Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Halloween und Oktoberfest!

beautiful Saarbrücken at night!

So, an update on life in Saarbrücken...Friday night I went to a disco with some friends, where they had a special discount night to celebrate the start of the semester at the University. Saturday I went to Neunkirchen with Michaela, to visit Ben and his girlfriend who was visiting. Neunkirchen had an Oktoberfest celebration of their own going on, which was pretty fun. They had a big tent set up, Bavarian-style, with liters of beer for sale. I had my first Glühwein of the season, which made me really happy. I am so excited for Christmas markets already...

Sunday I made brunch, went for a long run with Nick and finished reading my book in time for the book reading Monday night. The author of Die Mittagsfrau, the German novel which just won the German Book Award in Frankfurt, was speaking in Saarbrücken. She read from her book and I got her to sign my copy. It was nice. The bookstore was the German equivalent of Barnes and Noble, and they said they had more people turn out for this event than for the release of the German Harry Potter (Saturday).

Monday morning I went to "Teachers' Day" at the University. It was an event for EFL teachers and students. Since I have never officially learned how to teach English as a foreign language it was especially interesting. As a native English speaker, I often don't think about the language I use, and it's really fun to have people give examples and discuss English-learning methodologies and techniques. I attended one large plenum-lecture and a workshop, where I was called upon as the native-speaker expert, which is always fun. :) The English teachers I went with joked that I'll be an English teacher yet... (not likely)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

kaltes Wetter...heisse Suppen

I think "cold weather...hot soups" is an appropriate title for this blog post. The days are turning colder and darker, and I'm back at school. :) But I have found things to keep myself busy, warm and entertained.

Monday I made wild rice soup with wild rice exported from MN with me...it was delicious, especially for my first time. My roommates were all there (except the Dutch girl, who's never there) and our friend Arnaud joined us. Good start to the week.

Tuesday I met up with the British guy who is also teaching at one of my schools. We saw Ang Lee's new film, "Lust, Caution." So good (German dubbing, not so good). Lee is the director who did "Brokeback Mountain" and "The Wedding Banquet" (the latter I made my parents watch with me, maybe they remember it?).

Wednesday was rather a rough day at school. I was there from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and did five lessons, which I don't usually do, but I volunteered to do an extra one since one teacher was sick. I had one class that was really disrespectful, and I had to yell at them, which I'm still getting used to. Then I had a class full of rowdy boys who were asking tons of questions. Which I like, because it means that they are interested and curious, but some of the questions they were asking were pretty rude. The worst: "Do Americans know that everyone hates them?" This student was French, by the way, in case you want to judge him differently. To which I replied, If someone tells me "I hate the US" or "I hate Americans," I don't think that's a very wise comment. You can say you don't approve of our current politics, but to hate a whole people or a whole country...sounds like a pretty uneducated comment.

I like how their questions often reflect their (lack of) information about the US, or the sources of their information. Main source: films. "Is it true that when the bell rings you all run to class? Like in the movies?" YES!!! I liked that question, because it highlights a real difference. German students trickle into their classroom after the bell rings, and the teacher is usually 2-5 minutes late. This is because in the US, the teachers have their own classrooms and are therefore waiting for you to get into the room. In Germany, teachers have to move rooms. And in the US attendance is all electronic and tardies/unexcused absences are strictly recorded. In Germany they can walk in 10 minutes late and tell the teacher their bus was late or their parents were in a traffic jam. And this is accepted. They are also allowed to write their own excused absence notes after they're 18. They were shocked when I told them a computer calls your house in the US if you miss an hour at school.

Wednesday night I went to a talk at the German-American Institute. It was great. The topic was American Poetry, and the professor who led the discussion was really knowledgeable and enthusiastic. There were four other Germans and me.

Today was a great day at school. I did one lesson in the morning on high school schedules and one lesson in the afternoon on Halloween. I'm excited because all next week I get to do Halloween lessons! It's so easy when you have a topic like that. My mom photocopied and mailed me pictures from when I was younger, dressed up for trick-or-treating. So I showed them the pictures and they said "Aww...cute!" I explained to them all the different traditions and symbols, and then we listened to the song "This is Halloween" from the movie "Nightmare Before Christmas." It was a really fun hour...brings back lots of good childhood memories!

So, thinking ahead...let me know if you have any good ideas for Thanksgiving lessons!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Lexies Besuch!

My good friend Lexie, who I lived with in the French House last year, came to visit! She is also a teaching assistant this year, but in Mirecourt, France, about 130 miles across the border. We did a quick little tour of Saarbrücken together: walked through the shopping district, got a German Bretzel, had some amazing hot cocoa, saw the Schloss (castle) and the Saar...

Friday, October 19, 2007


The pictures from Vienna are now added to the post!

