A Travellerspoint blog

final thoughts from Germany

Me comparing Dresden's current skyline with a painting of it from the late 19th century:
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Adam and I trained to Berlin two days ago and I'm enjoying my final days with him here in Germany. Yesterday, we spent the day touring Berlin's impressive Jewish museum followed by a brief walk through Tempelhof airport (the largest fascist structure remaining in Germany). Today, we're going to Berlin's Zoo, located a short walk from the pension we are staying. I leave Germany early tomorrow morning to return to Boston: my German adventure has come to a close. Adam will stay here for another month doing research. Prior to leaving, I wanted to post some of my thoughts and impressions I've formed here.

Being unplugged

My time in Germany has made me aware of the things I can’t live easily without and the things I absolutely can. Of utmost technological importance to me is, of course, the internet. In Tübingen, after waiting a month to determine, and then receive, the proper paperwork to procure internet in our student housing once we were finally connected, it was a pretty good system. (We had to contend only with the occasional internet “black-outs"). Upon moving to Dresden, however, I definitely had a mini freak-out session when I realized we couldn’t--and wouldn’t--have internet in our apartment. Of course, it turned out not to be too big of an issue after we found our free wireless at the internet café/hostel down the street. But still, our access was limited and I had been spoiled.

I miss movies. For those of you who know about our Netflix obsession, this should come as no surprise. I don’t want you to be under the false impression, however, that we haven’t been watching any movies or following our favorite tv shows (BSG and Lost). With thanks to my Czech host brother, who has kept us in the loop with some of his favorite Czech and other European movies, and our friend pirate bay, we’ve stayed on top of many episodes and movies that you all have been enjoying this year. The same goes for my favorite shows from NPR: I've been downloading podcasts of This American Life and Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me among others. This has served to be vital entertainment (in English)! for me as well as a way to stay connected with American life and news.

Without a cell phone, TV, and the usual obligations and delights that accompany life in the US of seeing friends and family, we’ve had a lot more time to just “be.” I’d like to think this year that I seriously was exposed to—and learned to embrace—the art of doing nothing. Of course for me, the art of doing nothing is best enjoyed while sitting in the sun.

We’ve become enchanted with watching birds, water fowl, and our neighborhood panthers (cats). I always wondered why it was mostly the young and old who seemed to enjoy the sport of bird watching. I now think it’s because we young-middle aged folk have so many other things going on in our lives that the potential stimulation, joy, and wonder found from hanging out with nature is largely lost on us. I desperately hope to hold on to this habit returning to my life in the States. I know it won’t be easy.

When my friend Amanda came to visit, I chatted with her about my newfound love of “being unplugged.” She said it reminded her of an article Mark Bittman wrote in the NY Times recently. For Mark, he tries to not check email, use the internet, telephone, etc on a full day of the weekend--either Saturday or Sunday. I think that’s quite an admirable strategy to aspire to.

The Super Dads

In Dresden, I’ve become used to seeing men interact shamelessly and lovingly with their baby or young child in public. They hold dolls and stuffed animals while patiently watching their child pick up rocks. They speak baby talk, make ridiculous faces, walk slowly and are otherwise completely absorbed in their child’s life. They aren’t multitasking by talking on their cell phone or with another adult friend. They are completely, utterly with their baby and seemly unaffected by me, the gawking American—shocked to see so many young men spending time with their children…and DURING THE WEEK! It took us a long while to realize what was going on. Were we seeing some particular sub-culture of progressive Dresden? Our German friend Rose helped fill us in: In an effort to raise their low birth rate (one of the lowest in the world), the German government passed legislation granting extremely generous and progressive leave policies with pay--for both parents. As in general, Germans don’t seem to be as tied to work for their self-worth and identity, I think this grants many German men the freedom to stay at home and be the primary care giver (if only for a three month to a half year period). I’ll be on the lookout for these “super dads” in America. And, if it’s only on the weekends, so be it.

Smart Urban Planning

Previously, I’ve never consciously considered myself interested or observant of urban planning and development but my time here has certainly made me into a novice. (Or at least a critic)!

