Wednesday, July 28, 2010

die deutsche Einigung

[ The German Unification ]

One of the most exciting aspect of living and traveling through Germany is witnessing and experiencing the great variety of different cultures [and accents!] that exist within the country. The changes can be subtle from village to village, or drastic, like leaving the orderly area of Hochdeutsch in the north, to the loud and robust Bayrisch [Bavarian] Bundesland in the south - which to some might as well be considered its own nation.

It goes largely unrealized how many different smaller groups and peoples eventually came together to make up present day Germany. As I learned on a trip with my PPP area representative, Klaus, the unification collaborated actual kingdoms - and once again, history just as I had hastily studied in high school was standing before me.

Appropriately erected in Thüringen, the center of Germany, a statue of Emperor Wilhelm I memorializes the great unification of the land at Kyffhäuser. It commemorates the end of the Holy Roman Empire of Germany and the transition to the Prussian dominated German Empire starting in 1871. Four Königreiche [kingdoms] formed a new German Empire, including Prussia, Bavaria, Sachsen and Würtenburg - including a long list of Grand Duchies, Duchies and Principalities to further prove the area-centric nature of European cultures.

[ The center of Germany - a humbling look over the horizon of so many groups unified under its unique and complex history. ]

Throughout this year I have witnessed an abundance of history. I have seen history from the second world war in Bonn and Berlin, as well as the history of German prose and language in Weimar. My trip to the Kyffhäuserdenkmal was a reminder to me that Germany may be young in national terms - 1871 marks just under 150 years - however the smaller groups that consisted of some of the strongest kingdoms and societies in European history have fought against each other, and joined together over centuries creating a unified Germany with yet so many unique and diverse cultures and communities within it.

Die Kirchen von Göttingen

[ The Churches of Göttingen ]

When Galina came to visit I became more aware of different details of Göttingen as I tried to give a credible tour of the city. Since then, the city became home again, and beautiful landmarks around me became part of "my home" and I never really viewed them again as wonderful, historical cornerstones of the city, but more normalized scenery of the streets that I would cross multiple times a day.

[ St. Jacobi Kirche - unfortunately under construction this year, but the tallest church on the Göttingen skyline ]

Göttingen is almost completely in central Germany. Located in the southern part of the Bundesland Nidersachsen [Lower Saxony] it was a crossroads for many through the country. The city became a meeting point of high education leading to its reknowned university which boasts many Noble Prized thinkers and academics. Once outside of the city, it seems as though only kilometers of rolling hills and wheat fields abound. [ waiting to become beer probably ]

Göttingen itself still has a visible wall that used to protect the city. The enclosure was a guarded community that centralized around harnessing education. Along these streets that are considered some of the best preserved old town streets in Germany, four churches still mark the city's skyline. Three are protestant churches, and one is Catholic, alluding to the unique placement of the city and the history of the country itself. From a distance these churches can be seen from kilometers away, and from the center of the city, right next to the Ganseliesel stature is a small plaque in the ground, where the viewer can see all four churches at one point - after all, the heart of Göttingen is less than a square kilometer [ only just larger than a square half mile! ].

[ Vier Kirchen Blick - The four church view: St. Michael, St. Johannis, St. Albani, St. Jacobi ]

die letzten zwei Wochen.

[ The last two weeks ]

"Feeling a premonitory sadness at leaving Paris, we walked up to the edge of Montmartre to see a movie. Afterward, we wandered over to the Restaurant des Aristes. We arrived late, and as there were no other clients we had a sort of family get together with the monsieur caillon , his daughter and roer the waiter. we all sat around a big table and chatted in a very familiar way. after that we walked dow the hill and home through streets wet with the rain that had fallen while we were inside the lamplit city glittered in its puddles and the dnotre dame loomed out iof the mist, giving our nerves a twinge. when you know your time in a place is running out you try to fix such moments in your minds eye."

The above passage was one that I read earlier in the year and folded the page corner to remember it for later, figuring it would be relevant. It actually comes from Julia Child, who's published diary actually became a favorite passed around by my friends and I because of her adventures abroad in a foreign culture [ and enjoying the food of course]. Finland was a wonderful experience, and seemed to add so much to my last experience. Once back in Germany, it then hit me, strolling through the city center, that I was noticing corners of the city in a different way - I was almost starting to say goodbye.