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Important side note: I now have beautiful pictures, thanks to my amazingly talented roommate Johannes, who repaired my digital camera! (Man, when seeking out roommates, it might be a good idea to first look for people studying computer science or engineering...skills...)

My dear friend Simon is studying medicine in Heidelberg right now, and since I still hadn't seen him since I'd been in Germany, I took a train to see him on Wednesday. It's about 2 1/2 hours from Saarbrücken to Heidelberg by train. He met me at the train station with a used bike he had repaired. It was really fun to explore the city by bike and it was really cool of him to think of that. He first took me through the part of the university where he has his classes and then he showed me where he lives and then we went into the city. Heidelberg is actually pretty small, about 140,000 people, but there are tons of students and it's one of Germany's major tourist destinations. Which, I have to say, is maybe the only thing I didn't like. There were tour groups everywhere and kitschy shops and such. But oh well, when you live in a beautiful place you get that. We have it in Duluth, too. But seriously, there were stores that just advertised in Japanese! Not even German. Anyways...

He first took me to through Heidelberg's Fußgängerzone, pedestrian zone, where you can shop, eat at street cafés, browse through bookstores... It's actually the longest in all of Europe. Then he showed me the University. Heidelberg has Germany's oldest univeristy (1386!!!), and it's the third oldest in Europe (after Prague and Vienna). We went into the library and the alte Aula, the oldest auditorium. That's the beautiful room pictured below. Wow...I can't imagine having lectures in there. I mean, they don't anymore, and back then such rooms were probably not sooo amazing that the students were staring at the ceiling the whole time...I'm just saying I would. :)
Then we walked up to the Schloß, the castle ruins. This was a pretty steep trek, but there was an amazing view of the Neckar River and the old part of the city, not to mention the castle. The castle was built in the 14th century and then was destroyed in various wars in the 17th century; the ruins later became immortalized in German Romantic art.

Then, as it was starting to get dark and starting to rain a bit, we biked back to Simon's place where I had a good, cultural German experience: soccer. Fußball! (In case you didn't make that connection, that's what we call that table soccer game, maybe you spell it fooz-ball, I don't know.) Unfortunately, Germany lost. They were playing the Czech Republic. Fortunately, they are already qualified for the European Cup next summer, 2008. Then we went back into town for a drink and I got to see another good German friend, Anne, who is also studying medicine in Heidelberg. And her brother's in St. Cloud right now and I got to meet him over the summer. Small world...
Thursday I got up and went exploring out on my own, while Simon and his roommates sat in their lecture hall. :) I walked along the Philosophenweg, the philosopher's path. This is another steep path leading to a great view, this time on the other bank of the Neckar. I then continued into back into the old part of the city and just soaked it all in... I loved seeing all the students out and about, in the cafés and bakeries near the old university, and then I met Simon at his cafeteria for lunch.

In the afternoon we went hiking into the foresty mountain pictured above. It was really beautiful. Simon's roommate Christian was with, and we climbed up a lookout tower for yet another great view. Heidelberg is just soooo picturesque! I love all the red roofs, the castle ruins, the villas along the Neckar...it's just so idyllic looking, especially from so far up!

Also on top of this mountain is the Thingstätte, which is a huge amphitheater built under Hitler in 1934. It can hold something like 20,000 people, and now it's used occasionally for concerts or other events, but most people only know it for the annual May Celebration there, or Walpurgisnacht. The students go up there and party all night to welcome in May 1st. I'm marking my calendar already...

So yeah, now I'm home...tired but excited about everything I've done in the last two weeks (my vacation is sadly coming to a close...). The Deutsche Bahn, the German trains, were striking this morning, so it took me a little longer than it should have to get home. But I kinda expected that and I'm into a good new book.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Kulturtag...culture day...I am just amazed at all the stuff going on here all the time. Last night I sat down with a bunch of brochures and copied dates into my calendar of things I want to make sure to see/visit/watch. So today I took advantage of some of the cultural offerings Saarbrücken has to offer...

I went to the European Authors' Conference in Saarbrücken, where the theme was "erzählen und zuhören in Deutschland," roughly "telling and listening in Germany." I went to a forum where the invited authors read personal essays about what they think it means to "tell and listen." It was really interesting: some of them were more optimistic than others. Some talked about how there are, unfortunately, fewer and fewer people who read instead of flicking on the TV or the Playstation. And some of them talked about specific works of literature that speak to them, or about the challenge of reading aloud well. The authors were mostly German, with one Italian man who had an interpreter next to him, and one Swiss and one Austrian author. The program also tells about their bios, with their books published and prizes won. So I'll have to keep my eye out for their works. I already have quite a long reading list...currently I'm reading Bernhard Schlink's Liebesfluchten. Maybe you've heard of his book called "The Reader." It was on Oprah's list and has been translated into English. Good book if you're looking for a recommendation.

