Sorry it took me so long to write this, but there is no such thing as a week that isn’t busy here in Berlin, which is a big part of why it’s so great to be here!
Last weekend I had an excellent time in Fulda. Despite worrying about my train being on time for my connection to a second train, I had no problems getting to Fulda. Christa, my host mom from my previous stay, was waiting to pick me up on the platform. Philipp was on the next train, coming home for the weekend from Braunschweig, where he is studying. Despite the fact that my train was a slower IC (Inter city) and his was a high speed ICE (Inter city express), his train was late and mine was not. But we found him pretty quickly and headed home to Flieden, the village outside Fulda where the Saemanns live. Stefan, Philipps father, and Laura, his sister, were waiting for us there. I surprised Philipp and Laura with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, a rare treat for them because they are hard to find and expensive in Germany. Philipp’s uncle, an American who works on one of the military bases in Germany, introduced them to this and other treats from the US (Laura really loves PopTarts). I found the Reese’s at the KaDeWe, the large, upscale department store that has a whole floor devoted to gourmet food, including an American section where you can buy stuff like Reese’s, Campbell’s soup and Tollhouse Chocolate chips that you can’t find otherwise. I got lucky, the Reese’s were half price last week. It was great to get back to Flieden, right away I felt like I was at home. For dinner we had Pizza Broetchen, which are Broetchen with a mixture of cheese, peppers and ham melted over the top. They are very delicious, and I was lucky enough to get to eat some of the leftovers on the way back to Berlin Sunday night. I also got to try some of their homemade apple juice, hand pressed from apples grown in their garden. It was a bit sourer than most apple juice, but tasted delicious all the same. We then spent hours catching up, because though I’d seen the Saemanns briefly while they were in Berlin in October, this was the first chance we had to really talk since I was there three years ago. The next morning, we had a traditional German Fruhstueck (breakfast) with Broetchen and all sorts of things to put on it. There were 2 kinds of jam, including one that Christa had made, honey and Nutella. There were also these very thin chocolate bars made for eating with Broetchen called Eszet (the German double s, ß) Schnitten (slices). There was Wurst (sausage) and Kaese (cheese) and also something called Fleischsalat (meat salad), which was small strips of meat (ham I think) in a creamy white sauce. Needless to say it was all very good, and I found myself having to plan out what I was going to put on each Broetchen half so I could have everything I wanted and not eat too much. There was also Kakao (cocoa) and Kaffee (coffee) with it. After breakfast we drove to Point Alpha, an American guard post along the former Innerdeutschen Grenze (Internal German Border, which used to separate East and West Germany) and is now a museum. Fulda lies in what was called the “Fulda Gap,” the most likely Soviet invasion route into West Germany, so there were soldiers in the tower at Point Alpha day and night watching for activity. The 14th “Blackhorse” Armored Cavalry Regiment was based in Fulda and in charge of defending this sector. There were interesting displays of the kinds of equipment, the uniforms and information about the daily life of the soldiers and their West German border guard counterparts. One of the defensive measures against a potential invasion would have been to blow up the road with bombs concealed under manhole covers that looked completely normal except for the demolition insignia on them. We then walked across the border and past a reconstruction of the fence to another part of the museum that had displays about the East German border guards. The whole thing was very interesting to this political and military history buff. After Point Alpha, we visited Christa’s father and brought him his groceries. Next, we went to a Messe (Mass) that was special because it was the Nameday of Christa’s mother, who had passed away a few years ago, and would also have been her 58th wedding anniversary. After the Messe we went to pizzeria La Gondola in Fulda and had dinner. It was also delicious. We walked around Fulda a bit before heading back to Flieden and relaxing a little bit. Philipp and I picked up some of his friends and drove back into Fulda. We went to a couple bars in the Altstadt (Old City), which was quite lebendig (lively) on a cold Saturday night. We ended up heading home around 2ish because Philipp and one of his friends had to play Handball the next day and I had to write a book review as my last midterm. The next morning I woke up and started working on it, pausing to eat another delicious Fruhstueck with all the same stuff plus Fruhstueckseier (hard boiled eggs where the yolk is still liquid that are another mainstay of a traditional Fruhstueck) because of how long it would be before we would eat lunch/ dinner. I finished my paper and we headed to watch Philipp’s Handball game. He plays for the Flieden team. Handball is played with a ball that looks like a soccer ball, except only about 2/3 the size. The players can dribble to move or throw to each other and are trying to throw the ball into a soccer like goal. The shot needs to be from outside an arc that is about a yard closer than the three point line on a basketball court (the 3 pt. line is used as the distance for penalty shots in Handball). There are 6 players plus a goalie on the floor at a time. The other team was bigger, taller and had more subs then Flieden, so they won easily. Handball is a more physical game than basketball and there were some plays that came close to big injuries. It was fun to see my first game of Handball, but it would have been nice if Flieden had won. Maybe next time. After the game we had our main meal of the day. It’s called Raclette (pronounced Rah- clett) and is a specialty from Switzerland. You start with a Pfaennchen (small pan) and fill it with different things, such as wurst, schinken (ham), Zwiebeln (onion), Lauch (leek), mushrooms, tomato slices and different spices. Christa is a vegetarian, so she had peanuts and walnuts instead of meat. You always top it off with a slice of Raclette cheese. You then place the Pfaennchen in the Raclette Geraet (heater that sits in the middle of the table) and wait until the piece of cheese has turned slightly brown and bubbling, at which point your Pfaennchen is ready. In the mean time, you can be getting a baked potato ready or heating a piece of bread on the of the Geraet, which is like a small grill. When your Pfaennchen is ready, you eat the contents with the potato or bread (it was rye and was particularly good with Kraeuterbutter- butter with herbs in it). You then repeat the process. It’s great because each new Pfaennchen can have a different combination, I tried a different one pretty much each time. Raclette is a great winter family meal; the Geraet warms up the whole area around the table and the way you eat takes a long time, leaving plenty of time to have a good conversation with the people you are eating with. It was nice to be involved in this tradition (the Saemanns always have Raclette on Heiligabend [Christmas Eve] and Sylvester [New Year’s Eve]). Raclette Geraete (plural) are often on sale in Germany around the holidays and are available in the US (I checked). Raclette was really really good! After the Raclette Philipp and Christa edited my paper, which was very good because I had some big grammatical mistakes. One was a sentence with 6 dependent clauses (Nebensaetzen), which they helped me to pare down to a more reasonable length. Super complex sentences are even more difficult to understand in German because you end up with a lot of verbs at the end and have to think back to which clause each one goes with. So for the two termpapers I have due this week, I’ve been trying for shorter sentences as they are easier to understand and easier grammatically. I got it sent off and then pretty soon had to say goodbye to the Saemanns. Stefan took us to Fulda so we could catch our train. Philipp and I were on the same ICE till he got off at Braunschweig so we had a little more time to talk. The Zug (train) was delayed 25 minutes because of a problem with one of the doors, but otherwise I got home without incident.
