Friday, April 30, 2010

Martin Luther : Lehrer der Reformation

[ Martin Luther : Teacher of the Reformation era ]

My day trip with Andreas was already quite a full experience. I toured the incredible city of Weimar and witnessed some timeless buildings which housed some of the greatest minds in German art and literature. We ate some regional specialties in the city including Thüringen bratwurst and knödel. After this very unique experience in the middle of Germany, I also was introduced to another angle of German history, preserved now as a testament only to peace for mankind in the future.

On the drive back home - hovering in between discussing the events of the day, and having the thoughts of the KZ on the back of our minds, I couldn't help but notice a castle on the top of a large hill in the distance. And so it goes, we had an unplanned detour to explore.

Turns out, this castle was more important than I could have even anticipated. In fact, by name I knew what this castle was - I just never new what it looked like or where it was - but it was definitely part of my history books. Wartburg Castle, prominently located at the crest of the highest point of Eisenach, was the location where Martin Luther, the leader of the reformation movement in Germany, translated the Bible from Latin into German [ The first translation of the Bible into a modern language in over a millennium ].

Luther's integral role in German history, leading a movement from peasants to not pay "indulgences" to the Catholic Church to redeem their sins from God, prospered into a great shift in European culture and following of Protestantism. His efforts to translate the Bible into the vernacular of the region, German, made great progress in the language, and was even an influence on the King James Bible to be written in English.

Wartburg Castle was an incredible sight. Less of a castle and more of a micro-village atop this hill overlooking the city, it had an aura about it of being holy - and to think that this feeling transcends 500 years later. The Castle was complete with a church, living quarters, even a large bath. Seeing this building was unreal, and like many things in Europe to an American perspective, seemed more cartoon at first than several hundreds year old preserved history - It has a drawbridge...! - we just don't see this on a daily basis.

The history in one day was obviously a lot to take in. History in Germany spanning 500 years; three radically different era's of Germany's proudest and darkest moments. It was an excellent trip with Andreas, cruising around on the Autobahn to the center of Germany, taking detours, and then trudging up to the peak of Wartburg Castle. It was all worth it - and to make the evening complete, we were home in time to catch the Bayern-München soccer match before heading off for much needed sleep.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jedem das seine

[ To each his own ]

Weimar was an incredible small city filled with immense amounts of history. Our trip for the day was not done, however, and there was another site to visit just a short drive away. This was the site of the Buchenwald KZ - Konzentrationslager - concentration camp, and revealed a much different chapter of German history.

As pointed out by Andreas, it is very difficult to understand how, just a mere 8 kilometers - less than 4 miles - from one of the most influential and historical cities in Germany, lies one of the most prominent of all concentration camps during the Nazi era.

I didn't know what to expect from seeing the camp. Walking through the gate of the wire-fence enclosed site, one doesn't really know how to take in the surroundings. The bunkers are now gone, just symbolized by gravel filled rectangles on the earth, and the enclosed area feels hollow. The crematorium still stands erect as a tribute to the hundreds where it serves as a burial ground.

The gate of the camp still has its metal fixture over the entrance : Jedem des seine.
Translated to " to each his own" and more loosely to " everyone gets what they deserve ". This nazi embellishment now stands over this gate as a haunting memory of the actions of the camp.

The history in the camp was overwhelming - and a stark contrast from the German history of eloquent writers, including Goethe, that scribed prose about humanity and the beauty of mankind in a town just minutes away. Any other details about the concentration camp I do not feel would be justly represented by this post. It is just important for me to share the different perspectives of history that I witnessed in one day. It has greatly impacted me, and something to deeply think about.

As a final note, Buchenwald may be familiar to English speakers because of its inclusion in the famous Holocaust account from Elie Wiesel, "Night". It is an important novel of a Holocaust survivor, and now is hard to conceptualize as this camp sits quietly as a memory amongst rolling hills in the very center of a now peaceful Germany and Europe.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Hier bin ich Mensch, und hier darf ich sein

[ Here I am man, and here may I be ]

Inge has left for a few days on a personal trip, so it has been Andreas and myself together in Göttingen together. The other day, on Andreas' day off we planned an outing together for a one day roadtrip. About 2.5 hours away from Göttingen, in the bundesland of Thüringen, we visited the very historic city of Weimar.

Bach, Nietzsche, Martin Luther, to name a few of the international known names come from this city, along with some integral figures in German literature, including Goethe and Schiller. The list of famous people that come from this city is extensive. On many accounts, this small town [ on appearance and how dense everything is, smaller than Göttingen!] is considered the center of German culture, and a central point for European culture as well. After all, important authors, playwrites, composers, even religious reformers all came from this rather quaint German city.

Located right in the middle of Germany, Weimar seems to capture a scene of Germany that is frozen in time. The buildings, lined on the cobblestone pedestrian streets, are little German flats, often times with wooden window shutters and brightly colored facades.