Being away for a year has challenged me and impacted me in ways that I never could have expected. With two weeks remaining in my experience, the world cup broadcasted on televisions all over the city, student life vibrant, and many Bbq's and meals outside with my host family enjoying the summer weather, I could only savor every moment. Finding some forgotten Euros in my shorts pocket may have been the first reminder that it actually had been a complete year that I had been in Europe, and so much had happened in between, and time was already coming to a close.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


[ Hvitträsk - The Saarinen Estates ]

Why would a prom photo from almost 3 years ago - with my beautiful date and great friend Griffin - find its way into my blog about Europe? What if I wrote here that on a museum visit with Saila, Anna's mom, I witnessed not only the home of one of the most esteemed Finnish architect Families, but also the architects of the backdrop that would also happen to be where I took my prom photos? It would sound far fetched, but as it turns out 4,300 miles away from my hometown in Michigan, I was visiting the home of the architect that was the leading figure in creating the Cranbrook academy - an academy of sciences and arts that is now a gem of south-eastern Michigan.

During my exchange experience in Finland in 2007, I had learned much about the Saarinen family. The famous father and son architects not only created a unique architectural style for Finland [and perhaps Eliel's most famous, the Helsinki Central railway station], but also created some of the most iconic buildings in America, including Dulles international airport and the Gateway to the West in St. Louis, MO.

[ Helsinki Train Station ]

What I did not know however, and to my great surprise in a museum so far away from my home in Michigan, was that this family not only resided in Michigan for a large portion of their lives, but also built Cranbrook academy and called West Bloomfield, MI their home.

[ on some steps in the Cranbrook Academy - only if I had known then, just months after returning from Finland, that I was sitting amongst some of the greatest works of one of the most famous Finnish architects! ]

Eero Saarinen, the son of the legendary Eliel Saarinen, also impacted the metro Detroit area by creating the GM tech center, noted at its time for revolutionizing the American industrial architecture scene by combining functionality with aesthetic design and color. For their time and place, many of the buildings created by Eero and Eliel Saarinen were extremely forward thinking and cutting edge. And as I researched further, the only bigger name in Detroit architecture for the time was Albert Kahn [ who is the architect of the Fisher building where my father works, and many other landmark buildings in the city] who was born in the Rhein region of Germany and is known today as "the architect of Detroit" - yet another unique connection to everything that I have been learning and observing abroad.

As I toured the Hvitträsk estate with Saila - the family's original home outside of Helsinki that became a summer getaway for the family from Michigan - I took note of the modern elements in the house. For being built at the turn of the century, the inclusion of functional windows and natural lighting, as well as running water were all ideas that shaped modern homes in the decades to come. And as any good Finnish home, the attention to nature with the location along the forest and lakes [ and sauna as well! ] was also commendable.

There is something so exciting about being an the other side of the world, yet walking around the museum and reading information plaques and being able to say that "wow, Bloomfield Hills, MI, Cranbrook?! That is just miles away from my house AND I took my prom photos there!" The visit was an excellent suggestion by Saila, and opened my eyes to the evolution of not only Finnish design, but also many of the names that created what would later become American design as well - some of which may be just around the corner from where I am from.

Friday, July 9, 2010


[ Kamome Shokudo ]

Where to start with this story? – since it is one that started essentially after my last departure from Finland. Upon returning from my second extremely memorable YFU experience, I relished in all of the memories of Japan and Finland that I had around me. One day online, I stumbled on a movie that was gaining quite a bit of popularity in Japan – Kamome Shokudo, “Seagull Café”. The premise was simple, three Japanese women partaking in a comical process of starting a Japanese restaurant in Helsinki, Finland.

It seemed too good to be true - a movie that had everything all together. Once I became a student at UofM, the movie was still not easily available and I had forgotten about it. However, one of my professors that I would frequently chat with after class - [ if I am allowed to make fun of myself, it was my Buddhism teacher, and he also spoke Japanese. I always enjoyed the conversations ] -one day he gave me a burned CD and it was a copy of the movie, and he said that I would like it – of course I would, I had been waiting to see it! And ever since then, the movie has not only become a favorite of mine, but also my family’s and even Shinya, our Japanese exchange student from Okinawa, Japan. I think that is why I love the movie so much – it brings out the excitement in me of the cultures being together in the film, and how they both have opened doors for me in my own life.

