Sunday, March 31, 2013

Fertig mit WWOOFing

This experiences has BEEn amaZZZZZing*! This fun-filled month has been one of the quickest of my life. From the occasional lack of water and heating to the people and the bees, this has been a remarkable experience that has taught me quite a bit - linguistically, about myself and others, and about opportunities for the future.

*Like the pun? I've been saving it for three weeks.

Thursday, March 28, 2013
It was my last day because Good Friday (Karfreitag) is a public holiday. I went to a few bee site/stands with Steffan and Christina (two beekeepers) - there were a lot of laughs, yet by the end of the week I felt the fatigue of a busy week. At lunchtime, Christina could not find her cell phone, realizing she must have dropped it at one of the sites. Miraculously, we ended up finding this needle in the haystack at the first stand.

After lunch, I hopped into the driver's seat, joking that I would drive us to the first bee stand in search of Christina's phone. The joke was turned onto me when they said, "Okay, Matt...you're driving!" With minimal experience with stick shift, it was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time, particularly as I turned off the highway.

By the end of the workday, I said farewell to my co-workers. Some were genuinely kind to mention that I will be missed. The irony of this farewell is that they left, and I've been hanging out all weekend in the heatless house.

The van got stuck a few times on the snowy paths to the bee stands - I have learned many ways to get a vehicle out of the snow, a shovel just seems like a luxury now.

Co-workers on the bee farm

Driving a manual vehicle! (I learned 3 years ago, but never practiced.)

(Photo by Christina)

Friday, March 29 to Sunday, March 31, 2013

Germany practically shuts down on Easter weekend, so I found no need to try and go somewhere (plus it was too cold and snowed each morning). I spent most of my time on the computer, relaxing and preparing for Leipzig. My social interaction was achieved through Skype and several surprises from the mice that patter around the house - to make light of it, I call the mice "Oliver." (I can't tell them apart, so for all I know, it could be the same mouse.) It has been nice to be a professional couch potato for the weekend.

So the big day arrives tomorrow - the move to Leipzig. This has been a process of applications, tri-continental communication, and patience. Yet finally, it is soon to become a reality (just to be sure, I'll knock on wood to that.) I found out there is a Welcome Week, in addition to class registration, and moving into my room in the student apartments, so I expect a busy week ahead! I'm packed and ready to go!

________________________

As I look back on this past month, there are a lot of little memories that I will cherish, but I feel that I lack the words to express my gratitude for this experience. There were many on-going jokes, such as "Dear Ansgar (Lieber Ansgar), [Insert imaginary, exaggerated concern or complaint.]" (It's more of an inside joke.) To think, this would have been a very different month, if my original plans to intern in the Bundestag had worked out. I feel everything works out as it is meant to, and goodness do I feel lucky for the way things turned out!

On this blessed day, I would like to wish you a very Happy Easter! Enjoy my little video. :)


Frohe Ostern!
Matt


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Pläne, pläne, pläne!

It's peculiar to me that I have arrived to a country stereotypically known for its strictness to the rules and punctuality, yet plans still seem to fall through. The WWOOFer, who we had been expecting, is not coming after all. Everyone on the bee farm has an on-going joke that she is somewhere in Indonesia. I am going to miss these funny people!

Right now, I'm hanging out - like my laundry - and looking at the endless opportunities of courses for this semester in Leipzig. How will I be able to choose? Yes, I embrace the fact that I'm a nerd. :)

Today was loads of fun working with the bees. I even had a little critter fly up my pants. Luckily, she got stuck in my various layers of pants and socks before I got a "house-warming gift." Tomorrow is my final day of work on the bee farm. It's bittersweet, like most of my transitions. I shall see what the next day will bring.

Alles Gute,
Matt

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Wasser!!!

My prayers have been answered! Around 3pm, the frozen water thawed enough to flow once again through the house - yes folks, running water! The oven was cleaned early this morning. I have run the dishwasher twice, showered, and washed a load of clothes - I'm humming with joy!

Lastly, I have moved into Rachelle and Jeff's old room. More compact, it is more feasible for an electric heater to warm up the room. I've also downsized from 5 comforters to a modest three. I am very hopeful for a warm night's sleep.

Original room: It was huge - room for half a dozen WWOOFers. It was too large for the space heater I was given. After getting sick, I started to pitch a sheet (like a tent) over the headboard to warm up the air I breathed. It was effective but confining.

