3rd Week in Tübingen

I cannot believe it is already the end of the third week here. Time has been flying by but my days are pretty packed. Which makes me not think of the time. I still look forward to class everyday but just last friday we finished the work book. This last week was great progress and speaking german is becoming a normal thing it feels like. This last Wednesday my class as well as class six went to the famous Ritter Sport chocolate factory. And no, it was not like Willy Wonka’s factory. Their chocolate is mouth watering. They have been making chocolate for over 100 years so by this time they have it down. It makes Hersey chocolate taste bad.

On Friday, we had our end of the program party and it was so much fun. The food was great and the entertainment was better. They were serving cheap drinks and everyone was feeling good. The music was great and everyone was happy. It was a great night. As my friends from England say “It was a proper night”.

I was going to stay an extra week after the program to travel but decided to come home a few days earlier instead. By this time, I feel like I have spent so much money on food and the trip itself that it gives me anxiety.

Next week is our end of the course test and presentation. For all of you that know me, you better bet I am doing my presentation over soccer (fussball) in Germany. I am doing it with my friend from England cause of course, he loves fussball as well. It is going to be a busy week but I am excited for it to be over and to be able to head back home. The only thing I am not looking forward to is the plane ride…

2nd Week in Tübingen

I feel like these weeks are getting longer. Sleeping was hard and eating was harder. For the first week or so I was getting up at the strangest hours and eating hardly anything. Eventually I got use to the time zone and was back to at least three meals a day and just about eight hours a night of sleep. I would stay up late and Skype my girlfriend but to me it was worth it.

Class is my favorite thing (I never would think i’d say that) but it is so much fun. My german is improving very fast and communicating is becoming easier and easier everyday. What we were working on was very helpful because it is what I struggled with back in Uni. I was becoming more comfortable with my classmates and I love the people at my table. I sit next to a Russian kid and across from a girl from Taiwan. Next to her is my friend Tom from London. I have learned a lot about another cultures. I sure wish it was more like that in the States. I did a short presentation on Oregon and I feel like it went well except I did not have pictures. I cannot describe the beauty of Oregon. Not even in english.

The first week was very hot. I did not plan for that weather. I was sweating all day everyday and I hated it. Eventually it started to cool down to a more comfortable temperature. As I write this, it is raining. Im happy with that.

The first week we took a walk to some woods near by and had a small snack by the river. I did not sit down, nor eat because I was to fascinated by the woods. I walked about a half mile up the river by myself and explored till I had to go back. Once I met back up with the group they were still sitting and talking. So I went another direction and climbed a tree to get a better view of the fields and forest. On the way back I found a huge frog on the path that everyone missed. It did not move and seemed very dehydrated. I picked up the frog with some bark and walked it down the path back towards the river. I waded in and set the frog on the other side away from people. It did not move once I set it down so it might have been to late. At least it was in a better place than the hot pavement.

In the middle of the week we had a Japanese night in which the Japanese students hosted a night where we could learn all about their culture. It was very interesting and seems like an awesome place to visit. At the end of the week, classes 1-8 took an excursion to the Bodensee. It was very beautiful and I would recommend it to anyone looking for some where to go in southern Germany.

1st Week in Tübingen

The flight was a long one. I watched four movies along the way and sat next to a very nice lady who was traveling to Africa to do some volunteer work. I did not sleep on the plane flight from Portland to Amsterdam which was almost 10 hours. After landing, I got on my second flight to Frankfurt and from there I took a train to Stuttgart and from Stuttgart to Tübingen. It was a very hard last few hours to stay up and my body was feeling it. When I arrived to Tübingen I had no where to stay, no where to go, and no one to help me. It was interesting. After walking for about two hours with all my luggage and getting a few helpful hints from strangers I made it to a hostel. It was a very nice, cheap, friendly hostel and my roommates for the night were very nice. One of them spoke both english and german which made communicating easier.

