Dienstag (Tuesday) 22.3.2011–Three tours, one Mayor, and one night at the Waschhaus

Tuesday morning we rose early to gather at 8:05am in our hostel lobby to head out to the tram station and catch our ride to Lindenstraße in the main part of Potsdam. We took a tour (auf Deutsch!) of Gedenkstätte Lindenstraße–memorial site of a former jail where people went against the ways of the DDR were placed and questions (for upwards of months) until they pleaded guilty of their “crime.” Here is the site of the memorial, even though it is in German: http://www.potsdam.de/cms/beitrag/10028894/34714. The tour was eye-opening and gave insight to the negative/harsh sides of the DDR.

After the tour we headed over to the City Hall for our meeting with Potsdam Lord Mayor (Oberbürgermeister) Jann Jakobs: http://www.potsdam.de/cms/beitrag/10001897/27335/. Look him up–he even has his own Wikipedia site. This was a rare and special experience for our group. We had a conference with the mayor in one of the conference rooms, and were each provided with complementary Potsdam calendars, a note pad, and pen. He talked about Potsdam (auf Deutsch) and then we had the chance to ask him any questions we wanted about him and/or the city. Following this brief conference we were treated by Sigrid and the city of Potsdam to lunch in the cafeteria.

Our next stop was at Villa Schöningen near the famous Glienicker Brücke (Glienicke Bridge) where spy exchanges took place during the years of the Cold War. We took a tour or the Villa, which is now a museum regarding the bridge (http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=de&u=http://www.villa-schoeningen.de/&ei=eOSUTYu-Meew0QGA1_WGDA&sa=X&oi=translate&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBwQ7gEwAA&prev=/search%3Fq%3DVilla%2BSch%25C3%25B6ningen%26hl%3Den%26client%3Dsafari%26rls%3Den%26prmd%3Divns), then we met our next German tour guide who brought us to Schiffbauergaße (ship builders lane) and the surrounding area (http://www.schiffbauergasse.de/). After this tour we had the rest of our day free. The group split up–some went shopping on Brandeburger Straße, some went back to the hostel, and I went with a few others back to the Glienicker Brücke to OFFICIALLY cross the bridge and pass from the old east side (in Potsdam) to the old west side (Berlin). One funny story we learned at the museum earlier that day is that one of the Russian spies, Anatoly Sharansky, was asked what went through his mind as he was “exchanged” and walked over the line from west back to east Germany. He responded by saying that he was hoping his trousers wouldn’t fall down–his belt/trouser rope that held up his pants came loose as he was walking across the bridge. Naturally, I had to take a photo of myself crossing the white line on the bridge (barely visible anymore), holding up my pants.

A recommendation on our itinerary was to check out the “Waschhaus” (old wash house) in the Schiffbauergasse, because there are concerts for students our age every Tuesday night at 9pm. Our tour guide had pointed out the Waschhaus to us earlier that day on our tour, so we knew exactly where to go. This Tuesday night shindig is referred to as “Rubeys Tuesday,” so prior to our arrival in Germany our group thought that our itinerary had plans for us to go to a Ruby Tuesday restaurant, but that it was just spelt wrong on our schedule . I heard mixed feelings/reviews of the night at the Waschhaus, but I personally had a great time. The drinks were cheap (and the great thing is that if you return your glass or beer bottle you get money back–yay recycling!), and the atmosphere was welcoming–just a bunch of people gathering for music and a good time.

We were told to meet in the hostel lobby around 8:30am the next morning, so no one stayed out too late Tuesday night. We stayed out late enough to miss the last possible tram ride for the day until the next one at 4am the next morning, however. After waiting about 20 minutes for the tram, my group realized that the tram we were waiting for only ran on Fridays (thank you, fine print and obscene symbols). We walked the 30-minute walk back to the hostel (shorter than expected) at about 12:30am, singing to keep ourselves entertained, and went to bed immediately upon arrival.

–Heidi

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School away from school–Monday, March 21st, 2011

Depending on the various homestays the previous night (Sunday, 3/20), we all got back to the hostels at different times Sunday night, and even Monday morning. One of my roommates didn’t trickle in to our hostel room until about 4am! Monday morning we woke up and had our optional (and delicious) hostel breakfast and headed out to the bus stop around 9:30am. We took one bus then walked the remainder of the way to our destination: Humboldt-Gymnasium (http://de.humboldtgym.de/26.html). Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls is a partner school with this school, so many students from that school come abroad to Sioux Falls as high school exchange students.

