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Germany -- 08/14/07 --

This will more than likely be the final blog from Germany in 2007. This one, like Blog 10, has been a long time put off – not due to slacking on my part – but because of a lack of time and a lack of Internet. I write this now from Dennis' grandparents' house; we've done so much since I last told you about Berlin !

Last week was both fun and sad as we finished up our studies at Braunschweig. The majority of Tuesday was spent thinking about the forthcoming test on Wednesday, particularly worrying about the spoken test. I spent less time studying the vocab from the two chapters we covered than I did going over things to say about German geography in my head. Class on Tuesday went by faster than normal, even Grammar seemed quicker since we talked about passive voice (which Chucked covered in both 222 and 341) and I knew it wouldn't be on the test.

I didn't sleep as well as I would have liked on Tuesday night; it was a bit restless and every time I woke up the test was on my mind. Generally I don't worry about tests because I know just about everything I have to do during a semester to make an A in the class, but here with only three weeks and only a few grades to speak of, I was worried I might come off with a B here and have spent $3000 just to ruin my 4.0 GPA. Everybody assured me Chuck wouldn't do that…but who knows?

The written test was a beast: It took more than an hour, and I was the second one done. We were allowed 20 minutes more than I needed, but after an hour there was nothing else I could look over or correct! I wish I had studied the vocabulary a little more, but fortunately I was able to look a couple things in the German-only dictionary that Andrea provided us during the test and that helped a little. After burning an hour in the cantina in the basement I went back upstairs to find Laura, my speaking partner, and then stood outside the Mediothek. After 10 or so minutes we entered the Mediothek and were given a map with questions about Germany . We had 10 minutes to discuss and jot our answers down for the forthcoming oral questions. Then we went to 4.9, the classroom where Basiskurs met and Frau Andrea and Frau Heinrichs quizzed us on our knowledge. It went a lot better than expected and a lot better than the written test…go figure.

So then it was all over. I had a feeling I hadn't done well enough on the written part, which (skipping ahead to Friday) would be confirmed when I received my certificate with a 1,7 grade (equivalent to a B+; 1,0 being the highest grade)…so now I have to wonder how Chuck will do the grading for real, or else suffer the loss of my fantastic 4.0. Most people will think this is rather silly, but to me it is devastating.

Anyway, going back to the timeline, Wednesday evening after the test Dennis, Emily and I planned to go to a local organ concert in a church near the hotel I should have stayed at – St. Andrea's Kirche am Wollmarkt. We told as many people as we could where it was in hopes of getting a larger crowd, but in the end only Eric made it; even Emily didn't show. We got to the church way early and it was completely dark inside. On the back and sides of the church, scaffolding was set up for reconstruction of the exterior. I wondered if the concert was going to be held somewhere else because the doors were locked but there wasn't a sign to be found with different information. A few minutes later a couple walked up to the church and also checked all the doors. They looked at a sign around the corner from the church – perhaps where the pastor lived? – and there was the sign saying the concert had been moved to a church just around the corner. It was now only 10 minutes before the concert so we rushed down the street, waited impatiently on the pedestrian lights to change but assumed that as long as the bells in the church tower were ringing the concert wouldn't start.

When we got in and sat down I began to figure out why most Germans don't go to church except at Christmas and Easter…the benches feel like they are from 1800s and one can't find any way to sit comfortably. The theme for the evening was “Summertime is Orgeltime” (Orgel meaning organ) and all of the selections were dances (or dance-like.) The organist opened with Gershwin's Summertime and then he gave a brief introduction of the pieces he selected. Then he performed several more pieces, only two of which were classical, and was joined on a few by a soprano (for the songs with English lyrics.) They were both very excellent, although I could tell that some of the modern pieces were a bit difficult to play on the organ. The concert, while quite fun, was also quite unique: in this particular church the organ and organist are behind the congregation, so for the duration of the performance we sat with backs to the performer. Quite a funny sight, I imagine!

On Thursday we had our excursion to Wolfenbüttel to both the Jägermeister plant and the Herzog August Bibliothek (library.) Although the Jägermeister plant was interesting, the whole tour consisted of seeing huge barrels and vats of the liquor while a rather jolly old man explained the process to us…in German. It was…well, as I've already said…interesting, but that really is all one can say. We had nearly two hours to burn before meeting for the library tour, so all of the UTM gang plus Diana headed off to explore Wolfenbüttel and eat lunch at Subway, per Tracy 's recommendation. Subway sandwiches are even better in Germany ! With nothing else left to do we set off for the library and sat outside for nearly an hour. I wish I had had the time to call my host parents from last year but I don't have their phone number and I didn't want to just show up at the back door or anything… The library was basically the same as it was last year – same tour guide and everything – with the only difference being a different set of old manuscripts and books out for display. Dennis was, as ever, fascinated to the point of drooling over the collections, much to my amusement.

With our day in Wolfenbüttel coming to an end, we talked on the bus ride back of plans to go out to eat somewhere to celebrate the end of the three week program and the midway point for the others, but those unfortunately fell through. Dennis and I went back to the flat and ate our leftover pasta (which Dennis cooked on Wednesday) and just chilled. At this point, both Dennis and I had finished reading Harry Potter so we both felt like we had run out of things to do. Just as he had said, however, Ingo came back from his bike tour in Denmark and stopped by the flat to see us before we left. He unfortunately was a bit mad, though when he went in the garden and saw the trash lying around the trash cans from where somebody had forgotten to take it out. He saw some aluminum cans and brought one in to show Dennis and ask him if it was our mess. He thought since there were cans (and we are stupid Americans who don't know what the word recycle means) that it was ours. Well of course it wasn't…rather, who ever he asked to take out the trash (because it is normally Ingo and Matthias's responsibility as Hausmeister to take care of it) forgot to take it out for two weeks. So we something of a hastened and unpleasant goodbye with Ingo and we decided to go to class the next day just to avoid him.

So on Friday we got up at the regular time and went to school just like always even though we were exempt from classes. When we got there, I decided to spend my time in the computer lab instead of going to class, so I caught up on Facebook and on world news. Seems like everything is rather crappy these days, eh? After getting depressed by every story I read I went down to the cantina in the basement and had my usual morning cake with coffee…only I think I drunk Coke instead. I don't remember. I'm turning into Tracy , writing down every little bit of food and drink that I have! Anyway, we sat around waiting for the certificate giving “ceremony” where I earlier mentioned I got my B+…

Oh, I forgot to mention, by this time we had all of the details worked out on renting a car. We were getting an Audi A4 station wagon just big enough for the five of us plus luggage and we could pick it up anytime on Friday afternoon. After our last lunch in the Mensa (school cafeteria) Eric and Tracy skipped Landeskunde and we went to the car rental place (not Enterprise after all, Europcar ended up being cheaper for the whole weekend.) Then, after a quick overview of the car's features and functionality, we set off for Emily's flat and then to ours where we hastily grabbed our junk, said goodbye to Ingo (again) and got on the road.

The fancy thing about most European cars is that they all have built-in navigation systems in the console so one can just type in the destination city and directions are read aloud as you drive. We found out quickly that 1) the nav system doesn't know about construction and 2) we needed to be a little sharper on our German direction vocabulary. We got the hang of it eventually, and the trip to Briedel was really fun. It was rainy and plenty of traffic was out and about, so we didn't hit too many stretches on the Autobahn were we could burn some rubber, but on the average we traveled 80-90 mph. Good thing Eric and Tracy drive a manual…

When we got to Briedel, the first thing in order was to get all of our luggage upstairs and decide who was sleeping where. In the end it didn't matter because before all was said and done we played musical beds about three times to make Oma (Dennis' grandmother) satisfied! Oma had a nice hot meal waiting for us, despite the fact that we had eaten on the road at McDonalds and it was something like 9 o'clock. We had a fantastic potato soup to fill what little empty space we had in our stomachs. We quickly learned that there is no way to get out of eating (way) too much here at Oma and Opa's house. We only saw snippets of the small village that is Briedel an der Mosel, but we had a pretty good idea already that Briedel is a most fantastic place. We went to bed as soon as possible because we had plans to visit Trier the next day.

