Saturday, May 24, 2014

Outdoor Library

So there we were. Our class was on a walking photography tour of Berlin and we come unto a clearing among the buildings. And lo, before us, in a crack of this bustling city stood an outdoor library filled with people taking a pause from their busy lives to simply read a book.

Now if you're not sure what an outdoor library consists of, have no fear; pictures are provided. But it truly is what it may sound like it is. A couple constructs of book shelfs and many, many comfy cushion chairs organized in a haphazard fashion.

There was no pattern to who was reading in the library. The ages ranged from children to retirees. All races we represented. Truly the only pattern to be found in the crowd was that everyone there found a hole in their day and were able to fill it by reading a book.

Now, I'm not sure there's a huge moral to this story. It not a cultural parallel or a deeper look into a monument or a social commentary. I just think that reading a good book in a beautiful city is pretty neat.

Berlin in Living Pictures

One of the most striking things about Germany is the absolute beauty of everything. Because of it’s much longer history, the country has architecture that is incredibly aged and beautifully radiant. Coming from the United States, it’s hard to imagine how truly storied this country is; fantastic buildings and welcoming cobblestone line every street.

To illustrate how visually awe-inspiring this country is, I created a bit of a living slideshow of Berlin. The idea is that this will give an even better idea of the atmosphere than still pictures will. The rhythm and movement of the city is part of what sets it apart from life in the States. Perhaps seeing the city as it lackadaisically piddles through everyday life will further show exactly how it feels to be in a city where eating lunch is an hour plus ordeal.

Please note that I focus on Berlin in this video, but the exquisite beauty seen here is echoed throughout the county. I was similarly awe-struck with Köln, Bonn, and Eisenach. The houses all seem unknowingly connected, with most hatted with the customary slanted roof and large, pronounced, slotted tile rows.

Part of me is glad I get to be a visitor to this place because I know I’ll never fail to appreciate the beauty around me. To be thrust into a world with such a swallowing scenery is an amazing feeling, as your senses are able to grab onto all the splendor around you. To be in such a captivating world is truly a treat, and I’m thankful for that experience. Hopefully this project helped to illustrate what I mean.

Life Goes On...

One of the saddest points in the trip came when we were in Bonn. One of the HBRS students asked us what we knew about German history. After a moment of silence, one of the Wartburg students finally admitted that it was mostly related to WWII, and that outside of that it still pertains to either WWI or the Cold War era. The disappointment felt by the German student could be felt radiating off her face; she was ashamed of what her country had done, and desperately wished it could be known for more.

That really struck a chord with me. The charred remains of Nazism and Communism was smeared on the streets of Berlin, but I never realized how deeply it stained the hearts of the German people. I hadn't stopped to wonder how horrifying it must be to face that truth. To know that the very land you stood on and the country you call home was such a wicked and evil entity. While Americans look fondly upon the 20th century, with apple pie, baseball and the preservation of democracy, Germans must directly face the shame from that same period.

But, as always, this is only a piece of the story. While it seems that facing the truths from the past may be a difficult process, it makes way for a brighter future. Nothing can be done for what lay behind, but the German people are earnestly trying to burst forward into a new era of prosperity and mirth. Regardless of what has been done, life goes on, simply because life has to go on.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Taste of a Culture

When you go abroad it is obvious that you need to try different foods. In Berlin we had the opportunity to try everything from schnitzel to sushi.

One night we went to this amazing India restaurant that Travis and Penni had discovered earlier in the day. While having dinner at Mirchi, we noticed how much we liked the food, atmosphere, and the people. 

Mirchi was one of the most individualistic restaurants that we've ever been too and we wanted to showcase that by doing our project on them. So we got pictures and an interview and put it all together. 

We chose the pictures that we believed really showed what the restaurant had to offer. If you ever get the chance to experience this restaurant, we hope you enjoy it as much as we did. 

Below is the url to our video. Hope you enjoy!

-Amanda and Ryan

The Wartburg Napkin

The Wartburg Napkin

Well here it is, the final stretch of the trip. Seeing Eisenach and the Wartburg castle was what I was looking forward to the entire trip. And what a beautiful sight it was.