The next day as I was checking out, I met a very nice Italian girl and her mom who were also doing the program. I spent the day with them walking around the beautiful, small town; killing time till we could check into our rooms. Eventually the time came and we were taken to our rooms along with four or five other people in the program. I am the only one from that section in a different building but I could not be happier. My view is…jaw dropping.

I did not know what to do with my free time so I would do small workouts and read and mess around on the computer. I was very excited for class and nervous at the same time even though actual class did not start until Wednesday. On Tuesday, everyone in the program took a placement test to figure out what class level they would be in. I got into class 5 out of 12. At first I was slightly disappointed but once class started, I was extremely happy with my placement. My teacher is awesome. He is a young, active, music playing guy with so much to teach. The classmates are all nice and friendly. I have never been around so much culture. Making friends was hard at first but eventually I met two guys both named Tom. One from England who is learning german for his girlfriend and the other from Rhode Island who is learning german for fun and school.

 

Germany Awaits

I have about a week until I have to leave for Germany. I have been so excited to go to Germany but as each day passes I become a little more and more nervous. I feel like there is still so much to do and so many bills to pay. Although I am trying to prepare myself for Germany, it seems much harder than I would have expected. I have been studying about German culture for the last six years and I still feel like there is so much to learn. The best way to learn is to surround myself in their culture. I cannot wait to get better, maybe even fluent, at speaking german. I am most excited to see the world and escape the United States. I want to play soccer, fussball,over there everyday. I believe that will be the easiest way for me to meet people and make new friends. I do not drink often and when I do it is only a small amount so that makes me nervous about drinking Germanys fine brews. Public intoxication is looked down upon in Germany compared to the U.S. where people are so drunk, they cannot even figure out how to stand. Small cultural differences like this are what interest me about going abroad.
I have a week after the program ends to travel and see what I can. Any suggestions to visit in or near Baden-Württemberg in southern Germany? I would love to visit neighboring towns and villages or even Lake Constance (Bodensee). How about some tips for preparing to study abroad? Any information is good information.

Departed, Arrived, and Settled in already!

I actually got to Germany a while ago, but I had forgotten about this assignment and I never received an e-mail inviting me to the blog so I guess I have some catching up to do…

The flight here wasn’t bad. I expected it to be way worse than it ended up being. Even though I didn’t hardly sleep at all on the flight, I didn’t have any jet lag whatsoever. It was weird, but it was really nice.

I moved into my dorm on the 27th of August. The view from my room is awesome! I can see the castle and, occasionally, I can see some people paragliding off of the hill across from my dorm.

This is the view from my dorm room. The castle is hard to see, but it is there! :)

This is the view from my dorm room. The castle is hard to see, but it is there! :)

So far, the weather has been pretty good. It’s been a little more rainy than I like, but on the days that it doesn’t rain, it’s beautiful and on the days that it does rain, there’s usually thunder and lightning too (which I like to watch from my dorm room).

I wish I were here on vacation so that I could travel the entire time and see all that Germany has to offer. However, I think it’s good that I’m here to study (not travel) because I wouldn’t have any money after about one week and one of my goals for while I’m here is to learn as much of the language as I can. That being said, I look forward to sightseeing when I can and I hope I don’t get completely overwhelmed by everything that is to come!

Auf Wiedersehen!

Sierra

Dachau Concentration Camp

Munich 402

So last weekend I had the pleasure of going to Munich, Germany because I wanted to go to a concentration camp from World War II. I think that while that isn’t really a very fun thing to do while I am abroad it is definitely something that I knew I needed to do while I was in Europe.

When we got there the first thing we did was go to the visitor’s center which was outside the actual camp. There we talked inside about some more of the history. They had a cafe there so I got a coke and then felt sort of horrible to be sitting in a cafe with the camp so close by… It just seemed sort of… I don’t know really how to describe it, just knowing so many people a couple hundred feet away starved to death 70 years ago. It was just kind of not a good feeling.