We woke up the next day to a very fine, very typical German breakfast complete with freshly baked Brötchen from the local bakery which Oma had called to specifically get enough for all of us (all 7 of us.) We got on the road with little idea of how to get to Trier but knew that between the Audi's navigation system, Eric's GPS and if all else failed a Germany highway map we could get there in on piece. We set off with Eric behind the wheel through several little Mosel villages and along curvy mountain roads (which made Emily and I car sick) stopping only once to enjoy an overlook with an excellent view up and down the Mosel .

In case you haven't looked it up on Wikipedia yet, Trier was as far north into Germany as the Roman Empire came during its supposed conquest of the Barbarians (aka, the Germans.) So Trier has an old Roman city wall, baths and, most impressively, the Porta Nigra (which means Black Gate, although it isn't quite as impressive as Tolkien's Black Gate) where one could leave the city and no longer be in Roman territory. History lesson over.

When we finally got to Trier (after we told the car nav system to send us to the wrong part of Trier , we had to correct it and have it find us a parking garage) we parked in a Ramada hotel's underground parking garage and started our adventure. The first thing Dennis wanted us to see (he's been to Trier before) was the ruins of the Roman baths. We noticed as we approached it that there was smoke rising up from the middle of it (we couldn't see down into it yet because of the high walls) but as we came to a part where the wall had collapsed we saw hundreds of tents and shops set up and – get this – hundreds of Romans! Except not really, they were all Germans dressed as Romans (how ironic.) Everywhere there were soldiers and craftsmen and peasants and such. Entire families dressed to the part had tents set up for sleeping and selling their goods. We picked the right time to come to Trier . As it turns out, this entire year they are celebrating Constantine (the Roman Emperor who made Trier famous) so not only were they having this festival in the baths, later that evening there was to be a gladiatorial show at the amphitheater put on by a group of actors from both the Trier theater guild and a theater group from Italy. How lucky could we get?

So we paid our €5 a piece and entered the bath grounds to see the many Roman-era goods and events. Soldiers, marble cutting, kids running around with wooden swords. It was fantastic! (See pictures on Flickr when I get back to the States and have a chance to upload them.) After all the fun and excitement we went to explore a couple of Trier's famous churches, one in Gothic style and the other in a more modern style, though I forget which one. They were fairly interesting, but too dark to take many pictures so we headed out the door toward the main market place, at the end of which is the Porta Nigra. After looking around for a while we decided to pick up something small for lunch – we knew Oma was cooking us a huge supper – so we ate pizza bread from a small kiosk and walked toward the Black Gate. We stood in line for several minutes to get our tickets and then headed up the four floors of the gate's guard tower and saw some very spectacular views of the city.

With nearly an hour and a half to burn till the gladiator combat, we headed back toward the bath to buy tickets for the event, but (rather fortunately as it would turn out) they were sold out! So without much hope of seeing the event, we walked to the amphitheater anyway just to see it and saw that a line was already forming around the block. With no way to see into the amphitheater, we noticed that we could easily see a vehicle up the grape-covered hill and thought we might have a better vantage point from there so…up the hill we hiked. As it turned out we weren't the only ones who wanted a free show. We met a woman from Trier who had seen the show a couple times already and another from Koln who was there with her husband and puppy, Louis. Louis was a lot of fun and the two women provided more entertainment than the gladiators below, so about 7 p.m. with the show only half over we decided to leave Trier and get back to Briedel for supper. It didn't take us nearly as long to get back since we were no longer lost and didn't stop on the way! As expected, Oma had a large supper ready for us so we ate hardily and talked about our exciting day. Oma fortunately speaks Hochdeutsch with us, as that is what we are accustomed to hearing, but Opa speaks only Plattdeutsch (southern German) and so it has taken a while for us to understand him. It is quite a different dialect. As always, Tracy kept the conversation as funny as possible, interjecting things frequently in a fake southern accent that is suitable for his Elvis impersonation… Needless to say, it was a very fun day. To end things right, the five of us went for a walk after it was quite dark out and enjoyed the cool night air while taking a few tripod-enabled night shots.

On Sunday we weren't really sure what we were going to do, so after waking up late and eating another large breakfast the five of us set out to better explore Briedel. On the way we decided to go for a hike to get a nice view of the Mosel and Briedel so with Dennis as our guide we set off up the mountain/hill behind Briedel and found ourselves quickly sweating! Although a cool breeze came along every so often, it had rained for much of the week before we came (and on the day we came, if you remember me saying so earlier) so the grass was slick and the going was a little tough. I suppose it was also harder because of the higher elevation, but Eric didn't bring his GPS with him to tell us the exact elevation. I can only assume that the elevation was higher than say the Appalachians in North Carolina that Dad and I hiked last year. It felt like comparable at the very least. Anyway, we sweated and panted our way to a beautiful overlook (aussicht – outsight – in German) where we took plenty of photos and played for a while on the old children's playground. After a half hour we headed down again, knowing that lunch would await us. It was a much quieter lunch than expected, either because we were all so hungry and tired or because Eric and Tracy were about to leave us to head back to Braunschweig. Over the last three weeks they have become both our good friends and partners in crime so to speak, so saying goodbye was a bit tough. We never saw each other at UTM before we came to Germany , so we all promised to do a better job of getting together this semester.

After we saw them off, we went to Dennis's aunt's house to do some quick email checking and then we walked back to Oma's for kaffeepause. I would equate kaffeepause to Sunday afternoon dessert at Granny's – coffee and cake, yeah buddy. Oma made both an apple pie with raisins and a fresh cheesecake and I think between Emily, Dennis, Oma, Opa, Dennis' aunt and uncle and I we ate more than half of both. They were both different from the American versions that I love so much, but both were equally good in their own way. Eric and Tracy…you guys missed out. After much discussion about what we wanted to do, we decided to check out a wine festival in a nearby Mosel town so we went off with Dennis' aunt and uncle only to find the fest a bit boring. Their daughter was dancing for part of the entertainment but we didn't know exactly when so we instead went up yet another curvy mountain road (think about Anita driving in Gatlinburg for a comparison) up to the ruins of a castle or tower and had a coke at a nice Biergarten. We were tiring out at this point so we headed back to Briedel and crashed for the night. Dennis taught Emily and I a German card game called “Mau Mau” which is like Uno only played with a deck of standard playing cards. It was fun and I won! (Ha, what a pun…or maybe just a rhyme…)

It apparently rained over night, although I didn't hear it and my room has a large window that is part of the roof's slant. I must have slept hard. We were going to spend the morning with Opa in his garden down by the Mosel (the only place in town with enough land for a garden, as everywhere else has a house or building packed in it) but it was too wet. We instead spent most of the morning sitting around the breakfast table talking with Oma, or rather, listening to her tell stories about when Dennis was young and any other number of things that came to her mind. I never would have thought, a couple years ago, that I would now be able listen and talk about things such as global warming in a German city. Fun stuff. With such a late breakfast, we pushed lunch back till nearly 1:30 and then attempted to talk Dennis' aunt into letting us borrow her car to go to a nearby castle, but that fell through when we decided Dennis' insurance probably wouldn't cover that. She did however volunteer to take us this afternoon (Tuesday afternoon) to the nearest train platform where we can catch a short ride to the castle…although which castle I don't remember. Anyway, after our failed attempt at castle-going we instead decided to go by Opa's garden where he was out picking plums. I seem to recall not liking the plums that we used to have every year from the plum tree at our house, but these were fantastic. Maybe ours were never ripe, or maybe German plums are just better, but regardless we relieved Opa from plum picking and set about to fill a bucket with them so Oma can make us a plum pie this afternoon. After that we set about to explore the rest of the garden, complete with an apple tree, pear tree, peach tree (plum tree of course) raspberry and blackberry bushes, beans, potatoes...etc. It even had snails, which we took pictures of and then decided to chunk them into the next garden like garden gnomes in Harry Potter…

That pretty much catches us up to the present, without writing too much about last night (another quiet evening and small supper, etc.) and this morning (late breakfast, sitting around upstairs in our rooms.) This afternoon we will be castle exploring and such…so I might come back and write about that, but otherwise, the next time I talk to you I will be stateside. Whoot whoot.

