Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Das Schloss Saarbrücken

[ The Saarbrücken Castle ]

Tuesday morning felt just like the last day of school you would have before summer vacation during grade school - a half day with not much to learn, and the end of the year waiting for you at the dismissal bell. Going to the Carl Duisburg Haus felt the same way, since it was also a half day, and you could only patiently wait until the day was done and the language school phase of the program was officially complete. Frau Bopp attempted to teach us the final chapter from our textbook, but everyones attention was elsewhere. We all had to do speeches in the class in German, however, for one of the program directors of the CDC explaining our plans for university and our anticipated volunteer work that we must complete while being here in Germany. Once that was done the only thing left in the day was our final gathering which was going to be a tour of the Saarbrücken castle museum as a group later in the afternoon.

[ A picture of the castle at night that I took a while back ]

During my lunch break I went and bought some flowers for the dining table at the Weber house, stopped back home quickly to drop them off while no one was home, and then headed back into town to meet up with everyone at the Schloss.

I am glad that we were able to go to the castle together as a group, because it had been something that I had been meaning to see the entire time I had been here in Saarbrücken. I had already been to the castle once earlier this year but this was the first time I was checking out the connected museum. I really didn't know what to expect, but once inside, I was really surprised. The museum went underground since it was a tour of the excavation of the old castle ruins that were built over several times, including the old wall and the labrynth of tunnels that seemed to go through it. It really reminded me of a similar set up in Turku, Finland that had the museum go underground as well. With all the musty tunnels and stone barricade walls, the underground would have been a great set up for laser tag!

[ all the stones had markings since the worker that constructed the slab was responsible for its usage in the castle wall - if it was bad, they knew who to find... wow... early German efficiency! ]

The other Americans and myself had a fun time seeing the different armor and tools used to construct and protect the castle many years ago, and were impressed with how hands on the history was in the museum. Another cool thing was a room with film being projected that dated back more than a century ago with landmarks that we passed by everyday, except the people were wearing cloaks and tophats, and there was no shisha bar across the street from the Rathaus.

[ Teilnahmebestätigung ! An entire university year of German language instruction in 2 months. phew...]

After the museum [ we really could only learn as much as we tried to translate the German signs on the wall ] the entire group met together at the cafe nearby so that we could all have cafe und kuchen together for the last time and receive our certificates of completion of our course! It is a bit of an awkward feeling because in less than 24 hours all of us would be in another city and also without the crutch of fluent English speaking American friends to share life with everyday. At least all of us have a little more proficiency in German to find us the bus stop when we need it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Der Geburtstag von Gaby

[ Aunt Gaby's birthday ]

The weekend full of parties and fun events continued on to Monday evening which was the Birthday of my host Aunt Gaby - The sister of Angelika, and the aunt that surprised me with the German outfit for the Oktoberfest party! I had spent the first part of the day utilizing the only spare time that I had the entire weekend before Tuesday morning to get my luggage ready to be sent - with everything happening so fast, it was definitely a bit stressful and I had a lot of stuff on my mind.

Luckily I had Monday evening to unwind when the family all drove over to a nearby city to visit Gaby's open house birthday party that she says she does every year. It is actually a very cute idea, since in the late afternoon she had the living room set up with a great spread of coffee, tea and many different cakes, and a bunch of friends sitting around to gossip and laugh with.

As the evening progressed and the sun set, some friends left, others trickled in, a huge champagne bottle was popped, and the open house continued. Gaby had some candles lit which was accompanied by a great dinner - fancy food that she made including delicious beef stewed in a wine sauce and pumpkin soup, yet, in a casual serve yourself when you please style from the kitchen.

The conversations with her family and friends all around her - some arriving still even in the evening - had Gaby glowing the entire evening. Everyone's chatting became very rapid and with complex German [ Which scared me a little bit to be more independent in the 'real' world starting Wednesday with my life in Germany...], but as the night became very late, and everyone enjoyed wine with various cheese selections that Gaby prepared, it was just enjoyable to sit and absorb the happy environment. Sometimes I wish I could express this to the people around me, since I worry that it may look like I am a deer in the headlights clueless about the German spoken around me, but really, I am just taking-it-all-in, and soaking up this great family enviroment here in Germany.

I hope that Gaby had a great birthday, and I promised her that I would be returning later this year to visit the Weber's again. Monday ended very late into Tuesday only giving me a few hours to sleep before my last day of classes at the CDC truly marking the end of language school and my first phase of my year in Germany.