I'm so glad our college's roots are dug deep into the history of Germany. I feel so fortunate to have walked the same path Martian Luther and Saint Elizabeth. Without these two individuals life would be so much different.
At the top of the castle's tower it was so peaceful. Looking out into Esinach's forests gave me an opporitunity to be thankful to have found such a great college. The breathtaking view was an opporitunity I could never pass up. It was so quiet and calm. I remember thinking how big and old the world is. I was thinking of everyone at home back in Iowa and it was very cool to think of how far we have come on the trip. I also thought of my faith and how powerful God is to make a world as large and as beautiful as this. The view reminded me of something I would imagine while reading a book. It was unreal. 

And to answer your question, of coarse I brought a Wartburg Mensa napkin! Just before the trip I remembered to stuff about 20 of these in my luggage. Worth it. I noticed the picture on the napkin was a little out of place but then learned that the napkin's picture was hand drawn. Mission accomplished. 

I would also like to congratulate the wartbug choir on an amazing performance. What an opporitunity to bring the two sister cities together. I'm very proud of our wartburg choir. They had such a moving performance that they made multiple audience members tear up. 

Until next time Germany! 
Auf Wiedersehen!

Back Home

We are back in Iowa and although I am probably the same as about every other single college senior in that I am usually tired all the time, it has been difficult to get used to the time change!  Iowa is about seven hours behind what we were in Germany.

One of the biggest differences from Germany to Iowa was the use of everyone's cell phones.  We were not able to use our phones besides in the evenings when we would have Wi-Fi at the hotel where we were staying.  It did make things difficult at times when we would need to communicate with another group but were not able to, which meant we had to plan ahead carefully.  However, everyone was able to talk to each other instead of looking at their phones during the day.  I realized how much I rely on my phone and how much I use it when I was not able to use it in Germany.  We were able to see so many things and experience it with each other, in real time and not through the screen of an electronic device.

We were able to use our phones though when we got back to the United States of course, which was nice because we had a flight that got cancelled.  We only had to stay for about 8 hours at the airport but it felt like a very long time.  We got to fly back to Des Moines from Newark, New Jersey at night which was really pretty to see.  Photo: Flying over Newark

When in Germany

Olivia Barnes & Kelsey Bemus

After some thought and not sure how to portray our time in Germany through a video, Kelsey and I decided that our final project would be a photo essay. Cameras were a huge part of this trip for us and everyone was taking photos so we knew we would have plenty to work with.

We decided to start with pictures from Berlin, then go to pictures of Bonn and finish with Eisenach. It only seemed fitting to start and end with a group photo. To us, this shows how close we all became throughout this experience. We all had one major thing in common: we are communication arts majors. With that being said, we are all so diverse. Some of us are journalists, photographers, designers, TV personalities, etc. This helped us all to relate to one another and be able to have an experience as a group.

So, in the words of Penni Pier, we were all creators on this trip. We spent our days walking around beautiful cities with more history than we could have imagined. We took pictures and wrote stories along with creating videos in the middle. We talked to strangers who may or may not have spoke English and we didn't know the answer to that until we said hello. This experience really opened our eyes and showed us another culture of the world. One that we would think would be similar to that of the U.S. but is different than anything we could have imagined. A country that has been knocked down and brought back to their feet. This photo essay represents an amazing trip that we will never forget.

Yes we only speak English

Yes we only speak English 

Out next destination was Saint Augustine to meet up with our HBRS friends! We were surprised to be greeted so nicely with smiles, hugs and a large sign to welcome us. 

Throughout the week we worked together to produce a show which ended up being called Germerica. The show's main focus was to provide viewers with more information about German and American cliches, also sharing what we had in common between both of our cultures. It was fun and interesting to see how the education system worked in Germany. One of the biggest differences that I found was that German students have little to no tuition fees. From that standpoint I'm a jealous guy. 

I don't know what we would have done in Bonn and Koln without these HBRS students. We always began the day with at least one of them greeting us at the hotel always ready to cart is around for the day.

My favorite sights that we saw in Bonn and koln were by far the Koln Cathedral and Beethoven's house. 

