Friday, October 2, 2009

Update: 24.09.2009 - 01.10.2009

Our adventures continue... we visited Dresden over the weekend of the 25th-27th. A couple castles, a few beautiful churches, a church service (in German), and a concentration camp. Below are the photos from those experiences and at the bottom I attached the (lengthy) journal of our stay day-to-day.

Hotel Elephant in Weimar. We stopped off to check out this famous hotel where Tolstoy, Bach, and Hitler stayed. I wouldn't want to stay in his room. It was built in the 1600's and is now owned by Sheraton (Starwood).
Albrechtsburg Dom in Meißen
Albrechtsburg Castle and attached Dom in Meißen.
A few more photos of the Albrechtsburg Castle...

The view from the back door of the Albrechtsburg Castle in Meißen.
Inside the Albrechtsburg Castle. We had to wear slippers to protect the wood floors.
Dinner in Meißen. Excellent Indian dinner! I was so pleased to have something other than pizza. I piled on the veggies!
Wartburg Castle in Eisenach. This is the castle that Martin Luther translated the New Testament of the Bible from Latin to German in just 10 months (in the early 1500's). Hitler, the ghastly man that he was, called this castle the most German of German castles and hoped to put a swastika in place of the cross. Happy to hear that plan failed. At least one of his planned failed... at least one...
Ancient writing on the walls...
Ray standing near the cafe we ate at when we visited the Wartburg. Unfortunately, the food choices weren't too accomodating and we paid something like 3.50 € for a small soda... each! Ray added to his sausage consumption, and I did a bit of unwanted fasting.
Possibly (since most writing was in German, we aren't positive) the very Bible that was translated. The smaller items were translated (like titles), but longer descriptions were lost to the language, so to speak.
Possibly the most strange pigeons I've seen. They have peacock-looking back feathers.
The room at the Wartburg Martin Luther was said to have translated the Bible in.
Views from the inside, out.

One of the approximately six rooms we toured in the Castle. This room, like most, was renovated in the 1800's when Germany had a major restoration time of many of their castles. The ceiling was raised for acoustics.
Just being my dorky self. The blur just adds to the charm. ;)
More Wartburg. Being the first castle we visited, we took a few photos...
The exterior of the Wartburg (pronounced vart-boo-erg)
The entrance to the Wartburg and my pricey indulgence.
Martin Luther's childhood home in Eisenach.
Johann Sebastian Bach's childhood home in Eisenach.
Dresden - What they refer to as the "Nymph's Bath" in the Zwinger area of downtown.
Copying this girl who was taking photos from this staircase at the Zwinger.
The Zwinger courtyard in Dresden. It is referred to as a major baroque German landmark in the center of Dresden. Much of this was destroyed during the world war and had to be rebuilt/repaired. Inside the surrounding courtyard buildings hold famous paintings you can pay some spicy €€€ to see... like a painting by Raphael. We did not pretend to like the art...
Hanging out in the courtyard. We managed to get a photo that didn't show a million tourists-- just about 500 people were also in the courtyard in large groups following a tour guide holding up silly things...
A little Brandy humor. I just don't understand the need to keep the helmets on. Were they afraid they would lose them? An easy wasy to avoid having to apply sunscreen to the head? Cool new hat trend?
Ray hanging out reading the Frommer's on the Elbe River in Dresden.
Ray was catching up on his Vitamin C while exploring the Zwinger.
Not sure what this photo was except a nice European one.
Gorgeous Dresden it all its glory.
A former Turkish cigar factory built in the early 1900's. According to Frommer's, architects weren't allowed to build smoke stacks in downtown due to their asthetics... so he built it mosque-like when really it has never been a mosque.
Just a little downtown Dresden European flair...
Propaganda. The next day was expected to be the German voting day for a new Chancellor. They kept the same one... in fact. This booth was giving away some swag of which I took upon myself to grab a pin... of which Ray would not let me wear because he wasn't sure how socialist they were... they were also giving away plants. To that... I say, WHY? Nothing says, "vote for our candidate" like a fern.
Ray had a bit of a freak-out session as the autobahn split off and we were driving in the middle of the road, essentially. This only captures a tiny fraction of the construction madness that is the European stimulus. Aren't we lucky enough to experience both the U.S. and Europes!
The Dresden Church of our Lady (Dresdner Frauenkirche) is the most famous in Dresden. We wanted to enter it (churches are usually free) and realized when we got in that there was about to be the start of a Lutheren service in German. We took our seats, did the best we could with repeating the German... and enjoyed the beauty of the interior. It was also ruined a bit during the war and renovation just finished a few years ago.
This organ is from a Catholic church in Dresden -- we stayed to hear it play.
More gorgeous architecture in Dresden.
Oh, how I wish these were burrito stands...
Turning somber... with death comes new life...
Buchenwald concentration camp ruins... an uncomfortable reminder of a horrible time in history.
The entrance.
Tomorrow we're off to München (Munich) for the last weekend of Oktoberfest and to meet up with our friends Alison & Nic! I can't wait to see them!!!
Here's the lengthy journal of our lives in our 2nd week of German life. Read if you dare. It's long!
Donnerstag 24.09.2009
Our normal wakeup of 7 a.m. came quickly as usual… with the sound of the church bells. We mentally prepared ourselves for another day of German studies with our “American bread” with mixed berry marmalade (they do not call it jam/jelly/preserves according to our tutor). We started our German lessons a bit later at 10:00 and finishing at 13:00 hours. We ate lunch at work and planned our adventures over the next few weeks. We booked a hotel for Dresden this weekend and spoke with Lothar about some opportunities and places to visit along the way of the 5-hour drive. We’re leaving tomorrow morning at an early hour (likely 8 a.m.) and I’ll record that along the way. Work ended at the usual 16:30 and then explored a new grocery store (now visited 4: Aldi, Lidl, Netto Discount Martkt & now, Kaufpark). This grocery store is the crème of the crop—obviously. They sell more name brand items from America, exceptional produce from all over the world (with a high price… but when you want fresh veggies/fruit…) and……..Peanut Butter. The beloved, German-disliked, spread we take pride in spreading on millions of Weber bread slices with a slab of jam. They even had TWO choices… as Ray asks from down the aisle, “Crunchy, or smooth?” We went back home after this clear victory and waited with chilled beers for Lothar to come for dinner. He arrived at 18:00 and we went next door to the pizzeria. There we met the owner/chef, Franko—an obviously Italian man. Fantastic! We had pizzas and enjoyed them thoroughly. We will be returning and we’re hoping he will be open in Dezember when our families arrive to share the experience with them as well. There are lots of options and as authentic as Italian food can be in Germany. Back home to finish our beers, wind down, watch some United Nations talks on CNN, and prepare for our mini-“holiday” (as they refer to vacations in Kanada) to Dresden. Tchuss!