Ein Schlafzimmer im Untergeschoss

[ A bedroom in the basement ]

The sun is shining in now into my bedroom and the doors are wide open on both sides. The tables and crates of glasses are all being carried from the outside in, and at the same time I am tearing apart my room packing up for the next big move. It is one of those ‘empty’ feeling days. The big party is over, now on Monday it is just the remains of dirty dishes and remnants of a great Sunday party, and my bedroom feels quite empty with my shelves now bare, and the fall breeze coming through with the sliding doors dragged open.

I really wasn’t anticipating any of these feelings – as I had mentioned before, I hadn’t really even paid much mind to the first 2 month phase in Germany at all back in the states. I had read it off as an introductory period and the ‘real’ part of the year would begin in October with my University studies. How wrong I was. The past two months here with the Weber family have been absolutely incredible and the adventures, great stories, and great new family members and friendships that I have from the past two months were all refreshingly unexpected.

After all, I had failed to grasp the fact that the 2 month language school phase was just as long as my experiences in Japan and Finland where I created unforgettable moments in both places with great friends and families. In fact, my blog here in Germany has already surpassed the length of “My summer in Finland”, and that summer has a feeling of grand nostalgia whenever I look back at some photos.

My luggage is dense – how did I pack so much… ? – and I feel scatter-brained with everything in seemingly organized… yet unorganized piles – Shoot! My bus card is in my Jeans pocket somewhere in that suitcase!... - Essentially this packing is just as disorderly as my packing was for Japan and Finland – the move feels just the same as if I were going back to the states even if it is just a few hours up to northern Germany. On top of this, I must send my luggage to my next host city by a shipping service on Tuesday, a day before I actually leave, so it must be ready even more in advance. That means I have to organize some clothes to depart with - Do I have enough underwear if they lose my luggage?

[Departure ticket]

Yesterday at the Oktoberfest party, Angelika, blushed in the cheeks, and extremely festive in her emerald green Dirndl was giving me hugs and kisses all day. She would laugh with her friends how they wish they could steel me and keep me at their house – sometimes adopt , sometimes to keep me as their American slave - but really, I don’t think anyone really thought that this week was going to come this fast. Honestly the time has flown by. In Japan and Finland, with the mindframe of carpe-diem during my short summer, I relished in every moment I could. I am not saying that I am not seizing the moment here in Germany, but when your mind is on the big picture – an entire year – you lose focus of that fact that time is flying right by.

The past weekend has been filled with lots of hugs from everyone, and planning for the rest of the year. I have no idea what is in store for me with my university or my Praktikum internship later on, but the one thing that is a definite solid fact is that I always have a family that cares for me here in Saarbrücken that I could knock on the door at any time and be immediately right back in the mix, including a bedroom in the basement.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Oktoberfest à la Weber-style

The guests were all marching in - the door of the house was pretty much just left open for everyone to walk through. All the people that trickled into the garten were all people that I had met at least once or twice over the past two months here, either being neighbors, or guests to some of Angelika's excellent dinner parties. It was very nice to shake hands with everyone and chat, and I got a bit of a boost of confidence when people were surprised over my progress with German since the last time I saw them. I still have a long way to go, but the fact that I could essentially chat with people after only two months here not only surprises them, but surprises myself everyday as well! It gives me more motivation to work just as hard over the next ten months as well.

Most of the guests were all coming in with their typical Bavarian outfits, and I was really enjoying how elaborate some people got with theirs. Then, the surprise of the afternoon came for me, when my host aunt Gaby arrived. She is such a sweetheart and always great to see and came with a typical dress shirt and handkerchief for me to borrow for the day! Yes! finally I could fit in and look German like a rest of the Oktoberfest crowd. You could only imagine that I was beaming while strutting around the backyard amongst the cheerful reactions from the Germans around the garten.

The decorations of the party were excellent - so perfect with the heart cookies dangling, the festive fall harvest centerpieces on the tables, and the cow randomly in the background that became the focal photo-op of the party. The Bier tap was streaming, and the food was served.

[ Die Schwestern - The sisters ]

Everything was delicious, and many of the items were the things that I was able to enjoy with Ciocia Zosia last week in Munich as well! Weiβwurst, Schweinhax'n, Kartoffelsalat, warm Bretzeln and many other salads and meats as well. The grill was hot for everyone to have their fatty pieces of Schweinhax'n pork crackling and dripping with grease, and accompanied with some saurkraut, it was all perfection.

