Saturday, May 31, 2008

mini East High reunion in Heidelberg

My good good friend Sarah from high school is currently living in Spain, and just finished a big Europe trip with a friend of hers. They stopped in Heidelberg to see me and Simon on their way home through Frankfurt.

We met, walked around town, got stuff for grilling and then went down to the banks of the Neckar river and grilled. It was soooo nice. Really hot weather, tons of students out there, good food and great to catch up with one another.

Above we are eating Spaghetti-Eis, a typical German ice cream treat. They press the vanilla ice cream like noodles, put red strawberry sauce on top, with coconut or white chocolate sprinkled on top to look like tomato sauce. Yum!

This picture above is of John and Sarah waiting for their train. Just as we were leaving there was a huge thunderstorm and all our trains were really delayed. So yes, there can sometime be downsides to the amazing German train system. But I say that reluctantly, because you just have no idea how good it can be until you've lived here.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Saarschleife im Sommer

dollars = play money

I had a fun hour with a fifth grade class today. We played that we were going to a souvenir shop, and since their textbook only has pounds and pence for "at the seaside", I brought in dollars and American coins, and made them play that they were at a beach in California, Florida or Hawaii.

One kid, looking at the dollar, said "It looks like Monopoly money!" I thought this was hilarious, because that's what we say about Euros!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Sailing in the Netherlands

Highlights from sailing: speaking German with students, seeing some of the most beautiful villages and old brick houses, and being out on the sea in the sun

I just got back from a five-day sailing trip with twelfth-grade students from school. German schools are divided into classes, and usually older students go on class trips. They can choose where they go. I know some kids who are going to Barcelona, Prague, Rome....but the class which invited me to join them was going sailing in the Netherlands.

We left Friday around noon, drove about 7 hours north through Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands and arrived at the harbor (on the IJsselmeer, a huge dammed-off lake) in the evening. We got all our supplies onto the ship and had dinner.

The ship was called the Alliantie, and it had five sails (with a total surface area of 360m2), and was 38 by 6.3 meters. So a big ship. Our group was 21 students, three teachers (including me), the skipper and his wife (who stayed in the front in their cabin, never really had anything to do with us), and a mate (a young woman from Switzerland, who was in charge of telling us how to raise the sails, move the sails, take down the sails, clean the deck, etc.)

Even the first night while we stayed in the harbor I was really excited because the kids were a lot of fun and we just sat around talking, some students were playing the guitar and singing, some were playing cards or chess...and I brought the game Apples to Apples and we played that for a long time. It was just great.

Day One was pretty miserable and rainy. I don't have a lot of extra clothes here, so I had borrowed rubber boots and raincoats from other teachers, but I didn't have rainproof pants and I spent a lot of time warming up under deck. It was really cool to watch the students put up the sails and work together, but it was just too windy and wet to be much fun. I guess it's just a problem of not having the right clothes.

That evening we docked in a town called Enkhuizen, which was really beautiful. I had never been to the Netherlands and was really won over by their charming little villages. There was a jazz festival going on, and although it was still drizzling, I walked around for a while and looked at all the houses, got a pastry, some postcards and a cheese knife. (haha, that was my souvenir present for myself)

Sunday it had stopped raining and the sun came out. Although it was still pretty windy, I wasn't complaining. As long as I was dry I was happy. So most of us spent the time above deck, sitting wrapped up in the sun and enjoying being on the water. And it was beautiful.

That night we docked in Lemmer, and I'm running out of adjectives because all of these towns were just gorgeous and totally like something out of a fairy tale. We just don't have houses like this in the US!

Monday we sailed to Hoorn, where the Dutch East India Company had its seat. (And Cape Horn is named after this town in the Netherlands.)
By the way, I could not get over how crooked the houses were. They all looked like they were about to fall over! (The Netherlands is mostly below sea level, and they have made dikes and irrigation so that a lot of the land has been reclaimed from the sea). Below is me trying to stand as schief as the houses.

