Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Frieren in Bremen

[ Freezing in Bremen ]

I mentioned before that it was a very busy transition from January into February, but I also noted that amongst all the dates, projects and deadlines stressing me out in various checklists on my desk, there were definitely moments of fun.

Just recently I was uploading pictures and sorting them into folders, and then I saw the photos from Bremen - !... I let this story slip through my fingers - and realized that amongst all of the changes taking place, I had neglected [ or more realistically put off - "I'll write about this... later" ] writing about another semester-ticket adventure that my friends and I took on the Regionalbahn through Niedersachsen.

Bremen is actually another Bundesland [ like Hamburg] but their status as separate "states" even though they are small [ and more like metropolitan areas] are still counted within our semesterticket to travel through Niedersachsen.

The trip was actually one destined to be one with lots of time sitting and talking amongst one another - not only were we together the entire day, but the train rides [on the slower Regionalbahn] with many Umsteigung , transfers, had us ride about 5 hours there, spend about 5 hours in the city, and then 5 hours back home - epitomizing the "one day trip".

I had no expectations for Bremen - and from the way I described, it was actually more of a brief day off and interjection into the other hectic events of the time. I can honestly say that I just woke up early on the Saturday, packed some snacks and went [ and thinking back now, regarding how distant Bremen is, that is almost as crazy as waking up and saying "oh, I am going to go to Chicago today" ... oh wait... I have done that before...].

[ This is a church with a building attached. What it used to be... I don't know, but know it sells Wurst and other German snacks. Kind of comical when you take the entire sight in all at once ]

The snow in the pictures may give a beautiful accent to all of the great architecture of the old-town in Bremen, but to express how we really felt - after so many frigid trips, we were all done with Winter. So cold in fact, that after our frequent pit-stops in random shops and cafe's just to warm up - about every 20 minutes - we would fantasize about the great sites we were seeing , with the attached idea of "and what if we did this here, or that there in spring time!"

Coldness aside, Bremen really impressed me. Its old town may have been small, but it was dense. There were beautiful churches, the altes Rathaus, narrow streets hundreds of years old with little boutiques lined with statues and the tracks of the tram running through the city. We still need to go back in the spring [ in addition to the picnics we want to have on the harbor ] and visit the churches [ which were unfortunately closed ] as well as the Schnoor [ a famous small ally with more small shops and historical buildings ] once more to really capture the heart of Bremen.

Right in the middle of Bremen stands Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten, which is a statue representing the Brothers Grimm tale of The Musicians of Bremen. In short, the animals, old and repressed by their owners, escape and travel to Bremen, known for its freedom, and enjoy their lives as musicians. The symbol is seen readily all around the city.

Bremen was a very nice city, a great surprise, and a city that I hope to see again this year, hopefully to catch more beautiful views of its harbors and gardens in the spring time, as well as visit some of the closed historical buildings to learn more of the history of the Northwestern coast of Germany.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Galina besucht Göttingen pt. 3

[ Galina visits Göttingen pt. 3 ]

Over one week Galina received the Göttingen crash course visit. Tours through the city, checking out a little Bücherladen and Teestube - bookstore and tea shoppe here and there , meeting friends at ornate student pubs then venturing off to make dinners together or attend other parties filled with over a dozen different languages – turning one way speaking German, then Galina meeting someone to chat a bit in French, I would meet a friend and throw around a bit Japanese to catch up, Italian, Spanish and Polish in the background amongst other languages, and [beside Galina and myself as native speakers] English [and German when the Erasmus students aren’t lazy] is the natural lingua franca.

We went out late, woke up early [I still don’t know if I was torturing poor Galina possibly suffering from Jetlag and only politely allowing me to drag her around town]. We would separate when I had a class or exam, but came back together in very Göttinger-style meeting at “der Nabel” a statue that is nicknamed “the bellybutton” distinctly for its central placement perfect for meeting up.

We cooked for Inge and Andreas [ or attempted to ] and some nights had nice long conversations over a glass [or two…] of wine. I had a good feeling that Inge and Galina would find some good common ground, since Inge also speaks fluent French and taught it for many years.