After that we started out. We went and talked about the front gate with the famous work will set you free phrase that you can also find at Auschwitz/Birkeneau. It was originally true because this camp was originally a work camp where you would be released if you did good work. But then after the second and third phase it was just a sick joke. The original barracks have been destroyed but there are two which have been rebuilt with consult from survivors. We went through the entrance of how getting into the camp worked. First you are met by the admin of the camp who tells you that only the devil laughs here and that he is the devil. Then random people are beaten and then you are taken into the maintenance building to be shaved, showered, numbered, and given a uniform. The uniform had pants pockets which you weren’t allowed to use or else you were shot or beaten.

Munich 336

The maintenance building still stands and the paint has been taken back to what it would have been like. It was pretty horrible. The shower room they would also tie the prisoner’s wrists together and then hang them by their wrists with their whole body weight which was really painful and could cause permanent damage. In this camp you weren’t tattooed with your number but rather given it on a piece of cloth. So I guess that was something that they came up with later. There were also some numbers given as to the prisoner count in the camp but we know those numbers now to be a very low guesstimate.

Munich 275

After that we watched a little documentary which was about 3 minutes long with footage of the camp right after liberation. It was pretty sad. Obviously. But it was hard to watch. We also saw a beating table where each SS had to everyday beat a prisoner 25 times. Most of them actually looked forward to this part of their day. But the terrible part was that the prisoner would have to count out each strike in German and if he wavered or slurred it would start back over at one. This wasn’t as bad in the beginning days (as bad… Bad word choice as either way it’s horrible) but as the camp went on and they got polish and Czech prisoners who didn’t speak German it just got worse. Prisoners would have to learn to count to 25 perfectly or else they would be pretty much beaten to death.

Munich 251

After that we went to the Bunker which was where political prisoners that they couldn’t really kill were taken. This was one of the worst places in the camp though because even though you wouldn’t be killed, you would be tortured. They had over 70 little rooms where the prisoners lived which each had toilets and a heater furnace. The switch for these heaters was on the outside of the cell. In the winter it would get to be like -20 degrees outside and because the building was made of just concrete the cells would get really cold. So whether you were well behaved or liked would determine whether your heater was turned on or not. They also would turn the on in the middle of summer when it was blistering hot. Pretty horrible. They also had some cells which were called standing cells where they divided the already closet size room into six and then made them shorter so that you had to hunch to stay standing. There wasn’t enough room to sit or to stand straight and prisoners would be left in there for up to 72 hours. It sounds horrible. Also they cut most of the rooms in half so that you couldn’t stand or sit, and most of the cells were black. Some had windows, which just let more cold in. The guards would run up and down the halls all the time and threaten the prisoners. Pretty scary stuff. There was a little portable alter which could be put in different rooms of the higher up political prisoners here so that was kind of nice. Mostly prisoners here were like Austrian Princes and more known people that the government just couldn’t kill. It was pretty terrible.

Munich 194

Then we went outside and saw the two memorial statues that have been put up by the Maintenance building. One is a sort of warped human body sculpture which also looks like barbed wire. The other was a chain that was made with the different triangles and stars the prisoners wore. This sculpture still misses the green triangle, pink triangle for homosexuals, and the black triangle for asexuals or pretty much anyone who didn’t fit in society’s box. This would include beggars, hermits, and gypsies. These are missing because in the 60’s when it was put in, it was still illegal to be a homosexual so they are still missing. I think it is pretty sad that lessons weren’t learned from the holocaust and that those are still not included.

