Sunday, August 28, 2011

German Kindergarten

The second day with Sonja and Martin was Antonia's first day of kindergarten. German kindergarten is the same as American day care. The children simply play and do crafts all day while the parents work or just get a small break. A few years ago, the kindergartens were for ages 3-7, but now there is a trend of more moms working. The  majority of kindergartens will now take children at one and a half years. Antonia is three and half and was going for the first time. She was so excited! In Germany there is a tradition that the cild gets a cone for his first day. These cones are made of thin cardboard and come in all different sizes. It is filled with small toys and treats to help excite the child for, in many cases, the first time they will be without their parents. Antonia's cone was themed with Princess Lilifee. Lilifee is a very popular German cartoon character for little girls. Antonia was delighted. She received a stamp kit, some markers and crayons, and some little acessories for her baby doll. Then off to kindergarten she went. She was nervous, but ended up aving a great time and meeting a new little friend.

Antwerpen and Belguim Chocolate

I was only going to be with Sonja and Martin for two and a half days, and of course they had to continue the German tradition of being overly generous. Every family that I stayed with just radiated generousity. I was VERY lucky. Both Sonja and Martin took the day off of work to take me to Belguim. Because of the European Union, once I entered a country in Europe I had free access to any other European country. I could have headed to Italy, Spain, France, anywhere honestly without needing another passport stamp or passing any border control. SO with a quick one hour drive from Aachen, Germany, I was in Antwerpen, Belguim. Of course the sign that you have entered Belguim is the lights. Every few meters of every stretch of Belguim highway has a light. Apparently these lights, which are visible from space, were highly expensive and, to most people, serve very little purpose.

I found Antwerpen to be very beautiful. Sonja had been a tour guide in her early career and had so much knowledge on the history of Antwerpen. The first stop was to the Rubens House Museum. Rubens is a well know and artistic painter. The museum holds many of his original pieces. Obviously, I was unable to take pictures of his work, but many pictures come up on google. I was able to photograph this garden. Rubens had painted this garden and several centuries later, this garden was developed to resemble his painting.

Next we went walking around the town. We saw the first skyscraper built in Europe, well on the mainland. England had skyscrapers before this one.

We also passed through the diamond district. It was Sunday so many of the stores were closed but a few have window displays for viewing the precious jewerly.

After walking we went to the Museum Plantin-Moretus Prentenkabinet. It was a printing press museum. It was amazing. It had so many books. The museum did a great job of showing the history of bound books. First it had many hand written books with delicate designs on every page. Later there were book written on papyrus. Some books had paintings on gold. Then there were some of the first leather bound books, and one of the first translated bibles. Then it opened into the original printing shop. There were twenty four presses that had been preserved. I got to see the individual letters that had to be lined up to create words. After the letters were lined into words, they were covered with a coat of ink and then pressed onto paper. The pages then had to hang to dry and were finally bound. I was able to watch a sort video about how every letter and symbol was sculpted in metal to be used with the press. It was such intricate work. Also creating one book took forever. I guess a printing press would have to be pretty sure the book was going to be a hit before they would be super willing to invest time to print it out.

As my short trip to Belgium was drawing to a close I dashed for some Belguim chocolate. The choclate shop smelled delicious. All of the treats were homemade on the second floor of the building. Let me just say it was all so delicous!

The Next Leg of My Journey

After five short days with Helga and Gunter it was time to say good bye and begin the next section of my journey. I would be staying with Sonja, Helga and Gunter's daughter. She is married to Martin, and they have the cutest little girl named Antonia.

 We all got together for lunch. I was extremely nervous to be staying with little Antonia because I knew she did not speak any English, and I only knew about ten words of German. However, it is amazing how far a little smile and a laugh will go. Although we really didn't understand each other, we had a great time. After lunch at a local gausthaus (a bed and breakfast) we went to the park. Seeing Antonia play, I realized I hadn't seen any other children the entire five days I had been in Germany.

 Luckily I was taught about this issue. Apparently the birthrate in Germany is extremely low. By the year 2030 the population of Germany will drop from today's 80 million to 60 billion. The birthrate is currently rising though and the government has  created excellent programs to benefit parents with children. Some of these benefits include cheap child care and long maternity leaves.

 Anways I hadn't realized how exciting it was to see a little three and a half year old child. We had blast at the park. Then we began to walk around and I noticed the first parent trap. ICE CREAM! Or as the Germans call it eis (pronounced ice). Just about every single eis parlor has a large statue of and ice cream cone standing outside. Of course a child recognizes this single symbol of a tasty treat. And Antonia was no exception! 