Frietag 25.09.2009
What a day! We sure have made the most of our trip so far. We gladly slept in this morning an hour past our normal wakeup (special for a Friday!). All packed up, we drove out of Neuenrade onto the Autobahn and en route to Dresden (eastern Germany: former soviet territory). Our first stop was at the Wartburg “Luther” Castle in Eisenach. We enjoyed an expensive lunch of bratwurst, french fries, salad, an apple, and two diet cokes for a spicy 16 Euro (and if you’re keeping track… no I did not partake in the eating of meat in its natural casing). The castle was beautiful, but by no means a dream castle. Apparently Hitler at one point called this castle the “most German of German castles” or something of that sort; disgusting that he stepped foot in the same area. This was also the same castle that Martin Luther translated the Bible from Latin to German in the 1500’s (in just 10 months!). We were able to see the very room he did so and walk around other rooms for 8 Euro each (with a fantastic tour guide who perhaps spoke better English—and faster—than most Americans I know—an obvious German though). After leaving the castle, we drove by Martin Luther and Johann Sebastian Bach’s childhood homes. We continued our drive on the lovely autobahn (Ray drove the entire day!) to the Buchenwald concentration camp. As we drove in to the “camp”, we couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable with deep sorrow for people who begged for their lives in this very place just 60+ years ago. How disgusting and wretched. Being our first experience in such a tragic area, we didn’t know what to expect. It was weird seeing a cafeteria, young travelers laughing and sitting about, and people walking around with audio tour machines around their necks. We decided against the “tour” and made our selections wisely. As we descended to the main entrance, there was writing on the gate. There was a stench that filled the air; we weren’t sure why, but it didn’t seem out of place. We entered the “prison” and were disgusted with small quarters of torture these people had to endure. We walked through the front gates that were recently re-wired to depict the actual wiring that was there during the actual time. It reminded me of the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. I love that movie but hate the story itself. The actual camp buildings were mostly destroyed/bombed at some point within the last 60 years after the U.S. came in to assist the prisoners. The clock above the entrance shows the exact time (I believe it read 3:14) that the people were liberated. This was also the same camp that Eli Wiesel wrote about in his famed book, Night. We entered a building that held supplies that they turned into a museum of sorts—showing artifacts, pictures, letters, etc. When I saw the “wagon” they carried the bodies in, I almost lost it—tragic. We walked into the final building we visited, the disinfecting room. Each and every prisoner would be disinfected into a bath… the remnants of this very bath on the ground… sends chills down your spine in a very disturbing way. We left the sight just before closing with heavy hearts. We’re just pleased we didn’t enter the crematory. Frankly, I’m surprised they even allow people to enter. We saw pictures online that there are remnants of hooks on the ceiling used to hang and ovens still intact. The very thought is excruciating. We continued in through the nearest town, Weimar, and continued on to Dresden from there—only stopping for a dinner of pasta and Burger King (obviously Ray). Finishing off the evening, we arrived in Dresden, drove a little out of the way, saw some distant gorgeous castles in the background and headed to our hotel. One last point about the traffic/construction in Germany. It does appear that Germany is doing construction on every single road at the current time. Oye.
Samstag 26.09.2009
Another day, another bakery. Seriously. We like bread, but I think we’ve been liking it a bit more than usual lately. We awoke in our hotel and only had a few miles to drives before arriving in the center of Dresden. We stopped off at the grocery store, Lidl (lee-dull) to purchase some breakfast in a hope to save money and calorie intake: alas… all we could scrounge up were a couple bananas, OJ, and some buttery chocolate bread rolls; so much for the calorie savings. As we arrived, we found a parking area (tons of parking in Europe and all nicely labeled- but not cheap) and set out for our walking tour of the downtown. We started at the Zwinger—a model after Versailles (Raphael artwork inside… although we did not pay to see it) and lots of museums. The courtyard of the Zwinger used to be used for battles, etc. It was bombed during the war, but is back in business and restored. It’s a courtyard of symmetrical buildings and lots of tourists to be found everywhere. After, we went to the Catholic Court Church and listened to the organ play at exactly 11:30. It’s the largest church in Saxony. Then, we walked through a political rally and Ray condemned me for what looked like accepting a piece of swag (pin) that he then told me I wasn’t allowed to wear in fear that I was supporting communism or something of the like. They were also handing out plants (huh?!) and pencils to those willing to come to their booth. There was also a German singer and lots of security. We crossed through the city and sat in on a Protestant devotional service entirely in German. Originally we set out to just walk inside the church as we had the Catholic church. As we entered, it turned out we were actually coming in to hear a service… so we sat. It was humbling. I don’t think there was a single other American (other than the two of us) in the crowd of maybe 500 sitting in that room. The church is called Church of Our Lady and was also partly destroyed during the bombings but was restored by the help of churches all over the world. We had lunch at an Italian Bistro (pizza… again). We walked down to the ferry area at the Elbe River and kept walking along a bridge to the other side of Dresden… the college side. We walked through a few shops and open/indoor markets and back around to check out the Dresden Royal Palace we also chose not to enter. Back into the car (and 10 Euro to the man…although Germany has a female Chancellor) and we were off. Off to another town about 30 minutes away called Meissen , the city of porcelain. We don’t own china and don’t much care for it ourselves, but the town is famous for a manufacturer that makes German china with the symbol of two swords as their signature design. We came for the castle, actually. The city boasts small authentic-looking European walking streets and very skinny windy roads I thought we might blow a tire on. There’s a beautiful dom (church) and a castle there—and we toured the castle alone for 3 Euro each. We were excited because this castle actually had outsiders that tried to destroy it and there were constant battles. How very cool. In one room they required you wear slippers over your shoes to protect the wood flooring. We left the castle and spent about 30 minutes in search of a WC (aka: water closet, or bathroom). They are not easy to find in Europe. You have to be very deliberate about peeing. We ended our evening with the best meal I’ve had so far—Indian food!!! There was a really cute little restaurant on a hill with a fountain and the whole European feel and we had dinner outside. Just perfect… relatively cheap… and delicious. I was just happy to not be eating pizza or pasta for one meal. I think we’ll need to detox when we finally get back to the states. This indulgence is making me round. Today also marks our first 14 months of marriage!