Every morning we had breakfast at 8:00, got up on deck around 9:30 to prepare the sails, and usually left the harbor around 10:00 am. We would sail until around 3:00 to 5:00 pm and then dock in the harbor. Then we could shower, walk around town, there was always a crew of students who made dinner and then washed the dishes and everything, and then at night we could walk back into town. I went out with the teachers. The students would get a crate of Heineken every night, but there really weren't drinking problems and they were really good students.

For me this trip was not only a chance to see a totally new place and some really beautiful villages, but my favorite aspect was probably spending so much time with students. I don't really know any of the students at my school well, and especially not any of the older students, so it was nice to spend so much time talking to them.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Oh the Germans and their religious holidays...we got Pentecost off (as well as the Monday afterwards). So I took my long weekend and went to Leipzig.

I actually hadn't been to East Germany yet this year, so it was good. It's hard to make generalizations and make observations about the differences without a lot of qualifications. But one thing that's typical is that there is a lot of change in construction. The landscape of former Eastern cities are very different.

In the time of the GDR the state put up huge apartment blocks in order to provide housing for all their citizens. You can still see remnants of these (I also saw them outside Berlin). But there is also a mix of communist-looking buildings, older buildings and modern buildings in the city as well. So a lot of change. A lot of buildings that are totally rundown. Leipzig (like Berlin as well) has housing to accommodate thousands more people than actually reside there. So lots of empty buildings, cheap rent.

For me Leipzig is most interesting because of their historical role in the 1980s. (And Leipzig has an amazing historical museum which I went to with great exhibits showing their history since 1945.)

Leipzig was a key place that that resistance to the GDR government met and demonstrated. Mostly, towards the end of 1989, they were protesting their lack of freedom to travel and lack of freedom of speech (it actually wasn't allowed to protest the government, so they gathered for "prayer sessions" in the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig.)

These Montagsdemontrationen (they met every Monday) got HUGE up until Nov 9, 1989 (fall of the Berlin Wall).

Another highlight for me on the Leipzig trip was getting to see a huge war memorial put up in 1913 to commemorate the fall of Napoleon just outside of Leipzig. Crazy...

Again, pictures to come later, hopefully.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Der Mittelrhein

Friday morning I took the train from Saarbrücken north to the Rhine region filled with beautiful, steep cliffs and romantic castle ruins.

This is one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, trips I have ever taken in Germany. The unbelievably perfect weather didn't hurt my impressions.

I saw the Lorelei cliffs, which I had been dying to see ever since I fell in love with the German poet Heinrich Heine and read his beautiful tribute to this maiden who lured sailors to their deaths. :) The cliffs are totally impressive, so the story goes that the sailors stared up at them instead of at the river, which gets to its narrow-most point here.

There were a lot of tourists, but it was just beautiful and I know why. The cliffs were also partially covered with vineyards (I enjoyed some good German Riesling) and medieval ruins are just scattered along the hillsides.

From the balcony of my hotel I could see the river and a gorgeous castle (Burg Maus), and down the street the Burg Rheinfels, another half-ruined castle.

Saturday I took a boat down to Bacharach, a small town with some beautiful old houses, and on the way passed some of the most beautiful scenery I've seen in my life.

(camera broken, pictures later)


To welcome in May, I went to Heidelberg with some friends to celebrate Walpurgisnacht (the night April 30 to May 1). This is a traditional pagan holiday celebrated in variations all over Europe.

In Germany it's also called Hexennacht, or witches' night, and traditionally the witches would gather on a mountaintop and celebrate the arrival of spring. The picture on the left is an illustration to Goethe's Faust, which also includes a Walpurgisnacht scene.

In Heidelberg THOUSANDS (thanks for the correction, Simon!) of students gather on top of their mountain where there is is large amphitheater. There was a huge bonfire, torches, people doing tricks with fire and juggling, and just a lot of partying going on...very fun. And it's all just spontaneous. There is no official festival or anything, it's just a tradition carried on by the students.

We got there around 6:00 pm, walked around the old city for a while and then hiked up the mountain around 9:00 pm. It was dark by the time we got up top, and all you could see were people everywhere. Lots of students brought small, disposable grills and grilled for dinner. We stayed there all night, and took the next trains back to Saarbrücken at 6:30 a.m.