Greetings. Alas, it seems that the curse of being busy struck me. It has been a little more than a month since I have posted any sort of update about my adventures in Germany and Europe. I will attempt to rectify that here. Rather than give a play by play update, I will divide this post by topic and will go roughly in chronological order.
My last post ended with our introduction to the new German instructor, Susanne. I erroneously stated that we were saying goodbye to Frau Smars forever. That, it seems, was not the case. Frau Smars and Susanne merely trade off days teaching us. German class itself, that is, being in the class room and learning the language is going very well. I learn lots, and am often able to immediately apply whatever it is I just learned. But, the circumstances surrounding the course itself are fairly complicated and altogether unfair. When we signed up for Study Abroad, we were told that we would be taking six hours of German language, but in the course of one semester. This meant that we would have two “mini-mesters,” complete with tests and a final exam. But, what this amounts to, is learning the language at such a rapid rate that we must either sell our souls to the devil in exchange for good grades or make grades that sit near the border of D and F. This was amply demonstrated when we all, except one person, failed our second test. The instructors at the language school informed us that the pace that ACU has set for us learning German is entirely too rapid, and they would much prefer it if ACU would chill out. Ron brought this to Kevin Kehl, the director of ACU’s Center for International and Intercultural Education, under whose department Study Abroad rests. Dr. Kehl, so I am told, brought this to the attention of the University. The solutions we were offering included two options. Either reduce the class to a three hour class and refund us the money for the other three hours of tuition, or make the six hour class a pass/fail course where GPA wouldn’t matter so long as we passed. I am told that the University flat out said “no,” and that was supposed to be the end of the discussion. So, we were forced to try to make adjustments on our end so as to deal with the problem. Ron suggested to the director of the language school here that we be permitted to retake the test that we failed and that we attempt to take some of the pressure off by having weekly tests over the material, which would dilute the importance of each individual test. This meant more classroom time, but it seemed like the best solution given ACU’s characteristic rejection of allowing its students any say whatsoever in how the University runs things. For once I want ACU to take our opinions seriously. ACU promotes itself as a university that operates with input from all interested parties, but that has never been clearer as a deliberate deception than on this problem of German class. For one, we are the first group of students to go for a long semester in ACU’s Germany program. ACU’s operation of this program is based on experience in other places and educated judgment, but is not based on empirics resulting from a successful program here in Germany. Since we are the first, ACU should listen to us; we are their best sources of information. Second, allowing us all to do horrible in German will be detrimental to the sort of advertising we, or at least I, will do for the program once I return to Abilene. If I end up doing severe damage to my GPA because ACU wouldn’t listen to us, then I will do my very best to sink the Germany program for the future. I am, after all, contractually obligated to make presentations to Honors students, at least, about the Germany program.
Aside from all that, life here is Leipzig is great. I think I am going to run through what a basic day looks like here, and then I will talk about the trips we took to various places in the last month. Normally I wake up around seven and do my German homework while drinking coffee and eating a berliner. I then shower and am out the door by 8:52. I have to be fairly precise about this because the tram we take to the language school leaves the stop at 9:04, and it is about a ten minute walk to the stop. We take the 9:04 tram to another stop where we switch to another tram. This one departs at 9:15. This tram has a stop about a two minute walk from our language school. We typically arrive at the language school at 9:25, where we wait five minutes for class to start. Class lasts until 11, and we usually can catch the 11:07 tram which takes us to a stop where we catch the 11:17 tram back to the apartments for lunch. There is a grocery just down the street from the apartments, and it is extremely cheap. I have discovered this delightful salami that is coated in pepper. It is wonderful, and I eat sandwiches made with it all the time. Another thing I have discovered is carbonated fruit juice. Now, I am not talking fruit flavored soda, but straight up fruit juice with bubbles. Think sparkling