Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Weeks 5 and 6: A Retrospective

Dear All,

pardon the delay, as you know, once you fall behind, it is hard to catch up. A German saying is appropriate: "Was du heute kannst besorgen, das verschiebe nicht auf morgen". Hopefully sincerity will compensate for tardiness.

Following our time in Berlin, we slipped right into a soccer frenzy. The US Women's Team fought its way into the semi-final, and in order to enjoy this match together (as we had in Berlin), arrangements were made to view the game at one of the students' host-family homes. We were graciously invited to enjoy the game on the garden terrace equipped with a large projection screen. Snacks and drinks were lovingly provided and to finish things off, we ordered pizza and decorated each other with red-white-blue war paint. The kids had a large time and thus we spent a wonderful evening together. That the US won that night, was just the cherry on top.

With red-white-blue paint flowing down the drain, the kids dusted off their wizard hats and readied themselves for the Harry Potter finale. The students were especially excited, because the film premiere was two days earlier than in the US - so they were to see the final installment before any of their friends back home. We had a fantastic time watching the finale as a big family.

On friday we were off to Cologne without a break. We arrived early to immediately begin our guided tour of the Cologne Cathedral and the immediate parts of the city. One easily gains a sprain in the neck, trying to take in the site of this great cathedral - the largest Gothic cathedral in the World. As one of Germany's most recognizable landmarks, the Cologne Cathedral attracts about 20,000 visitors a day - so include us 17 in that number! The students  were contemplative and in awe . For a teacher it is especially rewarding, when students quietly aproach one to reflect on the surroundings, to ponder what this experience means to them and for all the other people throughout history. Once we concluded our walking tour, we took a short lunch break and collected our strength for the next mission at hand - the soul-shaking climb to the top of the cathedral, which stands at 157 meters. Umm, that's 516 ft!

After every single one of us mastered the climb to the steeple, we were off to the next stop. This time the students had a choice. Half of the students went to the chocolate museum (yes, it is as delicious as it sounds) and the other half opted for the Kolumba museum, a modern museum sponsored by the Catholic bishopry and that is built around the ruined remains of a church bombed during WWII. Once the tours concluded we met outside of the Cathedral before announcing two hours of free time. As an additional option, we offered the students to join the instructors on a tour of the Schatzkammer (Treasury) beneath the Cathedral. This was an additional opportunity to explore some of the historical treasures of Cologne, which every student decided to join. This is very telling of the eager character of our students, is it not? Towards the early evening we were on our way back to Krefeld.

You might think that the weekend would offer the much sought after opportunity to sleep, but one of the host families arranged yet another alternate activity for our students. On saturday, the host families joined us at the Krefeld Beach Club for a grill party and volleyball. This was a wonderful opportunity for the host parents to mingle and share their impressions of their students and exchange some ideas for any last minute trips.

On sunday we were again invited to view the World Cup finale. Adorned with Americas colors, we enjoyed an exciting game, in which Japan finally came through as the winner. Though the students were sad to see the girls go home with the 2nd place, they proved to be gracious winners.

Finally we entered our last full week of school and starting with Monday, we all sensed a shift in the atmosphere. The students began to realize that our time together was nearing its end and that it would soon be time to say our good-byes. Our students seized the opportunity to enjoy the joys of Krefeld one last time. The students met every day in some capacity. They planned to play soccer in the park, tasted a plethora of new ice cream flavors and chowed down a Doener at every opportunity. The afternoon school activities were in full force in anticipation of our pending farewell festivites. And on Friday it was time for our final tour - this time to Aachen.

Needless to say, our trip to Aachen served as the grand finale of our tour. Upon our arrival we set off on a thoroughly guided tour of the Aachen Cathedral, the seat of Charlemagne, who for many is considered the Father of Europe. It was great to see the students apply the wide spectrum of their experience to this final event. Half an hour into the tour, our tour guide had not even realized that he was speaking to American students! We concluded our tour in the treasury and then headed to the city hall to enjoy some free time for lunch. Afterwards we headed to the Couven Museum, which is an original Rococo style home with all its delicate eccentricities. When we concluded the tour we left the students to their own to shop for any last minute souvenirs and be together. Eventually we met again to journey home via train and many of us had a good heart to heart. It was time to begin to say our good-byes.

This concludes the report of the last two weeks.

All the best for now,

Your Krefeld Team.

Monday, July 18, 2011

We heart Berlin.

Dear All,

shamefully, we are only now finding the time to write the thorough report of our whereabouts that you deserve. Please understand that we have been absolutely overwhelmed with wonderful activities - and with such a tightly organized schedule, there is little time for writing late at night.