The Koln Cathedral was a jaw dropping sight. It was an amazing mix of intricate gothic architecture. There were so many little sculptures to look at that I could have easily missed if I had not taken a step back to ponder of what was in front of my eyes. It was shocking to imagine the sculpter and the amount of work they went through to produce their art on this building. 

Beethoven's house wasn't much but it was pretty meaningful to me, a guy who is very passionate about music. For a giy as important as Beethoven it was shocking to me that his home was just on a busy street next to cafés looking like any other building. If Steffan wouldn't have pointed it out to me I probably wouldn't have even noticed it was his house.

 Even though it was very difficult to type any word with the letter Y in it I still had such a great life changing time hanging out with my German pals.

Mayterm in Germany

This experience has been amazing! I've met so many people, seen so many interesting places, tried so much good food, and had the time of my life.

Our group that traveled has became so close. We have seen each other day and in and day out for 18 days now. I've learned so much about the other people in our group. I'm very glad to have had this experience with such a fun and smart group of people.

Our last day in Germany we too a train to Eisenach, while on our train ride we passed a lot of castles and scenery. The countryside was beautiful as was the whole town of Eisenach. At our hotel we had a perfect view of the Wartburg Castle. There is so much history that comes along with the Wartburg Castle and we stayed there for a complete day. We got a tour of the Castle, we got to experience the architecture and it was very beautiful. The art in the rooms was very surprising and shocking, I could t get over how perfect everything looked. While at the castle we also saw the room where Martin Luther hid as he translated the New Testament. The night at the castle ended by watching the Wartburg choir perform in front of the board of regents as well as other guests.

Our last couple days were relaxing as we spent them hanging out with each other. Our last night in Germany was in Berlin. It was a beautiful last day as the sun was out and shining. I really didn't want to leave, it was so much fun and a wonderful experience in Germany. I can't wait to go back. I also want to say thank you to Professor Bockenstedt and Doctor Pier who made this experience. They planed out our trip and made sure it went according to plan. Although we had ups and downs this trip will have a lasting impact on me. I'm glad to have met all the people I did and to have had the experiences as well.

Chasing Catles

To end our time in Germany we got to spend a few days in Eisenach. This was a particularly special time because of the close ties between Wartburg and the city of Eisenach. The Wartburg Castle is literally on display everywhere in this city. It was so strange—in an epic sort of way—to walk around and see the “Wartburg” displayed on so many signs, windows and buildings.

The tour we took of the castle was awesome, but my favorite part of our visit to the castle was filming the Wartburg Choir.  It was so great to be able to share these experiences not only with our group but also with the Wartburg Choir.  The castle is beautiful and as a result provided some pretty wonderful camera shots for our video and the actual performance by the choir was pretty spectacular also.
The Wartburg Castle on a hill in the distance

We were not content to let the adventure end there. Our castle chasing days were just about to begin. Back tracking a little bit—the train ride from Bonn to Eisenach was quite scenic and striking.  One of the reasons for this was because of the many castles that dotted the German countryside. It was strange for me to see castles just chilling on the top of some random hill. As a result of this I was determined to discover another castle up close while in Germany.

                                                                    German countryside

Though it wasn’t really another castle we discovered (we were told it was a church administration building)—it was definitely close enough for me.  What made it even better was that no one was there to tell us we couldn’t claim it as our own. So, just so we are clear, Michael, Olivia, Alyssa and I call dibs on this castle. While I will be happy to help you on your own conquest for a castle this one is ours.

Staking claim to our newly discovered castle

This free day was just what I needed to bring my Germany experience to a close. I have absolutely loved every second of this adventure. I wouldn’t trade any of the memories (happy or otherwise). I am so thankful for the relationships I have formed. I don’t know how I am going to adjust back to not spending every second of the day with this group. Huge thank you to Professor Bockenstedt and Dr. Pier for giving all of us students such a great time! This is truly a May term I will never forget.

The people you meet

One full day back from Germany and I have been able to do a bit of reflection. Well, as much reflection as my sleep deprived mind would allow. Watching my Facebook news feed clog with all the pictures of not just my Advanced Broadcasting class's photos, but all the returning Wartburg students, I felt a tidal wave of happiness rush over me.