While driving along the River Rhine, we passed this ancient town. It was adorable. First you can only reach this town by foot. Helga, Gunter, and I parked along the Rhine and then crossed the autobahn to reach the town. Long ago, many of the German towns built large walls surrounfing the inhabitant's land. In most cities you can see parts of the wall, but most of the time the city has expanded beyond the wall and the wall has fallen. In Bacharach however the wall still stands, and every person must pass through the gates. Obviosly this gates were built only for people and maybe horses so they are too narrow for a car to pass through.

The houses in Bacharach definitely made this short detour worth wild. Today many houses are designed to look like wood beams support them. However in Bacharach, the old design is not just an optical illusion. Many of the houses are actually so old that they have become lopsided. I'm not sure I would want to live in one of the said lopsided houses, but I had a great time looking at them in this quant little town.

Other Schlossen

I am sure that anyone who knows anything about Germany knows that it is famous for its castles. I'm not sure how many there are exactly, but I know there are more than two hundred. Anyways as I was driving along the River Rhine I passed several of them. Throughout history, castles were built along the river so that the families in the castle could tax any ships sailing down the Rhine. Some of these castles are barely standing ruins. Others are functioning hotels and restaurants. Nevertheless here are some pictures from castles that I saw during the drive.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Highlights of Heidelberg

The first house I stayed in was in Leimen, a city right next to the more popular and more tourist-y city of Heidelberg. So on the fourth day in Germany, I got the opportunity to visit Heidelberg.  Overall, Heidelberg was just gorgeous. I love it.The vibe was very relaxed. Everyone walked around leisurely without appearing to have a real itenirary for the day. I am told that it is quite a student city because of the local university, but all I saw was older people. I guess it being summer could be the reason for this. Anyways it was still a great town. The first thing I did when I arrived was take a solar powered boat ride around the Neckar River. The boat is silent and I learned some interesting history and landmarks of the city from the captain.

After I walked along the bridge. Helga and Gunter were the couple I was staying with for four days; they were also the ones showing me the town. On the Heidelberg bridge is where Gunter proposed to Helga. So romantic! Also on the (I believe) east side of the bridge ( I have no idea which way is North or South so I'm not 100% sure it is the East) there are serveral little locks. It is tradition that couples come to the bridge add a small lock and throw the key into the river, so that their love can not be broken. I'm sorry but this is one of the cutest things I have heard of. Who knows maybe one day I will have a lock there too.
On the bridge is statue of Carlos Theodoro. He is the same man  that owned the summer castle I wrote of earlier. He also lived in the Heidelberg castle. It is said that he was such a ladies man that his big nose is all over Germany. Haha

This cute little monkey (no I am not refering to myself) was funded several decades ago by the city locals. They were tired of tourists coming and taking pictures and observing them as if they were a different specie. The monkey is holding a mirror and is supposed to be saying, "Look, you aren't the only one who looks different".

Next we stopped at Kathe Wohlfahrt. This is a huge store dedicated to only Christmas items. The store in Heidelberg is not the largest of the chain of stores, but its enough Christmas to get me in the holiday spirit. Just about everything in the store is made by hand. The store carries everything I could ever image for Christmas.  Apparently, during the holiday season, so many tourists go to this store that they charge a two euro entrance fee. However in the middle of August less people are intersted on stocking up for Christmas so entering is free.

Again Heidelberg was so amazing. It was a gorgeous town with a grest history. I do not know how it is during the school year, but otherwise it is so relaxed and charming. I really had a great time.

The Other Schloss

Wow! I have certainly been on the move lately and have so much to tell. Luckily I found a way to get internet, so at the last leg of my German adventure I should be able to do much more updating. The other castle I visited was the famous Heidelberg Castle. I am told that this is the most famous castle of Germany. Unlike the other schloss, I did not find the gardens impressive but the castle itself was superb. First I took a cable
car up a steep mountain to the actual castle. The view was amazing; the landing I was on overlooked the entire city and the Neckar River. Amazing!

 Then two parts of the castle were open to see. First I saw the largest wine caste in the world. It holds over 200,000 liters of wine. Conneted to the caste is a pipe that distributes wine, I believe, the parlor. On top of the caste is a dance floor that the royality used during dance parties.