All moved into the new room! I hope I don't see my breath when I dream of Spring tonight.

With two more days of working on the bee farm, I intend to soak up each moment. I have the weekend to chill out before I'm off to Leipzig. 

I wish you all a happy Easter week!

Viele Grüße,
Matt

Monday, March 25, 2013

Was macht das Wetter?!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Another weekend in Berlin has felt like a vacation from the real life, which is also a dream that I'm glad to be living. It was a day of many coincidences that only left me feeling connected to the world. Friday tasks were nothing special - cleaning and then drilling. I said farewell to Jeff and Rachelle. It was only in Berlin that this day became one out of the ordinary. 

At the third hostel in three weekends, this was a basic, cozy hostel that was converted from an old West Berlin apartment. At $10 per night, I found it to be quite a deal. I was welcomed by two Workawayers (similar to WWOOFing, you work - not necessarily on a farm - in exchange for room and board). Through small talk during registration, I found out that one (from Philadelphia) completed a summer voyage with Semester at Sea (small world!); the other has signed up to work on this exact bee farm where I am now (even smaller world!). They showed me some points of interest on a map when my eyes fell directly upon a Krefelder Straße/Street directly around the corner. After a hectic and 'buzz'y week, I took comfort in this little corner of Berlin with a book and an early bedtime...only to be interrupted from time to time by a snorer. 

There is just something special to me about Krefeld - it is my second home. 
(Never forget: Once a Jersey boy, always a Jersey boy.)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The coincidences did not conclude on Friday evening. For Saturday, I decided I wanted to visit the Concentration Camp Sachsenhausen on the outskirts of Berlin. On my way to the tour's meeting point (Brandenburger Tor), I noticed a familiar face. It was the AFS/CBYX camps director who arranged and led the orientations for my foreign exchange year. I think I startled him, being a complete stranger to his memory. Nonetheless, after an introduction, we had a nice chat in the metro.

Brandenburger Tor


Already familiar with this "free" tours organization in Hamburg, I thought I'd give their Sachsenhausen tour a try. Like any sunny Saturday in a Mecca of tourism, everyone wanted to take part. Our tour guide managed a nearly impossible feat as he led 70 tourists through this historic site of the Nazi Regime. Well-informed and witty, he was a great story-teller who eloquently introduced the nightmares that took place in this hell on Earth. Honestly, I would have preferred to go through at my own pace, but I found his information to be insightful. Snow covered most of the camp, making some aspects invisible to the present eye. In turn, a 4-hour tour in 23ºF/-5ºC gave us all a glimpse into the horrible conditions that these prisoners suffered - mentally, physically, communally, and individually. It is not an easy history to ponder, yet we learn more from mistakes.


Arbeit macht frei translates to "Work makes one free." As the prisoners walked through this door, this metaphorical statement meant that they would be (mostly likely only be) freed upon death.


Holocaust Memorial from the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) - it only recognizes the Communist victims murdered in the Holocaust.

A lot of snow!

Guard Tower

Reconstructed sleeping quarters in the Jewish sector

Many slept 2 to a bed



Execution pit. Mind-blowing, yet unfathomable that it actually happened.

The remains of the crematorium and infirmary that took too many lives.

Tribute to the Victims of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Tribute to the Holocaust from the Communist times that commend the government of the GDR.

Back in Berlin, I enjoyed dinner with a portion of the tour group. I saw a biking group in Banana costumes and then an old Traubi (the only car available in the former German Democratic Republic). Full from my meal and exhausted by the cold, I retired to my hostel for the evening. I had a mind-blowing conversation with an Indian man who explained to me how arranged marriage is quite functional. It was riveting to hear his facts and certain attributes of Indian culture - imagine marriage through the scope of a business deal than love.

Only in Berlin - a biking tour that went bananas.

Traubi

Sunday, March 24, 2013

I woke up several times, again interrupted by snoring. It was like a police siren and a stuffed bear were competing to be louder, right next to me. (Yes, this was through my earplugs.) I had hopes for a quiet day, and that it was (thank you, Lord!). I visited the DDR (GDR) Museum - an interactive museum where you can touch history. It was a popular site - so packed that it took away from my experience. I made my way through as quickly as someone navigating a shopping mall two days before Christmas. 

