Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pop ist bestimmt stolz darauf...

So today was epic!! After school, Germany received a new president - Christian Wulff. Politics was very exciting because they had to vote (with majority in the 3rd round of voting: 50% plus 1 vote) three times today in order to finally get the new President, since Horst Köhler resigned a month ago. I also sent a 10 kg package home today. It took three trips (I needed three tries too!) to the post office until it was exactly 10.00 kg (it would have cost more if the package was over 10 kg (and they didn't cut me a break when it weighed 10.16 kg)).

But the greatest personal feat for myself was I finally made Pop Joe's potato torta recipe with my family. And we didn't take any shortcuts. I grated the pound of cheese; we made the mashed potatoes and the entire Torta from scratch. The result tasted the same like it does at home. So by the end, we've agreed that the Torta is more of a winter meal. But it felt like such an accomplishment to finally have shared my Pop Joe's specialty with my family, especially since they enjoyed the Torta. It was fun, and at times (with the cheese grating (to grate: reiben) and making the tough) a workout! We'll be sharing the extras with my host family in Saarland this weekend! Like the title in German says, "Pop Joe is definitely proud of me!"

Schönes Wochenende!
Matt

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Vuvuzela Heaven

Well, even though the World Cup (in German: die Weltmeisterschaft) has been going on for the past few weeks, I've gotten the opportunity to experience a bit of the (wild) German culture during the World Cup. And from what I've noticed this year, Germans are in an overall good mood when the weather warms up and the sun comes out, and when the Germans win a game in the World Cup. Germany won 4-1 against England today and moves onto the next round. But Germans do something special for the World Cup by gathering together to watch the game (usually from a projector screen) in a public place, such as at townhall, cafés, etc. This event/gathering is called Public Viewing (yes! That is the German name for it). I've attended one game in Königshof (at the church), and another in the KulturFabrik (Kufa, which means Cultural Factory, or the local disco and concert hall). The Germans naturally take it up a level by drinking beer, blowing their Vuvuzelas, wearing German colors or a National Team soccer jersey, and/or wearing or waving the German flag. Oh and I can't forget to mention the songs and chants they scream during the game. And when the Germans score, the reaction is similar to New Year's celebration in Times Square, NYC; everyone hugging and jumping (which causes the beer to practically rain) in pure jubilee. And after the Germans won today's game, the celebrations continued to the streets. Cars were honking everywhere, waving flags out of the windows, bikes ringing their bells, people proudly cheering for their country's victory! I was absolutely exhausted after the game, and I didn't even play; I just had to watch.

Fellow CBYXer, Tim (Tim's Blog) had posted this on Facebook. The referees said England's second goal wasn't a goal. What do you think? Germany still won fair-and-square, even if England had received the second goal. (Thanks Tim!)

Public Viewing is one of those words that has been adapted into the German language from the English language. The problem is "Public Viewing" (to my knowledge) doesn't exist in English. German did the same with the word Handy. That is the word for cell phone in German. I've been asked if I don't say "Handy" for mobile phone. My answer is, "Well...I don't say 'mobile phone' either. I say 'cell phone'. And 'handy' means 'practical' (in German: praktisch) in English." Just some "fun" occurrences that you run into when living in Germany for 10 months. I just spent my last weekend in Krefeld, which consisted of chilling with friends and Public Viewing. And Claude showed me his medical practice...I did enjoy riding my bike everywhere this weekend. But I'll be visiting my host family in Saarland again this upcoming weekend. And the weekend after that, I'll be back in Jersey. However, a few wise words from my fellow CBYXer, Claire (Claire's Blog) "The end is coming, and its sad, but the ride is so enjoyable that one just has to close their eyes and act like the end isn't coming." Enough said. I'm looking forward to enjoying my time and the moment.

Bis dann,
Matt

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cooler Moment

I saw a bee at dinner today!

Have a great weekend everyone! I'll be chilling in Krefeld for the weekend. Only two weeks left. Gave out the invitations to my going-away party. Everyone is starting to count the days till school is over. I'll be gone five days before the school year is over. :'(

Schönes Wochenende!
Matt

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Keine Frische Luft in Paris

My fellow CBYXer, Emily, had told me that she found Paris to be a rather dirty city and the only thing in Paris that was spotless were the public toilets. Well, based on my first impression, (I can't account for the cleanliness of the toilets) I did find Paris to be not so clean. However with further exploration of the city, I found out that only certain parts are not up to par. But I'll get to that in a moment. But I should provide some background information before I start ranting about my weekend. My family is very influenced by French. Claude's parents live on the border of France; Barbara has the equivalent of a Master's Degree in French; Claude and Barbara both speak fluent French; they are both practically experts on Paris as well. And when I moved in, Barbara promised me that they'd take me to Paris because "you haven't seen Europe until you've seen Paris." And I believe Barbara is right on that one. Paris is an incredible city.

