Friday, July 30, 2010

Last Days in Deutschland

Finally I get to writing the last blog post of the trip. In retrospect, Garmisch-Partenkirchen was spectacular this year. The weather was perfect and instead of having to choose from multiple destination options like we have in former years, the group got to see both Neuschwannstein and hike in the Alps as well as visit the Ruins and down-town Garmisch.

Neuschwannstein: A comparatively young castle perched atop one of the sloping mountains of the lower Alps, it is about as old as our own Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. The castle was built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria for which he bankrupted the Bavarian state, never even living to see its construction completed. It's one of the most visited destinations in Europe with 1.3 million visitors each year. So many, that while our group explored the grounds we made a game out of trying to guess the nationalities of the passersby. First we hiked up from the lower Hohenschwanngau where King Ludwig grew up. The trail snaked up through the woods and then continued over the path of a waterfall along a metal grate suspended over the water. After that steps, steps and more steps before we finally came out at the top where we had an amazing view of the castle from the Marienbridge over the falls. We had to squeeze in among the many tourists but it was definitely worth it, with a perfect view of the castle. Then we continued on to the castle itself where we went on a guided tour of the inside. With only 14 out of over 100 rooms finished, the tour seems short for such a large castle, but the extravagent decorations within are definitely worth seeing.

Hiking in the Alps is definitely more enjoyable if your hiking down the mountains. Minus two, our group took the cable car up among the clouds to the start of our hike. The mist was thick at first but then as we started down the trail and the sun started to come out the sky cleared quite a bit. The resulting view was breathtaking. Massive peaks of bare rock towering above us from all sides and outlining the little town of Garmisch far down in the valley below. Panoramas impossible to capture with any of the cameras we had with us, and tiny, bright mountain flowers at our feet along the trail. As many from the group will no doubt describe, the narrow trail down was definitely difficult in some places where the loose rocks and the steep drop proved a challenging combination. At the end of the trek we calculated; six hours of hiking. Enough for one day? Most definitely not. Many went on to down-town Garmisch where we found last-minute gifts and souvenirs to bring back to the United States while a few went for a swim at the wave pool nearby.

Garmisch was a perfect end to an awesome trip. A last hike to the ruins overlooking our hostel concluded our final night with a tradition I started a few years ago in 2007. I don't know that we'll ever find an official route to the ruins of Werdenfels but its always an adventure to visit. The stone walls are all thats left of the castle that was built around 1294 and remains one of my favorite places to visit in Germany. Afterall, how often do you get to discover some forgotten ruins and watch the sunset through an over 700 year old window?

From what I've heard everyone has gotten home safely without any major complications. I will be in Germany for a little longer until my flight on Tuesday when I'll be heading back home to Morganton. The trip went by so fast this year and I think we got to experience more than ever before. Every year it is perfected more and more by Herr Körner so that after 20 years only the most eventful and exciting destinations are included in the few weeks students have to experience Germany. Each trip can only be better than the last. I look forward to meeting the group for next summer and accompanying my dad on many GAPP trips in the future.

Until then auf wiedersehen!
Erika Körner

Friday, July 23, 2010

At the Foot of the Alps

The farewell at the train station in Achern was a tearful one. In just a few weeks we had already shared so many good times and finally begun to feel at home in the Black Forest. As sad as we were to leave, the train still left the station in the direction of Freiburg and Stegen where we would stay for the next 3 days. In Freiburg the group met some of the German students, took part in a scavenger hunt together and then went on to Stegen. There, the students of the deaf school were awaiting us with a cookout and dance party in the basement of one of their school buildings. Although all of the students are at least hard of hearing, they are taught to read lips in order to survive in the real world without sign-language. It's amazing that they can even understand English and have almost no problems speaking with foreign students. The reception in Stegen was a lot of fun. We danced for most of the evening and got to know quite a few of the students. The next day we got an early start with a short breakfast and then visited some classes with our presentations on different subjects in America. My sister and I talked about fashion and styles, while others described their school or typical day. Afterwards we split up into small groups and went to class with one or two of the German students. Just before lunch we had to say goodbye to our new friends from the boarding school, who go home every weekend to their families all over Germany.

