Sunday, July 13, 2014

WIR SIND DIE WELTMEISTERS!!!!


LEIPZIG- So one of the coolest and probably the most crazy day I’ve had here in Germany thus far was Sunday, July13. First off, it was a LONG day. We left Leipzig at 8 a.m. and drove over an hour to the city of Dresden, which is the capital of the German state of Saxony (for those of you who didn’t know, Germany is comprised of sixteen states or Bundesländer, and Leipzig is in the state of Saxony). We were in Dresden essentially all day, touring one of the palaces of the former kings of Saxony, seeing the historic city center which includes the beautifully restored Frauenkirche. I’ll make a separate post about that trip at a later date.

When we returned to Leipzig, a group of I believe close to ten of us went from the Bahnhof and walked to one of the smaller plazas where a public viewing event was being held for the Championship Game of the 2014 World Cup, where Germany would be playing Argentina for the title. We got to the plaza about 25-30 minutes before the game started, figuring that would be enough time. WRONG! The square was bursting with people and they (the city, the police, or possibly a third-party event organizer) had the plaza fenced off and were controlling how many people were allowed in to keep people safe. After waiting for that full 30 minutes I was barely able to get in, and there were still other people from our group waiting in line. The plaza was filled with excited people, all hoping that their team would be crowned champions of world soccer that night. You could practically feel it, and it was very contagious. Every missed goal by Germany resulted in a collective groan, and every missed goal by Argentina resulted in a collective sigh of relief.

At half time, the rest of our group that had remained outside the perimeter were able to join us, and a few people decided to find a better place to watch (the plaza was fine for me, since I’m over 6ft and can see over most people, but for some who were a bit shorter, it wasn’t as much fun. By the end of the game there would be four of us watching and hoping that Germany would score a winning goal.

The regulation 90 minutes came and went with no goal for either team. Then came the first 15 minutes of extra time, and no score was made. People were starting to get anxious, even nervous. The second 15 minutes of extra time began. People stared on, hoping for a goal. THEN, with just about 7 minutes left in the game, Mario Götze is able to make a goal. The crowd in Leipzig erupts into cheers, and dozens of Black-Red-Yellow German flags shoot up into the air waving about wildly. People were jumping up and down. The party atmosphere calmed a little as the last 7 minutes played out, but not by much. And when the reffs blew the final whistle, and Germany had defeated Argentina for the title, it felt like the whole city exploded into celebration. Flags waved in the air frantically. People were high-fiving and hugging total strangers and screaming “Wir sind die Weltmeisters!” (we are the world champions) at the top of their lungs. It was overwhelming. And of course, my friends and I screamed and cheered with the rest of the crowed. It was awesome to be able to share this experience with our hosts. After over thirty minutes or so we walked out of the public viewing plaza and into the Old City and on to the Markt Platz, where people were celebrating in small groups, some playing soccer, others waving flags, and still others coming up and embracing total strangers. It was quite a sight to behold.  People shot off a few fireworks. Throughout the city center people were riding on their bicycles and ringing their bells frantically. From the Markt Platz we could hear what sounded like hundreds of cars from the nearby inner ring street. The celebration literally went on for hours. So far, that was probably one of the most memorable experiences of the trip and definitely one I’ll remember for some time to come.

More on my adventures from Leipzig to come in the next couple of days and over the weekend.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Reflections on the First Few Course Days



LEIPZIG- So it’s been a busy couple of days to say the least. Every morning, myself and the other teacher that is staying in the same apartment with me (more on her later) get up and eat a nice simple “German” breakfast….bread with meat and cheese and also toast. At about 8:30 we leave the apartment and make the 20 minute walk to the University institute that is hosting our summer course, which is about a block away from the Hauptbahnhof in the center of the city. The weather has been nice so far, with a couple of warm, sunny days and a couple of days that have been overcast and a little rainy. It has yet to rain all day though. Usually, the rain will come for a little bit, then clear off, and then maybe come again, and then it’ll stay overcast for the rest of the day. And the temperature is perfect, rain or shine. So much better than the temperature we have back in Oklahoma during this time of the year.
There are, as I believe I mentioned before, 17 teachers attending this program. We come from all over the United States. There’s a guy from Alaska, three or four from Michigan, one lady from Boston, another from Virginia, one guy from New York and another from Mississippi, just to name a few places (read: I can’t currently recall the rest).  Several are in their mid-to-late twenties like me, and several more are in their thirties, and there are a few that are in their forties and fifties. As came as no big surprise to me, I’m the least fluent in the language. And at times it can be frustrating for me…mainly I don’t want to appear lost or look like I don’t know what’s being said. But everyone has been really great about it, and when I get lost I can turn to a neighbor for help. This is also where my roommate, Nancy, has been a God-send. She’s been teaching German for years and is very fluent and has been able to help me with the course work and also when we are talking with our landlady/host mother (well…host grandmother). And even though I have my ups and downs where one hour I feel like I’m able to pay attention and contribute and the next I feel pretty lost, I have already notices my language skills improving, which is reassuring.