Munich 204Munich 206

After that we walked across the big space used for roll call which was probably a bit bigger than a football field, to get to the model bunkers. The first room showed what the beds were like in the first phase where each prisoner had a separate bunk with a shelf. The shelf was to be a constant reminder that they had nothing to put on their shelf. They also had mattresses made with straw which every morning had to be made in perfect rectangles with their blankets stretching down the line with perfect stripes that matched up from one bed to the next. This was pretty hard to do so there were special people that were in charge of doing it. If it wasn’t perfect everyone would be punished. There were also wooden benches where the prisoners could sit before bed. Next was an example of beds from the second phase where there were no partitions between beds and also no sides on the beds. There were also no benches. Lastly was the room from the third phase on where there were just a top, bottom, and middle bunk with no breaks or anything. I don’t think they had straw mattresses on the last two phases. It didn’t look like they did anyways. There was also a bathroom where the toilets all faced each other and a really inadequate wash room with two fountains like sinks. It was pretty horrible. There were like 8 toilets for four rooms of prisoners. Each which had like over a two hundred people in them at minimum. It was pretty horrible. There was an example of a call for that bunker which showed that at minimum there was 800 something people and on that sheet the max was 2800 people. We know that number now to be a low number for the camp.

Munich 317Munich 318Munich 307

The prisoners would get 3 rations of soup per day which was really just water with a few vegetables (if you were lucky) in addition to a small pieces of bread which would need to last you all day. There was a debate in the camp whether it was better to save it to last all day or to eat it all at once to feel full.

Munich 345

After the barracks we went down the line of where the barracks were to get to the shrines. There were over 25 barracks. The outlines of the foundation are still here and now are marked with each barracks number. At the end of the line there are four shrines that have since liberation been put up. There is one for Catholics, Jewish, Protestant, and Russian Orthodox. The protestant one looks all wonky which was their way of saying screw you to the Nazis who made the camp with perfect angles and stuff like that. There are still the authentic guard towers and such though the fences have mostly been redone with the exception of one section which has stayed intact to show the area on the outsides of the camp. So first there was a grass section which if you were seen on you would be promptly shot and considered to be trying to escape. The SS would sometimes take a prisoners hat and throw it on the grass and tell them to go get it. If they did they were shot and if they didn’t they were shot for refusing orders. Pretty messed up… But if you got through the grass you had to go down and back up a canal. After which were rocks and barbed wire, after which was the barbed wire fence, then a river stream, and then after that if they survived they found themselves in the SS School of Terror. Needless to say, no one ever escaped after the first phase. Only one person is known to have escaped but then he fought in the war and died so we don’t know how he did it.

Munich 401Munich 326

After that we crossed a bridge which did not exist at the time but has now been added, and went to see the crematoriums and gas chamber. These were definitely used but it is still unknown as to what extent. The first crematorium one had two opening to put in bodies. It is low ball estimated to have been used for 11,000 people. Low. I cannot even imagine. Later a second one was made which also included a gas chamber. It was so emotional to see and walk through. The “shower room” had 30 shower heads of which only one remains. The poison crystals were put in on the sides after the doors were locked. These would take anywhere between 3-30 minutes to take effect as they would react from the heat. It was pretty terrible. The room was very short and not very big. We know that the gas chamber was one of the later ones added as it has outward opening doors. Next to this room were two chambers where they would pile the corpses before burning them. The new crematorium had four oven openings and the smoke would be cycled underground and then out of the chimney. Behind this building which is surprisingly small for the terror it caused, are now memorials for the dead. There were many mass graves for the ashes from the crematoriums. It is impossible to tell they say by the remains of the ash how many people were victims to this but it is presumed to have been a lot.

Munich 366Munich 375Munich 392

This camp was one of the final ones to be liberated and is one of the longest standing. The people in the surrounding were well aware of the camps existence but operated under a don’t ask, don’t tell policy when it came to what actually happened within the camp. The Nazis even went so far in the early days as to publish photos of the prisoners on the cover of a Munich magazine. The public of Munich was well informed about the prisoners as they were not trained directly to the camp but rather to Munich where they were then paraded through the city while the public was encouraged to throw things, beat, insult, and attack the prisoners. They were shown to the public as ” the criminals who wanted to see Germany burn to the ground”. The atrocities at this camp cannot be duplicated and I present this blog to you in such detail so that you as well will remember what happened and will help ensure that this doesn’t happen again in the future, though it is already happening in other countries right now. The holocaust was the cause of losing one third of the world’s Jewish population. Though I am not a Jew, I do believe it is wrong to prosecute those of other religions solely based on this fact. It is important for all of us to remember the events that led to this discrimination and watch for the beginning signs of this behavior in the life around us. This kind of hatred for other people didn’t happen overnight but was based on a growing discrimination.

