Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Visiting My German Roots

A few weekends ago, I got to do something that I've always wanted to do, something that a lot of people never have the chance to do. I was able to meet my family, my German family, and visit the city where my oma (grandmother) grew up - Mannheim.

As I've probably said before in previous blogs, my grandmother, on my mother's side, is originally from Germany. She met my grandfather, who was stationed in Mannheim following WWII, during the Allies occupation of Germany, married him, had my uncle, moved to Vermont, and had my mom. Therefore, like all of my grandmother's family is still in Germany, well at least 5 of her brothers are and I was actually able to meet one of them, my Uncle Albert and his family (his wife and 2 daughters).

It was an absolutely awesome experience - they were super nice, took me everywhere, cooked delicious food (my aunt is a great cook), and just totally and completely accepted me into their family! It was awesome!! I really am glad that I was able to visit them and meet them, to see where my grandmother lived growing up, where she was married to my grandfather, and where my uncle was baptized. It was just really, really cool and I know it made my grandmother (who hasn't been back to Germany in a very long time) really happy.

With my Aunt and Uncle :-)

The church where my Grandparents were married and my Uncle baptized.

While I was visiting them they also took me, via the Autobahn!!!, to Heidelberg to see the famous castle, which was pretty cool, even if it is in ruins.

The Castle 

View of the City from the Castle

The whole weekend, was just absolutely awesome and something that I'm really happy I was able to do. I mean how many people can say that they've actually had the chance to meet their extended family abroad? Not many that I know of, and I'm super happy that I had this amazing opportunity!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Project Update

So if it seems like I've been a little behind on my blog - it's because I am. I've actually been very occupied with my German/Turkish Relations project, which is no longer a paper, but a blog! I've discovered that I actually really enjoy blogging, and seeing how it is a new form of journalism, I figured, why not skip the boring, same old paper and try something new? So I did!

So far I've only done research based blog posts - but will be getting into the interviews and personal information soon. Since last blogging about my project, I've done tons of research, interviewed more people, and have set up even more interviews! It's been a long process, but a lot of fun! I'm really glad that I decided to go with the blog, because I can have a little more fun with it, and I can use not only words, but also pictures and videos!

I won't talk about it too much, because I've been writing about it like all week. But if anyone wants to check out the blog I made for my final project, it's called German Turkish Relations.

Monday, November 22, 2010


The last stop on our adventure around Europe was Wien (or Vienna), in Austria. We were really only there for one day, as our train got in really late that first night, but considering the little time we did have, I think we got to do quite a bit.

One of the first places we went to was the Schönbrunn Palace (with the mazes!!) as well as the Imperial Palace - which was pretty cool! We went thru the Sisi Museum, which documented the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (aka Sisi) - who was actually Bavarian! In fact, I was so intrigued by her that I bought her biography from the gift shop. Apparently, she was quite the woman - very driven, independent, and extremely beautiful - which she knew and used to her advantage to get what she wanted from people - particularly her husband, Emperor Francis Joseph I. Her life, as well as her death (she was murdered) was anything but dull, to say the least.

We also went to the Globe Museum, as well as the Imperial Burial Vault - which was creepy, but cool! It was basically a bunch of these rooms underground, containing the coffins of everyone from the Royal line - so there were people there from way, way back to the like the 1630's all the way up till today - I saw one coffin from 2007! One of the most famous coffins is that of Maria Theresa and her husband, Emperor Francis I - they are actually in a double coffin, buried side by side. Sisi is also buried here, next to her husband and son. Not only were adults buried here, but there were also many child-sized coffins. It was creepy - knowing that you're in a room full of decomposing bodies - but at the same time it was interesting to see how the Imperial family is cared for after death, as well as to see the changes in the coffins as the years went by.


After leaving Rome and Pompeii behind us, Mike and I took the short 3/4 hour train ride to Venezia (otherwise known as Venice) - the one place, other than Germany, that I've always wanted to visit!! And it was amazing! By far, my favorite part of our whole trip!

We got to stay on this really cute island called Lido, which was only a boat ride away from Venice and all the sights! Our first night there we spent just exploring the island, we went to the beach and saw the millions of sea shells that had collected there (seriously - I've never seen so many sea-shells at one time in my entire life) - it was crazy!!! And then we went out to eat at this cute little restaurant - I had the Tortellini Carbonara - which was absolutely amazing!!!