Sonntag 27.09.2009
Nice wakeup at the “Fun Hotel”—silly name. We attempted to work out last night at the gym’s fitness center, but the machine was bleak. Yeah, one. We attempted to use that one machine and even then it did not work. We gave up on that and just chose to work out this morning by running around a loop our hotel was located on. It turned out to be decent. We got ready and left Dresden after and headed back to the city of Weimer (about 2 hours on the way home). No real breakfast, but lunch was a stop to Burger King off the road. We were originally lured to a huge shopping mart area that we were excited to pick up a few things at… but then we realized we were living in Socialist Germany; a Germany that closes all shops on Sundays other than the touristy towns. Shucks. While lunch at Burger King is usually uneventful, we were thrilled to have fresh greens salads. Our bodies practically screamed, “thank you” for providing nourishment that wasn’t cheese, bread, or sausage. Another note about the BK: they are a good competition to McDonalds here in Germany. They do a decent job with rest stops here in Germany, but the “fast food” options here are limited to a few no-names and those two American chains (with a few Subways if you’re lucky). We stopped in Weimar for approximately 20 minutes to check out this small town square where the Hotel Elephant is located. Hitler, Bach, and Tolstoy have all stayed there. Back in the car after Weimar for another 3.5 hours of driving—brutal! Ray was amazing with the driving. What’s so funny about the Autobahn is its long stretches of unlimited speed and complete halts to 60 kph. There were a few pockets of traffic because of this and an awful 10-car accident. There was a completely flipped car on a hill about 15 feet high. It’s a decent reminder to be careful. We arrived home and did the usual unpacking, prepping, and relaxing for another full week.

