Christmas Festivals Begin

Trip Start Aug 11, 2007
Trip End Jul 29, 2009

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Flag of Germany  , Bavaria,
Saturday, December 8, 2007

Hey there everybody!

How is everything going!? I have neglected to write in the past few weeks as things weren't interesting enough to justify sending emails.  So stick in there, I might ramble on a little bit!  And for those of you that look forward to my Sunday emails more than the newspaper, sorry for the leave of absence!

Since I left you last, we’ve had a change of seasons.  That was Thanksgiving, and now black Friday has passed and we are well into the holiday season.  Germany is the place to be for Christmas cheer, traditions, and events leading up to the 24th, 25th and 26th (it’s my understanding that they have essentially three days set aside for this event!)  Weimar, like just about every city in Germany, opened its Weihnachtmarkt at the beginning of December.  These city festivals have stands set up all over selling crafts and holiday presents, cakes, cookies and other sweets (including American donuts (Frisch und Lecker!)  There is also a thick haze of bratwurst smoke in the air mingling with the steamy scents of hot gluhwein.  There’s even some little car rides for kids and a small Ferris wheel.  Basically they go all out for the season, and it’s open everyday.  While the market lacks the craziness and popularity of Zwiebelmarkt, it certainly is fun to see the people out and about, thinking about the holidays!  Really the only thing missing is a few snow flakes (but I’m sure those will be on their way soon enough.)

School has been pretty busy lately.  Classes have their normal routine, but there are additional things such as meetings and a birthday celebration for the director of the school…which strangely enough she singled me out as a 'great young international teacher’ told everyone the story of K College and why International education is so important.  I was touched…and she also in the process sort of offered me a contract extension for another year…   I have a meeting on Tues with her to begin this discussion.  I’m certainly not ready to commit yet, but there are a lot of great things about being here!

One of the biggest negatives I’m dealing with right now is starting to try to find a new place to live at.  Because the guy who lives in my room normally is returning, I’ve gotta find a new place, but I really have grown to love my location and room.  It’s tough to find a furnished apartment for cheap in the center of town.  Hopefully it works out (and in the meantime he told me I can stay an extra month in his room!)

The rest of the last few weeks aren’t really worth mentioning.  Teaching classes, going to work, ripping my pants in my bike chain on the way to work, playing football after school.  Life as it would be anywhere.  However the last few days are worth detailing, so here goes!

Thursday evening my friend Justine from ‘K’ Jazz who is studying abroad in London arrives via train to visit.  In tow is her friend Erica from Texas.  I sort of convinced her to stop in on her way down from Berlin to Erlangen (where more K friends are) and then into Bavaria.  They arrive late at night and we take a short walk around Weimar and I show them the Christmas market and some other interesting sites that we will revisit in the daytime…  We also stop at a Gluhwein stand so they can sip on some of this lovely hot spiced wine.  While they are occupied with this, a drunken old road worker decides to come chat with us.  I’m bad at German even when people aren’t drunkenly slurring their speech at me.  This guy was nuts!  He kept talking and talking and while I understood enough to get the gist of what he was saying, it was pretty annoying.  He talked to me until we left the gluhwein stand to go home.

I of course get up real early to work but I have a short Friday, and I’m able to be home at noon to hang out with my visitors.  We head out around town and I show them the Soviet cemetery, the residences of various important people, and the Christmas market by day.  We all have a big Thuringer Bratwurst for lunch (the best in the world!) and then after a fierce passing wind/rainstorm we head to the Bauhaus museum.  I’m not sure how familiar ya’ll are with the Bauhaus movement (I didn’t really know much), but it basically seems to be the roots of modern architecture and functional household objects and designs.  It’s just another important area that puts Weimar on the map.  Wow, this city never stops amazing me with its cultural past. 

By the time we leave the museum, the sky has cleared and it is beautiful out.  We walk around some more, and then head to the Jakobskirche.  After dropping a couple euros into the box (honor system) we climb to the top of the bell tower.  Wow, climbing things for a great view NEVER gets old, and this is the first time I’ve been up high enough to get a good view of the city.  The vista is really lovely and it makes me proud that this is my home for now.  After coming back down to earth we walk by the Nazi party regional headquarters and then around the Ilm river park.  As the darkness sets in, the girls grab another Bratwurst and we watch the lights come on in the market.

We come back to the flat for some spaghetti dinner and some cookies and gluhwein (it’s much cheaper to buy from the store and heat it up yourself!!)  It’s fun to reminisce with Justine about Jazz band and other fun things about Kzoo and Europe.  For me, it is always a blast to have visitors, especially since I don’t have too many friends around here.