Germany -- 08/06/07 --

Blog 10 has been postponed for several days now, but without any real excuses, it's time to get on with it! Be warned, this might be a very long update, as it has to cover both our little party on Friday and the entire weekend in Berlin. With that...

Friday was a pretty normal day as far as classes are concerned. Grammar was a bit of a stickler, and I was reminded yet again of why German grammar stinks. Anywho, there were more important things to be concerned with, and by that I mean both my good friend Harry Potter and plans for our UTM party at the flat. I think I had about half of book seven read in the time between buying it on Thursday and Friday night. It is really quite a fantastic book and although I didn't know what to expect from it, now that I've finished it (after reading the entire way to Berlin and staying up till 12 Sunday morning to finish it) I really think the series could not have ended any other way. But enough of that. I won't delve into details.

The party was also a lot of fun, just getting the chance to kick back with the other five UTM students and grill way too much meat (steaks marinated two or three ways, two types of brats, chicken burgers) and sit and talk. I was glad Dennis and I decided to limit it to the UTM students: even though we could have fed a few more people, the number was just right and it was nice to openly speak English with each other without wondering if the other students were talking about us behind our backs. Due to the Berlin trip leaving so early, we ended the party in time for everyone to get back to their flats before dark and get enough sleep. Except I stayed up talking to Karen till about 12 and had to get up at 6, so I was pretty tired... Come to think of it, I still am.

The ride to Berlin was nothing much to speak of: we took the same bus that we took to the Harz with different driver named Horscht (with a particular emphasis on rolling the “r” so it came out something like Horrrscht. Fun fun.) Our first task upon arriving in Berlin was to wait for a half an hour or so at the Schloss Charlottenburg, the summer house of Kaiser Willhelm I and his sons (named for the Queen, Sophie Charlotte who unfortunately died before construction was completed.) The tour was, although in English, a bit long and a bit boring after the tenth or so room full of gold and porcelain from China . We basically had to go, though, as we could not check into our Jugendhotel (youth hostel) until 1 p.m.

We were all starving, so after Dennis, Tracy, Eric and I checked into our room (a decent sized hotel room with a bed on each of the four walls and a bathroom and closet to ourselves) we met up with the girls (Diana from New York , Emily and Burena) and went to an Italian place down the street. The food was, as expected, expensive but we had plenty of fun eating our pizza and pasta. About fifteen minutes after we sat down Frau Heinrichs came by and joined us, adding to the fun.

We had a basic idea of where we wanted to explore in Berlin, but the hardest part of setting out was deciding what to visit when. We had only four free hours on Saturday afternoon and five hours on Sunday afternoon, and there is sooooooo much to see and take in while traversing Berlin. We decided it would be best to get a 5-person day pass for the U-bahn (subway) and a couple single person day passes for those who wanted to do stuff at night and then we set out on the subway U2 to the middle of the city, to Potsdammer Platz. As we were riding the U2 we ran into our first crazy person wanting money: a guy (who, conspicuously enough, looked a lot like Bono from the band U2, tinted glasses and all) got on and entertained us for five stops with his acoustic guitar, singing some pop song by Kelly Clarkson to which he knew only a third of the words. We were amused…but not impressed enough to give him money.

When we got off, we were also slightly unimpressed by the €7 billion Sony Center, but saw some of the same cool buildings surrounding the Potsdammer Platz that Dennis and I saw for the first time last year. I'll have photos up on Flickr soon, I promise…I only have 120 from the weekend to sort through!

After we had our fill of Potsdammer, we walked down to the Brandenburger Tor and took several photos of both it and the back of the Bundestag. We did a little tourist shopping (in the souvenir shop where I bought Blair's FIFA World Cup shirt last year) and had some Starbucks before leaving. At this point we were pretty tired and had to get back to the hotel in time for the (obligatory) tour of Berlin on our charter bus, so we caught the U-bahn back to the stop just outside of our hotel. The tour lasted nearly an hour and a half and I think I slept through about half of it, but it ended somewhere in (the former) East Berlin at the summer Beer Fest so a lot of people, including Dennis, Eric, Diana, Tracy and me, got off to see what the excitement was all about. As it turned out, we were mostly surrounded by half drunk Germans and lines that were packed to get grilled bratwursts and beer, even though we walked three city blocks worth of the fest. In the end, we got tired of walking through the crowd of people like herded sheep and took the U-bahn back to the hotel where we ate a little junk food from a convenience store next door and just chilled in our room. This is where I finished Harry Potter around midnight. Fantastic book. You know this already. Now Dennis can't put it down either.

We woke up (again, early) on Sunday morning to eat a nice breakfast provided by the hotel and then went to the Reichstag. We waited for an hour to get in, in groups for both English and German tours. I saw the same things that I saw last year, only this time I understood what the guide said (in English) and didn't have to rely on host parents to translate for me!

After the tour we were left on our own for lunch and sightseeing until we had to meet back at the bus at 5, so we once again set out to continue our adventures, but we hit a little snag along the way. Eric and Tracy wanted to go to the Freedom Tower , the Memory Church and the TV Tower (Fernsehturm at Alexander Platz) but Dennis and company wanted to go Museum Island to go through one or two of the half dozen museums. I was torn because (as usual) I didn't have a preference, but in the end I went with Eric and Tracy.

The Freedom Tower was a little scary (see pictures) but not as bad as climbing the rickety, wooden church tower that we climbed in Goslar . After catching both our breath (it's a pretty good hike up to the top!) and some good photos, we set off on foot for the Memory Church through the Tiergarten (the former hunting grounds of the Kaisers, now a large park in the middle of town.) We got to the Memory Church and realized we were starving! Tracy happened to notice a McDonalds sign around the corner so around 2 p.m. I ate at my first German McDonalds. It was little more expensive than American Mcdonalds but the food was a lot better. I paid €4.99 for a McChicken sandwich, fries and a medium drink. Everything is more expensive in Europe , so they say…and whoever “they” are would be correct.

We couldn't go into or tour the Memory Church (named as such, I keep forgetting to mention, because it is the only church that survived the WWII air raids that hasn't been restored to its original form.) We took pictures of the bombed out towers and insides of the church and then caught the S-bahn (Strassenbahn, street tram) to Alexander Platz, the former center of East Berlin . There we intended to go to the top of the Fersehturm (some 300 meters up) but the line was incredibly long and we really didn't want to waste an hour standing in line, so instead we settled for some Duncan Donuts.

After a slight fiasco with the Duncan Donuts worker (Tracy wanted three donuts, she tried to talk him into six donuts, he said no but then agreed it would be cheaper but she thought he had turned down the offer, then he picked out his three donuts, she rang him up, but then he didn't understand why she had only given him three donuts…yeah, it was interesting…) we sat down and enjoyed a well deserved break. Then we decided to walk back to the Brandenburg Gate where our bus would be waiting, guessing that we were about 3 km away from it and had plenty of time for the lengthy walk. On the way we stopped to take pictures of the Berliner Dom (or was it the German Dom?) and a few other buildings, but for the most part we just strolled down the street so we could get back to the bus. On the whole, the day was quite satisfying and I slept very hard last night trying to get caught up from the weekend!

Today we were right back to the normal schedule. Basiskurs was fine, but it was sweltering in the classroom (the sun shines directly on it and it was around 24 degrees today) and I couldn't seem to stop yawning. At least I was in good company…Andrea could tell that the entire class was dead from the weekend so she took it easy on us. After breakfast we had our last phonetics, which is sort of sad because we had a lot of fun in there. Today we worked on syllable stress and sentence stress and read funny poems with wine corks in our mouths to work on “lip exercises” as Andrea put it.

