Guttentag von Deutschland

Trip Start Apr 30, 2008
Trip End Apr 17, 2009

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Flag of Germany  ,
Monday, August 4, 2008

We traveled to Wolfsburg via Berlin by Train. The trip from Prague to Berlin gave us a chance to see a bit of what was once East Germany. It reminded Ray a lot of driving through Wisconsin--including the deer stands overlooking the fields!

When we arrived in Wolfsburg we met Sinje--Nadja and Eike's daughter. She's just about to start walking and was loads of fun. We stayed with Nadja's parents, Hans and Angelika, in Wolfsburg. The food was wonderful and the setting in their garden for the meals was very peaceful. Hans made us a German BBQ. Each morning we had a relaxing continental breakfast where we tried a variety of German cheeses, meats, breads, and preserves. Beyond the wonderful flavors, we really like that Hans does not use the word "calorie" but instead says "energy". Saying that a food is "high in energy" sounds so much more positive than what we would say!

Wolfsburg is the home to Volkswagen. Nearly everyone drives a VW (or one of its brands such as Audi or Skoda). VW has built a wonderful museum campus called Autostadt dedicated to automobile history and much more. A highlight for Candy was designing her dream car. Not surprisingly, about an hour later when we went into the Audi building, VW makes a car just like the one Candy designed! The highlight for Ray was the driving simulator. We're told that the simulator is designed to show what driving would be like without stabilizers and other safety/comfort improvements. Our task in the simulator was to complete a timed drive while obeying traffic laws. Candy went first and was disqualified because she kept crossing the lane markers (this is a pet peeve of Ray's about Candy's driving). Ray was disqualified when he ignored a direction sign (a pet peeve of Candy's about Ray's driving (and walking)). So, it was probably a reasonable simulator. Nadja, Eike, and Sinje live in Braunschweig (about 20 minutes from Wolfsburg). Whereas Wolfsburg is a new city (just as old as VW itself--about 70 years), Braunsweig has an older city center. Nadja tooks us around the city center. We ate sausages (they were out of Braunsweiger!) and drank beer and wine on a pedestrian mall. All the sausages we tried in Germany were great (except Currywurst). Braunschweig's palace was destroyed in WWII. The city recently reconstructed the facade of the palace with mostly new stones and a few old ones as the front of mall. It looked a bit strange (and is a bit controversial in the city), but it's not often you can say you saw a "new" 500 year old building.

Ray has been keeping a travel journal during our trip. The longest daily entry so far has been the day of Nadja and Eike's wedding. So many unique and interesting things happened (and we didn't leave the wedding reception until after 4AM). It gave Candy so many ideas, that she said she wished we weren't married so that we could incorporate them in our ceremony. As you read below, you can probably guess that Ray was thinking, "boy I'm glad we're already married.". Seriously, we both enjoyed the day very much. It's a wedding we'll never forget.

The ceremony was at Wolfsburg Castle. Right after the ceremony, there was a group photo of all the guests on the stairs of the castle. Then Hans, Nadja's brother Niels, and Ray set up a clothes line and the bride and groom had to hang laundry on the line. Oh, and the clothes were tied in knots to make the task more difficult. (we think this symbolized how they need to work together in marriage) This was the first of many games throughout the day and night for the bride, groom and guests.

While the bride and groom did the traditional photographs, the guests had a snack of open-faced sandwiches. Candy loved the Camembert dusted with herbs and topped with a strawberry. While eating, Eike's sister and her significant other handed out postcards pre-addressed to the bride and groom. The guests were to offer the bride and groom a personal gift (like babysitting or washing their car). Then the postcards were attached to red helium filled balloons and released all at once. Should one of the postcards get returned to Nadja and Eike, the guest has to perform the task they offered. Ray was a bit apprehensive about this tradition as he remembered a certain 80's German music video that didn't have the most happy of endings.

Throughout the day and evening there were many other wedding games. Nadja and Eike (both MDs) had to perform surgery on a couple of "build-a-bears" that had a broken heart. They played the newlywed game (and did really well).
Ray's favorite was, perhaps not so much a driving simulator, as a marriage simulator! Eike was blindfolded and awkwardly sat on a child's toy car. Nadja then had to direct and propel Eike through an obstacle course to pick  flowers.

Probably the most meaningful and impressive surprise was a wedding magazine prepared by Nadja's brothers, Eike's sister, and their significant others.

The guests were also involved in several surprises. There was a quiz to see how well the guests knew the bride and groom (thanks, Melanie, for translating for us!). In another activity, each guest received a portion of a photo of Nadja and Eike. The guest had to paint their portion on canvas so that the couple would have a painting made by all the guests. For at least 8 hours at the reception, multiple people were painting away!