So now I can start to describe all that we did this past weekend. We arrived in Paris late on Friday evening. I was the only lucky one who had no school on Friday. So we saw the major attractions of Paris on Saturday. We started with the Eiffel Tower. Barbara and I went up the tower; and like typical Germans, we used the stairs. Marie-Claire and Claude waited underneath and Claude ended up getting an Eiffel Tower keychain in exchange for a cigarette. And guess who Claude the keychain? We continued next to the Arc de Triomphe. Barbara and I, again, went to the top of the Arc and I found the views (from here) of Paris better than from the Eiffel Tower. The Arc de Triomphe is also basically the center of Paris, with a wicked traffic circle surrounding it. And the city of Paris was not destroyed during the war; therefore, it's an old and what I found to be a dense city. Some parts and views looked more like they belonged in the Middle East (that's the impression they gave me.) We all walked along the Champs Elysées, which is the main shopping street in Paris (similar to 5th Ave. in NYC and High St. in London). We continued further along the Champs Elysées through the square called Place de la Concorde with an Egyptian Statue called Obélisque. After that came the Jardin des Tuileries (basically a park that connects Place de la Concorde to the Louvre. We continued through a gate that looked almost identical to the Brandenburger Gate in Berlin. This brought us to the Louvre.
After getting a glimpse of the Louvre (a museum that could take a lifetime to go through), we went to a small island (separated by the Seine River) known as the Ile de La Cité, or better known as where you find the Notre Dame. Along the way to the Notre Dame, we came across these antique book sellers, along the Seine River known as in French Les Bouquinistes. And after a break at the hotel we ate dinner and walked to the top of the sector, Montmartre. This is the highest hill in Paris with the Sacré-Cœur Church on the top. It was still light out at 10pm, and when it finally got dark, I photographed the illuminated Eiffel Tower. Having that conclude an exciting Saturday, before heading home on Sunday, we went to the Centre Ponpidou. A unique exhibition building that was literally built from the "inside-out". And there are many creative fountains and artistic groups all over the square. The ride home concluded an awesome weekend. This brings my list of cities/towns that I've visited this year to 55 cities in 7 different countries. I felt like Paris was a great way to conclude my travels. With two weekends remaining, that means 5% of the year is still remaining, and I'd like to make each percentage count!


Where I've Been 2009-2010 auf einer größeren Karte anzeigen

Bis dann,
Matt

P.S. To explain a little about the title: Paris doesn't know "fresh air" like the Germans.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Berlin End-of-Stay Camp

Well I really hadn't expected my End-of-Stay camp in Berlin to come so soon...but like I've written before, "The time DOES really fly by." Overall, Berlin was a great time, but there were some major disappointments.

The disappointments were:
- We saw only a small bit of Berlin.
- Due to alcohol that was purchased and consumed by some, we lost the privilege to have a few hours to roam Berlin independently.
- We also couldn't watch the USA vs. England World Cup game as a part of the "punishment." Instead we went to the "Kuppel" (view point on top of the Reichstag) to see the sunset. Sad that we missed a bit of the World Cup, a major cultural event in Germany - the Germans go crazy for the World Cup (Weltmeisterschaft).
- I found the workshops, except for one, to be dumb.
- The liaisons were younger than me.
- The youth hostel was on the sixth floor of a converted warehouse, and we had to always climb 6 flights of stairs. And we weren't exactly in the main part of Berlin.
- Our "cultural experience" was two museums and a city tour in a bus (I missed half of it because I met up with my representative.) Just forget...We went to the Berlin Wall Memorial. I got to stand in both the former East and West Berlins.

The highlights of the camp:
- It was a great reunion with the CBYXers. It was wonderful to converse with other Americans experiencing similar things to me. I hadn't seen some of them since I left the Frankfurt Airport in September. Congo Line in the Train.
- I got to meet up with my Bundestag (German Parliament) representative, Otto Fricke. I'm the noodlehead that would wear a Copenhagen shirt to a meeting with my German Representative.
- On Friday, we spent the day at the Reichstag (House of Parliament) and the American Embassy. That was a phenomenal day. The American Ambassador, Philip Murphy, is from Middletown, New Jersey, and acted more like a celebrity than an Ambassador. It was hilarious. We also had a "CBYX Function" (I'm not sure how to really translate: Parlamentarisches Patenschafts Programm Veranstaltung.) in a huge conference room, where we were highly praised and congratulated by representatives from the Bundestag; some people shared their stories and how Germany has really impacted their lives. I give kudos to anyone who gave a speak not in their native language to a group of more than 300 people. Friday was the best day of the camp, in my opinion.
- I got the opportunity to speak English...with Americans! There's a big difference because Germans have a tendency to always say "homeworks", "informations", and use incorrect prepositions, or words that are "British English".
- After hearing some other exchange students speak German, for the first time in my year, I felt fully confident in my German. I also noticed a huge personal improvement, particularly grammatically, since my Mid-Stay camp in March. I really feel like having the spectacular host family that I'm blessed with has really enhanced my German and overall experience in Germany.