We actually spent a lot of the day discussing our travel plans for this weekend. We have to get down to Briedel an der Mosel, the small town where Dennis' grandparents, aunt and uncle live and where we will be spending a few days before we fly back. As fate would have it, I heard Andrea talking with a Spanish girl after the first class about traveling by the Bahn sometime in the near future and Andrea said to keep an eye on the news because the Bahn might be going on strike this Wednesday. Wow. I thought my heart my skip a beat – Dennis and I were planning on buying our tickets from Braunschweig to the stop closest to Briedel this afternoon! Instead, we decided it would be cheaper to rent a car…but there were several obstacles to climb. First – none of the three (Emily, Dennis and I) know how to drive a vehicle with manual transmission, which is just about all they have in Germany (automatics are way more expensive) but fortunately Tracy and Eric volunteered to drive us should we need to go by car. Second, we had no idea where to rent a car in Braunschweig, but when we consulted Frau Heinrichs on the matter, she immediately volunteered to call around to the four places she knew of in town and set us up with a reservation. Our Plan B was quickly becoming Plan A. The Tracy called us about an hour ago and said he stopped by Enterprise Rent-a-Car and let us know that renting a nice sized car for the five of us plus luggage would only cost €90 for the whole weekend. With that information in hand, we don't have to rush down to Briedel on Saturday afternoon and then send Eric and Tracy right back to Braunschweig with the car (they are staying for six weeks anyway.) Instead, they can stay with us Saturday night at Dennis' grandparents or aunts and split up the drive. We think it's about four hours away, driving on the Autobahn… We'll see what happens.

And so with that long update (longest so far, I think) I shall be off. Tomorrow is the last day of classes for us three-week participants, followed by the written/spoken test on Wednesday, a trip to Wolfenbüttel on Thursday and the presentation of certificates on Friday. Pretty sweet. I'll just go ahead and say that I'm not sure what the Internet will be like when we get down to Briedel, although I know that Dennis' aunt has e-mail so perhaps I'll be able to check e-mail from her house during our four day stay. Bis Spater!

Germany -- 08/02/07 --

So as the days continue to run together and form one long stream of events and breaks, events and breaks, so too comes the end in sight. In now less than two weeks I will be back in the good ol’ US of A and life will be returning to normal. It strikes me as odd that we have been here almost two full weeks and I’m really not bothered by the fact that my German abilities haven’t progressed near as much as they should have. I feel that I have caught up with where I used to be last year but with only three days of classes left in these next two weeks I wonder if there is much chance of gaining any ground over my time here. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a good thing I’m into geography more than German or I would be quite disappointed…

But enough of that! I have stories to tell. Yesterday the summer course group all (well most of us) traveled to Goslar im Harz, a fantastic, small city nestled in the Harz mountains. We drove around Goslar last year on our way to hiking in the Harz but never broke through the edges of the city to see what wonders lay inside. This time, however, our first stop was to be Goslar itself, complete with a city tour (in both English and German.) Throughout the tour we learned about Goslar status as a national monument (yes, the entire town) whose buildings had to continue maintaining the façade from the Middle Ages or Renaissance when they were built. Our tour guide went to great lengths to explain the difference in architectural styles from the 1200s through the 1600s but as architecture isn’t exactly my fancy, I didn’t take a picture of every ledge and brick. I did take a few interesting shots throughout the day, though, which will be up on Flickr sometime this evening.

After we finished our hour long tour we still had nearly three hours to spend in Goslar before we had to return to the bus, so a group of us (Dennis, Tracy, Eric, Diana from New York, etc.) went to a Biergarten which had amazing food (relatively expensive food, at €13 for my meal) and enjoyed just sitting and talking next to one of Goslar’s 38 mills on the river. Afterwards we decided to climb the 218 steps to the top of the largest church in town’s tower and were able to get some really good photos of the surrounding area. I chickened out first; after about 5 minutes of being on top I started heading down.

We still had nearly another hour to go, so we wandered our way back to the parking area which was in front of Goslar’s castle, a castle that had been built for use by the Holy Roman Emperor Barbarossa to hold court. This also, coincidentally, makes Goslar an Imperial City, yet another fact it likes to boast about. Dennis and I spent the next hour sitting in the shade of a monument of Wilhelm I (who restored Goslar to prominence when it fell in decline after the Roman Empire fell) talking with one of the German professors and two Russian girls.

At 2 p.m. we set off for the Harz and within a half hour we were on our up the mountain we climbed last year. Unfortunately, as we quickly discovered, hiking with 50 other people isn’t quite as fun as hiking with 10 people, and as such, Frau Heinrichs and the other professor who went with us took us up the shorter path to the top and back down the same way instead of taking the longer, more fun circular path that we took last year. All the same, when we got to the top (some of us more quickly than others) we enjoyed eating and drinking at the small restaurant at the top that some of you will remember me mentioning from last year. After that nice break, most of us went to the cliff overhang and took several photos (which will, again, be on Flickr soon) and just had the time to hang out. I bet if I had begged Frau Heinrichs early enough she would have let me take some of the group down the other way to complete the circuit…As it happened, Tracy, Eric, Diana, Emily and I headed back an hour early and I took them part way on the other half of the circuit when we got back to the bottom, to a nice waterfall area. I even had time to take my shoes and socks off to rest my feet in the mountain stream, which, I’m happy to announce, was freezing. After all the fun (and sweat) of the nicest day we’ve had to date in Deutschland, we went back to the university (by a charter bus, I forgot to mention that earlier) and then Dennis and I went back to the flat for a nice quiet evening filled mostly on my part with finishing Harry Potter 6.

Today, I shall only briefly tell you, was just another class day. Nothing very special, although we once again had phonetics and once again Frau Andrea had something fun for us. After a little warm up exercising of our faces, she gave each of us a wine cork to hold between our front teeth while we practiced saying some sentences, and naturally our homework is to keep practicing with the corks. After class, Dennis and I went into town to a book store where I bought Harry Potter 7 (the British copy) and a couple other books before heading over to Karstadt for a while. It’s almost time for supper now (looks like sandwiches again) and Dennis and I have to plan for tomorrow’s cook out. It dawned on us today that we never told anybody our plans to have the UTM students over for a grill tomorrow, so at lunch we hastily informed everyone of our idea and told them we would get details to them tomorrow. I think we’ll shoot for 5 or 6 to start the fun, but Dennis and I really haven’t decided anything other than who to invite! I’ll let you know how it goes…

Just in closing, I might not be online much over the weekend as we are going to Berlin. I don’t think I will have readily accessible Internet access, so expect a big Berlin update when we get back Sunday night or Monday. Till then, hope everyone is doing well. Tschuss!

Germany -- 07/31/07 --

Sorry I haven’t blogged a whole lot lately. Harry Potter has been taking plenty of my time and Dennis has been invading France in Blitzkrieg every spare second…

Sunday afternoon turned out not to be a total waste after we decided not to go the wedding. Emily called and asked if we wanted to go the Natural History Museum next to campus so we agreed and went and paid only €2 for about an hour’s worth of entertainment. Over the museums four floors were a small aquarium, two sets of dioramas with taxidermies from the local area and an exhibit of fossils and models of prehistoric animals. On the whole it was fairly interesting, but after a while we got tired of fighting the crowd of what seemed like an endless number of five year olds and their parents.

We left and decided to head into town a ways to get some Italian ice cream because Dennis has been talking about it ever since we arrived. We found a nice corner café next to the Deutches Haus hotel that Chuck always stays in when on the 10 day trip and enjoyed some very rich chocolate and vanilla ice cream served in a glass of chocolate milk. We got coffee to go (since it was drizzly and about 60 degrees) and headed back toward our end of town. Not a total loss at all.

I did however spend most of the rest of Sunday reading Harry Potter and on Monday I finished the fifth book after class. Classes weren’t exactly exhilarating or anything, but the phonetics course with Frau Andrea was once again very fun and in Landeskunde we discussed major points in German history up through 1933. After class, Dennis and I headed back to the flat for some food and then he proceeded to once again annihilate the French while I finished about 200 pages in Harry Potter 6.