Our group went into a 5th grade classroom and spent nearly an hour with two different groups of students. We were in small groups, and spent time with our groups of students discussing the USA, our interests and hobbies, what we do at school, and the like. After that we ate lunch in the cafeteria. It was interesting to see that all the students at the school (enriched 5th year students all the way up to 12th year students, if I recall correctly) ate in the cafeteria at the same time. The school supplied the lunches for us, so that was a treat. I saw some of the young girls I have previously met/talked with, and it was so cute, because one of the girls asked for my name and email address. That made my day–and a few girls have actually emailed me, one giving me her address, and the other just wanting to talk via email. Her email said: “Hi, here is Lara,
so, I want ask you, if we want write in english or german. CU Lara.” :)

With about 30 minutes so spare before we met with the 11th year students we headed outside. Some of us played soccer (Fußball) with the students while the rest of us watched and enjoyed the spring sun and blue sky. When we met with the older students they took us in pairs and gave us a tour of the school/campus. Just as with the younger students, we talked about our experiences in the US (home life, school, etc.) and our interests/hobbies. Their teacher wanted them to talk with us about nuclear power after they gave us tours, but I’m not sure if any of the groups actually discussed that. ;)

After visiting the school (which was a great experience/interesting to see), we stopped by a convenient store to grab some drinks and grub, then Dr. Lhotzky showed us where he used to live when he stayed in Potsdam on his sabbatical in 1996/97. It was right near the convenient store and tram station, so we walked around the housing complexes which were old DDR housing/apartments, and he told us stories of when he lived there for a year. Even six or seven years after the fall of the Berlin wall and shortly after the fall of communism that neighborhood was not a very safe/secure place to live in.

Next, we headed back to the main square in Potsdam to await our tour guide for our tour de Potsdam. This tour was not on our original itinerary, but Sigrid Sommer and Lhotzky set up this tour last-minute for those of us who were interested. Our tour was long–at least 2 or 2.5 hours–and we walked all around the city, learning lots and lots of history. Again, our tour guide spoke in German, so some of the history was lost in translation (for me at least). It was a very informative tour, though, and I’m glad it worked out for everyone. The one thing that stuck out the most for me from this tour was seeing the site of the former church in which Hitler officially came into power. The church was bombed for that very reason, but a door from the bell tower still remains, which is now near the site of the former church.

The rest of the night was open and we were free to do whatever we wished for dinner and entertainment. A few of us (myself included) ate donner kebabs at a restaurant on Brandenburger Straße, headed back to the hostel for a bit to relax, then headed back to the main city and spent some time at a local pub, Kneipe Hafthorn. I had a B-52 shot (one that you set fire to and drink from a straw) and almost burnt my eyelashes off, no big deal.

–Heidi :-)

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24.3.11 (read as March 24th ,2011) Update:

Hello everyone! “Vielen Dank” to all of those who have been reading this blog! I am sorry it is not very consistent, but I guess that is expected when you throw 14 or so people into a different country for a week. Wow, we have really learned a lot on this trip so far—history is everywhere, and it seems as if we have been learning all of it. We have had an information overload, as well as a language overload—but both great things. As Dr. Lhotzky told me, it is inevitable that the language comprehension and use will go for a ride on a roller coaster, never staying on a consistent incline, but riding many waves and taking curves.

The weather here in Potsdam and its surrounding cities has…been…B.E.A.UTIFUL! We have heard from the locals that the weather here is usually rainy, cold, and snowy at this time. But literally every day we have been here the sky has been blue and, albeit sometimes windy, the temperature has been warm. I am even contemplating wearing flip flops today…we shall see. But yes, the weather has been special—eSPECIALly for us! Or maybe we brought our warm smiles and personalities to Potsdam as a gift to the locals?… Regardless, we have truly lucked out.

So, I have a great deal of bloggage catching up to do, since I have not been able to blog these past few days—our days have been brim-full! The following blogs will give you insight into what we have been up to ever since Sunday night…

Sunday night was our “homestay” night. The group was split up between a few different families around Potsdam. Some of us went alone to eat with a family while others were in pairs or groups of three. Each family came and picked us up at our Jugend herberge (youth hostel), and took us to their homes, which essentially felt like a kidnap. It really was a funny situation—riding in a car with complete strangers (from a different country/who speak a different mother language) and going to their homes to converse and eat their home-cooked meals. However comical the situation, though, it was a GREAT experience! I, for example, was whisked away by a married couple in their late thirties. They lived in an apartment and had a 13-year-old girl (Stella) and a 3-year-old girl (Matti—Mattilda). The family was so congenial, and they made me feel right at home. For dinner we had tomato soup (with basil and parmesan cheese), mashed potatoes, sauerkraut, and two different types of meat—one being pig knuckles, which was actually really delicious, just not something I would buy/eat on my own. For drinks we had water, Berliner Kindl Weiß Bier, schnapps, and red wine. ‘Twas a true German meal! We talked in German until my German started to fail later in the evening—understanding German is quite easy, but speaking it, especially for extended periods of time, becomes quite difficult. My family showed me some family photo albums of their summer trips to Ireland and Norway, they asked some questions about myself, and then they told me about their experience as children in the GDR (DDR). You will have to ask your respective son/daughter/friend and so on about their individual homestay, since we all had different experiences. It is safe to say, however, that they were eye-opening, rare, and special experiences!