The next day we spent in the surrounding areas, getting to know Venice and it's culture. We were able to do a Murano Glass Blowing Tour thru our hotel - which I must say was a lot cooler than I thought it would be! The way that they can take a shard of glass and turn it into something recognizable is amazing! I swear, one minute the guy was holding a ball of glass and the next it was a glass dress! They are just extremely talented people, who really know what they are doing!! And of course - I did end up buying some glass - I did some early Christmas shopping :-)

We of course also went to all the sights, like St. Mark's Basilica, the clock tower - Torre dell'Orologio (the view from here was absolutely amazing!), the Piazza San Marco, the Rialto Bridge, the Bridge of Sighs, and of course the Grand Canal, itself, with all the gondolas!

It was just an awesome experience overall, because first of all, I've never been to a city on the water - I mean, I've been to islands and things, but I've never been to a city, where the main mode of transportation is by boat! It's was crazy just to see how the city deals with and adapts to the environment around it. For example, we went to St. Mark's Square right after high-tide, and when we got there we could still see traces of the water - I mean by this point it had all drained out of the square, but you could tell what had happened. And in the Basilica, the entrance was all flooded, so we had to walk on ramps to get into the church, which was built higher up off of the ground to prevent water from actually getting inside the church.

It was just sometime different, and sometime pretty amazing! I really liked Venice and hopefully I can make it back there again someday - I mean before it goes completely under!


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Naples and Pompeii

While in Rome, Mike and I decided to take a day trip into Naples and Pompeii - which was an awesome decision on our part. We left Rome early in the morning on a bus tour that drove us down through the countryside into Naples and then eventually up into Pompeii. It was absolutely amazing to see the ruins of the city, to walk the same streets that people hundreds of years ago walked - you could still see the grooves made in the roads by the wagons!! Not only that but to see where they lived (you could still see some of the beds!), to visit their city center, even the lead water pipes were still visible (not the smartest idea, but they didn't know any better back then) - all of it was just amazing!

Oh and how could I forget the casting of people who had died during the earthquake, you could clearly make out their bodies, and the position they were in when they perished. One of the men, you can tell, was attempting to cover his mouth, so he didn't breath in the smoke. Another woman is lying down, her stomach clearly showing that she was pregnant when she died. There was even a casting of a dog! It was kind of crazy to see these people, to see what they were like in their final moments, and to know that they have been and will be preserved for years to come.

It was just an awesome, surreal experience - something that I would totally do again in a heart-beat!!!

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Following our 2 weeks of excursions, we were given another week off to pursue our own travel interests. And during that time my boyfriend, Mike, flew over and spent the week with me exploring Italy and Austria. The first stop on our adventure was Rome, or Roma - which to be completely honest, is a little bit over-rated. I mean don't get me wrong, it was great to see the city and all the historical buildings and everything - it just kind of felt like a tourist trap - I mean, after all, there are tons of tourists, like everywhere! But I am glad that I went and was finally able to see some of the famous, historical buildings that as a high school latin student, I heard about time and again. I do have to say however - the gelato, totally not over-rated - it's the most amazing ice cream ever!!!!!

German-Turkish Relations

I was going to wait to blog about this, but I had such an amazing morning today - I just need to tell someone about it! :)

So as part of the Lexia Visual Culture program, students are required to do a research project of some sorts - it can take any form (so research paper, photo journal, documentary, ect. all work) and it can be on basically any topic. The only requirements are that it has to be something that we can't really do back home and it has to get us out into the culture, talking to people, experiencing life in Berlin.

So, originally I was going to do my topic on Berlin's dog culture - which by the way is huge (dogs can seriously go anywhere, even into restaurants - don't get wrong, I love it, I mean I'm a total dog person, but even that surprised me). Anyways, this whole idea of dogs and the culture that exists around them, got me thinking about people who aren't really into dogs - for example, Muslims see dogs as being unclean, and therefore don't like to be around them. This would obviously present a problem for any Muslim who lives in the city - because, seriously, dogs are everywhere. This in turn got me thinking about cultural differences and how that plays a role in Berlin.

See, Berlin has a huge Turkish population, I mean, some districts have more Turks in them than Germans! It's kind of crazy, and something I didn't really think about before coming here. But the more I thought about it, the more I noticed it, and the more I wanted to know about it. So I decided to steer away from the dog culture to take on German/Turkish Relations, with a specific interest in Integration. Which is a huge topic, I realize this, but I mean my research paper is supposed to be like 18-20 pages, so I'll definitely have enough to write about!