Today was another ordinary day. In Basiskurs we talked more about free time activities and listened to a recorded interview of a 29-year-old guy who works in Munich to test our listening abilities. We got through it fairly well as a class, but after our morning breakfast break we were hit with more difficult stuff in Grammar. Grammar, I have once again decided, is not so fun. We once again discussed the conditional tense which is not easy to wrap your head around. To make things more interesting our teacher, Simone, played a song by a rock band that was about what the singer would do if he were king of Germany (so all of his unrealistic suggestions were all in conditional.) At least the song was good…

After this and a good lunch of meat and potatoes (basically…) we had yet another 30 minutes to sit and do whatever so we went back to the SZ and read another chapter of Harry Potter. It’s ridiculously addictive…

After another hour and a half history lesson, this time on World War II history, we had the opportunity to go on a tour of the city to see buildings from the WWII era and such. But there was one small problem…the lady giving the tour was mostly likely from either a historical society or the city tourism council and as such spoke very quickly and very complicated past tense German. I basically understood enough to know what the topic was. I’d bore you with the details….only I don’t know any of them myself. Anyhow, after following her around town for an hour and a half and seeing that for one she still wasn’t done and for two it looked like rain, Dennis and I broke from the group and came back here. We ate a nice dinner of sandwiches and such and at 6:40 or so (20 minutes) we are going back to the SZ to watch the movie Sophie Scholl (which was Chuck’s selection last semester for the international film series at UTM so I’ve already seen it. Dennis unfortunately missed it so I’m going for him.) I plan on being depressed when I get back, so maybe Harry will cheer me up some.

That’s it for now. I’ll see you later, perhaps after we hike in the Harz tomorrow!

Germany -- 07/28/07 --

Well look at the time.

Or rather, the date and the lack of blogging over the last couple of days. I really meant to keep up with blogging every other day, but due to some activities and such keeping us busy (and tired, I might also mention) I've not had the chance the last couple days! I'll start with Thursday.

Thursday was the second day of regular classes and we spent a lot of class time in the basic course talking about work and jobs and various vocabulary associated with it. Nothing spectacular.

Then we were in for a real treat, because during the morning coffee break, Dennis, Tracy and I all decided to switch from the creative writing course to the phonetics class, we presumed, to work on bettering our pronunciation and such. This class is also with Frau Andrea who teaches my basic course, so we started out in the same room and talked a little bit about what phonetics is. Then Frau Andrea surprised us by telling us to get ready to go outside for a little "gymnastics." Gymnastics, it appears, holds a slightly different idea than the Olympic style gymnastics you may be thinking of. We all went outside and in a large circle we stretched and worked on breathing to prepare us to speak properly. Frau Andrea told us these were great for her to do as a teacher who has to stand and talk all day. After that we formed smaller circles and went around saying the German vowels to work on their sound. It was pretty silly.and I wish I had photos.

After lunch (pork on a stick with yellow curry sauce and rice) we had our second Landeskunde course where we discussed the geography of Germany . Frau Andrea gave us all maps and we looked up several things and discussed some geography vocabulary. Pretty fun. Dennis and I spent most of Thursday afternoon and evening around here doing homework, reading and resting. I'm done with Harry Potter 4 now and am enjoying 5 a lot!

Then yesterday we had another regular day, the first half of which was filled with nothing but learning the conditional tense in both past and present. It was pretty fun because we had half of it with Frau Andrea and the second half with Simone (who is only a few years older than most of us in the program.) The conditional (Konjunktiv II) can be pretty fun if 1) you like grammar and 2) you can play with the if/then situations for some humor. A good example would be what Simone had us do: she gave each of us a card with a conditional phrase (If it had rained yesterday.etc) and each of us was to write a response. Then she mixed the two sets up, gave us a pair back and we read them aloud, which resulted in much hilarity. "If the Mensa had been open yesterday, I would have stayed home and washed my clothes." It doesn't sound as funny in English.

Our Landeskunde course was a bit boring as we were forced to talk about die Umwelt (environment) which basically led to a long discussion on recycling in Germany and how it compares with other places. Considering I was tired all day (we had a hard time falling asleep on Thursday because it was pretty warm in the flat) and the room in which we were sitting was lit only by the light outside, I had a hard time staying awake.

Then the real fun started. The Sprachenzentrum was hosting a party for us yesterday (Friday) evening and part of the fun was bringing a dish from our own country. Dennis and I had finally decided to make macaroni and cheese because we really didn't want to spend the time and money on BBQ chicken. After class we went with Tracy and Emily to the large mall downtown to shop for a few groceries because we were pretty sure the only place we could find cheddar cheese would be at a specialty cheese store. Fortunately we were in luck and spent about eight bucks on a 200 gram or so hunk of sharp cheddar for the Netherlands . Apparently the Dutch really know what they are doing because that was the best cheddar I've ever had, bar none. After we picked up a few more groceries we swung by Karstadt (similar to a JC Pennies, only it takes up an entire block) so Emily could buy some jeans. I had sort of a gut feeling that it was a bad idea for her to go off and buy the jeans on the second floor while we were on the first.and it turned out I was correct. We didn't see her again until Saturday morning because she couldn't find us even though we looked for her for an hour. We were pretty worried but as it turned out, she assumed we had left her and ended up leaving Karstadt before we did. Go figure. Tracy went his own way and left Dennis and I to make the trek back to the flat.

As it turns out, Dennis really does have mad cooking skilz. It took us about an hour but he (with my assistance of course) whipped up some really good mac 'n' cheese! We even had a basket with towels to take it in so it would stay warm when we go to the party. Finding the party was no problem, but as luck would have it, parties are apparently expected to start later than the scheduled time. Which stinks. We got there right around 7, on time..and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally around 8 we got started but then spent another 30 minutes introducing every dish that was there. And then began the eating and merrymaking with music from several different countries and even a little dancing. It was particularly fantastic when four students from Spain tangoed. It was amazing. Hopefully I'll have enough time to get some pictures up on Flickr soon. The party started to stale around 10:30 so we left although some of the others told us they were there until 12.

Then this morning we got up fairly early again to go to the Klosterkirche on the outside of town. The Klosterkirche is a large basilica style church that was once a monastery in the 13 th Century. About 20 or so of us came (I assume the rest were either slightly hung-over from last night or too tired with this drizzly rain that started overnight to get up and come) which made Frau Heinrichs (one of our SZ teachers) especially happy. She was expecting maybe a half dozen. As it turns out, she grew up near this church and attended it when she was a little girl, even having the responsibility on occasion as a teenager to ring the bells on Sunday night before Mass. While she was giving us the tour I noticed a man and woman walking in who were quite well dressed and looked slightly older than us, so I asked Frau Heinrichs if there was a wedding today. She said there was, today at 3 o'clock but that I would have to ask their permission to come. She then approached them and asked for us if we could come. The couple started speaking to us at first and then to the whole group about where we were from and told us we were all invited to their wedding at 3.

Frau Heinrichs has a way of reading more into what we have asked her so far so that she can come up with more activities for us. She told Dennis and I the other day in her office (when we were switching to the phonetics course) that we must always be active while here, whether we have to do in Deutsch or English, to have a good time and so far it has proven to be great advice! Well after we toured the inside of the building we went on a short walk during which it started raining a little harder and by the end of it we were mostly all soaked but in good spirits. I have several pictures of this that I will get up, although a lot of them aren't good quality due to either the low lighting in the church or the rain outside.

Unfortunately, nobody else really wanted to go back for the wedding which is in an hour and a half because of the weather (and the four Euros it takes for the bus rides) even though at the moment it has stopped raining and is a bit brighter outside. Oh well. The couple seemed like really nice people and if someone is playing the beautiful organ during their wedding it will be a sad miss on our part, but as Dennis reminded Emily and I at lunch, if we want to hear one of these organs that bad we can always go to the dozen or so Catholic churches in every corner of the city later on. I bid you all a good afternoon and I'll talk to you later!

Germany -- 07/25/07 --

And on the fifth day.it rained. Again. So much for sunny skies in Deutschland; it has rained, sprinkled and been overcast every day so far in our trip to Germany. But on the sixth day.it was wonderful.

Yesterday we started classes at the Sprachenzentrum at the not-so-wonderful hour of 8:30 a.m. Dennis and I got up plenty early as we have been everyday so far, walked down to the bakery just up the street a block and bought a huge loaf of bread to have sandwiches on and five brötchen rolls for breakfast and snacking. Then, after a hasty breakfast, he and I left with Said for the SZ. Only, we had to turn back because both of them forgot the name tags that get them student discounts at lunch. Brilliant! Late on the first day.