[ I have no idea what they were wearing... or why they were grilling a pretzel... oh 12 year olds ;) ]

The party was a hit, with everyone dressed for the occasion, one guest strumming away tunes on his guitar, the middle aged ladies all a bit blushed in the cheeks having a wild time cracking jokes and singing along some American classics with some excellent accents, and everyone really just having a great time.

The dessert table was set up later, complete was a wide array of typical Bavarian sweets, many complete with the essence of poppyseeds, cherries, plums and other fruits and nuts. The festivities went ALL day - starting at 11 am, all the way past 11 pm with some family members staying late socializing by the beer on tap, and then moving upstairs where we all played card games.

Stefan was especially pleased with the great international turn out that arrived at the party from his group of friends. He was proudly telling me how he had guests with backgrounds from France, Haiti, China, Korea, America, Poland, Germany [ ... and Bavaria , worth calling them another nationality he joked!] all attending the party. I thought that was quite impressive as well, and I think really shows just how international the Weber family really is.

The Sunday was perfect, exhausting, delicious, loud, and overall a lot of fun. It was a great way to spend time with this host family that I really love being with so much, and helping out with all of the behind the scenes fun before and during the party preparing as well. I enjoyed myself so much at the party - festive, of course, in my fitting outfit - that the looming departure date later in the week and the packing ahead was the last thing on my mind.

Ein festliches Haus

[ A Festive household ]

After coming back with Stefan from the very neat outing to the Saarbahn grand opening, the house was already underway with a lot of hustle and bustle. Stuff was being moved around, dishes prepped for the next day - everything was pretty hectic. I was loving it however, because the organized chaos felt just like my family's experiences during the holidays, and this Oktoberfest party felt just like a holiday weekend - Family members and friends in and out of the house, foods being prepped with all the ladies tasting, pinching, rolling in the kitchen, great smells coming out of the oven, boxes of different things being taken up and down the stairs. The stress of being a busy body long with everyone was really energizing and a lot of fun.

[ The party planning book that Angelika always notes the menu for her dinner parties ]

The preparations moved right along to Sunday morning where we started the day with a cup of coffee before everything would become go go go again. Like the day before, we chatted about random things while at the dining table, especially the fact that this was my last weekend here.

-Well maybe you could come back here with us and work in Saarbrücken - maybe with the mayor.

- oh really. nice. who is the mayor?

- Chris... you met her already... at the art gallery... no wait TWICE, she was the lady that you talked to with red hair at the Saarbahn event as well.


- I have talked to the mayor... twice?!

[ Just another note-to-self to keep up those good first impressions and small talk auf Deutsch... you never know when you will be chatting with the mayor... twice...]

I was still a bit amazed - one for the fact that my usually observant self failed to realize all the people that I have been meeting over the past few days - but also amazed over just how cool it really is to , in a way, unknowingly be chatting as a guest American youth to so many important people and sharing my excitement about living in Germany with them.

The breakfast ended quickly, and Stefan and Angelika went out to vote. Yes, this Sunday was the national election - and with all the hectic events taking place, I wish I could have been paying more attention to the publicity about it - but I will for sure be looking into it and jotting down some notes here soon.

Once they arrived back home, Angelika got her Dirndl on, and the food was being moved from upstairs to the downstairs - heart cookies hung from the trees - real ivy, apple and gourds decorated the tables - hot pretzels were in the oven, and before we knew it, the guests were moving in!

O'zapf is! Oktoberfest at the Weber house begins!


Saturday morning started with everyone getting up to continue setting up for Sunday's party. I came upstairs in my Pajamas [ I usually don't walk around with my hair disheveled and in my plaid pajama pants... but I didn't even realize that I just wandered upstairs - I guess I am really just becoming a fixture family member in the household ]. My host family got a kick out of my T-shirt that reads "Everyone loves a foreign boy" which a good friend of mine back home gave to me as a gift. I am still addressed sometimes as "Amerika" and none of us can really believe that my time here as their new international son is coming to a close within a few days!

At the table, we chatted a bit about the national elections taking place this Sunday, and the press in the newspaper about it. As we were discussing, and I was trying my best to understand the German, let alone comprehend this German election process, Stefan noticed something that startled him in the newspaper - apparently today was the grand opening of the new Saarbahn rail rout in the city and Stefan remembered he had a special invitation to be one of the first riders on the rout. He was already dressed for the day - but he asked if I wanted to go, and how fast I could get ready - I don't pass up any opportunity - I was showered, towel dried, and dressed with my shoes laced in 5 minutes. Here we go!