We want to get straight to the good stuff. Last we left off, we were preparing for our journey to Berlin. You have seen the photos, so it is reduntant to say that we had an incredible time. The students were so excited on our four-hour journey to the capitol that they refused to sleep and the pounds of Gummybears and other candy made sure they couldn't. We arrived at Berlin central station (Europe's largest cross-roads - Indiana much?) and made our way straight to Potsdam to check in into our youth hostel and ready the rooms. The youth hostel was situated in a gorgous and quiet turn-of-the-century neighborhood that as well equipped with a rustic kitchen, play grounds, a movie room and beautiful, naturally lit rooms. Once we checked in, we quickly gathered to head on to our first point of interest, the palace compounds of Sanssouci in Potsdam. This was the former and favorite residence of Frederick the Great and was ecquipped with a beautiful Orangerie and New Palais all in the classical style. The students were quite taken by the style of the (former) rich and famous and were especially tickled when the street performer dressed in Prussian garb played the tune of Hogwarth in the Harry Potter series. On our stroll home, we explored parts of Potsdam, including the old Holland district, where the houses in red brick stone stood as symbols of the old trade relations in Europe. We returned hungry in our youth hostel, enjoyed a dinner and partook in a series games, finished off by a game of team basketball. When the fun concluded, we watched the Germany/France FIFA game in the recreational room and were glad to celebrate Germany's victory.

The following day, we had a culture filled day planned. We were off early and headed to Hohensch√∂nhausen and visited the old Stasi prison compound (http://en.stiftung-hsh.de/). Maybe it was a reality check, but the students appeared contemplative. Many of the blatant truths were reminiscent of the life in a concentration camp - something no one could have imagined to have existed after the terrible World War. These young kids quickly had to realize that Berlin is saturated with beautiful and thought-provoking, not-always-so-easy history. When we concluded our tour, we headed to Alexanderplatz (in former East-Berlin) and did a walking tour past the famous landmarks, including Engels and Marx, Museum Island and the Berlin Cathedral, which is called the Berliner Dom in German. Oddly enough, the cathedral is not in fact a cathedral, which is by definition the seat of a catholic bishop, but a protestant Church, built as a grand church. Since our trip, this church has been named the most beautiful site by our students. They were really taken by it. Perhaps because, aside from the gorgeous interior, it also hosted a crypt underneath it. When we concluded our tour, we continued on foot, over to the Humboldt University, the site of the unfortunate book burnings during the Third Reich, all the way to the Gendarmen Markt (the former French district), where we hopped on a tour bus, to take in the sites from a more comfortable point. Most students were already exhausted, and were additionally inspired by the heat, to take an occasional quick snooze between the flurry of pictures. We ended the tour at Potsdamer Platz after visiting Check Point Charlie and remnats of the Berlin Wall. The students were left to their own to gather souvenirs and food for some time, until it was time to meet by the Sony Center for the Blue Man Group. We had first, second and third row tickets - so we were right in the action and several students were even included in the show's interactive program. Needless to say, the kids had a grand ole time.

Our final day in Berlin was reserved for politics. We visitd the Brandenburger Gate and the Holocaust Memorial before we finally made our way to the Bundestag. We had the fortune of joining a political debate - and it wasn't just any. It was our luck, that in the hour that we sat in on the debate, things were just coming to a head on Germany's most important political vote - here you can follow up on the debate, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preimplantation_genetic_diagnosis. It couldn't have been planned better, but Lady Luck ensured us that we saw Germany's most supreme politicians, including a grand finale by Mrs. Angela Merkel herself. It was exhilirating. When our hour was up, we were invited to meet with Krefeld's representative Mr. Heveling in one for the back rooms reserved for panel discussions. While he enlightened us on the political procedures of the German political system, the sirens reminded us of the gravity of the situation. We were wrapped up right in German politics. Our stay in Berlin was finally coming to an end, and so we made our way towards the central station to grab an early dinner and finally board the train. Some of the students were in exhausted deep sleep before the train even left the station. Happy kids sleep deeply. :)

Here we must take a break and reserve the next post for the next opportunity to write. We thank you for you patience and wish you a happy and quiet last week before the students' great return to the States.

Best, the Krefeld Team.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Independence Day!

Dear All,

this will be a short entry to keep you posted on our most recent whereabouts. Before we begin, we would like to extend our warmest well-wishes to you and, of course, wish you a wonderful Fourth of July.

On this past Friday we took a trip to the local Castle Linn and palatial hunting lodge. It is a modest but curious castle, that was once part of the Kleve estate. The name Kleve may remind you of Anne of Cleve, one of Henry VIII more fortunate wives - she was, in fact, of this family. The students really enjoyed themselves, especially because they could roam freely and explore the compound for themselves.

Today was reserved for American celebrations. It has become the tradition of the program to host a potluck picnic next to the castle Linn and the families truly outdid themselves. The parents went through a lot of trouble to find American candies (Jelly Beans!) and American-style dishes. There was even a gorgeous taco salad, which the students and teachers devoured - Mexican food seems to be the mutual item we all miss from home! After the dinner, the students sang both the American and German national anthem and put on a one-act play (a comedy!) of the Founding Fathers signing the Declaration of Independence. As the party came to an end, we let off firecrackers in the courtyard (thank you -  you know who you are!) and played some serious "Go, Ninja, go" -  a game we teachers have yet to understand.

Well, tomorrow is the big day. We will meet the students in the wee hours of the morning to begin our journey to Berlin. We are all looking forward to this trip and really hope that the students will have a great time. The stories must wait for now - they must be made first.

From Germany all the best,
Team Krefeld.