grape juice at New Year’s because you are too young for champagne, but any kind of juice. And, it is everywhere. I love it love it love it. So anyway, we get back to the apartments and make our various lunches and wait for our afternoon classes if we have them. I don’t have class on Monday afternoons, but we do get together for family night at 5 where we eat dinner, do chapel, and watch a movie together. Most of the movies we have watched are German films, and so we are able to learn about German culture through the medium of film. I have Christianity and Culture on Tuesday afternoon followed by INTS. I really enjoy my Christianity and Culture class. We spend most of the time talking about the appropriate interaction between Christians and culture and the Church and culture. We have studied Sire’s progression of worldviews. He starts with Christian Theism and works his way to postmodernism. We have also studied the interaction between the Church in Germany and the culture. We read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom and we are currently studying Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his influential work as to how the Church interacts with culture. INTS is our international studies course required by Study Abroad for everyone participating in Study Abroad. Our class focuses on the cultural and historical development of Germany. It is a good place to process our own cultural observations as well as learn about history and culture. On Wednesday afternoons I, along with fellow study-abroader Laura, go to the Ronald McDonald House where we do things like sweep floors, wash windows, move furniture, and even grocery shop. Next week we are going to be cooking for the parents and kids who are currently staying in the house. Thursday afternoons I have Christianity and Culture again, but no INTS, and we have Friday off usually. We also spend time with our German friends eating dinner or hanging out or whatever.
Now, on to the places we have travelled since last I posted. First up: Wittenberg. One Friday morning we left Leipzig and headed off to Wittenberg. We travelled by train. This time, though, there was no problem, although we did endlessly make fun of Ron for his previous coffee-train debacle. The trip took about an hour and a half and we arrived around lunch time. The town is rather small, but very pretty. There were, of course, statues and posters and such of Martin Luther and on the door of the church where he preached the 95 Theses are engraved in Old High German. The first place we went was the Castle Church, which was built by the Duke of Saxony as the Church that served the castle in Wittenberg. It was later given to the University, of which Luther was a faculty member, and became one of the places that Luther preached. It was on this door that his students, not he, nailed the 95 Theses. Inside the church there is artwork and stained glass and where, in a Catholic church there would be statues of various saints, there were statues of various reformers. The church, as it exists today, was rebuilt sometime in the eighteenth century after having been destroyed by napoleon. The church no longer serves the University of Wittenberg, since there isn’t one anymore; it now serves the Lutheran seminary that exists in Wittenberg. Next we went to the city church, which is a much bigger building and altogether less ornate. This was the church that Luther preached at mostly and served the citizens of Wittenberg, and still does. The paintings above the altar, specifically the Lord’s Supper where the apostles sat with Jesus around a circular table, was interesting and edifying, and I readily agreed with the point being made. That is, the apostles are not lined up in a row looking down on the faithful; rather, there is almost an inclusion of the faithful into the sacred meal. Inside the city church there is a painting of a vineyard where one half is worked by the catholic clergy, and they are eating all the grapes and not letting Jesus in, and the other half is the reformers all kneeling before God and taking care of the vineyard. Also in the painting somewhere is a wild boar, which is a direct response to the Papal bull excommunicating Martin Luther in which Luther is referred to as a wild boar. It seems that the reformers weren’t above a little bit propaganda. After this we went and got lunch at an Italian place where I got pizza. After lunch we had a meeting with a lady who teaches sacred music at the Lutheran seminary. She is an American from Ohio, and became interested in Germany because she had studied abroad there during college. She taught us a lot about the musical shift that went along with the reformation. After this meeting we went to the Luther museum which was in the Luther House. Luther had made his home out of an old Benedictine monastery that existed in Wittenberg. This monastery was later converted to a museum and holds a lot of Luther’s stuff. After the museum we returned back to Leipzig.