With the sun shining and temperatures at the freezing point, it was a nice day to stroll around Berlin. It was splendid from Alexanderplatz to the Museum Island, minus the gypsies. For once, I was not freezing, thanks to my four layers of clothes. Overall, it was a nice time for myself to enjoy the present moment of this wonderful city.

Me in front of the Opera on Museum Island

DDR Museum

Canal that divides the Museum Island - I found a nice little flea market around the corner.

Blue skies in this plaza in Berlin!

Upon my arrival back in Worin, the sun quietly set. The negative temperatures creeped up as I warmed up by the fire; unfortunately it was too cold for the water. Nearly 4 weeks after last speaking to my parents, it was nice to see two pricelessly familiar smiles again. :) I couldn't ask for a better conclusion to this independent weekend.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Finally, the cold has started to wear on my nerves. I'm convinced the next ice age is coming - I have yet to see traces of global warming in this corner of the world. The house on the bee farm has no running water because it has frozen over in the pipes. Additionally, the firewood oven regurgitates smoke back into the kitchen, so it is clearly in need of a sweep. As this is too big a job for one ambitious WWOOFer, I am confined to two electrical heaters that lack the spunk to heat the whole room. (I was given the powerful heater for my room, which really has no effect. I wouldn't say my standards are set high, yet seeing my breath as I fall asleep is not warm in my book.) 

I miss the amenities of water coming from a faucet and sufficient heating. While the oven should be working again tomorrow, the water is less certain and forseeable. I am "Jack" once again fetching a pail of water, until the water in the hoses and pipes thaw. I'm in my final week of WWOOFing, so what shall come first: the water or my train to Leipzig? Today was particularly cold and tiring, but working with such a fun group of people has taught me so much, especially a thing or two about communication.


One of my Facebook friends posted this. Need I mention that she's German? Source Link

Schöne Woche,
Matt

Friday, March 22, 2013

Fleissig wie eine Biene!

Time on the bee farm has flown by! Week 3 was easily the most fun and interesting for me. I caught up and chatted with friends in New Jersey, Argentina, and Germany through Skype. In their final week at the bee farm, Jeff and Rachelle up-ed their cooking endeavors - I ate very well. :) I learned (and won) how to play Siegler, an eternal, strategic board game. Oh yeah, and the highlight: FINALLY, I was able to help with the bees! Mother Nature has not been forgiving with the below-freezing temperatures and continuous sprinklings of snow. This March weather has reached an historic low in Germany, and it does not make the beekeepers' job easier.

With my enthusiasm to learn and willingness to endure a few bee stings, I was so excited I could hardly contain myself!!! The photos are from my first visit to a bee area on Monday, March 18. My tasks varied slightly with each site - carrying the supers (with and without bees), cleaning up the supers where the bees died, and being of assistance when needed. All in all, it has provided a glimpse into the resilience of bees. While many die, they possess a communal objective (inscribed in their DNA somehow) that helps them endure the winter and other natural and human obstacles. Lastly, as of Thursday, I have yet to be stung - I even dodged a sting when I found a bee nestled in my scarf an hour after visiting a site. Nevertheless, it scared the shittles out of me.

Typical Bee Site

4 Supers


The smoker tricks the bees into feeling hungry. Thus, they eat more and remain in the super. When they fly out in this weather, they freeze in seconds and die shortly afterwards.


One of the main bees that landed on my protective suit.

Bees

This crowbar-like tool is helpful in separating the frames that are lined with honeycomb.


Beekeepers assessing the reason for a fallen (dead) bee hive.

Like a pro!

I was amazed to see the bees fit into these honeycomb slots!

I apologize for my lack of proper terminology. I have no prior experience in beekeeping (only an insightful introduction thanks to Maury), as I learn the terms in German. This week has been a nice mix from the jobs in the workshop, especially since I've enjoyed a tour of the Märkische Schweiz and Oderbruch regions, where the bees are dispersed throughout! The conversations have been painfully funny (as in laughing so hard, it hurts) and this has opened up a new world to me! :)

Now with the weekend on its way, I am off to Berlin once more before Easter Week begins. Jeff and Rachelle are heading off to their next farm tomorrow, and the next WWOOFer is expected to arrive on March 27. They have been fun company in this unique experience. I hope I could help their German as much as I enjoyed their culinary creativity. Reflecting on a post I wrote in Argentina, we shared this portion of our lives together. I learned a lot about perspective, tolerance, and resilience. For that and them, I am very grateful.