Once I was in the car, I finally learned what we were actually going to [ I find it funny that I often quickly accept invitations before I even know what is going on - all part of the adventure, right? ]. The Saarbahn is the train that runs through Saarland [ and the one that I can take to Saareguemines when I feel like traveling for a cafe break! ] and on the other end of the rout, in a connecting city of Riegelsburg, the Saarbahn now has an extended rout that is just opening for the public. Stefan is actually friends with the director of transportation in Saarland and I learned a day after a nice dinner Angelika hosted at the house that I had sat right next to him along with the previous mayor of the city - I had dinner side by side with the director of transportation and the former mayor and you didn't tell me ?! - but regardless, Stefan always seems to have events to go to with his wide array of connections from his job and close friends. I was actually really happy to be spending an outing out with just the two of us.

As we came closer, the train stops all had the festive balloons in colors of the Saarbahn's orange and blue ads. There was a big crowd of people amongst some tents and Stefan pulled out a name tag that served as his pass to be a guest rider on the first voyage of the new train rout - Stefan actually laughed because he said that this was his first time riding on the Saarbahn ever! It makes sense because his work is very close, but I utilize it a few times a week here.

Very similar to my experience at the art gallery, I was introduced to many people and shook hands and small talked. Some people I recognized from the art museum before, and others were such prominent people that I recognized them from posters around the city - WOW! there is the leader of the SPD here in Saarbrücken - Isn't that one of the men running for election in the Linke party?! - It was almost as if I was seeing celebrities around me since I had seen their faces on posters since arriving here in Germany, but the event was packed with important figures of the area for the grand opening of the new addition of the public transportation rout.

There were a few interesting notes about the event - for one, there was an outdoor mass with a priest to christen the first voyage of the new railway. It seems sensible, but I just found it almost out of place here in a country where probably only 5% of the people in the crowd actually attended church. Even so, Germans are a people that are very proud of tradition. As the crowd moved toward the train to tour the maiden travels, a band that was reminiscent of the bands in Oktoberfest were bopping tunes away on a tuba, accordion and other instruments, as well as a man singing with a twang into a hand-held loudspeaker. The setting was pretty comical.

Once everyone was crammed into the train [ just imagine a bunch of semi-formal clad business and political figures all squished for a trip on public transportation - kind of funny ] the conductors all came around to punch everyones card to give the experience a fun feeling of authenticity. Stefan told me about the 40 Euro fines if someone is caught on the transportation system without a ticket. Apparently they are called Schwartzfahrer - or black riders. He asked me what we called the same thing in America and I really don't know - maybe something as literal as " a person that didn't pay...".

- oh, you don't call them black riders?

- no... in America that would probably be considered racist...

The train cruised throughout the city, and the funny thing was that people were waiting at the stops to get on, but since this was a special train it just passed right by. You could imagine the confusion of the people if you were waiting for a train and then it just whizzes by without opening its doors, and you possibly catch sight of a well known politician in the window!

Along with the politicians on the train, the event seemed to be highly political for other reasons - especially with the national elections taking place the next day. At one stop, protestors from the FDP party were carrying posters that essentially said " We have already waited many years for you" and wore long, aged beards, as if to proclaim that this groundbreaking event for the train was already long overdue for the members of their political party.

Once we arrived back at the main starting station, Stefan and I grabbed some refreshments and chatted with a few other people he introduced me to. [ I found it interesting when shaking hands with the leader of the SPD party here that he wore a "Yes We Can" wristband] A lot of people asked what I thought about the transportation system, and I have to admit that it is very nice in the city. I can only elaborate to them that I come frome Detroit, MI and that there, public transportation systems virtually don't exist, which gets me some very surprised responses. Learning about the train system here, and observing this event for the Saarbahn has once again peaked my interest in public transportation. I have actually been reading articles about Detroit lately and been writing about this issue, so it came at a perfect time.

While talking with different people Stefan told me that he constantly meets people all over the place, especially at events, since his clientel for his civic lawyer duties has him working for over 5,000 people a year. 5,000 people!? Wow, I did not know that about his job, but I was definitely very appreciative about the fact that he invited me along for the event, and I had a chance to check out a lot of cool sites and experience another highly attended social event with many prominent people here in Saarbrücken once more.