Being a city of so many acclaimed academics, the city is full of locations that have preserved this history. Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek - Dutches Anna Amalia Library - is one of the most important collections in all of Europe.

The library itself has an incredible aura about it with its huge shelves of books encased by marble statues and gold lief. The collection numbers into the hundreds of thousands of volumes, including maps, compositions and other important documentations of classical German history.

When learning about the history of Weimar while incredibly being able to experience its well preserved history, it is also fascinated to learn how many of these notable figures in German arts and sciences were all quite interconnected in society, often as friends or neighbors. The city itself created a society of great minds, earning it its credit as a heart of German culture.

Along with the library, I also saw the houses of Goethe and Schiller. These names are largely unknown in the English speaking world, but they are two of the most important figures in German literary history. Goethe, as I have mentioned before, is hailed as the Shakespeare of the German language, and the author of the masterpiece "Faust".

Their houses were perfectly preserved museums, and along with every incredible creak from the wood paneled floor, it was living history right in front of you. Legend has it that Goethe and Schiller were life long friends and a statue to commemorate their relationship stands before the Weimar theater. I also heard that the skull of the young deceased Schiller remained on the desk of his good friend Goethe!

From libraries to houses of timeless academics, Weimar also had a castle within walking distance of its central square. Everything was so condensed. The castle had room after room of important art movements in Germany, and a collection that only a city as eclectic and historical as Weimar could have.

Before heading out, Andreas and I were sure to enjoy a Thüringen classic, their bratwurst, as well as hearty German Knödel as well. And to our surprise, continuing on our on-running joke from Easter, our favorite slogan was proudly displayed on one of the buildings in the city commemorating Goethe.

Andreas and I had an excellent time in the city, and for me it was an excellent opportunity to see so much German history at one time in one place. Weimar was a pleasant surprise, and definitely a recommendation for a perfect stop in Germany for travelers to view an immense amount of German and European history, perfectly preserved, in an area so dense that all these sights are within minutes of each other in the city center!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

die Micky Maus

[ Mickey Mouse ]

One of the most beloved cartoon characters in the world has a curious trait here in Germany. I have learned the different names of the character around the world, from ミッキーマウス [ Mikkii Mausu ] in Japan to Mikki Hiiri in Finland, yet, in Germany it is pretty straight forward, "die Micky Maus," following suit with German generally always having an article attached to the noun.

For those that know some German, or remember from a previous post on German grammar, this is another thing that can make your head spin. Don't double take, because the "die" listed above is not a typo. Micky Maus is given the feminine article "die", and when described, usually also with feminine grammar - die Micky Maus, eine kleine Maus. Mickey, a small mouse.

When reading comics about Mickey here in Germany, the character is "die" but it seams that anything attributed to him uses "sein" [seine Freundin Minnie] which is masculine. The word mouse in German - the easily recognizable Maus - is a feminine word in German, hence "die Maus". But when a fictional character that is male is still a mouse, all the sudden German's strict grammar rules equate to stories of male mice running around with feminine articles attatched to their name. Maybe things like this happen in other languages around the world? Regardless, German is the only language I know off hand that a mouse can cause confusion for being masculine or feminine, but a child is an it - neuter, das Kind...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Blick auf Göttingen

[ Sights of Göttingen ]

I have lived in Göttingen for about 7 months now and have come a long way since my first days in the beginning of the semester getting lost in the city center [ quite funny now, because it isn't that big, just many tiny interconnected pedestrian streets]. I have captured many events in the city through some of my stories and photos, but I really haven't documented anything about my home here in Germany much like I did about my previous home of Saarbrücken.

[ For just one week, the University Campus became pink with incredible cherry blossoms. The scene with the colorful trees and the rows of bikes represents spring, and the beginning of the new semester now taking place in Göttingen ]

I am going to introduce some of the landmark corners, picturesque sights, and historical facts about Göttingen in a series of posts. With the weather becoming spring here, I have found myself discovering and rediscovering things about this small University city in the very middle of Germany and the unique things that it has to offer.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Geschäftsreise nach Hannover

[ Work trip to Hanover ]

Back to work after a very nice, and long, Easter weekend, I returned to my current intern project at the FDP office researching and translating information about current findings in Sports medicine and anti-doping protocols. I am not always in the office however, since there have been some nice opportunities, such has Berlin, that have provided me more outlooks on Niedersachsen and Germany as well.

Dr. Knopek, the abgeordneter, Parliament representative, that I am currently making my Praktikum for was back in Göttingen for a few days and one morning he had a meeting in Hanover to attend and I was able to come along. Hanover is the capital of Niedersachsen, and being the major city of the Bundesland, it has many important institutions – such as the notable Rathaus, many businesses, and a huge soccer stadium for the local team.

Our meeting was right next to the stadium and it was the headquarters for sport programs for Niedersachsen. Sitting at the oval table with other workers scrawling notes on their pads, I listened in on the history of sports in Niedersachsen that they discussed, and how money is distributed between different factions, such as school athletics, amateur athletics and Olympic training programs as well.