Then, this evening, I went to a documentary film called "Stealing Klimt." It is about a woman who was born in 1916 in Vienna, to a wealthy Jewish family that owned five original Klimt paintings, including some really really famous portraits they had commissioned. When Austria was annexed to Germany the Nazis seized art (as well as other property) of Viennese Jews and many works were "lost" during the war. Austrian galleries just took them without reimbursing the families properly. The woman in the documentary fights a huge legal battle to try to get ownership of the paintings. Watch for this film to come out in the US; it was really fascinating. Here's a link to a BBC article about the process, with a picture of the painting:


Monday, October 15, 2007


Saturday night we had a dinner party in our apartment. The menu was a traditional east Prussian dish, Königsberger Klopse, which are meatballs with a white caper sauce over them. The food was good and it was a fun group of people. We somehow had 10-11 people in our little kitchen at one point or another...and went through quite a bit of wine. Will learned some new German words...and was a good sport through the meal, although the Germans weren't all too keen on speaking English. Left to right: My roommate Johannes, his friend Jens, me, Will

On Sunday, a sunny and warm October day, Will and I went to Trier, the oldest city in Germany. It is a beautiful 1 1/2 hour train ride from Saarbrücken, the tracks stretch along the Saar and the Mosel Rivers and you can see vineyards on the hillsides.

Trier is full of UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites; everything is so old and pretty well-preserved. Our favorite site was the Porta Nigra, the city gate, which is the largest surviving Roman city gate worldwide. Other highlights were the market square, where we ate lunch at a café in the sunshine...the Cathedral, with Roman columns, the Liebfrauenkirche, the oldest Gothic church in Germany, the Mosel River with its Roman Bridge, and a nice park at the foot of the ruins of the Imperial Baths.

We returned home, made some yummy Minestrone soup with our treasures from the farmer's market and watched a little trash German TV. I brought Will to the train station this morning and now he is just about arriving at Frankfurt airport.

Friday, October 12, 2007

WIEN! (Vienna)

This was how we got to Vienna: Bus from Frankfurt to Hahn, plane to Bratislava, Slovakia, bus to Vienna. But it was cheap, and everything ran really smoothly so I would say it was worth it.

Tuesday morning we walked into town, went to the Naschmarkt, which is a huge outdoor market, where we stopped at a little organic bakery and had some pastries and coffee. Fueled for the morning, we went to the eastern side of the city to begin exploring. I really wanted to see the Hundertwasserhaus, a really cool-looking apartment building designed by the artist Friedrich Hundertwasser. It's kinda like Gaudi's style, with organic shapes and bright colors. Man, I hope my pictures turn out. But here's the story about how we found the house, which is a bit off the beaten track:

We were looking at the map, trying to decide if we had just gone in the wrong direction or not, and a nice, grandfatherly-looking older man stopped and asked me where we were trying to go. when I said the Hundertwasserhaus, he said, "Oh, I live right there. That's where I'm going; I'll take you with." So off we went with this man. And he asked us if we've walked through the Stadtpark yet, so he took us on a detour through the park. He pointed out the Strauss statue and said, "Do you want to take a picture?" Uh....I'm thinking about our disposable camera and our 27 exposures, but I say "sure" because he was so nice about it. Then he urged us to go stand up by the statue. "No, no....up on the statue. Yes, yes. One on each side." So Will and I climb up on the statue, according to his instructions, and he takes a picture of us by Strauss. And another one horizontally. Hilarious. We got chatting and he asked us where we were from, said he had family that immigrated to the US, said we had to come back again and have more time in Vienna. He pointed out the exact trams and directions we needed in order to get back to our next destination, Belvedere, and then left us basically right in front of the Hundertwasserhaus, bending to air-kiss my hand before he went into his building. How sweet! I love it when you encounter kind strangers like that!

Above: picture taken by nice Viennese man of us by Strauss statue

So we followed his directions and got right to the first museum on our list, the Belvedere, where Klimt's "The Kiss" hangs. There were two great exhibits here, one larger collection of Klimt and his company, and in the lower Belvedere an exhibit called "Vienna-Paris" that showed how French and Viennese artists built off of one another. It was great. I love exhibits like that which teach you about different movements and how they relate.