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Sunday, 3/20/2011 Mission: Bear-lin!

Our fourth day started out the same as the third with breakfast (this time scrambled eggs, fried onions, and fried bacon bits were served) at the hostel. We then gathered on the bus, however, this time we went on our very own Anger Bus (is it a bus, or is it a large, touristy-looking van?) with our very own tour guide, Kevin Kennedy. Kevin was very well versed in his Berlin history and shared his many facts and stories with us—all in German. I am glad we are getting so much exposure to the native language here, even with one week to spare. That’s definitely the way to learn a language! We even speak German to each other in normal conversation quite frequently.

Kevin took us around Berlin in our little Anger Bus, so we had the opportunity to see a lot of Berlin (it’s huge!). Berlin is larger than NYC, and has more bridges than Venice! The group had a 30-minute stretch and exploration break when our bus stopped near the Holocaust memorial, Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate), and site of Hitler’s bunk where he committed suicide. We toured more of the city riding around on our little bus, and got out again for ten minutes at the famous Checkpoint Charlie for a photo opp., then again near a section of the Berliner Mauer East Side Gallery where a section of the wall has been converted to a different murals showcasing life in and ideas regarding East Berlin.

Our final stop for the day in Berlin was at the DDR museum and restaurant. The restaurant’s menu offers food that was eaten in East Germany. Although the food probably did not taste the same as it did back then (the restaurant needs to attract customers and not scare them away, after all), we got an idea of the types of foods frequently eaten in the DDR. For instance, I order a Vita-Cola (the first cola drink in the DDR/GDR), Solijanka (the most popular soup in the DDR, and originally a Russian invention), and the buttered noodles/pasta with sugar (a popular dish with the children).

For a final hoorah we got a guided tour of the DDR museum (you guessed it—auf Deutsch) from our tour guide Thomas. It was a very interactive museum—very hands-on—and quite informative. The museum was packed, but on a good (empty) day I am sure I could spend a whole afternoon or day their just reading every piece of information and soaking it all in. But such is with every museum…

As I write this, we are preparing for our homestays (just for dinner). We are not quite sure what to expect, but are excited, nonetheless!…

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Saturday, 3/19/2011–day of royalty

Our third (technical) day in Germany got off to a start with an optional hostel breakfast, which runs from 7-9:30am M-Sat. and 8-10am Sundays. The breakfast display was vast, especially for a hostel, and in my opinion sehr lecker (very delicious)! They had maybe six different options of müsli (cereal), yogurt, juice, milk, bread slices, rolls, meats, cheese, egg salad, vegetables, and jam that you can spread on what looks and tastes like the bottom of an ice cream cone. They also have a coffee machine with many different choices of drink—hot chocolate, latte, coffee (of course), espresso, etc. It is quite convenient und schmeckt sehr gut—tastes good!

The gang hopped on a city bus that took us to Schloß Cecilienhof—the private chambers of last German Crown Prince Wilhelm and his wife Cecilie. This is where the Allies gathered for the famous Potsdam Conference, which took place in 1945, determining Germany’s new borders at the closure of WWII. Our tour guide spoke auf Deutsch und relativ schnell (relatively fast), but we saw, heard, experienced, and learned quite a lot. I could have stood for hours in the room where the Potsdam Conference took place just to soak in all of the history that was standing right before my eyes. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7HVAsGBLsU

Photographs were not allowed in the palace during the tour, but luckily we have Dan “the camera man” with us—who brings along his nice camera and accessories everywhere and takes wonderful photos—and he paid to have permission to take photos inside.
Our next bus ride brought us to lunch at Restaurant Mövenpick near Park Sanssouci. After eating we had about 30 minutes before our guided tour, so some people went up the gigantic windmill that was just across the restaurant. View here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmP4xTj0dWs

Sanssouci was the summer home of Friedrich der Grosse (Fredrick the Great), but not his wife. Friedrich was an intellect and very philosophical. Apparently he said that the German language was only good for use in war and in talking with horses—he preferred French. Fun fact “Nummer zwei”: he introduced potatoes to Brandenburg. Once again, photos were not allowed inside the palace (except for Dan…), but when outside our group took viele Fotos! Here is a youtube site that gives a taste of the Sanssouci: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOXzSOXP_PY
We saw a large group of young, Italian-looking men at Sanssouci who all…looked…exactly…the same. It was quite hilarious. They posed for a group picture in front of the gardens, and finding humor in clone-like large groups of people I snapped a few photos of them.