Germany’s use of space continues to astound and impress me. It’s particularly evident sitting in the train, watching the transformation of compact, slick urban space transform to open farm land, protected forests, and towns and villages that have a center, logical feeling, and heart. I certainly get the feeling that the use of land resources are highly controlled and planned with everyone’s best interests in mind. While I’m sure that suburban sprawl must exist here—I haven’t found it!

My time here has enforced my belief in having green space within an easy walking from where most people live. Also, designated walking/biking/running paths are a huge bonus.

I still can’t get over how different zoning is here. It is the expectation that within—or quite near to—residential areas there will also be grocery stores, pharmacies, bakeries, bars, drug stores and playgrounds within a walk from ones house, but also schools, doctors and dentist offices! It took me a long while to get used to the lack of parking lots and even parking spaces here. Also, in commercial real estate zoning (take shopping malls for example) grocery stores are often built in the basement level!

I have thoroughly enjoyed Germany’s fabulous and comprehensive public transportation systems of slick trains, trams, undergrounds and buses. And yes, sometimes there are strikes, delays, or re-routing, but most of the time they work quite well. My time here has strengthened my dislike of cars. At this time, I feel I’d be perfectly happy if I never set foot in another one.

A Small Space

I’ve completely given up my childhood desire of having a large house. Having lived in and witnessed the smart use of small spaces, I’m committed to having a cozy house of my own (some day). Europeans use space brilliantly. One of my favorite examples was a sleek cabinet our friends Rose and Uli had by their main door. It was shallow but about four feet tall. I wondered what did it hold? Rose pulled on one of the drawers, revealing a diagonal slat supporting a pair of shoes! There were many such drawers within the cabinet keeping their shoes neatly hidden in a compact space and stored near the front door.

I’ve totally normalized the size of the small ovens here…I’m still working on the fridges.

Food + Drink

I’ll miss German’s obsession with “tubed meat,” mustard, jams, cheeses, chocolate, breads, pastas, potato salad, pastry items, beer and wine. This, of course, isn’t to say that I can’t purchase most of these goods (or ones of similar quality in the US) but the cost is exponentially higher.

What do I miss from America?

I miss Netflix. Mexican food, bagels and my bed! I miss not being able to communicate with anyone I pass or meet. But, most of all, I miss my family and state-side friends. I look forward to seeing (or speaking with you once I rejoin the cell phone community) soon!

God, it's been a great year. I feel extremely thankful to have had this opportunity.

Posted by amartinweb 00:42 Comments (2)

my final visitors & final trip to Praha

exploring Dresden and Praha with friends Sara & Jason

I just finished my ginger-orange Bionade soda and am sitting at Mondpalast, the hostel/ cafe, located a short walk from our apartment. I am getting quite melancholy thinking about what to write in this entry as it marks two "finals" of my time here.

We spent four wonderful days with friends Sara and Jason--my final visitors. Also, these photos depict my final trip to Praha of the year. Although I'm quite sad that my time here is coming to a close--I leave on May 31--I am choosing not to dwell too much on my impending departure. Instead, this entry is a celebration of our time with Sarah and Jason and my host parents, Lenka and Zdenek. I must also note that an important aspect of our time together in Dresden and Prague was our breathtakingly beautiful, sunny and warm weather. This was Adam's first time experiencing Prague in the sun and warmth (and the first time for me since studying here in '99). Also, as we were in Prague during the week, we weren't too inundated with tourists. It was absolutely delightful.