The next weekend we travelled to Weimar. Weimar is the city from where the Weimar Republic governed during the period between the end of WWI and Hitler’s ascent to power. We arrived on Friday afternoon and went immediately to Buchenwald, a concentration camp. This concentration camp is only twenty minutes by bus from Weimar and held over 24,000 people in the course of its existence. We toured to the camp and I was shocked to the deepest core of my being. Of course I had known that the concentration camps had existed, but I was never confronted with it up close like that. I saw the various memorials for the various groups who were tortured and murdered there, from the gypsies to the Jews to the political prisoners. I learned of the selfless acts of heroism that occurred in the camp on occasion, such as when the entire camp refused an order to allow an entire group of Soviet POW’s starve to death, or when the political prisoners, mostly communists and socialists, worked tirelessly to get better conditions for the prisoners, especially the children. I also learned how people would kill each other over scraps of potato peels. I saw the ovens where the SS burned people alive. I spent most of my time crying and praying that God forgive us. Because, I guess, what I realized was that the SS who committed these atrocities were not demons or monsters, they were people. They were people just as I am a person, and it is only by God’s grace that I have been prevented from becoming like them. After Buchenwald, we went back to Weimar, checked into the hostel, and then went out as a group to have coffee and discuss what we saw. Christin and Andreas, our German friends, also came with us on this trip. Andreas is from Weimar, so he was able to show us around. Something that was said in our discussion that won’t ever leave me was that we, as Americans, are able to look at WWII and hold our heads up with dignity because we faced the same damnable conditions, the Great Depression and war, and yet we did not succumb as Germany succumbed. We are able to view WWII as a victory. The Germans, though, cannot. They must somehow wrestle with the past and ask the oldest among them: “How could you have let this happen.” After coffee we went back to the Hostel briefly, and then got dinner at a place that Andreas says has authentic Thuringian food, because we were in Thuringia. After dinner a few of us went back to the hostel and slept. It had been an exhausting day. On Saturday we woke up, had breakfast, and then wandered around Weimar. It was a beautiful little town, and I fully intend to go back. Weimar is famous for Bauhaus architecture, which is essentially modern architecture that focuses on straight lines and cubes and boxes and such. I don’t like it much, but we went to the Bauhaus museum. After that we wandered up to the area of town where there is a lot of Bauhaus buildings, and then we wandered through the park. It was just very very pretty and nice. We had a snow ball fight, and then we went in search of lunch. I had been told by Andreas that the only real bratwurst was one from Thuringia, so I peaced out from the group and went and bought a Thuringian bratwurst from a bratwurst stand and ate it. IT WAS AMAZING. So, I went back and got another one. I wandered around the town for a little bit longer, then we all met back at the hostel to leave and head back to Leipzig.
Now for Paris. The Paris trip was an interesting trip to say the least. The people going were me, Kyle, Drew, Trey, and Laura. This trip concluded a week ago. In the days leading up to the Paris trip we had three tests in German and an internet outage in the apartments. It was a rather stressful time, so I envisioned the Paris trip to be fairly stress free. Nope. We left at 1:15 on a Wednesday from Leipzig on a train headed to Frankfurt, where we would switch trains and go to Paris. Well, our train decided to sit in the Leipzig Haubtbahnhoff for an extra 20 minutes or so, and so we were going to be late making the connection. However, that was about four hours away, so I settled in to read The Hiding Place for my Christianity and Culture class. When we got to Frankfurt, we were pleased to discover that the train we needed to get on to head to Paris was still there, but it was a delightful 10 platforms away. We flat out ran, made it onto the train just as it was about to leave, and while the others decided to stay in the restaurant wagon and catch their collective breath, I made it down the train to my seat. Now, on the train to Frankfurt we didn’t have reserved seating. It wasn’t like there were enough people on the train for it to matter anyway, but on this train there were assigned seats. I didn’t know this, but out of sheer dumb luck I sat down in the correct seat. I continued to read The Hiding Place and about an hour and a half later the others decided to show up. By this time, the seats that they had reserved were taken by other people, and so we evicted the other people. They