Following the guided tour at Sanssouci was our dinner at die Fliegenden Höllander—the Flying Dutch—located in the Dutch district/section of Potsdam. It was here that we met, ate, and conversed with our “Feundkreis Potsdam—Sioux Falls”—Friend circle/Sister city committee of Potsdam and Sioux Falls, SD. We have been sister cities since 1990, and the oldest city partnership between a city in one of Germany’s new states and an American city at that. After introductions of every student, professor, and sister city member, food, and extended conversation, our new friends headed back to their respective homes and us to ours. Some Augies went back to the hostel while others roamed the streets of Potsdam.

~Heidi R. :)

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Day Nummer eins…und zwei!

Hallo friends, loved ones, and Vikings–greetings from Potsdam, Germany!

This blog is named “the traveling twelve”, because there are twelve of us who came from SD and traveled by plane Thursday to reach our destination–Germany. Along the way we will meet up with Valerie (Augie student studying abroad in Freiburg, Germany at the moment), and Andrew (Augie grad who teaches in Germany at an assistantship). The traveling twelve will become the traveling fourteen. The alliteration just sounded so nice at first!…

My name is Heidi Rittenhouse, and I am a senior elementary education and German major at Augie. I have been summoned to blog about our adventures in order to share them with you all!

I think it is safe to say that we are all having a WUNDERBAR time so far in Germany (and will continue to immensely enjoy ourselves until we must leave next Saturday the 26th)! I am writing this blog at 1:09am in the hostel lobby, because 1.) this is the only time I have found so far to take time away from the excitement of new adventures and experiences to sit in the hostel and go online, 2.) my roommates are sleeping, and 3.) I must pay 2 Euro for every hour I wish to snag the hostel’s wifi–not quite the same as in the U.S.A. So, please forgive any typos, run-on sentences, or off syntax. Even though I am an Augie senior, I think I get a pass on those for the time being… ;)

Our journey started on Thursday, March 17th–Jake Bury’s 21st birthday AND St. Patrick’s Day, go figure–when we met at the Sioux Falls airport at 9am. We saw many folks decked out in green apparel, including hats, necklaces, and outrageous t-shirts. After a short ride (what seemed like literally 30 minutes) to Minneapolis airport we waited around for about an hour then hopped on our plane to JFK airport in New York. Dr. Lhotzky had each of us students bring one container of honey roasted peanuts along in our luggage to bring to our German Coordinator, Sigrid Sommers. Apparently she really loves those peanuts, but they do not sell them in Germany. Anyhoo…comical event in MSP was that Jake Bury popped open his canister, thinking that the honey roasted peanuts were a flying gift to us from Dr. Lhotzky, and started eating them. We all asked Jake what he was doing, then cleared everything up…

After a 2 hour layover at JFK (neat airport–wide array of diverse people from all over the world) we were on the plane to our final destination–Berlin Tegel airport! Some of us sat by our colleagues, while others “met new friends”, speaking German and English–and probably some Germish/Denglish–along the way. After optional viewings of The King’s Speech, Wall Street: Money Never sleeps, Karate Kid, and the Office (all offered in English, German, French), dinner (pasta or chicken with various sides–I thought it was quite tasty!), breakfast (banana and english muffin with egg), and lack of circulation running to the legs and feet, we finally made it safely to Germany, got our passports stamped, met with one of Sigrid’s assistants (Julie), und hopped on our bus to take us to our respective hotel or hostel. Upon arriving in Germany everyone was so excited to see nothing but German advertisements and to hear our beloved German language.

Julie gave us each folders with various maps and pamphlets, a Potsdam pin, and a transportation card which we can use in Potsdam until Saturday the 26th. We oriented ourselves a bit by walking around the city and riding the tram to our first destination–the store that exchanges currency. We also stopped at Kaiser’s market/convenient store to buy drinks and snacks. I couldn’t help but notice the wide (and beautiful) array of chocolates! My (and I’m sure many others’) souvenirs will consist of chocolate (Milka, RitterSport), Kinder Bueno, and Haribo gummies.

We ate lunch at Giardino Babelsberg–a nice Italian restaurant–and met Sigrid and her son Kristian. The food was delicious–and included in our expenses! Most people ordered either the Schitzel or a pizza. Kristin got a pizza, thinking she ordered the marinara pizza, but found out that she told the waiter the wrong meal number, and received a calamari/seafood pizza instead! The little squid atop her pizza were too cute to eat, so she had to re-order…

Next the group had a 2 hour break before dinner (didn’t we just eat??), so many people went back to nap and/or relax. I took a two-hour nap and was completely knocked out the whole time–AND still slept the whole night through later on. We walked to a nearby restaurant called the Ratskeller where some people ate dinner while others just ordered drinks. All were merry, regardless. After dinner we had free time to do whatever we pleased, but most people went back to the hostel to hit the sack. Val and Andrew reached Potsdam tonight, so they will be with us on our upcoming excursions and adventures!

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