After the students left us, we went for a ride around the countryside in a horse-drawn carriage. You can see a group picture we took in front of the horses above. The heat was barely tolerable but underneath the shade of the trees the view of the mountains and vinyards was beautiful. Later we had dinner in a questionably mexican restaurant (most of us had seafood pasta or giant a mexican restaurant??) and spent our last night in Stegen chatting with two of the Germans who had stayed behind as our guides.

Early the next morning we enjoyed another delicious breakfast of German rolls and müsli before heading off to Garmisch-Partenkirchen; our final destination. The train ride to Garmisch has some of the most beautiful scenery in all of Germany. The route meanders through the mountains where countless castles and ruins are nestled among the evergreens. We were on castle-watch the whole way, in awe of each and everyone of these magnificent monuments.

Viele Grüße,

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

France and Heights

Well. Yesterday we went to France. No biggie. We saw Königsburg, which is a castle. It's name means "king's castle" or something. I think they said it was about 900 years old, but it had to be rebuilt about 80 (?) years ago. We got to the castle an hour early, so we walked through it ourselves. Then we took a one hour tour of the exact same thing with a French tour guide who probably learned just enough English to give the tour. She didn't tell us much that we hadn't already figured out. But oh well. The castle was really cool, so it wasn't too bad. After the castle, we went into Strasbourg to eat lunch and shop a little. The shops in France seemed quite a bit cheaper than those in Germany. There were sales everywhere. Decent shirts for like 5€. I wish we had more time in Strasbourg to shop. Das war schade. Then we walked around in a big cathedral. It was pretty neat. We were all relieved to hear that we hadn't signed up for a guided tour. --- Haha I just saw the Nederlands make the most ridiculous goal. I don't even think the shot was inside of the 18. As you can see, Germans don't only watch Germany games. This one is Nederlands vs Uruguay. My little host sister was the one who chose to watch it. --- After the cathedral in Strasbourg, we all went home. Today we went to the klettergarten. "Klettergarten" literally means "climbing garden". --- Oh no! Someone from the Nederlands just got kicked in the face. Big time. The medics were all crowded around him and the two teams started fighting. --- Anyway, the klettergarten was amazing, but it wasn't really climbing. It was like a bunch of obstacle courses 20 feet in the air and going between trees. It's difficult to describe. We zipped down a couple times to get from the last tree to the ground and one of the little sections was about 10 feet of a climbing wall, but everything else was wobbling boards, ropes, or even a Tarzan setup where you swung on a vine-like rope into a giant net. During school today they voted for something. Certain groups would come into the theater at certain times and watch the candidates speak, then go back to their classrooms and vote. I helped my host do a lot of this. Buuuuut after the klettergarten we all went home. Sorry about the soccer distractions; the tv is right next to me. Plus being distracted by soccer is a pretty German thing, right? --- By the way, Uruguay just got an equally amazing goal that was even further from the 18. ---

group picture at Königsburg
admiring some of the outer walls of the castle
"are there jaywalking laws in France too?"
"yayyy we're lost in France!"
the klettergarten

Deep In the Black Forest

Now that we've been able to settle down in Achern for a week I think most of the students have started to get accustomed to the German way of life. They know how to travel by train, have added quite a few more words to their German vocabulary and have already figured out which German candies are the best. I also enjoy seeing everyone cheering enthusiastically for Germany's national soccer team who we all watched play Argentina on Saturday. It was a fantastic game with the Germans exceeding all expectations and securing their place in the semi-finals on Wednesday. I went to the public viewing with my host and her friend. Although it was really hot there were fewer people than last time, she said. Most of the group went to one of the German student's houses to watch the game there where it would be cooler. But either way we all saw Germany beat Argentina 4:0; an awesome score for any game in the World-Cup not to mention against the Argentinians. Spain will be a tough opponent, but we're all crossing our fingers that the youngest team in the World-Cup will finish with another win. With the weather not being so hot on Wednesday and the game being at a later time, I think all of us will be going to the public viewing in the city park. There amongst thousands of excited fans we'll wave our German flags in front of the big screen. I can't wait.

Last week the group also had the opportunity to meet the mayor of Achern. Every year we walk to the courthouse and are received by Mr. Muttach in the great hall where we present him with the official gift from our city. I was able to get a picture of the whole group sitting on the edge of the stage before the reception.

I've also included some pictures I took of the Black Forest area. On severel occasions while hiking or mountain biking with my host family, I was able to capture some of the views from an altitude of about 1000 meters.

