RSS

Tag Archives: berlin

Link from this blog to another

Hello all!

I don’t tend to use this blog very much anymore (just about out of my allotted space in terms of content!) but I wanted to share a link to a blog I posted for the University of Victoria’s German Department: https://onlineacademiccommunity.uvic.ca/germanicslavic/2015/08/19/robyn-gray-my-work-as-a-fremdsprachassistentin-in-berlin-as-part-of-the-p-a-d-program/

This link leads to a blog I wrote about my year-long experience in Germany, as a way to offer context for students that would potentially like to spend a year there in the way I did. I absolutely recommend a year away like this for anyone – it was a life-changing experience!

Thank you so much for checking out this blog! If you would like to hear more from me, I occasionally post to the following blog: https://thebagpippinlibrarian.wordpress.com/ – it’s basically the same content, but more based on my love of libraries and my journey through the Master of Library and Information Studies program at Dalhousie University.

Aufwiedersehen!

-Robyn

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 19, 2015 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Summarizing an Unforgettable Year in Germany

Hello All!
I am currently writing this entry on the airplane from Frankfurt to Calgary, after experiencing a very stressful morning sprinting between gates in Frankfurt. I have made a discovery while on this flight: if you have 8 hours with no internet access and minimal other distractions, blog writing gets a heck of a lot faster!
I could tell I was on a flight to Canada when I noticed someone wearing a lululemon t-shirt at the airport: I have been going to the gym in Berlin for 9 months and haven’t seen a single item of clothing from there. It’s a bit strange to be surrounded by English speakers again, since now I can understand every bit of chatter going on around me. I had gotten used to only understanding bits and pieces of what people said in nearby conversations, since it was always out of context. However, I have had a few conversations with Germans in today’s flights, and I feel that I am way more confident now that I would have been in September. Learning a language is basically an endless process, but I like to think that I am as fluent as I hoped to be when I began taking German classes three years ago.
I set out to write this particular blog entry as a summary of what I have experienced this year. It feels as though my time here has flown by, and yet when I look back at everything I’ve done, it feels like I’ve been here for an eternity. I know that it is practically impossible to summarize my experiences completely, so I’ll try to keep it brief. (Upon my completing this blog and transferring it to wordpress, I must admit that it is anything but brief. Prepare yourself!)
At the end of August 2013, I gathered my courage and boarded a plane to Berlin for nine months away from home. Unlike a lot of people who take on courageous new adventures, I was lucky enough to have my boyfriend waiting for me at the arrival gate. We spent three days in Berlin before driving to Köln (Cologne) so that I could begin my orientation for a year of working at a German High School. I had been part of an orientation the summer before, and was expecting a miniscule group of students; instead, I met hundreds of people from around the world, and got to bask in accents from Ireland, England, Scotland, New Zealand, and Australia. Everyone was welcoming and friendly towards everyone else, and I created a group of lifelong friends. The people from that orientation that I have stayed in touch with has changed over the year; while about 15 of us went to Oktoberfest together, there are about six of us that have remained close. However, I like to think that there are many people that would get in touch with me if they ever came to Canada, and this orientation had a much larger influence on my year than I would have ever expected

German Orientation 410  German Orientation 433 German Orientation 480.