I was even able to tour one of the largest Olympic training facilities in Germany, complete with an indoor track, swimming pools and gyms with many different gymnastic sets. The subject of sport medicine and funding for training programs has never been something that I have had much previous knowledge of. I did realize however, that in America, many training facilities and programs for Amateur athletes are often connected to Universities, often times offering sport-academic related scholarships.

[ Dr. Knopek, the Bundestag representative whom I work for, at the Hanover Olympic Trainings center ]

Here in Germany, while observing the complex of the Niedersachsen Olympic training center, the disconnection from a university was notable. [sports are rarely, if ever, connected to schools are universities. Most students join private teams, and schools normally do not have any extracurricular sport activities that is so commonplace in American culture.]

The pressure of sport scholarships to Universities is widely understood and highly esteemed in the States, and this must be viewed as a very unique aspect of our culture. Until working on my project for the FDP, I had not previously realized that this concept of scholarships for athletic performance [as well as its negative side of students abusing steroids or other drugs to cheat the system] was viewed as a very foreign aspect of our culture. The trip to Hanover was another good experience and another example to me, that whereas Americanization is happening all over the world [and the pros and cons are many], there are still many aspects of our culture that are just as foreign as the next.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ostern in Deutschland - Verstecken der Eier

[ Easter in Germany - Hiding the easter eggs ]

Church attendance aside, Germany’s closer connection between Church and State than America does offer many more religious related Holiday’s. For the Easter weekend I had Friday and Monday off, making it a 4 day weekend, which I know is the envy of many American families, especially ones with college students that try to bring the family together like Thanksgiving and Christmas. The four day weekend was nice, and I was spending it as a family with Inge and Andreas as well as Janna, who returned from Paris for the weekend to spend at home.

With Janna back home, we finally celebrated Inge’s delayed birthday with a very nice dinner, as well as the cake that I pulled together [ Blueberry cheesecake with walnuts, a bit on the sweet side, what NY style cheesecake isn’t, but it was a good attempt ].

On Easter Sunday I woke up early to first hide my Easter candies and gifts for everyone, and then I was off to Easter mass. The Catholic mass was at noon, directly in the middle of Inge and Andreas’ plans with guests for Brunch, so I made the decision to try the Evangelical Church. Not the same, but I figured when else in my life would I not be visiting a Catholic Church on Easter – an experience nonetheless. Still the youngest by far in the pews, I did miss the celebratory feeling that I remember of Easter growing up – crowds of people, dozens of flowers with colors of spring, Babcias and Grandmas all around with beautiful corsages.

I wasn’t expecting anything to be the same, however, it did take me by surprise, with exception to the church bells ringing in the distance, the city was silent and deserted. The protestant mass had some nice music and a choir – obviously a different set up for the service that I wasn’t used too – but surrounded by the hushed environment of the city, I learned firsthand that Easter, at least in Göttingen, was a family celebration kept close knit and at home.

Back home in time for brunch Andreas and Janna were anxious already to search for some Schoko-eier! [especially the Lindor truffle easter eggs]. Whereas hiding eggs on Easter is a practiced tradition in the States, I noticed that our Easter Baskets delivered by the Easter Bunny was not the norm in Germany – best explained to them by relating it to Nikolaus and setting out one’s stocking.

Being adults didn’t stop us from hiding chocolate eggs, bunnies and other trinkets all around the house, and then trying to grab as many as possible – the best surprise was when everything was gone and a few days later, to Andreas’ delight, nestled between books on the bookshelf another golden Lindt bunny was waiting to be eaten.

It is also exciting to note that over the few days that the branches we picked were resting in a vase of water, they blossomed with vibrant curled green leaves. With delicate eggshells dangling off these, now verdant branches, it was a very festive centerpiece for the wohnzimmer on Ostern.

Easter had nice traditions like Christmas here in Germany, yet there were also many to compare and contrast with what I do back home. Easter definitely wasn’t the big commotion I have come to love back home – big family, constant backing, Polish specialties, blessed easter baskets at church and many dyed eggs.

Here Easter was a quieter day, with the company of the immediate family, good chocolate, a nice dinner in the evening that we all pitched in to help with Inge – Lamb and sides with very French names – and ultimately the chance to sleep in Monday morning after the long dinner conversations Sunday night.

There is a very famous poem by Goether, essentially the Shakespeare of German literature, about Easter Sunday. It has been a joke over the week that I would have to memorize the poem about an Easter Sunday walk fascinated by the beautiful surroundings, and then recite it at dinner on Easter. As we all went for a walk through a forest during the afternoon after brunch, Andreas and I were able to find a fitting hill with a view over the budding Spring landscape and pronounce the famous lines:

Hier bin ich Mensch, und hier darf ich sein!

Here I am human, and here I may be.