On the first day of the course, after the expected “get to know you” activities and an overview of the first week (which is almost over already, which I can hardly believe!), we went to lunch in a really cool, historic Beirkeller/ Keller, which is basically a nice restaurant that’s in the basement of another building, often times under the old city hall of the town but in this case under a commercial complex in the old part of the city right on the main Markt Platz. The food was good, although I’ll admit I didn’t eat too much of the red cabbage…It’s not my favorite, that or sauerkraut. It was a really neat place though, and a cool atmosphere, and historic as well. During the 1700s, the famous German author Goethe studied in Leipzig and he frequented the original Keller, which we were actually able to go see after our lunch was over.

After the visit to the Keller, we went in four different groups that had been pre-assigned that morning in class and each went and explored a different quarter of the city. The area that my group went, known as Südvorstadt, was really cool. It has a lot of artists living in the area, and also a lot of students who attend Leipzig University. There were many cafes and pubs and eclectic shops along the way. The next day, each group got to present what they found to the whole class, and we learned a lot about some of the more famous quarters of Leipzig
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The last several days we have had several workshops/lectures over pronunciation, grammar, and other related issues. In the evenings I’ve gone with several others and done more exploring. Leipzig is such a cool city to live in, with many people from many different walks of life to meet or watch. We’ve found cool places to hang out and relax, and some nice places to eat in the evenings.

More to come in the coming days. Hope you’re enjoying these little snippets about what’s going on here on my little Adventure in Leipzig.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Leipzig City First Impressions



LEIPZIG- Well, once I arrived in Leipzig I had a taxi take me from the Hauptbahnhof (main trainstation) to the apartment where I’m staying the next month. The University has rented out a room for me in the home of an older lady (they are putting all of the 17 American teachers participating in this program up in private homes for a better immersion experience). My landlady, Frau Strube (I’ll introduce her more in greater detail as I get to know her), lives on the fourth floor of a 5-story apartment house. I absolutely LOVE my neighborhood. It looks like something right out of the Victorian Era (actually, the architecture has a German name that eludes me at the moment but refers to the German Emperor Wilhelm I believe). All the streets are lined with 4-5 story apartment houses with elegant, stately facades, with several of the streets being tree-lined as well, which only adds to the charm. There is an elevator, but I have a feeling I’ll be using the stairs more often than not, which is great because I’ll take any extra exercise I can get. 

Once I got settled and cleaned up, and once I’d made the requisite calls home, I went out for several hours to explore the city. Where I am staying is only about a mile and a half from the city center. About a twenty-minute walk, give or take a few minutes. There is also a streetcar (Tram) system that has a few stops fairly close to the apartment too that I can also use (and definitely will when it rains). Also found out that the University paid for my public transportation pass, something I thought I would have to do on my own. That was a nice surprise. One of the things I loved about my last visit to Germany five years ago was the abundance of public transportation. With where I’m at in the city it’s not quite as crucial, since the city is smaller and more compact.
 
I made my way to the city center fairly quickly, and whereas the neighborhood I live in is almost purely residential and relatively quite, the downtown area, centered on the August Platz, the Leipzig Opera House, and Leipzig University, is quite lively. There’s also a fairly large pedestrian only street that goes through the heart of one of the older parts of the city, and it was busy with people shopping and eating and listening to live music.


I walked around and looked at all of the buildings in the area, and in Germany there is such an interesting contrast. On the same street, standing side-by-side, you can have a building from the late 1800s, with it's onramental exterior showing the years, right next door to a an ultra modern steel-and-glass structure that went up five years ago. This fascinated me on my last visit, and the same holds true this time around.

After walking around for a bit I grabbed one huge slice of pizza and a fanta and ate a small dinner while sitting on the edge of the Augustus Platz, watching people play in the fountain. It was very relaxing. 



Journey Complete: Quick Reflections


Me in the Taxi taking a selfie.

LEIPZIG- So I’ve made it to Leipzig safe and sound. I departed from OKC at 3:12 pm local time (10:12 pm Leipzig Time), and arrived here in Leipzig at approximately 12:30 local time, and arrived at the apartment I’m staying at sometime just after 1. All in all, everything went smoothly. I had no mad-dash rushes to try and catch a connecting flight. Had zero trouble finding the gate I needed (seriously, these airports have all been meticulously labeled so you’d have to almost try to get lost before you were able to do so). Found a Reisebank (travel bank) at the Munich airport and exchanged all my remaining dollars to Euros, and am all set. I also purchased my first train ticket on my own and hired my own taxi for the first time. Small and nothing to get excited about but it’s still a new experience. The only real problem for all this travel: I almost never am able to sleep when I fly. Either I’m too nervous, or too excited, or too uncomfortable in those tiny sardine cans the airline passes off as economy class seats. And this trip was no exception to my “rule.” I didn’t sleep a wink on any of the flights. Which means by the time I finally go to bed on my first night here in Leipzig, I’ll have been awake for nearly 30 hours. Hoping to sleep like a rock.