But anyways, here's what's going on: Turks first really started coming over to Berlin in the 1960's, when they were invited over as guest workers. At that time Germany had huge employment opportunities, but not enough people to work. Therefore, an agreement was made between Turkey and Germany, that workers would come over to Germany from Turkey, for a few years to make some money and then return home. But then in 1964, the agreement changed, and the clause stating that Turks could only stay for so long was removed - see companies didn't want to have to deal with retraining employees every few years. So suddenly, Turks had the opportunity to work in Germany, bring their families with them and stay as long as they wanted - and of course some of them took advantage of that. Now many families are into their 3rd generation as Turkish-Germans, with no intention of returning home, even though some Germans are still grasping for the past, and believe that they will eventually leave.

Therefore, the question of integration comes into play. There are those who believe that Germans and Turks are not integrated at all, while there are some who feel differently. Language is one big barrier in all of this, as many older generations don't speak German, only Turkish. Which, as one can tell, can be a big problem. There are also many Turkish shops set up and Turkish communities that have formed within the city, because of this there are some who would even go as far to say that Germans and Turks lives in 2 separate worlds. Needless to say, it's definitely a heated topic throughout the country, especially in politics.

So, there's a lot of tension, but at the same time, there's not. It's really interesting - I'm still trying to figure it all out, but this morning I had the opportunity to go to a local high school in Berlin and talk with some students during their English language class (which was awesome, because, I mean, we were able to speak English together, and they're kind of my age). And they gave me some really awesome information, that I wasn't getting from newspaper articles - the best part was that for the first time, I was actually able to talk to Turks about this issue/or lack there of. Before that I had only ever had the opportunity to talk to Germans about it - who are very opinionated, at least the ones I was talking to, about the subject, and I was kind of only getting the negative side of everything. But after talking to the students this morning, I kind of get the feeling that, for their generation at least, it's not a big deal. Sure, they speak Turkish at home and hang out with Turkish friends most of the time, but they also have German friends. Even the one German guy I was talking to didn't see what the big deal was.

It was just really interesting to talk with them, and I'm now totally excited about my project and can't wait to find out more. Hopefully, I will be able to reconnect with some of those students and talk with them some more, but until then, it's off to the streets for random interviews!!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Excursions VI: Praha

The last stop on our excursions brought us outside of Germany and into the capital of the Czech Republic, Prague (or Praha, as they say). We spent about 3 days there, just walking around, touring the city, seeing the sights - it was a lot of fun but also really interesting. I mean, Prague is after all an Eastern European City - therefore there are many differences compared to some of the other cities I have visited. Other than the obvious difference, that they don't use the Euro but the Czech crown - I noticed that people weren't as friendly as they are in Berlin. There were a lot of rather rude people in the city - well, rude I guess isn't really the best word for it - I mean, they may seem rude to me, but for them it's probably completely normal behavior - it's all a part of their culture.

Another random thing that I noticed was that the subways were like 10x more crowded than they are in Berlin and there were signs everywhere, warning people to beware of pickpockets - which is something I never really have to worry about in Berlin - I mean, it could happen anywhere, but the fact that they brought so much attention to it with signs and stuff, gave me the impression that it is a rather common occurrence. Prague also had a different feeling to it - I mean, this could and probably has a lot to do with the fact that I was very aware that I was in a Eastern European City - but it did feel a little different from Berlin - I mean it would anyways, it's a new city, in a new country, but I just ... I don't really know how to describe it - I guess it felt almost more foreign then Berlin - I could definitely tell that it wasn't as influenced by Western Society, more specifically the States, as some other European cities, like Berlin, are.

Another difference is their language - I mean of course they speak another language, but it's so different from anything I've ever heard before. It's not a Germanic or Romantic language, nor is it Asian influenced. They speak, Czech, which is a Slovic language - completely, 100% foreign to me! But I did learn that "Thank you" in Czech is "děkuji!" :-)

One thing that I did really liked about Prague was the food!!! We went to this typical Czech restaurant one night and it was just absolutely amazing!!! I ordered the Beef Goulash - not your typical America Goulash at all!!! It was beef, onions, and peppers soaked in this amazing gravy, all of which was in this gigantic bread bowl!!! It was by far the best goulash I've ever and probably will ever have! I couldn't even eat all of it - I mean I ate all the goulash, but with bread bowl on top of it all, I couldn't do - it was just so much, so good, and so cheap!! It was an amazing night! lol!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Excursions V: Countryside Adventures

For our day trip into the countryside we went on this crazy, insane hiking trip on the Elbsandsteingebirge, a mountain range along the Elbe River in between German and the Czech Republic. It's not that it was an especially difficult hike - it just had lots and lots of stairs as well as ladders, ramps, and really tiny walkways - it was like nothing I've ever done before - but I loved every minute of it! I'd have to say that it was probably the best part of our excursion - after all we had a chance to get outside and just enjoy nature - not to mention the view, which was absolutely gorgeous!!!