As I browsed/Facebook stalked all the pictures from the Costa Rica trip, the Wartburg Choir tour and our Germany trip, I notices a common thread lining all. Smiles, hugs, and happy faces. It was like a toothpaste commercial. It was then I realized that when traveling, the places we see aren't as important as the people we see them with. I can honestly attest to this as I strongly believe we took more group selfies than pictures of historical places. 

I cherish the memories our class created during our fantastic group dinners, running to the train, or any other time. We danced, ate (food was a great bonding element on this trip), laughed and worked together for 18 days straight. Those are the memories and pictures I care about more than any old statue or building.  

So, when my mom asks why I didn't get more pictures of the Brandenburg Gate, I will simply pull out the many, many group selfies that were taken during the trip and say, "Look at these, Mom. These are the important pictures."

None of this would have been possible without the assistance of our professors, Travis and Penni. Thank you for helping your students make these memories and being part of them yourselves.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Catch Me If You Can

Today was the day we were all waiting for: GOING HOME. While we were all having the time of our lives in Germany, it gets to the point where you are ready to see your parents, friends and to sleep in your own bed.

Our day started out like any other; we woke up early, packed and got to the airport. The first flight was a but long but went off without a hitch, just a little turbulence. It was long enough where I got in three movies and four episodes of Big Bang Theory.

Entering the United States wasn't so bad either. We got through passport control and customs in one piece and everyone's luggage arrived.

Walking though Newark Airport we were all feeling good; excitement for home was building. Getting to the gate for our connecting flight to Chicago was where the trouble began.

We learned that our flight from Chicago to Cedar Rapids had been canceled, enter stress. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous seeing as my car is in Cedar Rapids and didn't know how I was going to get it.

In a short span of time, I made more phone calls and got more out of my phone plan than I think I ever have.

Thank goodness for Travis, we caught a flight from Newark to Des Moines and thanks to Jesse Kielman's mom, a ride to Waverly.

While the day didn't go exactly as planned,we learned that being flexible during travel is important because you never know what things my happen.

I want to thank Penni and Travis for this amazing opportunity and leading such a wonderful trip. I can't wait to go on the 2016 trip and make even more amazing memories!
We have arrived in Des Moines!

Waiting 8 hours for our flight to Des Moines.

Can I just say something crazy?

Hello there.

We finally made it back to Iowa after waiting in the airport for 8 hours just to get back to Iowa. It was definitely worth it, minus our luggage not traveling with us. Therefore, I am still waiting for it to be delivered to my house. As I am patiently waiting here, I decided I should write my blog to pass the time and hopefully by the end of my post it is here.

When Professor Travis Bockenstedt asked me if I would be interested in going on a trip to Germany with an advanced class I was shocked. Considering I was a first-year student, I was honored to be asked and of course I said yes. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

As the year went on, we had a few classes to prepare for the trip and to get to know each other a little better. Thats when the friendships started to grow. I already knew a few people on the trip due to other classes, but the ones I did not know made the trip even better. 

The day to fly out came upon us on May 2nd. We passed around a pair of clothes to our luggage buddies (mine was Kelsey Bemus) and away we went to Cedar Rapids. We were all scared that we surpassed the weight limit with most of us being in the upper 40's, but we all made it and passed security. When we arrived in Berlin, we got our room assignments. I was grouped with Kelsey, Olivia Barnes, and Amanda Groff. I knew I would be fine with Kelsey, but the other two I had no idea who they were. As that week went on, we got to know each other a little better through many pillow talks. We also mastered the train system without our trusting advisors Travis and Penni Pier. Which Travis did get us lost as a whole group, but have no fear he always figured the way out. After a week long of museums, talking to native Germans, taking pictures, making videos, hitting the local bars, and visiting my exchange student, it was time to head to Bonn. 

The way to Bonn by plane was not to shabby. The students greeted us with free hugs at the airport and took us by train to our hotel. It was great seeing new faces, but we had no idea that the friendships we would make with these students would be as strong as it became. The students made a plan for us so we were never busy, but it was a great experience. We created a show called "Germerica" in which we showcased the stories that we worked on all week (hopefully the show will be posted, stay tuned to the comm arts page). The end of the week came way too fast. The students came to our hotel, and by train, took us to the train to send us off to Eisenach. That platform received a lot of tears, hugs, pictures, and good-byes. New friendships for both schools were formed and hopefully will never be broken.