My work contract ran from September 1st to May 30th. In the first month, Sebastien helped me to deal with technicalities such as obtaining a bank account, registering where I lived, obtaining my proper visa, and joining a gym. Beginnings have always made me panic a bit, but everything went very smoothly. The other day, I was able to cancel my bank account without any issues (I like to think “I’m moving back to Canada” is a great reason to give for cancelling a bank account!) and Seb had the foresight to store my moving-out documents in a place where we could easily find them and send them to the right people once I left.
The end of September resulted in a slew of Oktoberfest activities – I went to an Oktoberfest in Berlin for two separate weekends, and also spent three days at an Oktoberfest in Munich. For the longest time, I didn’t think the trip to Munich would happen, because of the expense and the fact that there was hardly anywhere to stay. But thanks to the research of one of my British friends, we were able to pull it off by staying in tents and going during the week instead of on a weekend. The experience was unforgettable (feel free to read my blog all about it, if you haven’t already!) although I don’t think I will ever need to repeat it. Sleeping in a tent in October is not necessarily the nicest experience, and it was amazing how good it felt to sit on a cushioned bus seat instead of a hard bench by the end.
OKTOBERFEST 077 OKTOBERFEST 121 OKTOBERFEST 131 OKTOBERFEST 152 OKTOBERFEST 167  OKTOBERFEST 185 OKTOBERFEST 205 OKTOBERFEST 325 Berlin Oktoberfest 011
Since the first two weeks in October were a holiday for High School Students, Sebastien and I took the chance to take a short trip. We had a lot of different options in mind, but settled on Barcelona, Spain. We spent almost three days there, and were able to pack in lots of sightseeing. We hiked to a few good viewpoints, walked through the narrow streets, went to the beach, and enjoyed the fantastic weather. It was a great vacation for the two of us, and ironically enough it was one of the few chances we had to take a mid-week trip together (after that, I would either have work or he would have school).
Barcelona 120 Barcelona 185 Barcelona 253 Barcelona 314
At the end of October, I was feeling slightly depressed about missing out on Halloween, but was in for a treat when Sebastien and I went to a German Halloween Nightclub Event. I had always heard that Germans were not as much into Halloween as Americans are, but in general their concept is quite different. Instead of a mixture of all sorts of costumes, the Germans who chose to dress up were all gruesome and frightening. With fake eye-contacts and more fake blood than you can imagine, and a mixture of stapled-on faces and torn wedding dresses, it was obvious that they take their costumes very seriously. It was certainly different from any Canadian Halloween I had experienced!
At the beginning of November, Sebastien and I took a road-trip using his parents’ car. Our first stop was the city of Weimar, where we were able to see the amazing Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek. After that, we continued on to Erfurt for two nights, during which time we went on a hike and were able to walk around the city at night enjoying the sights. The slight nip in the air by then, along with the gradual setting up of Christmas markets, made me start to get excited for the holidays. The next day, we continued on to Eisenach and the fortress at Wartburg where we were able to see where Martin Luther once spent time while translating the bible. I had visited these places once before with my eleventh grade class, but this trip was different – not just because it was only two of us instead of 110, but also because I had learned a lot more about history by that point.