We met lots of interesting people at the reception. We really liked that Nadja and Eike personally introduced each guest at the reception and briefly said their ties to the couple. At our table were Eike's aunt and uncle who had recently traveled to Peru and Southern Africa. Another relative of Eike's had lived in Argentina and traveled to Minnesota several times to meet with Control Data. We really enjoyed talking with him. However, it wasn't until the next day that we found out that we kept referring to him as the wrong person. You see, on the table was a list of the people at the table. The couple's names were Waltraud and Dietz. We thought his name was Waltraud, but his nickname was Dietz. We learned the next day that Waltraud is a traditional woman's name in Germany.

We spent a lot of time with many great people at the reception. Nadja's brother, Hendrik, and his significant other, Melanie, looked out for us at the wedding ("follow the crowd" was our mantra).
To mention just a few others, Heike and Susanna are colleagues of Nadja. Janina is a childhood friend of Nadja. Her significant other, Martin, spent a year studying in St. Paul. Martin plays baseball and is friends with a former Gopher hockey player (Matt Koalska). As Martin was reminiscing about Summit beer, the 2003 baseball playoffs against Anaheim, and Gopher hockey, Ray was a bit homesick. He told Martin that he was getting homesick and Martin said, "let's try some German beer." All was forgiven! 

The German language, while probably the most similar language to English, was at times baffling to us. German words seem to always have at least 8 letters. (Ray told the Franks that he now understood why the printing press was invented in Germany--they needed it more!)

We've had some trouble posting videos to this blog site. So, we're going to post a few (don't ask us when) to Google video. One will be a German lesson. Others will be from previous posts (snorkeling in the Galapagos, an Argentine football game and an Argentine BBQ). To give just one example of our challenges with the German language, we tried to buy Nadja and Eike a wedding card. It was not surprising that the cards were in German. However, with somewhat obvious pictures, we made our selection. Still, Ray was nervous, so he typed one of the words into our electronic translator. The translation came out "Mr. Lee recommends you for the job." When Ray told Candy this, she thought he didn't know how to use the machine because it worked so well in the Czech Republic. So, she typed in a different word. Her result was "the bidet is leaking." We were confident that no greeting card would say such things, and our card was in fact a wedding card. However, Ray realized that he had used the translator at the store when he asked for a gift receipt. The result was an 18-letter word that really puzzled the store clerk. 

The day after the wedding was relaxing. We watched Nadja and Eike open gifts. In Germany, gifts of money are elaborately decorated (e.g., tied in ribbons) or cleverly hidden in objects (like a pillow). The next day Hans and Angelika took us to Gosler.

Gosler is located at the foothills of a mining range that had been in operation for over 1000 years (the ores ran out in the late 1980s). The town was thus quite wealthy and served as one of the seats of the German kings many centuries ago. The castle was restored in the 1800s and is filled with paintings tying the newly reunified German nation to the kings of old. The medieval city is full of beautiful architecture. The houses have wood beam structures filled with white adobe covered straw/sticks, slate roofs (sometimes siding too). We saw the town glockenspiel and the measuring guidelines for the official unit of length in the town (like a yard).

Outside of Gosler we visited the Rammelsburg mines. Now that they are no longer in use, they have been turned into a museum. We took the same train the last miners would have taken into the mine (not as comfortable as the German high speed trains at 250 kph) to see how copper, silver, tin, and other ores were extracted.

It was really hard to say goodbye to Nadja's family. We were able to spend many hours together learning about Germany (and understanding things about our own nation and ourselves). However, we wanted to spend some time in Berlin before heading off to England and then southern Africa (via Abu Dhabi).

Berlin was very different from how Candy remembered it from her visit in 2002. The nearly 20 years since the wall fell have almost removed all traces of a divided city. We spent most of our time walking around the city to see what were the centers of East and West Berlin. We walked from Alexander Platz (the center of East Germany) along the Unter der Linden (A linden tree lined boulevard) to the Brandenburg Gate (traditionally an entrance to the old city, but once a portion of the Berlin Wall) and the Reichstag.

The new glass dome above the Reichstag (the German parliament building) requires waiting in long lines most of the day. However, we got up pretty early to beat the crowd and then see the nearby Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Ray also wanted to see Checkpoint Charlie (the entrance to the American zone in divided Berlin). The information panels here (and in other places in Berlin) do a really good job of putting the site(s) into their historical context.

Although our time in Germany was brief, we met wonderful people, enjoyed delicious food, and learned quite a lot. It was a great stop on our journey. Tune in soon to hear about our quick stop in England, our visit with Paul and Freddie, and more beer (ales at long last), sausages, and meat pies!

Candy and Ray
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