So on this train, we had to get off and get onto another train in 11 minutes. This 11 minutes quickly switched to a 6 minute change due to running late. Well, luckily the platform that we needed was the same platform we cam in on, but there were two trains connected. Of course we got on the wrong one and with less than 5 minutes, we had to get out and run for what seemed to be forever to get to the right wagon. As we ran, most of us were picturing the Home Alone movie. Quite the race as bags, jackets, and water bottles flew to the ground. Luckily the person behind you usually picked it up and kept going. We finally made it to our seats after walking through the train with all our luggage. After the hour and a half ride, we made it to Eisenach with our taxis's waiting outside.

Why did we go to such a small village one might ask. Well to answer the question, it is the home of our very own Wartburg Castle. If you are a Wartburg Knight, I suggest you visit this castle. And of course try the Wartburg beer. The experience of touring the castle was amazing. The artwork throughout the castle was beautiful. Later that day (Saturday) the Wartburg choir joined us as the performed a concert in the castle. Being a production crew, we filmed it (stay tuned to the comm arts page for this video also). I have never heard our choir sing and to experience it at the castle made it even better. I even got to listen to one of my very first Wartburg friends sing. It was by far the best experience. Sunday was our day to relax and have a free day. Most everything is closed on a Sunday, but Simon Sager, Olivia, Michael Bowden, and I decided to go on an adventure in the village.

We walked around town trying to find the choir, that failed. Then we walked around to find the mountain that the castle was on, that failed. We did however, find a hill that a huge abandoned house was on. It was beautiful with a beautiful view. This journey also established us singing Frozen songs. We even made a dance to it. We got back to the hotel and did a photo shoot, which we think the staff of the hotel did not like us after this but we left the next day. I looked like a biker chick no joke. 

Monday came and it was time to go back to Berlin and start our journey home. While in Berlin for the second time, we had a packing party and divided all our souvenirs up so we were under the weight limit. Again, we were all close on weight even after we bought extra carry on bags. In this hotel, the same group of four were practicing our song. Olivia and I went back to our room, but the boys got a phone call. Yepp you guessed it, they got a noise complaint and of course said that they had little kids. Oh well, it was worth it.

So now here I am. Back to the real world, but with memories that will last a lifetime. Friendships were made that I never what to give up and stronger bonds with those I was already friends with. I would like to thank Travis and Penni for taking me on this adventure, and I can't wait to do it again. I am proud to be a guinea pig, I wouldn't want it any other way. Here is to the next three years of friendships and bonds with my professors and my friends that I made on this trip. Farewell Germany, until next time. OH and I am still waiting on my luggage.. :(

My first Wartburg friend Caleb Maughan.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

It’s not about the places you go, but the people you meet along the way.

Well, we survived our Advanced Production May term class in Germany! We have made it back to the United States… barely. I did make it through customs successfully, though!

It certainly has been an extraordinary trip with many ups and a few downs. But the ups have more than overpowered the few downs that we encountered.

Besides getting semi-lost upon our first arrival in Berlin and the few “oops” moments that happened to me during the trip (which I mentioned in my previous blog post), our flight home also faced some difficulties.

All while at the airport in Newark, New Jersey we found out our flight from Chicago to Cedar Rapids was cancelled, so we had to make quick decisions as to how we were going to get back to Iowa. We ended up booking a new and much later flight from Newark to Des Moines, which, even though a lot of us just wanted to get home, looking back, it was nice to get to spend a few extra hours together as a group.

My sleepy friends on the airplane ride home :)

Besides the few “downs,” which didn’t even really faze any of us at all, I would say overall the trip was a great one and I loved every second of it!

Thinking back on all that we did and all the sights we visited, the people we encountered and met throughout the trip are definitely what made it so enjoyable. It really wasn’t about those places we went to or the things we bought that made the trip so memorable, but about the friendships we created and the people who made our stay in Deutschland unforgettable.