It was really great to visit my German family. That’s how they treated me, like family! We were all so glad to see each other and sad it was so short. Philipp is hoping to be able to study for a year at the University of Rhode Island, and the Saemanns said they will visit the US if he does that. Laura is also hoping to be able to participate in the exchange program that is how I met the Saemanns (GAPP Wauwatosa-Fulda exchange), but because of having started school young (her birthday is right around the cutoff) and being in one of the classes that will graduate in 12 years instead of the 13 it used to take, she needs to get permission to do it when she’s only 15. I offered to write a letter to the principal (auf Deutsch) if it would help, so hopefully things will work out and she will be visiting Wauwatosa in the fall of 2012. And I guess I’ll have to keep looking for opportunities to get back to Deutschland too! However it works out, I hope to see the Saemanns again in the next few years. Frau Tuinstra and the Freiherr vom Stein teachers who matched me and Philipp made an excellent choice!
Back in Berlin, my IES courses kept rolling on. I got 4 of my 5 midterms back, getting A’s on Sicherheitspolitik (Security Politics), Deutschland und EU (Germany and the EU) and Theater in Berlin and an A- on my interview project for Deutsch. I also gave 2 presentations in Sicherheit in the last two weeks and turned a Theater critic for the second play we saw, went to the third. On the horizon I have my Deutsch termpaper and EU termpaper due Tuesday, will be vice president and representative of Germany at our mock Europaischer Rat (European Council) for EU and have another Theater critic due soon. And finals are only three weeks away. But classes have not just been work. On Wednesday this week we went to the Bundeskriminalamt (Federal Criminal Office, kind of like the FBI). We heard a presentation from the head of the Department of International Cooperation and two of his deputies about what the BKA does and how police cooperation in Europe works. They were very good about answering all of our questions and gave a very interesting presentation. We also have 2 excursions for the same class coming up to meet members of the Bundestag. One is the former SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands [German Social Democrats, the center-left party]) foreign and security policy speaker and is now Coordinator for German-American relations. The other is the EU policy speaker for the SPD. In my Berlin behind the Scenes IR class, we have done a number of cool excursions and coming up this week will have a private session with the former Czech foreign minister. We will see the last play for Theater on Wednesday. It’s a busy schedule, but I feel like I’m getting a lot out of it.
Besides class, I found time to go up the Fernsehturm on Thursday. I was taking pictures, including of it, for my German termpaper (it’s a photo essay) and I realized that I had time, it was clear (a rare thing of late) and there wasn’t likely to be a big line on a cold day (the high was in the low 30s F and we had our first snow Wednesday and again yesterday). I was right, I was able to get my ticket and go straight up. From the observation deck of the tallest building in Germany, I was able to see most of Berlin, which gave me more perspective on how huge the city really is. I got some pretty good pictures of some of the landmarks in Berlin. They, along with pictures of Point Alpha, Handball and much more are posted here, so check them out! So now I can cross the item at the top of my to do before I leave list off. I’ve still got a few “musts” left, but am chipping away at them.
Tomorrow for lunch I am going to cook my Mom’s casserole Macaroni and Cheese for Mathias as a thank you for all the great food he’s cooked for me on the weekends (and hopefully will continue to, I still have two more chances) and all the other great stuff he’s done for me. Just like when I lived with the Saemanns, I’ve done very well with the Gastfamilie (host/ host family) that I’ve gotten. I’ve searched for cheddar cheese to use and finally found it yesterday, but I’m going to use half Cheddar and half Butterkaese, the German cheese that I’ve been enjoying so much here. The taste is comparable to Farmers cheese. Hopefully this combination and the recipe in general work, I’ll update you on it tomorrow afternoon after we’ve eaten!
Thanks for reading all that, like I said, there aren’t any boring days in Berlin, there’s always something to do!