And then, to make the day even better we headed over to Meißen after the hike for dinner - where I had amazing lasagna (well, not as good as the lasagna in Italy - but still pretty good)! While we were there we also had the chance to explore the mini city, check out the palace and all the old churches - it was a really cute, more typical German town!

Excursions IV: Dresden

Following Weimar and our adventures in community service we took about a 2 hour train ride to Dresden where we met up with our guide, Helmut, from Potsdam (the one who took us to all the palaces around/near Berlin). There we had the opportunity to explore the city (that like Weimar, used to be a part of East Germany).

We had a chance to talk with Helmut, who grew up in Dresden about what it was like to live there before, during, and after WWII. It was really interesting to hear his story, to hear how he felt during that time and how much he had wanted to leave the East for the West. He also talked about his mom and her life during Hitler's reign - he basically said that she knew something was going on, but it wasn't something that they talked about. Like people in Dresden had an idea of what was happening, but they weren't really allowed (socially or politically) to talk about it. He also mentioned how once he moved to the West, he was really excited to wear blue jeans - random I know, but I thought it was funny.

We also had the chance to see one of the major landmarks of German baroque architecture - the Zwinger. The Zwinger  is basically this big, beautiful palace with all of these courtyards, fountains and statues. It was designed in celebration of the coronation of Louis XIV as King of Poland in 1697 (since Germany is a fairly new country, lots of cities that are now a part of Germany, used to belong to others such as Poland and Prussia) - I must say, however, that the palace itself is a pretty remarkable place.

Other than initially exploring the city (seeing the palace and some churches) we didn't really spend much time in Dresden, as we ended up taking a day trip out into the countryside. But here are some pictures of the things that we did see:

Along the Elbe River

The Palace in Dresden

View of the Palace courtyard from above

At the top of the Clock Tower

Dresden along the Elbe at night

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Excursions III - Buchenwald

During our last day in Weimar, we took a side trip to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp - a forced labor camp used by the Nazis and then later by the Soviet Union as a prison for Nazi criminals.

This was my first time visiting a concentration camp and it was intense at times. Although many of the buildings had been destroyed during bombings or removed by the Soviets, the Crematoria and the execution room, along with the guard towers and the prison still remained. It was a very somber place, and even though we were on a guided tour, not many people, other than our tour guide, talked.

The camp was originally formed as a place to send political prisoners, but then later Jews along with others disliked by the Nazis were sent to the camp to be put to work, basically until they died. "In the eight years of its existence from July 1937 to March 1945, a total of 238,980 prisoners from thirty countries passed through Buchenwald and its satellite camps, of these 43,045 were killed or perished in some other fashion there, (Holocaust Research Project)." Most of these people died from sickness, exhaustion, or starvation, but some were also executed by SS soldiers.

There was some resistance present within the camp during this time and successful efforts were made to hide a group of children, who if found would have been sent to Auschwitz. Luckily this didn't happen and the children survived until liberation in 1945 - during which time the resistance took control and set up the first memorial for all those who had died at the camp. At the same time the Allies forced 1,000 citizens from the city of Weimar to walk through the camp, to see the still visible signs of death and destruction - the Allies couldn't understand how the citizens were able to just sit by and watch this happen, and wanted them to fully experience what it was that had been taking place right in their back yard.

Today the camp is used as a memorial site for all those who died during Nazi control, and is regularly visited by political leaders, such as President Obama who visited the camp last summer to make a speech. "President Barack Obama made an emotional visit to the former Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald, Germany, Friday, saying that the camp should serve as a reminder of humanity's duty to fight the spread of evil. The visit had personal significance for the president, whose great-uncle helped liberate prisoners from the camp during World War II. 'I will not forget what I've seen here today,' Obama said after touring the camp with German Chancellor Angela Merkel; Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, and survivor Bertrand Herz, (CNN)."

Even though the camp is no longer a camp today, one can definitely still feel and sense the awful things that took place there. Like I said, it was intense, but something that I feel like I needed to experience.

The Zoo, built right next to the camp, for the entertainment of the SS soldiers and their families.

Entrance to the camp

Foundations of the buildings that were removed/destroyed.

Where organs and items of value, such as gold fillings, were removed from corpses.

The ovens

Where prisons in the jail spent their last night before being executed.

Memorial in honor of all those who died at the camp - the center is kept at 37° C - the temperature of a human body.