Our final night we spent in Berlin… not at the Generator Hostel, unfortunately, but Jess, Ryan and I did go back there to visit. We ended up getting a free drink and we each go a free pair of Jagermeister sunglasses. The rose guy also came in and gave me a free rose. It felt good to be back in a familiar area with familiar people. The Generator really felt like my home away from home and I was really sad to leave there.

My bartender friends Jess and Dirk at the Generator Hostel's bar!

Before we headed back to our hotel, we decided to get some food at Kebab Baba’s. Not only did we get some delicious food, but I also got proposed to there by Ali, the guy working at Kebab Baba’s. Mom and dad – don’t worry, I said no, so I won’t be bringing home a strange man.

All in all, I had an amazing time exploring, not just a small portion of the world outside of the United States, but also a place that makes up a large portion of my family’s roots.

So to break it down –
What I’ll miss in Germany: the people, the beer, all the bikes, the historical buildings, the people, Labi the bubble man, the Generator Hostel, Eisenach’s rolling hills, oh, and did I mention the people?

What I won’t miss: Berlin’s distinct smells, all the bikers, public transit, cobblestone sidewalks, crazy taxi drivers, not understanding what people are saying, not being able to read a menu or anything really, paying for water, paying to use the restroom (sorry, the toiletten), and just the significantly higher price of everything in Germany.

The beautiful Eisenach land.

The Wartburg Castle.

But most of all, even though I know we all probably got on each other’s nerves more times than not, I will really miss being all together with all the amazing students and professors which I was fortunate enough to go on this trip with.

So thank you Dr. Penni Pier and Professor Travis Bockenstedt, I know you really went above and beyond for us, and then even further beyond that to make this trip happen, and I can’t tell you enough how thankful I am for the two of you! And to my fellow classmates, thank you for making this trip so much fun! If it weren’t for each and every one of you, I definitely wouldn’t have enjoyed myself as much as I did.

We managed to squeeze into a tiny random Photo Booth.

Elevator selfie!

And Germany, thank you for making my first experience out of the USA an unforgettable one. It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later! :)

All my best,

Flying Solo: My Journey Home

Well, the time had come. Last Friday it was time for me to gather all my German treasures and memories and head back to the U.S.

I returned home early from the trip for my brother's graduation, so I was making the journey solo. And, I had to say goodbye to my classmates. We had all become close, so goodbyes were hard!

My day began at 4 a.m. Germany time, which was 9 p.m. Thursday night American time. My first of four flights was at 6:15 from the Cologne airport, so Michael, one of the teachers at the university, picked Travis and I up bright and early at 4:45 to begin my journey.

After Travis helped check me in for my first flight, I was on my own. Next, I headed to security. One thing about security in Germany is that they do not ask you to take your shoes off. So of course my boots set off the alarm and I had to be patted down. It was pretty painless though. Then, I was ready to fly!

Not a very exciting crowd at 5:15 a.m...
My first flight was to Berlin. On It lasted about an hour in all, and it was so early in the morning that I honestly don't remember much of it. I guess that is an okay thing though. I'd rather have it be uneventful...

Once in Berlin, I had to grab my luggage and re-check into my new airline, which I would take all the way back to the States. The lady at the counter asked if I would like an emergency exit seat on my next flight, which would take me to Munich. I bravely said I would. After all, who was I to turn down the honor of protecting my fellow fliers?? (Or maybe I just wanted the extra leg room...)

My spot of honor. 
Once I arrived in Munich, I thankfully did not have to re-check my luggage. However, I did have to go through about 7 more security checks (that might be a slight exaggeration...) because I switched over to the international terminal.

Once I got to my next gate, I went to ask if there were any aisle seats left on my plane. The lady who helped me in Berlin had said there were, and considering my flight would be 10 hours long, I decided to check it out. However, the line to talk to the desk was long and unorganized, so I should have known then it probably wouldn't happen. But, I thought I would try anyway.

When I got the the front of the line, I was rudely told by the worker that there were no spots left and that she had already announced this and that I was lucky to be sitting by the window. Seeing as I had to go through so many security checks, I missed this announcement. Whoops, my bad...