We spent a day showing off our favorite Dresden sights with Sara & Jason. As they also love to walk, we took them from old town along our Elbe river path to the Blue Wonder bridge and the Schiller Beergarten:
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We spent two days in lovely Praha:
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While Sara, Jason and Adam toured Prague's Jewish quarter (which I explored with Amanda last month), I went for a walk and stumbled across The Czech Senate gardens. I was blown away with the beauty of these gardens situated beneath Prague Castle. Needless to say, I've added this location to my list of favorites in the city. I'm surprised that I didn't know about this treasure before but it was refreshing and uplifting for me since it reminded me I still have places to explore in the city. I found the wildlife particularly engaging (it's mating season, after all):
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My favorite Czech beer. (Yes, I admit that I had already had a beer when I took this photo):
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A cute picture of Sara and Jason on the Charles Bridge with a new landmark - a balloon with tourists suspended. Interestingly, the balloon is connected to the ground so it has little to no lateral movement.
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Adam insisted upon trying the "traditional Bohemian" pastry:
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Walking back up past the castle to a monastery brew-pub for dinner:
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Sara and Jason left early on Saturday morning. We spent a fabulous day with my host parents. Our first stop was to an incredible hunting lodge where my host-sister's friend serves as the caretaker!
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The view from the hunting lodge's terrace. The beautiful yellow flowers (which sadly I don't know the name of) are grown for biofuel:
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My fabulous Czech host parents, Lenka and Zdenek:
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On the way back, we stopped at a tree monument on the side of the road. (Here I am trying to figure out what it is commemorating):
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In the town square of the village:
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Apple blossoms...ah, spring!
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On our final evening together, Lenka and Zdenek treated us to dinner at The Hotel Diana, an upscale restaurant in their neighborhood specializing in Bohemian cuisine. I enjoyed a plate of lamb, spinach and dumplings while Adam had duck, sauerkraut and dumplings. It was, without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable dining experience of my time in Prague. We sat outside on the enclosed porch satiating ourselves with incredible food and wine and chatted with my parents in a mix of simple English and German. Although it would be wonderful to more fluently share a language with my host parents, we all try very hard to communicate in simple words and with many gestures so the things we are able to share are incredibly satisfying. It's been really nice to live close to my host family this year. Hopefully, they will travel to the U.S. one day, but if not, we'll certainly be back to Prague.

Adam with our starter: pear liquor and the front of The Hotel Diana, nestled into their Prague neighborhood:
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Posted by amartinweb 07:47 Comments (0)

seeing Dresden through the eyes of young adolescents

a visit from our friends, The Gesslers

During the weekend of May 1, a national holiday in Germany, our good friends from Tübingen, Rose & Uli and their boys, drove up to Dresden to visit. We had a wonderful time exploring the city with them. The boys simply adore Adam (they could take me or leave me). Spending the weekend with a family was a great reminder of how different the pace of travel is with kids. As I was leading the group returning from old town to our neighborhood, Rose had a wonderfully apt comment for me: "You will learn how to walk slowly when you have kids." True enough. This weekend also marked the beginning of our stretch of sunny, 70 degree, perfect weather. Suffice it to say, it's positively spectacular here now.

The boys playing in a fountain:
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There was a festival set-up along Hauptstrasse. I was captivated by the mylar balloons. Do these look equivalent to ones in the U.S.?
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As part of the festival, an adventure company had setup an incredible bungee trampoline jumping station. Linus and Lorenz were lucky to give it a try. It looked like so much fun...
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The boys were captivated by the Elbe river:
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Adam and his buddy Lorenz in Old Town:
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Family photos in the Zwinger palace gardens:
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We went for a beautiful scenic ride on a paddle boat along the Elbe:
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While our guests went to the royal armory museum (and Adam was at the archive) I sat outside and people-watched and listened to these excellent musicians who have a sign "greetings from st. petersburg." Rose told me that many talented Russian musicians have moved to Germany in search of work as funding for many orchestras in Russia has disappeared.
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We climbed (and rode an elevator) to the top of the Frauenkirche. While many churches and towers in Europe are quite tight and claustrophobic feeling, since this church was recently rebuilt, it's incredibly open and spacious. And, the view of the city was fantastic.
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We escaped the city and took a day trip to the Saxon Switzerland:
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My favorite Dresden statue, The Archer, who is said to protect the bend in the Elbe River:
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Rose & Uli took us out for brunch on their final day. It was a fabulous ending to a great weekend. With amazing weather, great food and great friends, what more could one ask for?
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Posted by amartinweb 02:07 Comments (1)