During our first hour and a half class period we mostly discussed organizational stuff: how the class would be graded (we get a letter grade to give back to our universities), what some of the stuff on the schedule meant, and we worked in groups for a bit on introducing each other and getting to know everyone. I think there are 17 students in my class. Oh, I forgot to mention, when we got the SZ, late, we hurriedly checked to see which class we would be in: As expected, Burena is in the top class, Emily is in the second class, Eric and Tracy are in the lowest class...and rather unexpectedly, Dennis is, too. This leaves me alone in the second from lowest class, B1. Dennis should really be in it, too, considering we are on the same level, but apparently the test results showed otherwise. I think it was because he had to ask the Russian girl on a date during his mock interview - that's not only hard but awkward even in English. It's a pity, too, because A2 is too easy for him.

Anyway, after class we had a 30 minute break during which several of us visited the Kantina in the basement. They sell Kaffee und Kuchen, as all good German Kantinas should. They also have half liter bottles of Coke and Diet Coke (and maybe Fanta and Sprite) which almost everyone bought. They add an extra 15 cents to the price of the bottle so if you return the bottle (which they no doubt recycle) you get your 15 cents back. Why don't we do these things?!

After the break we (normally) have Grammar twice a week and Creative Writing on the other two. (Wednesdays off, remember?) Since we didn't get any real work done during the first class, though, our teacher, Frau Andrea, started us on the course book and workbook which are specifically designed for each course level. (So we have a B1 book; Dennis has an A2 book, etc.) We aren't going to cover a whole lot, though, I realized today because we only have 10 more days of class and we've only just begun! I now see why the six week study is alluring for many.

After this class we have lunch, so I went downstairs and waited on people for a while.and none of the usual suspects showed up for several minutes, so I assumed they either went to the Mensa (cafeteria) without me or stayed and ate at the Kantina because it was slowly starting to rain outside. Finally, Tracy showed up and we decided we might as well get to the Mensa if we wanted real food, because the Kantina's lunch menu of the day looked a bit meager. He and I braved the rain and went to the Mensa alone. As it turned out, I finally had a good appetite and ate a rather large serving of what seemed like a baked chicken patty with a brown gravy (and mushrooms, yuck) over french-fries. It was fantastic. Tracy and I ate alone and had a good conversation about all things German, although we were later informed by Dennis that he and several of the other Americans were in the Mensa for lunch, too. The tables in there are so crowded together that it is difficult to find people!

After lunch we had the third class of the day which is Landeskunde - getting to know Germany, basically. Naturally this is right up my geography/history loving alley. We discussed Braunschweig in the Middle Ages and it rise to prominence under Henry the Lion. Our teachers wanted us to have some background information for our tour which took place this morning.

The afternoon was spent kicking around here at the flat, writing e-mails and talking to Karen on Skype and reading a bit of Harry Potter. We ate a light supper of sandwiches before heading back out to the SZ at 6:30 for the 7 o'clock movie, Sommer vorm Balkon, an interesting German independent film. The film itself wasn't really much to speak of, but walking in Braunschweig in what felt like Seattle winter weather (heavy mist, chilly temperatures and perhaps the occasional 30 mph wind) was really more interesting. We decided that we are yet again glad that Germany is in the northern latitudes because it doesn't get dark - even when cloudy - until 9 or 10. When the movie finished at 9 it was still light enough to get back without really needing the street lights.

Then this morning we got to sleep an extra half hour because we didn't have to be at the SZ until 9! That was pretty nice. On the way, Dennis and I (with Said, of course) stopped at the bakery and bought what were basically large Apple strudels covered in powdered sugar which we promptly ate when we got the steps to wait on everyone else to show up. A few minutes after 9, the 60+ of us walked our way to downtown Braunschweig where we had two tour guides waiting for us - one for English and one for German. I would like to say that I went on the German tour.but I took the wiser of the two choices and took the English tour with most of the "underclassmen" from A2 and B1.

The tour was quite good, lasting about two hours, and I have photos on Flickr, though unlabeled so far, if anyone is interested. I'll get to labeling them.sometime. I'm a busy person. Anyway, aside from getting an informative tour, I also ended up being the (somewhat) camera-slave of a pretty (but obviously ditzy) Russian girl, Julia, who noticed that I had a Nikon (for she has a Nikon D70 - pronounced something like Nee-kon with a Russian accent) and therefore knew I could "make" good pictures. I always thought my work would be the sign of greatness, but apparently the camera model can come in handy too.

After the tour, Dennis, Emily and I set off with our new-found friend from Omaha, Laura, to do some shopping in the hundreds of stores that comprise Braunschweig's Altstadt Markt. Together we only ended up buying one thing - a rain jacket for Dennis. We ate lunch at a corner café where we each (finally) tried the Turkish dish Dönner. It was, as everyone has told us since we started taking German, amazingly good. We walked around the larger mall across the street from the café, in the "new castle" that was built in the '60s but decided we were tired and wanted to go back to the flat. After swinging by Emily's flat to get her laptop, we ended up here for a couple hours to rest, check e-mail and charge our laptops.

Greeting me when we got back was a note from Matthias saying Frau Goldbach had called and told him to have me return my key to the Hotel am Wollmarkt as soon as possible, so around 5 o'clock, I set out on bike through the heaviest traffic (both automobile and bike) that I have ever seen in Braunschweig and checked out of the hotel. I sort of geograrphied my way back to the flat going by a route I had never been on but knew would get me back (because I've studied the map several times now, thanks Mom) and I was pleasantly surprised with a bike ride through a park instead of so much traffic. At 6, Dennis and I met Emily at the Studentkneipe (pub/local/bar/whatever) to chill and such and then we came back here around 8. A shower and some Harry Potter reading later, and that's where we stand now!

Things are going very well for me so far, especially now that I've made all the necessary adjustments (time, food, expectations, city map research, etc.) and I think it is time for bed because we have to get up a full hour earlier today than yesterday so we can "learn" how to use the university's library.whatever. I will hopefully talk to you all tomorrow. Good night!

Germany -- 07/23/07 --

It feels like the first part of this thing is over. We took our written and oral placement tests today and I think they went as expected, not the greatest but not so bad.

The day began early for me. After going to bed around 10 last night, I woke up around 12 and couldn't fall asleep again until after 1. Between the combination of still not being fully adjusted to the time change, it being quite warm under my thick blanket and the rain trickling down the gutter outside our room, one can see why I might have trouble sleeping. But I started feeling tired around 3 p.m. so I'm thinking that maybe I can get some normal sleep tonight and get on schedule.

After getting up, Dennis and I wasted some time around here and then walked with Said (which is how you spell it after all) to the Sprachenzentrum and had breakfast at the Begrüßungsfrüstück. We quickly realized that we weren't quite in over our heads as we thought. Of the countries represented here, there are more Americans than any other nationality, perhaps 15 or so out of 50-60. Of the students who are not as advanced in their German studies, almost all of them are American.and those who aren't can all speak some English. This was very heartening, even though the point of the trip is to speak better German, it is very embarrassing to be unable to express your thoughts quickly (or at all.) So that was a relief.

During the Begrüßungsfrüstück we were greeted by the University President and the director of the Sprachenzentrum, and the students were all recognized by country. They talked clearly and somewhat slowly, but I still had a difficult time understanding their somewhat complicated German. Fortunately, there are six students from UTM here (Dennis, Emily and I, as well as Tracy Shelton and Eric Haldeman - a couple of nontraditional students - and Burena Smith - who is both an outgoing UTM cheerleader and a native of Germany.) Burena is quick to make new friends and understands German completely, having grown up with both English and German spoken at home (army child) so by the afternoon we had gathered a small following of American students from New York and Omaha who were drawn to Burena's charm (or ability to speak, one or the other!)

The written part of the test was sort of difficult, as we had to fill in the blank ending of words in a five paragraph-long story that got progressively more difficult. The oral part wasn't very bad at all, either. Two of us went at a time and read a story (a different story for each group) and then write out the answers to a few questions about the story. Then we went in a different room with the teachers of the A2 and B1 level courses and spoke with them for a few minutes on what we liked, where we came from, what we thought about the story, etc. Not as bad as I thought. Dennis ended up going with a Russian girl, and the teachers made them act out a phone call where Dennis had to ask the girl out on a date! He was rejected, sadly.