Fast forward to 2010, and I am now on the train to Helsinki from Turku. As a huge coincidence, I am seated on the train next to 6 Japanese tourists venturing through Finland. At first I was a bit nervous, German dominated the part of my brain that deals with foreign languages – my Japanese was rusty at best. Even so, something sparked me to lean over and like a natural at stalking Japanese tourists: “etto… chotto sumimasen desuga….”

I cut in with a polite interjection, and joined into their discussion about Muumiland [ their previous destination in Naantali where the white hippo-like trolls live], and then to their trip Helsinki. What else was on their agenda – of course かもめ食堂, Kamome Shokudo! The series of events were all so exciting for me – I wasn’t the only one that was mesmerized by Finland and Helsinki in this film.

The film is quirky, and deals with the smaller details of life. Life abroad, helping out friends, making good food, trying to find happiness in life – but the film just makes it all seem like so much fun; calm and tranquil Helsinki is definitely a contrast to bright and chaotic Tokyo.

[ Another cultural tip to add - this map locates the areas of the city where civilians can wash and air dry their rugs, a summer ritual of many Finns (and a country where carpets are almost non-existent) ]

Once in Helsinki, the Kiukkonen family was very excited to meet me as I arrived. I had only stayed with them for one week during the final stage of my YFU exchange in 2007, but we really enjoyed each other’s company and have been in contact ever since. They have also shared their love of cultures and art with me, and caught on to my unique interests early on of Finland and Japan. They actually found the best personal gift for me – a book of Japanese Finnish fusion cuisine, in both English and Japanese!

I had sent them a copy of Kamome Shokudo last Christmas for them to see what I was so excited about in the movie. The next day we were going to visit the city and find the restaurant which was the setting of the film. In the meantime however, it was already late – near midnight, and we were home for the evening. We had no time to waste however, and Anna proposed an idea – how about some Pulla?

Now, first of all, Pulla is an excellent cardamom spiced Finnish pastry perfect with coffee. I couldn’t say no. Second – the film Kamome Shokudo has a scene with Pulla cinnamon rolls that make them look incredible – and now I was watching the yeast rise, rolling the dough and pinching the little pastries myself homemade, as traditionally Finnish as you can get!

The next day in the city, Anna and I window shopped, explored the harbor, caught up on the past years of studying abroad [ she is doing her Undergraduate studies in Lancaster, England]. The city was as beautiful as I had remembered it. Esplanadi park was bustling with people, the Havis Amanda statue was clustered with photo-snapping tourists, The street’s window displays were filled with colorful Marimekko patterns and fluid Aalto vases. Through our ventures of the city [ and me gushing about the edgy design of Scandinavia – only to find out that in 2012, Helsinki is the design capital of the world with many events and conferences, definitely worth a visit back!] we finally stumbled upon the little café. The café has a different name now, and aside from the movie poster in the window and some Japanese signs, it is unaffiliated with the movie. Even so, there is something surreal about looking down the street and it looking exactly the same as the film [ not that anything would change… but the characters of the film walked these streets, making the film come even more to life].

Peeking inside, the interior was completely different [ a shame, because in the film, the décor of the café was curiously all very expensive and iconic Finnish furniture and glassware!], but there were customers including a few Japanese that I could easily point out as well. It made me excited that they were probably here for the same reason that I was – just to see it.

[ I would make a statue of wild Finnish strawberries too ]

[ Believe it or not, this view is right in the middle of Helsinki! There are still areas that connect right back to nature. ]

The visit and snapshot lasted only a few minutes, but the experience was nonetheless extremely cool. I think that this story really documented some of the memories and laughs of my first day in Helsinki, as well as the very cool connections that I can celebrate in thanks to my great friends and host family members abroad all over the world - of course, the first person that I wanted to share the photos with was Okaasan in Japan who is also a huge fan of the film.