[ No argument this isn't a scene of beauty. With some family guests over on Sunday, we had a wonderful German brunch. ]

Galina really disciplined herself and stuck to German for the week, but when something became lost in translation, Galina and Inge could fascinatingly also break into French to clarify things, making English usage minimized. Andreas did comment on Galina’s accent when she did speak English, the rapidity of our Great Lakes-speak, and our well nurtured Rrrrr’s – which I never thought about being a possibility to be interesting to my host parents, but then again, even if I do have to use English, I will admit that I don’t speak to them very fast or complex. That brings up the other observation I made, about Galina’s accented German, definitely with a few Americanized notes, and it made me wonder if I sound the same in my struggle to be understood [ I have yet to hear myself recorded in German… I don’t know if I want to either.]

Throughout the week, having Galina around to remind me about the major differences from home that I have since rendered as normal, we discussed the format of the town, being able to walk virtually everywhere, what compared to our University town back home, Ann Arbor, but also what can be found around Europe, and in this case Göttingen, that we could only imagine back home.

The visit, which from my opinion was a very well rounded perspective on the life of an average student in Göttingen, was completed for Galina by taking a small weekend trip within Niedersachsen to do a day trip sightseeing. We revisited Hanover, the capital of the Bundesland of Niedersachsen, which is complete with some very beautiful architecture, especially the Rathaus, which has to be one of my favorite so far in my travels of Germany.

[ you won't find this view in any other time of the year unless you are on a boat. Alessio said we made him risk his life...]

Once again, the trip to Hanover was frigid, and I was bundled – busting at the seams of my Jacket – with pullovers and wool sweaters. So cold, in fact, that we actually experienced a very new perspective of the lake behind the rathaus – why go over the bridge, when we can pose for pictures under it, or for that matter, just walk there across the lake.

We warmed up in an Irish pub and, noting Galina’s freedom to now order an Irish coffee without restraint, capitalized on the opportunity to enjoy something that warms the body and soul when the appropriate time comes to unthaw.

As I initially mentioned, checking out Galina’s photos rekindled some of the feelings that I first had coming to Göttingen. The city is not that big, but I still got lost, and now Galina knows that there is a difference between das neues Rathaus and das altes Rathaus – a pretty important one in fact when finding the way back home.

[ posing for the "I was in Germany" photo - Apfelshorle with the background of the Oldest building in Göttingen ]

It was exciting to see Galina squeal [she tends to do that from time to time] with glee seeing some Apfelschorle at the store or some Rittersport with hazelnuts that brought back some great nostalgia from her first tour through Germany a few summers ago with a traveling international orchestra. The photos that Galina took captured some of the very scenes that I first captured in Göttingen or Hanover during my visits there [ some seem to be almost identical places from some of my Weihnachtsmarkt frames] emphasizing the fact that some corners you turn in Germany are so photogenic that you stop, stare a moment, take it in and then take a photo to save that feeling.

[ Enjoying the atmosphere and the pastries at one of the fanciest cafes in Göttingen for the famed German Kaffee und Kuchen. Delicious and almost too pretty to eat, but now I have Paris to look forward to. Galina better start researching - another outing for some fancy Pâtisserie is in order! ]

It was very nice to introduce Galina to "my city" and also welcome her to get to know my host family. I hope that Göttingen was a good addition to Galina’s travels through Germany and the rest of Europe, and I wish her well on her exciting travels to Paris. She made two stops before moving in – one to Kassel, and then near Saarbrücken – and now she is exploring the city of lights. With updates on facebook like this I have no worries about her feeling uninspired by her new foreign home:

piles and piles of dusty old books, antiques overflowing from every shelf, not a single floorboard that doesn't creek, a hint of smoke mixed with cheese in the air, marble fireplaces throughout the apartment, penthouse with a cute balcony ---> UTOPIA, PARISIAN FLAT STYLE.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Galina besucht Göttingen pt.2 : Trifft mit Chris B.