It was a beautiful day and the time that we didn't spend in art museums we spent walking through the gardens and parks. We went back to the hotel to get our coats and put our feet up for a bit, and then met my friend Caroline for dinner. She is half Austrian, half American and studied at St. Olaf with me all last year. She took us to a restaurant she knew where you can get huge portions of Austrian specialties...Will got Gulasch and I got Schnitzel, and an Ottakringer, the beer from Vienna.
Our dinner with Caroline. Please note how impossibly big these portions were!
Then Caroline took us on a night tour of the city center, which was amazing. It was so beautiful at night. Like she said, at night all the beautiful buildings are lit up and all the ugly ones are dark, so it's really Vienna putting its best face on. The Opera, the Hofburg, the Rathaus...it was all really gorgeous. And there was so much going on! I love how cities come alive in a different way at night. We got some amazing ice cream and enjoyed our tour by a native Viennese girl who really knows her stuff. As we walked she pointed out details like the markings of the Resistance on the Stephansdom; the Ankeruhr (clock) with twelve figures, one coming out each hour; various cafés and buildings of note. She said she just learned it all in school, but I doubt many of her classmates could be such a good tour guide.

Wednesday morning we got up, ready to tackle another museum, but not before a cup of coffee. We went to a café by St. Stephen's Cathedral and had a chocolate croissant and an apple pastry. We went to the Musuemsquartier, visited the Kusthalle first, where they had a really well-designed exhibit called "True Romance: Allegories of Love from the Renaissance to Today," displaying all kinds of media. Then we took a coffee break, stopping at the appropriate-for-the-day Café Musuem, where we indulged in a warm apple strudel as well. Yum. Then we went back to the museums district to hit up the Leopold Museum. This museum also has a large Klimt collection, as well as other Austrian artists, and their current exhibit was on Austrian inter-war art. For the rest of the late afternoon we walked through town, did a bit of shopping, got some chocolate at the beautiful Café Demel and had coffee at Café Hawelka. Of course it was me and Will, so we bought and wrote a lot of postcards as well. My problem is that I never want to part with them, so I end up keeping more than I send...

For dinner we went to a wine tavern on the outskirts of town. A bit touristy, but hey, we can't pass off as native. We had good Austrian wine, more Schnitzel, and they had live music (accordion and violin).

Thursday we had a typical Viennese breakfast at Café Bräunerhof, Brötchen, Croissants and Kaffee Melange. We walked through the posh shopping streets and people-watched a bit. We took the train out to the Donauinsel and sat on the banks of the Danube for a quick nap in the sun...We stopped in town and had a piece of the Sacher Torte that is so famous in Austria, and had wine (Kathryn), tea (Will) at the Kleines Café, the cutest, smallest café in Vienna. We went back to the Karlsplatz and had Kaiserschmarrn....mmmm....and visited the Secession building. This is one of the coolest musuems, for sure. The group of artists, including Klimt, who "seceded" from the traditional art movement at the turn-of-the-century built this building, with the motto "To the age its art, to art its freedom."

Above: Kaiserschmarrn

We went back to the Naschmarkt, the huge market, to get some food for the journey back to Germany. I really wanted some cheese because they had this amazing cheese shop, but I was worried about taking cheese with. After scanning the shelves I picked out a French Munster and asked the man behind the counter for just a small piece. I explained that I would get more, but that we were travelling and couldn't take more than we could eat. He asked where we're from, and I said:
"The US, but we're flying to Germany because that's where I'm living right now."
"Where in the US?"
"Minnesota. It's in the midwest...near Canada..." [she says, used to people having no clue where MN is.]
"Have you heard of Duluth?"
"Of course! That's where we're from!"
"Well, have you ever heard of Bob Dylan?"
"Of course..."
"Well, here you go then..." And he signaled that the cheese was on him. Love it. Love the Viennese.

So we made it back to Germany at 3 a.m., after a bus to Bratislava, plane to Hahn and a bus to Saarbrücken. It was a great trip. We did sooo much in three days, mostly a mix of art and coffee and pastries...but I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Above: Karlsplatz, one of the train stations designed in the typical Austrian art-nouveau, called Jugendstil. Below: the Secession building, same style.

Above: Me in front of the Hofburg.
Above: in an organic bakery in the Naschmarkt, where we had some delicious patries and coffee..
Above: Will in front of the Stephansdom, St. Stephen's Cathedral


Since Will was flying in on Monday and I had never really seen Frankfurt the city (only the airport) I decided to go a day early and stay with Katie Henly, who is nannying for a family there. She lives in an amazing location. I got in around noon, met her at her apartment, and we walked into town for a little tour, along with another friend who had stayed with Katie the night before. We walked across the Main River and you could see the skyline of Frankfurt. The banking capital of Germany, it is always recognizable because it has skyscrapers, unlike other German cities. But what impressed me about Frankfurt is that it still has a gorgeous old city, too, and I love those contrasts. We walked around through the old part of the city, visited Goethe's birthplace and toured his home.

Katie and Annie walking between the skyscrapers.
The Opera building.