Me in front of the Brandenburger Gate

Some specific things that I noticed were:
- While many CBYXers aren't ready to accept that we're going home in 24 days, some were very open and shared the issues they fear when I fly back home, or they will miss their host family and/or friends sooo much. This involved many tears, and I had expected a more cheerful camp; I was astonished at the burdens some people carry. I felt happy to be able to say that I get along great with my host family and feel like a member of the family, and I'm looking forward to seeing my family in the States. Others had different opinions and qualms.
- The chiques within the CBYX group seemed to have altered. Some people seemed to present themselves differently in comparison to the first impressions they made at our orientation in Washington, D.C. in September. It was very striking how differently most portrait themselves. But on the other hand, some didn't seem to change at all. But there was a ton of personality in our group of now 48 CBYXers. (Two have gone home.)

Overall, this End-of-Stay camp gave me a wake-up call to how the time here is really winding down. I've already started to say good-bye to some people. Many have asked me when I'm going home. Three and a half weeks sounds quite nerve-racking. I have a few things that I'd like to do before I go home, and I know I'm really going to miss Germany...however, I'm equally excited to catch up with everything at home. This has been a great opportunity, and I feel like I got the most out of it as I possibly could, and I ain't stopping just yet. I'm expecting that the next few weeks will be very hectic. I'm going to Paris with my host family this weekend. I guess the car ride will help me brush up on some French...should be interesting. :-)

Bis dann,
Matt

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Final Stretch...

In my efforts to remember as many German idioms as possible, I think I've buried some American idioms in a deep, dark crevice of my brain that my preconscious can't seem to rescue at the moment. Perhaps because it's almost 1 a.m. on a Monday morning. I'm only up this late because I don't have school till 1 p.m. tomorrow! So I find that rather nice that I can sleep in! But I intended "the final stretch" as my last month in my exchange year; that's right, we're now in June.

So the two main things that have happened since I last wrote would be that I went to London, England (my third European capital city in 3 weeks), with my school, and I had a four-day weekend! London was a lot of fun. I was exhausted being sleep-deprived due to the annoying bus driver, border control, acting as translator, and the heat. We got to see the main attractions in London, like Big Ben, Picadelly Circus, Hyde Park
(where we saw a "Royal Salute for the Queen"), Buckingham Palace (My Fencing Buddy, Wiebke, and I), etc. We had great weather, and it felt a little too hot at times. I also got confused switching between English and German at times, but it was still awesome!!


London had something interesting where you could see 250 elephants all over the city. The idea is to make everyone aware of an endangered species of Elephant...I've forgotten the exact one. They are all painted differently with every color or pattern/texture you can imagine.


That was Wednesday, and the weekend started for us as soon as we got home early Thursday morning. My fellow CBYXer, Emily, and her host sister, Eva, came to visit. We went to Düsseldorf and Köln, and did some bike riding around the farmlands of Krefeld. And in general, it's a blast when exchange students get together. We went up the Rhein Tower in Düsseldorf , walked around the architectural district
and the old town. We even found a piece of the Berlin Wall in Düsseldorf. In Köln, we walked to the top of the Kölner Cathedral (there's an elevator in the Rhein Tower, but not in the cathedral), sat on the grass along the Rhein River, and checked out the bridge with all the locks. (I described the bridge back in January: And the bridge that goes over the Rhein River has thousands of locks with names or initials of couples. And this signifies the forever love they possess. They lock the lock on the bridge and then throw the key into the Rhein.)

And so to conclude on Sunday, I went with Claude to das Haus der Seidenkultur (House of the Silk Culture). And I recently found out that Krefeld is the Stadt wie Samt und Seide (the city like velvet and silk). Krefeld is a city that has already reached its pinnacle. Krefeld was once a very wealthy city, and Krefeld is known for having made handmade velvet and silk products, for example ties. I was told that Obama wears ties made by certain a company in Krefeld. After the wars, most of Krefeld was destroyed and the city started to lose its prestige, and due to changed times, the silk and velvet industries are computerized and mechanical. But, on a better note, I do have a respect for the people that spent so many hours doing, what I consider to be, such tedious work. But I felt like it was a great cultural lesson to learn more about what I've called home for the last six months.


On Wednesday, I'll be in Berlin for my End-of-Stay Camp. Amazing to think that I've reached this point in my year!

Bis dann,
Matt