all, grumbling and complaining, got up to head to the part of the train where you can stand if you don’t have a reserved seat, except for one woman. She flat out refused to move and claimed that there is some rule stipulating that you have to claim your seat within the first fifteen minutes of the train ride, or else it’s fair game. We tried to argue with her, another man sitting near us, turns out he was an American from New York, tried arguing with her as well. She refused to budge. Drew, the only one without a seat, just stood there until the woman’s stop came and she got off. We finally made it to Paris where we intended to take a taxi to our hostel. Bad decision. First off, the man spent awhile figuring out where the hostel was by looking at a map, even though he had a GPS and I had the address, all the while his meter was counting. About ten minutes into the drive his car starts beeping and he informs us that something is wrong with the oil. So, he stops the car and gets out to look under the hood…while the meter is running. He fixes the problem and we keep driving, for about two minutes, when the car does the same thing. This time Trey made him pause the meter while he checked the engine. Eventually he gets us within walking distance of the hostel and we get out. Did I mention it’s raining and it is about 11:30 at night? The meter said we owed him 14 euros, but he claimed that each additional person owed 3 euros. I smelled scam the whole time. Anyway, we paid it and started walking towards the direction that he said the hostel was. Well, after walking for a while in the completely deserted streets of Paris in the rain, we asked a man for directions. He pointed us on the same way we were walking, and we eventually made it. The hostel, which had appeared so nice on the internet, was fairly crappy. The sheets they gave us were, essentially, very large dryer sheets and the place smelled bad and was infested by herds of middle schoolers. But, at least, we had a room to ourselves. The next morning we made it to the nearest underground station, bought day passes for the metro, and headed to the Eiffel Tower. It was very neat looking marred only by the presence of the delightful men attempting to sell us Eiffel Tower souvenirs. We spoke to them in German and they left us alone, which was nice. We then got lunch at the most expensive overwhelmingly ordinary place we could find. Imagine spaghetti from your elementary cafeteria. Think that, but 15 euros. Oh, and the waiter was a jerk. We thought he might just be being mean to us since we didn’t speak French, but he appeared to be a jerk to everyone. We next went to the Arc de Triomphe, and of course it was raining again. Drew and I took the underground, but the others wanted to walk. The Arc de Triomphe was extremely impressive and I took lots of pictures. After that we headed to the Louvre. We got off at the underground stop for the Louvre, but we read the map wrong, so we started walking in the opposite direction through some pretty heavy rain. We ended up in some random park at a hot dog stand where we ate hot dogs and got directions to the Louvre. We finally made it there and spent about three hours wandering around. It was absolutely huge, and one of the most wonderful places I have ever been. I could have spent a week in there. We left at six as they were closing, and made it back to the entrance of the palace grounds where we could see both the Arc and the Eiffel Tower off in the distance set off brilliantly by the sunset. We took the underground to a stop near the Arc and got dinner at a wonderful little place. It was very delicious. I had grilled Salmon. We then headed off to the base of the Eiffel Tower. It was absolutely beautiful all lit up and sparkling. After that we headed back to the hostel. The next morning we all went our separate ways. Laura and Drew went to Versailles while Kyle, Trey, and I went to Notre Dame. On our way there we stopped and ate at this wonderful pizza place. Notre Dame was very impressive. I don’t think it is as cool as Westminster Abbey, but it is awesome nonetheless. I also have some good pictures of Notre Dame. Trey then went to the Muse d’Orsay, while Kyle and I went and took naps at the hostel. We met up with the rest of the group near the Eiffel Tower that evening and went and got dinner, and then I went back to the hostel to sleep while the others went up to the top of the tower. I am rather afraid of heights, and I didn’t know if we would be in a room looking out through windows, or if we would be outside. I also didn’t feel like paying 14 euros. The next morning Kyle, Trey, and I headed back to Leipzig. We got on the train in Paris and headed to Manheim where we would catch another train to Leipzig. It turns out our train was delayed, so when we got to Manheim we were forced to take another train to Frankfurt, where we were able to get on a train headed to Leipzig. We made it back Saturday night and have been in Leipzig ever since.