I next got into line for my long flight. I was already worn out from two flights, was frazzled from the woman at the desk, and was hot from my fast journey through the airport and security checks. So needless to say, I was not in a good state to start a ten hour flight...

However, once I got on my flight and saw I was by a nice older couple, I calmed down a bit. And, when I looked at the movie selection, I was pumped. The movies were even better than on our flight over, and Frozen was one of the options, so naturally I was pleased.

My entertainment for 10 hours. 
I got all settled in for the long flight, picked my first movie, and was ready to head back to my homeland!

The last view of the beautiful, green Germany.

The flight was, well, long. There isn't much else to say. I watched "That Awkward Moment," "Frozen," "Her," and a few random TV shows. One of the options was "Friends," which has always been a favorite of mine. However, there was something interesting about it...

Korean subtitles! I have no clue why...and had no idea how to get rid of them...
We had a few meals on the flight, I slept for about 20 minutes, and I spent a fair amount of time in line for the restroom. However, while the movie and TV options were great, I wasn't overly impressed with the lack of times the attendants came around. I was parched by the time I finally pushed my call button to ask for water! Which, by the way, I hate having to do... 

Despite this and a sore back, it was an otherwise pleasant flight. And, after 10 hours, we were finally in Chicago! 

Next, came Customs. Oh fun. I have been through it twice-once on my trip to Germany last year and then this time. Both times the line has been ridiculously long. And, it takes a total of about 30 seconds to actually talk to the officers. And, I had to get my suitcase, walk through another check (where they didn't do anything at all with my bag), then re-check my bag again for my domestic flight to Cedar Rapids. 

Then....came another flight. Only before I could get on that flight came a hunt to find the right terminal (which involved a train ride. O' Hare is HUGE), yet another security check, and more waiting. But finally, I was on my fourth and final flight of the day. 

There isn't much to say about the last flight. It was about 25 minutes total in the air, and it had a very friendly flight staff. 

The view coming back into Iowa...not quite as green as Berlin!

Once arriving at my final destination I gathered my luggage (which thankfully made it back in one piece!), greeted my grandparents who had come to pick me up, and headed home. 

My rather anti-climactic ending to a wonderful trip doesn't really do it justice. The trip was great, and as soon as I got home I already missed Germany and all the wonderful people I shared my time with there. Thankfully, I will get to see my classmates again. As for Germany, I can only hope I make another trip back to the beautiful country I was lucky enough to spend my May Term in. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Walking Through History

As this incredible journey across my ancestor's homeland comes to an end, it is hard for me to decide what part of this trip I enjoyed most. 

I don't think I could ever pick one particular moment or visit to be my all time favorite part.

However, one of the most poignant and eye-opening experiences for me would have to go to our walk through the Sachsenhausen concentration camp memorial we visited on the outskirts of Berlin over two weeks ago.

One of the many barbed wire fences built to keep in over 200,000 prisoners. 
It is one thing to learn about historical tragedies like the Holocaust, whether it'd be reading about them in your high school world history class or watching movies like "Schindler's List."

But the reality of it all doesn't really sink in until you see it in person…or what's there left of it.

What makes this camp unique is that the SS built this camp as the "model" for all the other ones which would be built later on. And the camp imprisoned over 200,000 civilians; tens of thousands of them dying due to starvation, sickness or mistreatment by the guards.

So this is where it all began. The building of prisons where innocent civilians would die.

The site preserved hanging poles where guards at the camps would hoist prisoners with their hands tied together above their heads.
Prisoner's uniform on display
My classmate Michael and I stood at the very spot of the shooting range where prisoners would be shot. We got to see the literal point of view victims saw last before a bullet splattered their brains.

And then came the rain. Out of nowhere and pouring down hard. And that was the one day I forgot my umbrella. It was hard to stay dry unless you stayed inside one of the original buildings of the
camps which didn't have any connecting skylines or walkways for people to keep dry.

Flowers lay at the end of the shooting range
where prisoners stood to be shot to death. 
The rain thoroughly soaked me from head to toe, my ballet flats nearly waterlogged and my mascara dripped down my cheeks.

And looking back on how much the rain annoyed me, I feel guilty.

We all got frustrated by walking through the rain to catch our bus back to our hotel in Berlin and yet we walked through a camp where hundreds of thousands of people dealt with much more that just a few speckles.