Montag 28.09.2009
Church bells come far too soon… but good news is we’re both starting to feel “a part” of the lives of the business here and for that, we’re grateful. Last week we felt a bit like sore thumbs and somewhat uncool American celebrities and novelties. Today we finally started to get the hang of things—well, not the German language part. As a matter of fact, we somewhat dreaded it. It’s like expecting a headache to come before it arrives. But alas, we knew that it would not be easy; so we trudge on. Not without a pop quiz. At 27-years of age (nearly), I get pop quizzes. I barely believe in them as a teacher myself, but know that teachers must assess learning. Easier on the other side of the fence. As Ray and I laughed through the quiz as we put down more English words than German, we realized once again that we have so much to learn. But then, we opened an email from Samantha who herself is a Spanish teacher. She went through the struggles of learning a second language and has succeeded. She reminded us that we’re going to beat ourselves up, have headaches, and feel defeated, but that it’s still something valuable in learning and working through. Thanks, Sam. We really needed your encouragement. Our German lesson ended with homework and then lunch: delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I’ve never been so happy to eat such a boring meal! We intend to bring some of the really good stuff (Laura Scudder’s) back to Germany after we head back to Maryland for Erin’s wedding in November. We hope to share with others who think peanut butter is so unhealthy and distasteful. After lunch, we actually headed by car with Lothar and Karston to a sausage stand in downtown Werdohl where they took Ray last week. We wanted to check it out so we could take my dad there when they come to town. Back at the office, I finished helping another employee translate the new website wording into English. It’s meant to be in British-English because that’s who they do their business with (as opposed to American-English), but since we don’t have a source, I did my best to keep it on the formal, yet logical side. I had some great conversations with two of the employees today—both around 15-20 minutes each! (yay!!!) Ray worked on getting some website logistics figured out with the management team and sat in on a weekly meeting. We called it a day around 6:00 and headed to the grocery store and home for dinner and a walk around our little town.

Dienstag 29.09.2009
An early wakeup today (but actually woke up when the church bells were sounding!) as we headed to work to meet Lothar and another Raja employee for a drive to Frankfurt. One of the subsidiaries is located there and we went to learn about their product line and meet the employees. We were greeted well and had a walk around the factory to check out how the heat exchangers & coolers are created. We left for lunch to another great Italian restaurant in Frankfurt before returning back for a bit more learning at the factory. Then… a drive back to Werdohl and a bit of chatting with the employees. One of the employees and I were talking yesterday about this candy chocolate egg that is a German treat—but that isn’t sold in the U.S. due to our strict child-choking laws. Being a socialist country, a printed warning label is suitable and these small toys are allowed here. Well, since our discussion yesterday, he brought us two of those chocolate eggs… filled with a fun little toy, complete with decorative stickers. It’s fun learning a bit more about some of the cultural differences. We also learned about a few beverages they favor here: Fanta/Coke mixture, and beer/fanta, or beer/Sprite. There are unique German terms for such beverages that I am too unskilled to repeat. Arriving home was great; a completely foggy day from start to finish. All day I felt a bit under the weather and wanted everything to be at home resting. It’s the usual cold I get about 3 times a year. It starts out with a drip in my sinuses, swollen lymph nodes, then sore throat, then runny nose. It’s not a fast process… unfortunately—usually lasting about 1.5 weeks from start to finish. Needless to say, I just wanted to rest. Stir fry for dinner and a great Skype conversation with my parents who I miss very much. We’re over on our Internet now, but we’re hoping to work something out where we can talk with them connected to a phone line at work. We’ll see! With a language barrier, everything is a learning process.