I have a few ideas of what I'd like to do in Berlin, but the weather is expected to get colder...I don't know what is possible, so I look forward to the adventures ahead!

Schönes Wochenende,
Matt

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Da steppt der Bär!

Berlin 2013: Round 2!

This past weekend in Berlin I went to a few familiar sites. My visits to the Jewish Museum and Berlin Wall Memorial have fostered a deeper appreciation for my previous scholarship to Germany as a Congress-Bundestag Youth Scholar and the rich history of a country, to which it opened my eyes. These spots were are significant in my memories of Germany at 19 years, but that has changed with a new look at what I glanced over three years ago. In turn, this has also made me even more grateful for this time abroad.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Like a dedicated worker, I only started to feel ill and exhausted once my time off began. I joyfully drilled and placed screws in the orderly process of constructing more supers. In time for dinner, I travelled by train with Rachelle and Jeff for another weekend in Berlin. We landed a great deal in a spectacular hostel (not to mention my newly-found gratitude for heated sleeping quarters). The sniffles accompanied our arrival, so I got some medicine at the pharmacy. Food was a quick meal - for me a giant potato, called a Kumpir, and then early to bed.

Kumpir

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A slow morning led to a midday start out in diverse Berlin. Rather than confront the cold, we found an insightful experience in the Jewish Museum (Jüdisches Museum) - more than six hours worth! Covering 2,000 years of Jewish history in the land country possessed by Germany, this fascinating museum is filled with stunning exhibitions and information that I had never fathomed. Yes, persecution is prominent in Jewish history (several exhibitions mirrored what I have previously seen at Dachau Concentration Camp and Holocaust memorials), but throughout history, I would consider the Jewish community to be resilient and in line with their values. It is a story of which I wish to learn more.

Following the museum, we strolled by Checkpoint Charlie, the former division between the American and Soviet sectors in Berlin. Rachelle, Jeff, and I concluded the evening with Turkish food and an impressively intense round of Jenga.

Exile Garden at the Jewish Museum

Signs in German tours forbidding the presence of Jews

Underground/Basement floor and beginning of the Museum.

Memory Void - this space is empty, on purpose. Walking around the sounds and 
clanks reflect chains and cold memories.

Yarmulka - one flaunting the Friends series

Checkpoint Charlie (in the middle of Berlin)

Never have I witnessed such a high Jenga tower!

Sunday, March 17, 2013 - Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

This was the most untraditional day I had to recognize my Irish Heritage. I did not wear green; I did not drink Guinness; and there is not really anything Irish about Berlin. I went to Potsdamer Platz for a panoramic view of the city. For the afternoon, I met up with Jeff and Rachelle to visit the Berlin Wall's Documentation Center along Bernauer Straße - where the Berlin Wall once blockaded and still stands in pieces. It was a walk back in time, in Germany history and for me personally. I walked the same path three years prior, but it was much more meaningful this time around. With a few more classes of German and German history under my belt, I started to see this old memory in a new light.

Potsdamer Platz

A panoramic view - lots of construction and rather flat. 
Germany's skylines are not in the same league as New York City.

Berlin Wall Memorial - Then and Now

An overhead view of how the wall appeared - dividing East and West Berlin


A narrow peak into the "Dead Man's Zone"

The Wall



Me, Jeff, and Rachelle standing where the Berlin Wall once did.

Before sundown, we made the trip back to Worin. We caught the train by the tip of the skin of my fingernail - really, it was that close! It was a charming path in a winter wonderland - because Mother Nature has been sprinkling us with snow every few days.

Sunset at Lake between Alt Rosenthal and Worin

Feeling well-rested and better after being under the weather!

Did I mention the bee farm is next to a chocolate factory? We found some chocolate treats before warming up inside. (I guess some would call it "dumpster diving.")

Happy St. Patrick's Day...with Polish beer!

My weekend concluded with an unexpected surprise. An employee arrived on Sunday night, whom I had not met before. The WWOOFers and I were not expecting him, and he was not expecting us. After a few uncertain moments (as a sensible person, my instinct thought he might be a serial killer), we became better acquainted and enjoyed dinner together. 

This weekend has been a blessed reminder of all for that I am grateful. Remember to count yours! :)

Gute Nacht,
Matt