Munich 398

Berlin Pre-departure

I am physically and mentally exhausted so no photos right now.  Lately, my only respite has been in airports and I still have 20 hours to go.  I’m excited to finally get to Berlin, I’ve spent the last 30 days hating life at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington for the ROTC LDAC.  After spending half of that time in the field and living deprived of all electronics and any other facet of normal life (simply for the sake of being unpleasant), the return to civilization will be a welcome change, provided Berlin isn’t a sensory overload for me.  This will be a difficult transition and a slow start, I left during finals week and couldn’t touch my computer until the day I left for Germany, and I haven’t taken a language class in over a year.  To make sure I was prepared I did my best to research German customs and culture.  My intent is to blend in as best I can and not look like a tourist foreigner.  I’ve been in Germany three times before but only for a few hours flying through, and even then I was locked down in an isolated terminal.  From what little experience I have and from what I’ve read/heard Germany should seem pretty familiar to me; organized, clean, polite.  I’m expecting there to be an ever-present stark contrast between modern Germany and centuries old Germany.  I definitely don’t feel prepared for this but that’s my first challenge and half the fun.

Week 4 Storming the Castle

Being a history person at heart as well as by major, I was interested in the history of Tübingen. I was particularly interested in the history of the castle at the center of the old town, ’cause let’s face it castles are just plain cool. One day after classes I took a walk up to the castle. The ‘old town’ in Tübingen is something of a maze to a new comer and can be confusing. Finding the castle, however, is a simple matter of heading uphill. The castle being on the highest point in Tübingen, if you keep going uphill you will eventually find it. When you do find it this is what you are rewarded with; a view of the outer gate of the castle.

DSCN0215

I know that a number of the castles in Germany that are still in good shape were built during the late renaissance, long after they were needed as military fortification, which was the original purpose for a castle. Many others were redone after the renaissance, and although they look like castles they really don’t function as fortification, they were simply ‘Story Book Castles’. I was curious to know if the Castle in Tübingen was for real or simply one of the Story Book Castles. After going through the Main gate you come to an inner gate and a mote that would have served as a formidable barrier. Once inside I discovered that there was a museum and that it was open.

DSCN0223
DSCN0225
DSCN0226

The museum did a great job of telling the story of the castle and it was pretty clear that it had been a military structure from the beginning. I suspected that given the very real nature of the defenses that I saw as I entered the castle. The castle was originally built on this spot sometime in the 12th century, and then it was no more than a wooden palisade that was about the size of the inner court yard of the castle today. It was large enough to protect the knights and their horses. Because of its location on top of the hill, it was a military strong point even then.

DSCN0232
DSCN0238
DSCN0235

Like most castles it was added to over the years and improved. Looking closely at the gate to the inner courtyard you can see older stones alongside newer more decorative stone work.