The second part of the Heidelberg castle was the old pharmacy. It had several rooms filled with herb and spice jars that were used to cure illness.
Parts of this castle were destroyed during the second world war or the Great War as it is called by the Germans. Later money was donated to restore the castle to its original splender, but someone once remarked that this tower would be more beautiful as a ruin and so it was left alone.
It was great to be able to go inside parts of this schloss and get a glimpse at life without the modern conviences that we enjoy today!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Zwei Schlossen

While in Germany I have visited Zwei Schlossen (Two Castles). In my opinion these two castles could be combined into one perfect tourist attraction. The first had this beautiful garden that extended for miles. It was built as a summer castle for Carloso Theodoro and is know informally as the mini Versailles. The castle itself was not very impressive in my personal opinion, but the gardens were so magnificent. The building was large and pretty, just not what I think of when I hear "castle".

 After viewing the front, I passed through to the gardens, and I was astounded. I would love to know the square footage of those gardens because the just appeared to continue on and on. There were many small maze-type areas hidden in the area for the imhabitants to chase each other. At the furtherest point directly behind the castle laid this lake. I loved the Weeping Willow and the giant carp that were in the water. Just like in the fairy tales this large lake was part of the moat that encircled the entire garden and castle.

 Hidden down a long path was a mosque. Carloso Theodoro never used this mosque but had it built anyways. When he was not inhabiting the castle the Turks would come and use it. I was very gorgeous and romantic. Further hidden to the north of the garden was the badhaus (bath house). Sadly I was not allowed to take pictures inside.

 As I followed a path around the bath house I ran to "the end of the world". There is a vine covered arch that runs all over the garden and ends at this small mural. I am still confused as to wether this painting is really entitled The End of the World or if it is just a name my host family has given it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Am I a Terrorist?

Finally the day came to go to Gemany. (sorry I have been in Germany for three days but with jet lag and much happening I have yet to blog, so I am writting in the past). My plane was to leave at 12:05, so I had a nice morning before heading to the airport. Kathy and I arrived to find that our flight had been changed because, as is typical, US Airways was running behind and we were going to miss our second plane in Philly. The wonderful news was that we were going to be traveling aboard a  Lufthansa, a German airline that is known for hospitality. It is also much more expensive, especially with the Euro at the current exchange rate. Kathy had told me all about it so I was very excited. Everything went very smoothly with our first flight; we arrived in Denver, CO and had a two hour lay over. Then national security kicked in. First they had to scan my laptop three seperate times to make sure it was safe. Luckily,  I passed that tested. Then as I was walking down the long hall that takes you to the plane's entranced, I was stoped by an officer. At first I thought this was protocol. The officer seemed very kind our conversation went like this:
Emilee (Me): walking down the terminal, so excited)
Officer: (happy, although big and buff) Can I see your passport?
Emilee: Oh sure (whips out passport)
Officer: How are you?
Emilee: Good
Officer: So where are you going?
(I was a little confused because I thought he knew that everyone on the plane was heading to Frankfurt. Then all of the sudden his tone got very serious. Here I thought we were just making small talk. He was thumbing through my passport real quick and then he would check the other passengers. Oh no, I was wrong.)
Officer: (very sharp and forceful) How long are you going to be gone? Why are you going? Are you going anywhere else?
I answered all of this questions very timidly. I was so thrown back. Apparently, as I later learned, this was not protocol. I guess I looked like some sort of terrorist or threat or something. This officer just picked me out of all the passengers as a deadly weapon. I kind of feel the urge to go and ask him why, but I'm sure I won't see him again. Anyways that was on my mind during part of the flight, but I did make it to Germany. The funny part was, just as I had convinced myself that I infact did not look like a national security threat and that I was probably just the one passenger that the officer had to check to make it seem like he wasn't racially profiling, just as I was convinced I get tomy German home to find that my suitcase had been part of the "random" screening process where your case is opened and gone through. So I just wanted to publicly declared to everone especialy any future TSA or National Security Officers that I may run into again that NO, NO I am NOT a terrorist!


How many eighteen year olds have the opportunity to go to Germany? Not many. I am so excited to be able to visit this wonderful country. My New Year's Resolution for 2011 was to get my first stamp on my passport. Never did I imagine my goal taking me to Germany, but here I am. My great friend Kathy, is a lady I help about once a week with chores around the house. She knew I was wanting to go aboard and immediately took it upon herself to help me go. I am so lucky to have her. In the end of our searching for a location to travel, we concluded that I would accompany her to Germany. She had lived in Germany for five years and has many friends that she was already planning on visiting this year. I was delighted. We prepared several months in advance, so I have been long looking forward to the actual trip. For about five days I will be staying in Heidelberg with Kathy and two of her closest friends. Then I will travel to Aachen and nanny three young girls for two and a half weeks. I will hopefully see two parks of Germany. First the vacation, relaxtion part as I have been informed that the friends are very likely to pamper me. Then I will get the full experience of living in Germany and getting around on my own as I travel to Aachen alone. This is going to be GREAT!!