Berlin, a symbol of the Cold War. It was almost surreal walking back and forth past the giant sign that says, “You are now entering the American sector”–translated into Russian, German, and French–, without a second thought. Simply unreal to think that there was a time where American and Soviet tanks had standoffs on either side of this sign. And here I am, being a tourist: taking pictures of “officers” dressed in Russian, German, and American uniforms and buying “original” pieces of the Berlin Wall.

checkpointcharlieThere was one “American” officer who had the strangest accent–like 1940’s English/New Yorker accent–and who was selling “passports” with the original stamps for each country/sector like the DDR and stuff. I coughed up 7 Euros for my passport to freedom.

Escape stories in the Checkpoint Charlie Museum are riveting. One man was shot 10 times trying to escape–can’t remember if he was successful or not. There was also a woman who hid in conjoined suitcases and another man who hid in surfboards. Highly recommend paying the €12.50 to walk through the exhibits.

chaperones in hatsMy friends each bought a fuzzy Russian hat and a North Korean hat, respectively. They were late in meeting up with the rest of the group, so H. Birkelbach and H. Reynolds’ punishment for them was that they had to hand over their hats for the rest of the night. They were 20 minutes late, and H. Reynolds flipped out on them: “When we say viertel vor zwölf [15 minutes before 12], we f*ing mean viertel vor zwölf.” Hadn’t seen him that angry the entire trip thus far.

We then wandered to Museuminsel [“Museum Island”]; our goal was the Pergamom museum. If there is anything you must go to, this is it. I am by no means a museum or history buff, but for the several hours you could spend in the Pergamom museum, you will become one. Even if you don’t bother reading a single plaque, it is such a spectacular collection of ancient history. ishtar gate

The Ishtar Gate and Processional Way were reconstructed here with their original bricks. The Processional Way lines an entire corridor of the museum, towering over us at somewhere around 14 feet high. Colored with most royal of blues, majestically laced with golden lions.

pergamom altarAnother highlight of the museum is the Pergamom Altar. It was originally situated at the top of a hill that overlooked the Aegean Sea. To walk up the stairway, past the frieze depicting battles between Olympian gods and the Giants, and look down once you’ve reached the top, with the vision of a sparkling, deep blue Aegean Sea has such grandeur to it. This was all, of course, done with sweaty palms, shaky hands, and wobbly legs because people were sitting by the railing and I had nothing to hold onto. I can’t imagine what ancient life would have been like for an acrophobic.

market gate of miletusThe Market Gate of Miletus is another magnificent marble monument to explore. Most of it was destroyed in an earthquake, so its reconstruction involved new material. Fantastic to walk through nonetheless.

islamic art

isn’t stunning?!

The Islamic Art Exhibit was also really cool–tons of intricately-painted domes and prayer rooms. I was on my own for most of the time we spent in the museum. I have a habit of going through museum exhibits rather quickly… I had seen most of the museum 20-30 minutes before our designated meeting time. So I sat on the steps and waited; my feet were tired anyway.

Afterwards, I really wanted to go to the Berliner Dom, so we did. Just…gorgeous. In a really outlandish, gold-everywhere, decked-out-in-more-shiny-things-than-a-chandelier kind of gorgeous.

We went to a Turkish restaurant for dinner. So much ethnic food I had never had! It was really good. I was hooked on this pita-bread-thing. There was also some great dinner conversation. One of the guys kept staring at the lights because he thought they looked like boobs and at these two girls sitting across the room because he thought they were lesbians..?!

berlin domeAnd in a slip of the tongue, he called my friend and I “him”s and told my friend that he couldn’t believe she was a woman. Wait–what? Whoa. She was about to rip him apart when he quickly followed with “…I can’t believe you have the burden of bearing children”. Okay then. After the meal, we somehow decided to call my friend (who’s female) Geoff Nikolsky because apparently Geoff’s a pretty gay name and she’s the “gayest” “man” alive. I’m quite positive our group collectively shattered and violated any fragment of political correctness in the month we spent together.

hip hangout place

this hip, young-people hang out place we passed through

H. Birkelbach arranged for us to go to an acrobatic show by the name of SOAP at the Chamaeleon Theatre and it was awesome. It’s kinda like Cirque du Soleil, except it’s on a smaller stage and everything is soap/bathtub/washing related. All the girls enjoyed it immensely because, well, there were hot, athletic guys running around doing crazy ballet moves. One of the acrobats grabbed onto a pole and raised his body so that it was perfectly parallel to the ground and hold it for minutes.Insane.

The girls were giddy and the guys slightly disappointed because there were no hot girls. I thought the lady acrobats were amazing too though! One of the guys and H. Reynolds kept arguing that all of the guys were probably gay because straight men can’t do ballet. You just gotta roll your eyes when you hear that kind of stuff.

soap oper

lights…camera…action!

There was also one hilariously inappropriate intimate scene between…feet. Oh the sounds. First it was cute because the foot that was supposed to be the guy gave flowers to woo the “girl” foot but then it moved onto…feet banging. All of us were gasping for air because we couldn’t believe we were allowed to watch a show so raunchy as 11th graders. Continue reading