DSCN0224

Week 3 Mega Study

Week 3 found me deep in learning the German language. Grammar and vocabulary in the morning and then a tutorial in the afternoon where we basically reviewed and practiced what we learned in the morning. I noticed that I was extremely tired at the end of the day and not physically tired but mentally exhausted. I wondered if any of the other students were feeling the same or if it was just my age that made me so tired. I asked around and without exception the other students said they felt the same. This was something that I remember being told about in our orientations, but I didn’t realize just how tired I would be. Someone brought this up in a class and it was pointed out to us that of course you are mentally tired at the end of a full day. When you are learning a new language, you are using a part of your brain that isn’t used for ANYTHING else except learning a new language. And in an intensive environment like we are learning we are using that part of the brain to the max. We were told that it would be at least a month before we became used to this and didn’t feel so tired.
During the third week we also had our first test and that was a real shock for me. In all my other courses I’ve gotten As and Bs, but on this first test, I barely got a C. In other classes, I read the material, do the assignments and can count on at least a B (and that’s if I am, for me goofing off). Learning a language doesn’t work quite like that. The grammar concepts were easy enough for me to get a handle on, but that has to be backed up by rote memorization of words and verb conjugations and articles, etc… etc..
I used to have a good memory for rote memorization when I was younger, and while I still have a good memory in general, not when it comes to rote memorization. I found that I was spending three to five times as much time on homework as I did on any other class and was making Cs instead of As. Now don’t take this as a complaint, it’s not, just a report of the facts. I expected this to be a lot of work and it is. I am also really glad that I applied for this program.
As far as the studying goes this is an area where my age seems to be a factor. While the other students (all of which are 19, 20 and 21) aren’t exactly having an easy time of it, they don’t spend near as much time on homework as I do and get better grades. At 56, I feel like I am constantly in catch-up mode. I also learned that while I only had two terms of college German before coming here some of the students have had more. A number of them took German in high school. That actually made me feel better, less incompetent. In any case I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything; hard work is good for the soul.
The highlight of week three was a hike to Wurlmlinger Kapelle and the small town of Pfäffingen. Wulmlinger Kappele, or Chapel is on the top of a hill in the Neckar valley that affords a great view of the surrounding area. Here is a picture of the chapel from a ridge line near bay:

DSCN0178

These are some pictures from the top, looking at the surrounding area:

DSCN0188

DSCN0190

DSCN0191

DSCN0197

DSCN0203

We finished the hike by hiking down the hill and into the town of Pfäffington and to Silvia Kunze-Ritter’s house where we were treated to an excellent Swabian dinner. As well as good conversation and an all around great time. We then walked to the train station and took a train back to Tübingen. The hike, someone said was about 13 kilometers. I think that was pretty close and it was easy going terrain and a pleasant day with wonderful weather. Although slightly physical it was somehow relaxing after the mentally exhausting week we had just had.

Week 2 Stuttegart

I am really behind on these blogs, so I’ll be trying to catch up in the next week. We have been really busy, so much has happened and that is partly the reason why I’m behind. (bet no one else is having that problem, hehe).
The Medieval castle that is the center of the town of Tübingen, sits atop a hill. And much of the rest of the town is on hilly terrain, something that I noticed as I had to walk up and down those hills. Bikes are real popular here as a form of transportation, but to me all those hills make the bikes somewhat less than useful, but they sure seem to work for the locals. Thinking about this lead me to the thought, I wonder if all the cities in Germany are as hilly as this one. I found out this week.
For me the highlight of the second week here was our outing to Stuttgart. I flew into Stuttgart, but really all I saw was the airport and autobahn, nothing else. We went there by train which is how people get almost everywhere in Germany. There are no high speed trains between here and Stuttgart, so we took a slower commuter train. It made a lot of stops but the ride was smooth as silk. And one of the big advantages to taking the train, is that you can study or talk or read while you get where you are going. It beats the heck out of driving as far as I’m concerned. Here is the train station that we left from in Tübingen:

DSCN0102

Here is the main train station in Stuttgart where we arrived:

DSCN0148

This is Koenigsstrasse it is a long flat wide street that is for pedestrian traffic only, with shops and café’s on both sides. The street must be over a mile long and is where the real upscale shopping is. And this street is flat, as most of the old downtown part of Stuttgart is. So not all German cities are as hilly as Tübingen is.

DSCN0314

This is the “New” Schloss or New Palace. In an earlier blog I mentioned the fact that the term new, doesn’t mean the same thing her as it does in the US. This palace was built originally about the same time that our country was founded, but it is the new one because there is an old one from the middle ages, which is now a museum. In general, however, new seems to mean anything built after the Second World War. When the Germans talk about new buildings this is usually what they mean.

DSCN0317