an interdenominational church and a walk to Poland

a fieldtrip to Bautzen and Görlitz

Bautzen
The town of Bautzen is known for its spicy mustard, beautiful buildings and squares, leaning tower, Sorbian community and an interdenominational church, St. Peter's Cathedral. St. Peter's welcomes both protestant and catholic worshipers--although not simultaneously. Interestingly, the Cathedral has two main doors and one serves as the protestant entrance (A), while the other is the catholic entrance (B).
A.
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B.
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Sadly we don't know many more details about St. Peter's beyond what we could observe. In the interior, it appeared that the space was divided into two. The majority of the worship space was for protestant worship, while the smaller side was for catholics. Amazingly, while sharing a ceiling and walls, the setup was slightly different for each "church." The differences I noted inside were less ornate decorations on the protestant side and different positioning for the pulpits/altars. It was a really unique and inspiring sight.

I find Bautzen's leaning tower rather uninspired (and resembling male anatomy a bit too closely). But, it isn't nearly as weird as the cartoon figure of the tower:
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Bautzen's main square. I was particularly fond of its yellow town hall. Also show here is a typical, lovely Bautzen facade:
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Bautzen is home to a community of people (I previously knew nothing about) known as "Sorbs." The Sorbian language is written on all street signs beneath German. It appears to be a cross between German, Czech and Polish. Thanks to wikipedia, we all can learn more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sorbs
Example of Sorbian written beneath German:
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Other interesting scenes from Bautzen: an amazing door, reflection on a theater wall, and a senf (mustard) restaurant. Mustard soup, anyone?
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Görlitz
Görlitz drew our interest because it was divided into two after WWII. On one side of the river is Görlitz, Germany, and on the other is the town of Zgorzelec, Poland. I can't express how bizarre and interesting it was to cross the pedestrian bridge (recently built) that links the two countries! I was honestly quite surprised with how different the two towns, and subsequently, the countries felt. While Görlitz is filled with tourists and mostly perfectly restored buildings, Zgorzelec appeared not to have many tourists nor much extra money to refurbish their lovely buildings. When we told our landlady that we had crossed the border into Poland, she replied: "Did you go for cheap gas or cigarettes?"

Görlitz's main square, cool fountain and view of the tower we climbed to the top:
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Below, the story is that a wealthy protestant man had these bible stories created to adorn his house in defiance of the catholic church (who didn't want the stories to be told outside of the church). I'm particularly fond of the watchman above his archway that appears to look toward the church:
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We enjoyed a beer on a patio that overlooked the towns of Görlitz (as shown) and Zgorzelec (not shown):
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Zgorzelec, Poland
Sadly, the only photos I took in Zgorzelec were of this building that looks like it has a civic purpose and a monument we don't know what it is commemorating. The second picture is us walking across the main bridge that used to be a major border crossing. With the Schengen Agreement (free border crossings within the EU), border control is no longer necessary!

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Posted by amartinweb 06:38 Comments (0)

Loving the Elbe & The Saxon Switzerland

our inspiring local scenery

Without a doubt, one of my favorite things about Dresden, is the Elbe River. The Elbe runs through the city separating the old town from the new. On both sides of the river is a well-maintained path that is greatly enjoyed by runners, bikers, walkers and "bench watchers." Adam took these photos last month when Rose and I were enjoying an equally beautiful day in Prague.

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We encountered some pretty awesome German engineering with this DHL package machine. If you aren't home when the DHL delivery person comes, she will leave a slip in your post box which you need to take to this machine. At the machine, you enter the code on your slip that opens a side door, revealing your package miraculously inside! Amazing.
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The Sächsische Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland) is a National Park a short 45 minute train ride away. I must stress how amazing I find it that we live in a city and can hop on a train and be in a national park in under an hour! The black sandstone formations which are one of the highlights of the national park, have also been an important natural resource: it was used to build many buildings in Berlin and Dresden. The other draws of the park are miles and miles of great hiking and steep cliffs enjoyed by intrepid climbers (we aren't among them).

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I think that it's safe to say that I've never spent a year enjoying the outdoors as much as this year.

Posted by amartinweb 07:22 Comments (0)

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