We all pack our bags and head to the train station to go south to Erlangen (yes, for the second time!)  The train trip is so much easier this time because the trains are not striking anymore, and we arrive there in a few hours.  Once in Erlangen we bid adieu and I go off to stay with my friend Nick, while they are staying with one of Justine’s friends and then heading to Munich in the morning.  Nick and I head out to a bar in Erlangen to meet up with another K grad, Kim, who lives in Erlangen now where she is working and taking some classes.  The place we go to is called Wheeler’s and it’s an Irish/English pub where literally you order in English.  West Germany is SO different from the East.  While I think living in the West is probably easier, with speaking English and such, I know that straining to understand German in the East is for the best.

Saturday morning Nick and I hop on a train to Nuremburg to see the Christkindelsmarkt there.  It’s the biggest and most famous Christmas market in Germany and is truly worth experiencing (somewhat like Oktoberfest) There are so many people there that you inch along the stalls and aisles as you browse crafts and baked goods.  Right when we arrived we happened upon a Horn ensemble that was playing some Christmas music in front of a big gothic church…the music is so wonderful and really brings out the Holiday spirit.  As we explore the market we stop for some lebkuchen which is a famous traditional gingerbread cake.  It is delicious! 

Later with the weather clearing, we climb up to the castle that looms over the city for some impressive views.  Far off in the distance is the past Nazi party headquarters where Hitler used to make his big speeches.  It’s so unfortunate that this place has such black stains on its history.  We also tour a big gothic cathedral that has been rebuilt (it was mostly destroyed in the war) and its shocking to think about planes raining down bombs on these historical sites.  The reconstruction is very nice though, and there are some brilliant stained glass windows amongst the huge stone pillars.

Back down in the Christmas madness (right about now it starts seeming like madness) we get ourselves some Nurnberger Bratwursts.  They are very different from the Thuringer variety, and in my opinion not nearly as good (of course I am also biased to the local delicacy.) Instead of a huge brat that hangs out either end of the bread roll, they give you three little sausages that fit in the roll.  We wash those down with some gluhwein and enjoy a concert going on in the middle of the craft stands.  They play a mix of familiar Christmas carols and German songs I’ve never heard.  They are really quite good, and Nick and I are in agreement about the abundant holiday spirit.  Unfortunately there are no snowflakes falling, which really would have been the ‘icing’ on the ‘kuchen.’

As afternoon approaches, and the sun starts setting, we grab a train back to Erlangen, and visit Kim where she works in a yoghurt bar.  A nice hot soup is great after being outside all day in the cold, and then a refreshing frozen yoghurt is the logical finishing touch!  As we stroll back towards Nick’s apartment, we stop to hear a men’s chorus singing more Christmas carols in the Erlangen Christmas market.  I think by the time Christmas actually arrives, I’m going to be completely christmas’ed out!  In the meantime it is wonderful, although I can’t help missing friends and family a little bit. 

Late in the evening we go out to another local hangout where another K grad, Pete, is visiting from where he lives in Bonn.  This country is crawling with Kalamazoo people and I feel right at home bringing up some old K stories and drinking some local Erlanger bier.

In the morning I grab the cheapest train back to Weimar and it turns out to be a nice ride.  (Although as usual the trains were all late.) At one point the train chugged up into the mountains to some small villages.  The scenery is gorgeous and a couple of inches of snow were on the ground at the higher elevations.  It makes me start hoping for snow around Weimar (potential snow days???)  I’m sure the city will be beautiful under a little blanket of white.

Also on the train I now mostly understand the information being blared over the speakers, which makes things a lot more relaxed.  My first trip to Erlangen was a mess and I was very intimidated by German, Germany, and the whole idea of being here.  Now I feel like I can understand so much more, and say a few simple things.  In short I’ve realized that I have made a lot of progress since I arrived.  That’s not to say I speak German by any means, but at least I don’t feel like such a complete idiot.  This new (temporary?) confidence is making me much happier with my German existence and my surroundings.  Showing off Weimar to guests really makes me proud of the city in the same way that I fell in love with Valpo and Chile.  I honestly didn’t expect this to happen, but I really like it here.  Maybe it’s just the timing of the holiday season to make me feel happy and content, but I’ve started considering staying on for another year…and I wouldn’t have done that a month ago.  Now I just have to find some good German friends…

How is everything going back in the states?  I haven’t heard much back lately (since you probably forgot I existed.) I understand it’s been snowing in Michigan and beautiful in the South, per the usual.  Send me an update on your own happenings.  How are the Christmas preparations going in the US?  How is school?  Did you get your fill at thanksgiving and enjoy hanging out with friends and family?  There’s no season like Christmas to feel the distance from home.  (There’s no place like home for the holidays!)

I hope you are all doing great, and may this find you in good cheer.  I will try to write again next week.  In the meantime, check out all the new pictures…some of them are pretty amusing!

Abrazotes von Germany,

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