Moving on, after we were finished with the testing, six of us went looking for a supermarket near by and thanks for a little ingenuity and Burena's good eye we found an Aldi behind the University cafeteria. Dennis and I bought groceries for the next few days and then we headed back to our different apartments/houses. This was a bit annoying, as my feet were starting to get tired (my shoes are just now breaking in and the soles of my feet of all things are getting rubbed really badly) and Dennis walks a bit faster than I do so this compounded my feet woes. We put up our groceries and had a short break, but then headed right back out to trek another 2.7 km to my hotel where we packed up my stuff and took it back to the flat. We were going to take a tram on the way back, but we saw one only as we were almost back so my poor luggage has now been pulled around half of Braunschweig (cobblestones and all!)

Needless to say, I was really tired when I got back and I didn't want to get out again eve though there was a scheduled "party" at a Studienkneipe near the Uni (a pub/bar of sorts.) Dennis, Said and Emily all went at about 8, but I decided to stay here and eat with Ingo and Matthias (und Jessica, Ingo's Freundin and a few other people.) It turned out to be a great decision: we had Zwiebel (a kind of potato/onion soup or in our case sauce) with fish and vegetables over rice.which was, for some unknown reason, dyed purple. Tonight was Ingo's last night here; we won't see him again for two weeks when we gets back from Holiday on August 8. Matthias is leaving on Saturday for Spain.

In the midst of all that excitement, I've been unpacking, letting Dennis and Said use my laptop and talking to Karen on Skype (video chatting!) It's so good to be connected. Das ist alles; Bis Später.

Germany -- 07/22/07 --

Well as predicted the day was rather slow. Said (Si-eed) (not quite sure how to spell) from Uzbekistan arrived at the flat around 2 this afternoon and has mostly been sleeping this afternoon. Dennis and I thought it would be a good idea to go out for eat (because we were silly yesterday and didn't buy many groceries) but that ended up being a flop. Only fine dining (expensive) places and ice cream cafes (and bars, naturlich) are open on Sundays. Although we could have eaten at McDonalds. So needless to say, we walked around town for nearly an hour - all the way downtown and back - for naught. Oh well.

We came back and ate the rest of a bag of Brötchen we bought yesterday. We won't starve or anything, so don't worry Mom! Tomorrow we will have the Begrüssungsfrühstück (welcome breakfast) to feast upon and we're eating in the cafeteria for lunch so we'll be fine. We are going to stop at both the bakery and the meat shop tomorrow to pick up dinner food (the Germans eat a big lunch and a smaller dinner) and both are on the way back from the University to the flat, so we can just stop whenever we need to. Less eating out, just the way we like it.

Unfortunately, it just started to rain here. No I take that back, it started to storm. Ingo wasn't kidding about it raining for three weeks before we got here. According to weather.de it is going to rain a couple times this week and be partly to mostly cloud the rest of the time. Not cool when you are 15 to 20 minutes away from the school. I think, if the rain doesn't stop soon (it's almost 9 when I'm writing this) I'm going to sleep here again tonight. Like last night, I have my spare contact case here and my clothes are clean enough to where again. (Hey if I keep this up, I won't have to do laundry! Just kidding.) More importantly, I have the Internet here for free. I wish I has just decided to stay here permanently.

Oh, for those interested, here is a rough schedule of what activities we will be doing when (writing it out is helping me get a better idea of what's going on when.)

Monday, July 23: 9 a.m. Welcome Breakfast, 10:45 a.m. Written Test, 12 p.m. Lunch, 1 p.m. Oral Test, 8:30 p.m. Welcome Meeting

Tuesday, July 24: Normal classes, 2:45 p.m. Introduction to how use the computer system in the Sprachenzentrum media library, 7 p.m. Film (Ein Sommer vorm Balkon)

Wednesday, July 25: 9 a.m. Tour of Braunschweig, 11 a.m. Meet the Mayor

Thursday, July 26: 8 a.m. Tour of the University Library

Friday, July 27: 7 p.m. to 12 a.m. Welcome Party (bring food and music typical of your country with you.)

Saturday, July 28: Tour the biggest church in town (Die Klosterkirche)

Sunday, July 29: Free

That's all I really want to post right now. I'll get the rest of the schedule up later.

I'm going to bed on the couch under Dennis's bed.tomorrow I'm going to see about moving out of the hotel.

Germany -- 07/22/07 --

And now, to expand a little bit on last night.

As I was mentioning in the last update, I got entirely lost when I set out by foot from the hotel last night. I was paying attention when Ingo drove me to the hotel, but I thought we made one more turn than we really did, so when I was walking and turned north (which felt right to me) I ended up almost to the Autobahn which circles the core of the city. Needless to say, I was very frustrated with myself. I was half blind by then, with my contacts deciding to blur up as much as possible in the windy, slightly chilly evening.

That's why I decided to just turn around and go back to the hotel. I knew how to get back there, but with the sky growing overcast and a few sprinkles hitting me every now and then, I didn't really want to get out again. But I braved it anyway and after checking out the map a little better, found out that once you turn on the main street from the little side street my hotel is on, getting to Ingo and Matthias's flat is a straight shot down the street, following the tram lines (rail lines cut into one lane of the street.)

Speaking of the hotel, you should all know that it isn't exactly the American idea of a hotel: I have a bed, a closet, a nightstand, a desk and my own sink and shelf. Then there is a public toilet and shower right next to my room which is shared by my fellow occupants on the third floor.and there are only 6 or 7 rooms, so it isn't bad. So far I have only seen one other occupant. I don't know how the room sleeps (since I didn't sleep there last night) but Ingo and Matthias's couch slept wonderfully (nice and firm like my bed last year at the Haases') once I could finally get to sleep with the street noise outside and an aching back and neck. Too much sitting and not enough sleeping! I think I'm going to get over the full jet lag effect today; I'm starting to develop an appetite again (it's almost 1 p.m. here and I'm finally getting hungry for some lunch) so maybe in another day or two I can get straightened out.

I'm still a bit nervous about the placement exam tomorrow.I know I'll do well enough on the written part, but if the last two days are any indication, I'm going to do horribly on the oral part. I'm pretty sure I'm going to end up in the lowest level class, but I'm thinking that might be a good thing. It will allow me to brush up on my German a little but not be totally hit with new stuff.it will be more of a refresher course than anything. (I'll still get the same credit at UTM.) This is all just guessing of course; I may end up totally swamped with homework and be in over my head! I hope not..I enjoy getting enough sleep and having time to blog and talk to Karen.

We have our basic schedule now, which is quite full during the week. We have the basic language class from 8:30 to 10 every morning, have a half hour break (for breakfast), have a second class from 10:30 to 12 on Literature, Grammar or something similar. Then we eat lunch, sometimes in the cafeteria, sometimes elsewhere. Then we have our final class from 1 to 2:30 on all things Germany (culture, history, etc.)

Then, on top of all that, we have various other activities at night and on the weekends to keep us entertained and provide extracurricular learning. Dennis and I just sat down (with a little help from Matthias) and figured out what most of it is. It looks like we have normal classes on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, with different excursions on Wednesday and Saturday. We have each Sunday off, naturlich, since everything closes on Sunday. In addition to the test we have tomorrow to determine which language course we are in (how advanced) we also have a test (written and oral) on the final Wednesday.

Our Berlin excursion is August 4 and 5, and we will have most of that Saturday to explore and do our own thing and then on Sunday it looks like we'll be visiting the Bundestag (the second visit for Dennis and me.) Some of our other Wednesday/Saturday excursions will be a tour of Braunschweig including meeting the mayor, a tour of the largest cathedral in town, a hike in the Harz Mountains, a trip to Wolfenbüttel to tour the Jaegermeister plant and the Herzog-August-Bibliothek (famous library) and Lessing-Haus (house of the German writer Lessing.) We toured both the library and the Lessing-Haus last year in Wolfenbüttel, so it will be nice to revisit them.

That's all for now. Dennis, Matthias and I just finished a nice lunch of Brötchen and Käse, and we have no plans for the rest of the afternoon, so I will probably be online from time to time.