Greetings from the Black Forest!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

From Place to Place

Time has gone by so quickly and we're already half way through the trip. We've been to Berlin, Hamburg, Köln and now Achern traveling from the East to West and now North to South. Traveling by train is a breeze in Europe and luckily we have a wonderful group leader who plans the routes for us and makes sure we are always on the correct train-car. The ride from Altenburg to Berlin was went by in just a few hours and we found ourselves in the middle of one of the most exciting cities in the world. The day we arrived we barely had time to settle in to our rooms at the hostel before traveling to the Tiergarten in preparation for the game that evening. It was Germany vs. Ghana and everyone in the area was gathering on the Fan-mile for the momentous event. We got there 2 hours before the game just to make sure we got a good spot and it definitely paid off. As you can see in the picture I took we were right in front of one of the big screens and even had a place on an island in the middle of the blocked-off road so that we were a little bit taller than the people in front of us. We were lucky to have such a good view of the game. Along with 500,000 fans we screamed and cheered "Tooooooor!!!", jumping up and down when number 8 Özil scored the winning goal. The atmosphere was unparalleled and the experience brought us all closer together. Literally. It was hot, sweaty and loud, but Germany won and thats all that mattered. One step closer to winning the Soccer World Cup in South Africa.

The next day we all got up at the ripe hour of 8 a.m. for a tour of the city led by Mr. Körner himself. First the Brandenburg gate and group photo in front of the famous monument, then a short walk to the German parliament building known as the Bundestag. One thing I learned while waiting on the giant steps for our tour: it is the most visited government building in the world! The giant glass dome rising out of the outer stone structure is amazing to behold and we got to walk all the way up too the top along the inside of the glass. Waving German flags outline the skyline of Berlin and it is possible to easily recognize such structures as the giant tv tower and the Center of Cultures also known as the pregnant oyster because of its odd shape. We also saw the official residence of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel; a massive, modern creation made from steel and glass located on the banks of the Spree river. After a day of touring and shopping we headed back in the direction of the hostel and enjoyed a delicious italian meal at a nearby restaurant. Then it was off to the Qdam to experience some of the Berlin nightlife. Techno and flashing lights lured many of us to the dance floor while those who were too tired to join simply enjoyed the general surroundings of excitement and music. The following day we took a day trip to Potsdam while most of the group visited the concentration camp Sachsenhausen. I went with a small group to take a stroll through the magnificent gardens and palaces of Sans Souci while the others got a taste of what life and death was like for those who suffered under the Nazi regime. Maybe one of the other students will elaborate more on that subject.

Next we travelled on to Hamburg where we received a warm welcome from new host families in the nearby city of Reinbeck. We visited the school there and spent most of the time with our hosts, making each students experience in Hamburg unique. One thing I know we all did: everyone watched the soccer game of Germany against England. Wherever we were we all watched the Germans dominate with a score of 4:1 in one of the most exciting games I have seen in a long time. There were so many goals, so many controversies and such a well-played game by the team in white and black. As for me and my family, we took a boat-tour through the port in Hamburg. I've attached one of the photos I took from there.

Three days after arriving in Hamburg we moved on to Achern stopping in the city of Cologne (Köln) for 3 hours. Just long enough to see the famous dome which took over 800 years to construct. The two steeples of the dome, tower at an unbelievable height as you step out of the train station and look up at the intricate structure. The gothic architecture on the outside was an amazing sight to see and the inside equally incredible. The art, mosaic, statues and stained glass cover the walls, floor and ceiling make it almost impossible to take in ever detail; much less capture it in a few photographs. After the cathedral we got a quick bite to eat, retrieved our suitcases from the lockers and headed off to catch our train to Achern. It was a long day of travel and trains but when we finally arrived in Achern the wonderful families who recieved us made it all worth while.
Now each student is with their own host family from our partner school the Gymnasium Achern. I think we are all having a great time so far and I will be sure to post again as soon as I can. So far we have been to the Ulmer Brewery on a tour and have been giving our presentations at the school as well as attending various classes with our hosts. The best is yet to come: Be sure to watch the soccer game, Germany vs. Argentina on Saturday at 10 a.m. American time. We will all definitely be watching!!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

First Day in Germany

Getting off the plane in Munich we all quickly realized the air was quite a bit cooler than the hot humid climate we had left behind us in the United States. Walking down the tunnel to the German airport with carry-ons in hand we got ready to pass through Customs and into Germany. We had 2 hours in Munich until our connecting flight to Leipzig; just enough time to grab lunch and pass through the historic Brüderkirche (Brother Church). In Munich we always eat in the traditional German restaurant called Augustiner. There you can order anything from Maultaschen to Schnitzel to Weißwurst. The waiters always look like stereotypical Germans and although I have a feeling they can probably speak English they normally try to coax as much German out of the American students as they can. The food was delicious! The perfect place to get a taste of traditional German cuisine.