A few other random things I noticed while traveling:

  • Airplane intercom systems are almost always impossible to comprehend. Even when the words being said are in your own language. It always seems like the captain or flight attendants are trying to whisper, or talk to fast, or both. This problem just becomes more acute when you’re trying to listen to the instructions being given in a foreign language.

Leipzig Hauptbanhof
  • Seeing man-made objects from the air never gets old. Whether it’s the familiar layout of your home state as you take off (I saw Luther and Lake Arcadia, btw), or the excitement of being over one of the big US hubs (Chicago, saw Lake Michigan), or when you finally descend over Europe and look at how relatively “strange” the landscape looks compared to our gridded planned cities that we have in much of the USA. And it’s always fun during take of and landings to watch cars and houses shrink away into tiny dots or suddenly grow back to “normal size.”
Inside the Leipzig Hauptbanhof
  • My mother isn’t the only Farmville iPad app player J (the lady sitting next to me on my last flight today was watering and harvesting her crops as I sat down in my seat. Was a nice if amusing reminder of home)
  • Traveling by rail, when compared to by plane, always feels like a free-for-all. There’s no ticket check in so you just buy a ticket and hop on board. Technically, you could try and get on without one. Just hope the Bahnpolizei don’t find out.


Well that’s all for this post. Stay tuned for more to come!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Preparing to Depart

OKLAHOMA CITY- Well, the bags are all packed (thanks to my mother's excellent suitcase Tetris skills), the electronic devices are all charged and ready to entertain while I'm flying, all my travel documents are printed and ready to go. Now I'm having lunch with friends and family before heading to the airport. 

My flight will leave OKC for Chicago at 3:12pm. I'll leave Chicago for Munich at 6:05. I'll arrive in Munich tomorrow morning at 9:50am local time (2:50am Oklahoma time), and I will change plans in Munich and should be in Leipzig by 12:30 local time (5:30am OK time - Germany is 7 hours ahead of Oklahoma, for future reference). 

I love flying so not something in nervous about. However, this will be my first time to fly solo with no friends or family so that's exciting. All told I will be in transit for about 14.5 hours. 

As the place in staying at does not have internet, I may not be able to post again until Monday or Tuesday, but rest assured that there will be updates as soon as I can get them up. 


Thursday, July 3, 2014

City Profile: Leipzig

ARCADIA, OK - Before I depart, I thought I'd share with you information about the city that I'll be living in for the next month. Below will be some statistics about the city along with some interesting facts and famous people.

Founded: 1015 
State (Bundesland): Saxony
Population: 534, 922
12th most populated city in Germany
Land size: 114 sq. miles 
Foreign Visitors: 193,000 a year


If you're wondering how Leipzig compares in size to home, Oklahoma City has a population of about 800,000, with a land size of about 600 sq. miles.

Leipzig's most famous person is the classical composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), who served as the musical director for the principal churches of Leipzig from 1723 until his death.

As a historian, I find it interesting and important to note that the "Peaceful Revolution," the movements that collectively led to the reunification of Germany in 1990, has some of it's beginnings in Leipzig. In September 1989, thousands took to the streets in peaceful protests of the East German government demanding the freedom to travel outside the country and to elect a democratic government. These protests would be repeated in other East German cities throughout the fall of 1989 and led to other events that would culminate in the fall of the Berlin Wall that November.

On a purely interesting note, Leipzig's Zum Arabischen Coffe Baum is the oldest Coffee House in Europe that has been in continuous operation since 1720.

This is just a simple, quick overview of Leipzig, and I look forward to sharing more about the city as I explore it over the next month.

Welcome!

ARCADIA, OK - Hello everyone! Welcome to my travel blog. As most of you reading are my friends and family, you already know about my upcoming trip but in case any of you missed the details, here is what's about to happen: I was accepted to attend a seminar/training that is being held in the city of Leipzig, Germany for U.S. German teachers. The goal is to improve fluency as well as learning better methods for teaching the language. I fly out of Oklahoma City on Saturday, July 5th at just after 3:00 p.m., and after 14.5 hours in transit I should arrive in Leipzig around noon on Sunday, July 6th (local time).  This trip will last the whole month of July, and I will not be returning home until Monday, August 4th.

As most of you know, I'm both excited and nervous about this trip. It is definitely an amazing opportunity and something that I'll never forget and I feel will make me a better teacher. I'm excited about the opportunity to live in Germany for a month and get a decent, if short, immersion experience that I've never had before. I love to travel and explore and so this trip will be an excellent change for all of that. At the same time it is a little intimidating at first glance considering I'll be 5,000 miles away from home in a foreign country where I don't know anyone. Definitely out of my comfort zone, but in a good way.

Check back here for (hopefully) regular updates as I go on this adventure. I'll post pictures and insights and anything else I find interesting on the blog, so that all of you can experience this trip with me.