People died on the very ground we ran on as we tried avoiding the rain which just seemed to be a damper (no pun intended) on our day.

For me, it turned into a reminder on how we need to value life. And I think about how lucky I am. I will have my bad days and get frustrated. But something like this reminds how someone else out there is struggling more than I am; even if it did happen over 40 years ago.

And how while we need to value our own lives, we need to values those of others and reach out to them.

I hope to go back one day and continue to explore the history of the camp. And hopefully write more about it because this post could never suffice the emotions and thoughts I felt walking among those who are gone but not forgotten.

No Alcohol in Germany?!

In a country where it's notoriety strives in alcoholic beverages, you'd think I'd be one to partake in drinking a beer. Truth be told, I didn't take that route on this trip.

Recently, I joined the LDS church where it is taught to, in a manner of speaking, not to drink alcohol.

So how did I manage avoiding alcohol while in Germany? Luckily for me, I wasn't never a huge alcohol fan to begin with so as far as being tempted goes, that was never a problem.

Of course, all the restaurants and other eateries we visited offered water (sparkling or tap) and soda to drink.

I admit at times, I did feel a little left out. Not because my group excluded me from joining or anything like that, but tourists always make such a big deal about drinking beer in Germany. 

I did enjoy myself a few virgin mojitos while in Germany. They replaced the alcohol with ginger ale.
Tasted like a minty lemonade which tastes much better than it may sound. 
My soon-to-be boss at work even asked me via email how did the beer taste. So much for the saying, "When in Rome..." or, in this case, "When in Germany…"

During our stay in Bonn, I dealt with having to turn down alcohol offered by the German students who hosted us at their university for the week. I feared I would offend their traditions or not be respectful of their culture.  

Now of course, there is the non-alcohol beer option to test out. 

And to be quite frank, it isn't all it's cracked up to be. My room mate Jeanne and I split a bottle of nonalcoholic beer out of the hotel's vending machine one night. 

We each took one sip and I cannot tell you in words how much we regretted it. 

It was like drinking yeast sitting in carbonated water for weeks at a time. Not the greatest aftertaste in the world. 

Needless to say, Jeanne stuck with the traditional German beer and I stuck with my Coke-a-Cola and tap water. 

I will say I am blessed to have traveled with a group who respected my religious beliefs and didn't pressure me or make fun of me for not drinking. 

It never bothered them and I liked that about this experience. 

So do I regret not drinking in Germany? No. And, in all honesty, I found several opportunities to immerse myself into the Germany culture without the beer; which made this trip much more genuine and personal for me. 

I bought gummy bears at Harbio in Bonn, ate a traditional German meal consisting of pickled pork, mashed potatoes and sauerkraut; and I learned a little bite more German beyond the first verse of "Silent Night." 

People may call it "tradition" to drink beer in Germany but I think if you're not afraid to take your own path and find what makes you the happiest, then that's all that matters. 

And to that, I say cheers (while holding a virgin mojito in my hand).  

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Trains, Castles, and Keys

One of the most fun parts of this trip to Germany for me has been seeing the countryside.  We rode a train from Bonn to Eisenach, which was about a three hour ride.  On the way there, we got to see a lot of small little towns along the way.  We saw what looked like it could be grape vines growing down the steep hillsides.  It was very hilly and also went along the same path of a big river.  It reminded me of Minnesota or the Iowa town Garnavillo. 

Yesterday was also an incredible experience to see the Wartburg Castle.  I have been there before once, so I knew what to expect but it was still very much fun for the second time.  The Wartburg Choir performed in a music hall and they all did an amazing job with their songs.  Seeing them perform really brought the Castle to life.  Our group filmed the entire performance as well.  Normally for filming an event with three cameras like we did, we would have headsets and would communicate with each other through them what camera shots to get and who was “live” at the time.  We were not able to bring all that technology with us so had to improvise with hand signals.  The system was impressive anyway and worked pretty well! 

Another part of the trip that was really exciting to see was the Love Lock Bridge.  Couples will buy a padlock, make an inscription, lock it to a part on the bridge and then throw the key in the river.