With only a little time left to explore the famous city we set out to see the Glockenspiel at the giant courthouse built in the gothic style. I've attached a photo of it to this blog. Just before 12 noon almost all the tourists in the city gather in Marienplatz, the huge courthouse square to hear the bells toll and see the glockenspiel in the tower. We were right on time but only had a few minutes to spare before catching a subway train back to the airport. There we continued on in a little Lufthansa jet headed for Leipzig. Not many of us remember this flight because we were already too tired to stay awake. But the day wasn't over. There was still a lot to see and do before arriving at our hosts houses and finally being able to go to bed.

The welcome in Altenburg was quite the reception. We arrived at the brewery very much underdressed as there was already a celebration underway hosted by one of the high schools of the area. They were celebrating their Abitur (graduation) in a way which in Germany is pretty much their equivalent to our prom. All the Germans were dressed in semi-formal and we walked in in our sweatshirts and jeans. It was still an enjoyable event. Most of us were too tired to care about what we looked like but the food was good and we recieived a warm welcome from our hosts after dinner.

As far as I've heard most everyone has been happy with their host families. This year our students are being hosted by students of the Realschule in Schmölln which lies just outside of Altenburg. Both cities are included in the state of Thüringen which covers roughly 6,000 square miles in the center of Germany. The other blog was right about us being in Thüringen but it describes the larger state not just a particular city. GAPP has never visited Schmölln before and the city hasn't ever hosted a group of American students but they really demonstrated a huge effort to make us feel welcome here. We've been treated to traditional meals of the area, taken on a tour of the city, been recieved by the mayor and other diginitaries of the region, as well as gone to the pool, mini-golfing and gone bowling with the German students. On Monday we also did a day-trip to Dresden which is relatively close to Altenburg. Dresden is known for its porcelain and for the Frauenkirche which has recently been restored after its destruction during WWII.

First, the Frauenkirche with a statue of Martin Luther.
Below it, a traditional German meal of Klöse, Rotkraut and Sauerbraten.

We've had a full schedule but I think our stay in Altenburg and Schmölln was very enjoyable.
Tomorrow we leave for Berlin!! It is one of the cultural capitals of the world as well as a historically rich city. Berlin has so many things to offer and always ends up being unforgettable! I can't wait. :)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

I'm going to make this short since it's 00:14 here :D. We flew into Munchen on Thursday and had lunch at a nice restaurant with a very frustrated waiter. Then we got on another plane for about an hour and flew to Leipzig, making our total amount of time on a plane 9.5 hours. Ugh. When we got to Leipzig, we took a train to the main train station there, which is basically a mall, and shopped around a little while waiting for our train to Altenburg. We rode on the 2nd floor of the double decker train for about an hour to Altenburg. Once we got there, we went to a brewery where they were having some sort of graduation party. We had a buffet dinner and they had a whole pig to serve. Literally. You could look into its eyes. Then after dinner we met our host families and went home. Personally, my host family is amazing. My older sister speaks perfect English because she stayed in New York for a year. My host parents, not so much. I was stuck at home alone with them this morning and we managed to stumble through a few random conversations in German. The exchange of "danke" and "bitte" is starting to get a little old to everyone. Selina's host family lives across the street from me and her family is also really nice. Selina and I both have younger sisters who are at firefighter camp. No, that's not a mistranslation. They're coming home tomorrow. Today we toured the Realschule (comprehensive school) and visited a museum. Altenburg's speciality is playing cards. Oh and we don't all live in Altenburg. Some of us live in Schmölln and some of us, Selina and I included, live in Thüringer. I have a computer in my room, so I may be the one posting most of the updates until we leave Altenburg.
Auf wiedersehen!