Germany -- 07/21/07 --

I think my nerves might be settling down just a little bit. Not a whole lot, but enough to live.

I don't know why, but I tend to second guess myself when I go overseas. I'm in Germany for only the second time, for those who don't know, and instead of a short 10-day travel study like last time, this time I will be here for three and a half weeks studying language at the Sprachenzentrum of the Technische-Universität Braunschweig. That's basically why I've been a nervous wreck.studying language in Germany under German teachers. Not the typical Chuck Hammond lessons I'm used to.

At least I have Dennis. He and I sent in our applications together, and although there was a problem with our rooming that is forcing me to staying a hotel about seven or so kilometers away from the flat that he is staying in, I can hang out there as often as I like. I'll take pictures soon so you can see the comparison. Emily on the other hand is staying with a host family (which has its perks, i.e. free food and cooking) but is away from us.I hope she hangs in there.

I am currently at the flat where Dennis is staying (Ingo and Matthias's flat.) Ingo and Matthias are two students at T-U Braunschweig studying Engineering and Physics, respectively. They have another flat mate: a girl whose name I've already forgotten who is "on holiday" in Indonesia. Matthias was supposed to be gone as well, and that's where my room was supposed to come from but there was a "misunderstandness" as Ingo said between the two of them and that throws me into the hotel.

The hotel is in the center of town, a few kilometers from the University and the flat is roughly one and a half kilometers from the University in the opposite direction. We just visited the Sprachenzentrum to sign in a few minutes ago and we thought they were going to give us cards to ride the electric tram or the bus but apparently we really aren't all that far (their idea of far is the edges of town, I think) so Dennis and I will have to get used to walking 15 to 20 minutes every morning or pay 1.70 Euros to ride the train. I'm thinking I might take the tram on the days it rains.but I'm not sure yet. I have my rain jacket with me at least.

We have the rest of today off and tomorrow (Sunday) as well but Monday we get to the grindstone with a welcome breakfast at 9 a.m., meeting the University president some time that morning and begin testing (both written and oral) to see what level of instruction we will be taking. Dennis and I still haven't figured everything out, but thanks to some maps and our dictionaries we should live. Right now I have to confess that my mentality is something along the lines of "let's just survive this without making UTM, the USA and Matt Cook look too much like an idiot and get my credits at UTM and go home." I assume things will improve because everyone I've talked to about this program says it is wonderful but right now I'm too tired and too nervous to feel good about everything yet. I can hardly understand what people are saying after all, much less put together many sentences (thank goodness Ingo and Matthias are friendly and speak English!)

I appreciate your thoughts and e-mails, as I'm sure I will be lonely from time to time. I love you all, especially you Karen. Hope all is well.

Update: Ingo is going to lend me a bike (a small bike so he says) to help me get from A to B! It rides fairly well, but isn't exactly a Schwinn.

Update 2: After getting checked into the hotel, I set off for the flat on foot (to see if I knew the way) and got totally lost, but fortunately had a map with me. I managed to get back to the hotel where I e-mailed some of you readers and told you about arriving safely and all and that I wasn't going to head back to the flat because it looked like rain and was getting late. As it turns out, I had the time off by an hour (I thought it was 8 p.m. when it was only 7) and I knew the guys were going to get worried if I didn't show up so I gathered my courage and set off on the bike this time with the correct directions in mind. It turned out to be the best decision of the day: Ingo and Matthias had several friends over to celebrate one of them getting a job in Munich so we grilled and played a very fun game (in English just for us) and just finished at about midnight, where I am now finishing writing and updating the blog so I can finally fight off this jet lag and headache. I'm sleeping in, so don't bother to wake me. It looks like I might be online (for those who are interested) whenever I am here at the flat because they've hooked me up with an Ethernet cable, so I'll be on at nights as often as possible.

Germany -- 07/20-21/07 --

It's time to get this show on the road. Although I am writing this in retrospect now, I thought you might all be interested to know some of the travel details of the beginnings of our trip to Braunschweig.

The real beginning of this story is when I returned from Germany last year, determined to go back for a longer period to study language. Everything was going wonderfully: I was able to take two advanced classes in the fall and even talked Dr. Hammond (Chuck) into offering the follow-up to one of the advanced courses during the spring. But then it happened: I was in the modern foreign language office and asked him when he thought he could offer it and he came up with the most bizarre time possible. Tuesdays and Thursdays over lunch.

Classes at 12 o'clock aren't very strange at UTM for Monday, Wednesday, Friday classes because all classes on those days are 50 minutes long and fit in very nicely into the hourly schedule. However, Tuesday-Thursday classes are taught for 75 minutes with 15 minute breaks between classes, so with classes starting at 8 a.m. (you can do the math), a class should most likely end at 12:15 with a lunch break until 1. No, no, not with Chuck. He scheduled the classes I begged him for from 12 to 1:15, overlapping 15 minutes with two of my classes.

So long story short.I'm a semester stale on my German. I would have done more studying.but let's face it, time slipped away from me.

Because of this staleness, I am almost a nervous wreck. Don't get me wrong, I love still getting to go with Dennis and Emily, take in the culture, the food and (of course) take pictures, but I think my interest in German has shrunk a little and given way to the geographer in me. I love cultural geography (thanks Dr. Rogers) and I think that is largely why I am still going on this trip.

So anyway, after that long introduction, I shall carry on with the details of the actual trip. I unfortunately had to say goodbye to my dear Karen more times than I care to remember this week as she left on Monday for Jackson and a family vacation to Wyoming. This adds to my nervousness a little because I am pretty sure she won't cope with my absence well. I miss her more than anything in the States; more than the security of knowing the language, more than the sleep I've missed out on so far, more than the money I spent (and will spend on this trip), etc. (sorry Mum and Dad!)

The flight from Memphis to Charlotte was on a small hopper and lasted less than two hours. I sat behind Emily and Dennis next to a middle aged man who read his New York Times and said nothing. I sat there, took a few pictures and tried to think happy thoughts. I think I even fell asleep. (I didn't sleep so well the night before.)

Then we arrived in Charlotte and we thought we only had 52 minutes to get from one gate to the other but when we got there we found out that the flight was delayed by an hour. We sat. I was finally able to call Karen in Wyoming and talk to her for a bit, telling her about the delay. I wandered around a bit, and checked out the restrooms. These were particularly interesting (maybe they were the first class bathrooms? But they weren't labeled as such.) because there was a man in there (full-time staff) whose sole job was to keep the bathroom spotless. He gave you a paper towel when you washed your hands so you wouldn't drip. If water was flung on the mirror he cleaned it up. I was quite impressed. I went back to our seats in the terminal and found that the flight was delayed again 30 more minutes for inspection. Then they pushed back the boarding time another half hour. More calls to Karen. Finally we were informed that we were able to board and the flight's arrival would be roughly the same, so perhaps they programmed in time for being late?

The flight itself wasn't much to speak of. I spent more time being achy (back ache, neck ache) and nervous. I didn't feel much like eating, but I managed to force myself to eat the pasta dinner (not bad plus it was vegetarian!) I also tried to sleep, but I didn't manage that so well.I might have slept on and off for two or three hours. Checking into Customs and getting our luggage was no big deal and then we were off around Frankfurt Flughafen to catch a train to the main train station. This went off without a hitch, although thanks to asking someone at the information desk how to get those tickets (she told us the wrong platform number) we almost got on an ICE to Munich. Not a good idea.Anyway, we made it through the Frankfort Airport and had nearly an hour to sit and rest before getting on our three hour train to Braunschweig.

The car we chose was so full that we were all separated throughout, so I ended up near the back of the car sitting in a row of seats that had a table and faced another row of seats. I said the customary "Ist das Platz frei?" got a "Ja" and sat down.with my huge luggage taking up half the aisle. Oh well. I slept for most of the train ride (thankfully) and only woke up when someone came to check tickets or wanted to move by my suitcase.

After three hours we made it to Braunschweig and met Ingo Bolm and Matthias (??), two friendly and funny guys who are a few years older than us. We said goodbye to Emily (who is staying with a host mother.lucky) and got in the car to head to the flat and of course, the next adventure.