[ Galina visits Göttingen : Meeting up with Chris B. ]

Some events make everything come full circle. In previous posts I have mentioned how visits from German exchange students to Athens High School and the connections that I made sparked my initial interests in wanting to visit Germany and learn the language. Just days before I departed overseas, one of the exchange students, Chris Bachler, was right in the middle of making his second visit back to Troy to visit friends that he made and spend time with his host family.

I actually met up together with Chris, and also invited Galina along, and we spent the afternoon together at the Greek fest down Wattles road and a coffee at Somerset mall. We chatted in English about what I might see in Germany - and at the time I was anxiously questioning what was in Saarbrücken, or for that matter what was in Niedersachsen [ Göttingen wasn't even on the radar yet! ]. We chatted about what it was like for the Germans in Michigan, and what it might be like for me living and studying in Germany.

With Galina in town in Göttingen visiting me, the timing seemed perfect to meet back together and have a similar visit, except this time, virtually everything spoken auf Deutsch, and enjoying an afternoon around a European city including lunch and a 3D movie. It is very exciting to me to think that I have met people from around the world, like Fanny from Finland visiting me in the summer, or some German friends that also visited Troy, and now the connections are coming together where I am visiting them and seeing the other side of the adventures of studying abroad.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Galina besucht Göttingen pt.1

[ Galina visits Göttingen ]

Last year, wrapping up the winter semester at the University of Michigan, I had already known about my acceptance into the CBYX program for a number of weeks. I really wasn't sure what exactly I was getting myself into [ I've been here now half a year, and I am still wondering what I am getting myself into! ] and I kept the news to myself for a while. I would dodge questions about which courses I was taking the next fall semester, what job I was looking for in the summer or which dorm I would live in the coming year - all the while some image of me in some German city and some chilling notion that I spoke no German would run though my head.

After a few weeks, there was really no turning back - I broadcasted my [no longer breaking] news to the world in the most preferred way my generation knows how - via Facebook.

My status update was something along the lines of "12 months of studying and working in Germany through the CBYX scholarship - time to start learning some German" and I would say that within minutes I had a response from Galina [ I think even with an expletive or two] "Germany?! we need to have coffee now!"

Galina has been a friend of mine for quite a few years now, and the news of my departure to Germany was one that I think had her elated, but also most likely a little pissed, if I can make an assumption. We had spent many lunches and dinners together over the semester talking about her German language class she was taking, as well as study abroad programs that she was looking into, including Italy and France. Not being so sure myself of the potential of my scholarship application I kept any notions of possibly going to Germany [ even the invitation to my interview ] to myself. I had no idea things were going to turn out the way they did either. At the time of the facebook updates, the news had already soaked in for me, but was a big surprise for others.

Fast forward 9 months, and I am in Germany half a year, speaking acceptable German, and Galina followed through to apply for a UofM semester abroad in Paris and was flying over the Atlantic to move in. Before she was comfortable in her Parisian flat, she made a detour to Germany to visit Göttingen [ with a few bumps in the road along the way - but what adventure abroad with Chris Crachiola doesn't have detours, getting lost, or travels on ridiculously long alternative train rides just to save a few Euros...] Without even really realizing it, we were both in Europe just months after fantasizing over Mojo dining hall dinners of the possibilities of studying abroad in the future. Next thought, we are sitting in the train on the way "home" in Göttingen. Inge and Andreas welcomed Galina with some great German cuisine set for dinner, and Galina [ probably terribly Jet lagged ] also got a chance to meet some of my friends as we met up together in one of our favorite kneipe in the city.

With Göttingen already feeling like "my city" and a cozy home, it was exciting to give a sightseeing tour through the streets. I have stolen Galina's photos for the posts of her visits to capture her views and what inspired her. In the mean time, her excitement and fascination with small streets, little boutiques or postcard perfect architecture - all things normalized already for me passing them everyday on the way to classes - opened my eyes to the incredible place that I live - even in these dreary and chillingly cold days of February.