Mittwoch 30.09.2009
Ray left early this morning as he was picked up from our apartment at 4:15 a.m. for a business trip to London for two days. Yikes! Our families back home hadn’t even gone to sleep yet! As far as I’m concerned, 4:15 is practically the middle of the night. So… I slept. Then I woke up and wandered around wondering what I might do with 60 Euro (only), a car that could not be parked for longer than 2 hours due to parking rules around our place… and limited Internet that won’t let me blog or post photos. I headed out the get a few groceries, made myself some soup for lunch and chilled in our apartment. Around 1:30, I headed out to the factory to use their Internet but left just 15 minutes later because the room I use was being occupied. Back home for an afternoon of reading one of two English books we brought from the states. I just about finished it (currently 20 pages shy from the end). It’s called Born on a Blue Day about an Autistic Savant who accurately recited over 25,000 digits of pi. As I write this, I’m watching a movie preview on television in German… of a movie that came out in the states at the beginning of August. It has yet to be released in a few days. I think it takes a considerable amount of time to dub in German, perhaps? Ray is off in London and we haven’t spoken today because we only have one phone, preventing us from connecting, obviously. I pray that he’s doing well and made it there safely. I just wish it was me there with him! I am so thankful for today being a rest day for me… feeling a bit under the weather won’t be good for our weekend trip to see Alison and Nic in Munich! Tomorrow should be fun and Ray will return in the evening. Good; being without him is not as fun. One last piece of excitement: we get two TV channels in English, CNN and MTV. Needless to say, I’m doing quite well on my International relations and keeping up-to-date on the latest music. Well, the only reason MTV is in English is because Germans also like some American music. Otherwise, that would be in German too. But what I’m getting at… I saw what appeared to be a NEW Right Said Fred video today.

Donnerstag 01.10.2009
Happy Birthday to my friend Lauren Lewis! We worked together at Black Angus waiting tables in college. This morning was a prompt wakeup to drive to Ludenscheid to meet Sabine. We went to the school she attended, Bergstadt Gymnasium. It’s similar to our mixture of middle school & high school in the states to compare (grades 5-13 held there). We met the headmistress there, Ms. Anette Meyer who welcomed us into the school and to learn a bit about German culture through education. You can imagine that I was thrilled to step foot in a school feeling a bit misplaced this year not teaching my own set of students. We had a walk into the teacher’s lounge that was huge with big comfy chairs. Then we had a meeting with a teacher there, Sebastian (sp?), who teaches English there and is quite fluent. He is the teacher that will be communicating with the other teachers in the school to invite me into their classrooms to share my experiences from schools in the U.S., myth v. reality, political battles – as he said the students have a grim view of the U.S. based on the Bush Administration. They will have a holiday coming up and he will be emailing/calling me to set up some days I can come into classrooms and learn/teach. They gave me one of their school annuals, contact information, and invited me to come to informational meetings to learn about the school with prospective parents and students over the weekend. I felt very welcomed (but a bit awkward) and I’m excited to work with them for a bit. The school itself was older than most schools I’ve been in before… chalkboards still hung on walls, old desks and chairs, very small classrooms that hold 30+ students, overhead projectors, and almost no technology. Granted, I only visited one classroom. The school bathroom I entered was interesting. Before reaching the stalls, you had to grab from one of the 15 toilet paper rolls hanging from the wall and then enter the stall with the paper you grabbed. There isn’t paper inside and if you forgot, too bad! Another difference—the amount of students smoking outside of the school. That wasn’t such a welcome change. Sabine and I left the school to head to the city center and entered a small mall where we found a café to have scones and cappuccinos. From there we parted and I headed to a market we’ve been wanting to check out, Toom. It’s about the size of an American grocery store and the ones we normally shop at close to our home are about the size of most Trader Joe’s (but let’s not confuse the fact that they are nowhere close to the glory of my beloved TJ’s!). I found some serious goods: hot sauce, salsa, tortillas, refried beans!!!, other beans, more peanut butter… etc. The refried beans were obviously amazing. From there, I found a Mexican restaurant using the GPS just to get excited about going there soon! Finally I headed home to relax and continue to re-coup as Elliot made his way home. Back safely from London, Ray had a whirlwind of a trip visiting customers and eating fancy dinners. In his attempt to make me feel better, he said that he didn’t see much of what London really is. Overwhelmed with the amount of businessmen who drink coffee, Ray is convinced he needs to start. I recommended espresso because it’s a quick shot, but he considers that a “gateway drug.” Oh, and happy 60th communist birthday, China. Perhaps those fireworks and crazy celebrations could’ve been used to feed the impoverished. Just saying.
For a full update on the photos I've updated since the start of the trip in a slideshow from facebook, click here.
Until next time... B