Road Trip 2013 October 025 Road Trip 2013 October 029   Road Trip 2013 October 204  Road Trip 2013 October 234  Road Trip 2013 October 307    Road Trip 2013 October 380 Road Trip 2013 October 402
When I first arrived in Berlin, I had joined an orchestra with Sebastien’s mother, playing the double bass. I had not played this since High School, and even then it was only in jazz bands as opposed to with a bow in an Orchestra. Early in November, this Orchestra hosted a Christmas concert. I played my bagpipes for one song, and managed to keep up with the band on my bass for the rest. It’s been quite a while since I performed, and I forgot the satisfying thrill that comes with playing for an audience. I was presented with flowers at the end, and was so happy to have had this chance to play music.
Orchestra Concert 004 Orchestra Concert 021  Orchestra Concert 064 Orchestra Concert 098
I was also asked to play my bagpipes for the Christmas concert at the school where I worked. I was extremely nervous before the event itself, but had a lot of fun getting involved in activities outside of the classroom. My mom was in town for my actual performance, and she accompanied me for my practices and came with me for dinner before the big show. Her and Sebastien were in the audience for the performance itself, and I was once again exhilarated at the opportunity to perform for such a large audience.
As I just mentioned, the arrival of December coincided with the arrival of my mom in Berlin. It was so great getting to explore all of the Christmas Markets with her, and getting to show her all of the different aspects of my life in Germany. During the second weekend of her visit, we went with Sebastien’s parents to Dresden. While this trip was accompanied with extremely cold weather, it was also an amazing cultural experience. It was easy to get into the Christmas spirit with booths selling handmade goods and glühwein, and we walked around the Christmas Markets for hours. We also got to see a bit of Dresden besides the markets though, with visits to churches and a tour of the Opera House. I was sorry that I would not be with my parents for Christmas Day, but it made a lot more sense for my mom to visit a bit earlier in the month. Flights aren’t very hectic at the beginning of December!
Mum's Christmas Visit 104 Mum's Christmas Visit 143 Mum's Christmas Visit 296 Mum's Christmas Visit 317  Mum's Christmas Visit 387 Mum's Christmas Visit 409
I loved the Christmas holidays in Berlin. While we have a few Christmas Markets in Canada, they are often indoors and involve pricey, artsy works for sale. The ones in Germany are more about being able to grab a seasonal bite to eat, and getting seasonal decorations and gifts. You hardly ever have to pay entry for Christmas Markets in Berlin, and I went to many notable ones over the month of December. When friends from Calgary visited Berlin, we took them to the scenic Christmas Market at Schloss Charlottenburg (I’m sorry that there isn’t a picture of them here, but we had a terrific time!)
Middle of December 011 Middle of December 013 Middle of December 040
Christmas with Sebastien’s family came along with its own traditions, including opening presents on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day. Both our house and Sebastien’s parents’ house were warmly decorated for the holidays, and I thoroughly enjoyed taking part in a new Christmas tradition (although I am looking forward to enjoying my own traditions again this Christmas at home!)
New Year’s Eve in Germany was fairly similar in Canada in regards to the partying…but the major difference was the fireworks! I know that fireworks can be used as a way to celebrate in Canada, but during the few days before the New Year, the purchase of fireworks becomes legal for everyone. Starting early in the day on New Year’s Eve, people start lighting fireworks from sidewalks, street corners, parks, backyards, balconies…our neighbourhood is usually quiet, but you didn’t go long without hearing fireworks all day! We went out to celebrate in the evening, and at midnight the skies went insane. When we went home late that night, there were remnants of fireworks at every step.
The next big event for me was my birthday. Sebastien took me to Tropical Island just outside of Berlin, and we spent the day relaxing inside of a huge, tropical dome. The next day, I was extremely touched by the amount of people that came out to help me celebrate my birthday. Sebastien’s sister also baked me a delicious cake!

January in Berlin Camera 003  January in Berlin Camera 009
At the beginning of February, Sebastien’s mom and I went to Grüne Woche. This is a yearly event that takes place in a large building, and there are lots of things to see; some rooms sell outdoor goods like fireplaces and watering cans, and there are rooms with huge displays of flowers. There were sections where you could explore different cultural booths, and there were also places featuring animals like sheep, goats, pigs, cats, and dogs. It was a great way to celebrate the fact that Spring was on its way!
Late January in Germany 018 Late January in Germany 020  Late January in Germany 069   Late January in Germany 089  Late January in Germany 101
Between November and February, I was able to take part in a German Language Course at Sebastien’s university. In the grand scheme of things, this course was quite short, but I still think that I learned a lot from it. You never know where you’ll learn the words that stick with you, and this course helped me expand my vocabulary a lot. I also think my grammar got a bit better, and in general it was helpful to speak German non-stop for three hours a week (and that’s not counting my Orchestra practices)! I feel like this class was a great bonding experience for everyone involved (there were about 15 students) and it was interesting to meet people from all over the world that had come to Germany for their education. There was one girl that I grew fairly close to, and we continued to get together throughout the rest of my time in Germany.
Random Feb 028
Near the end of February, Sebastien and I took a trip to Prague. It was a fairly short trip, but we managed to pack in lots of sightseeing during our time there. Prague is an absolutely gorgeous place, and I loved being able to see a number of historical libraries amongst other sights. We did a fair amount of hiking, and spent a memorable night dancing at Europe’s Largest Night Club. We timed our trip really well, because even in February the city was quite busy – we didn’t want to imagine what it must be like during the warm summer months!
Prague and January in Berlin 132 Prague and January in Berlin 137 Prague and January in Berlin 161  Prague and January in Berlin 178 Prague and January in Berlin 184 Prague and January in Berlin 190 Prague and January in Berlin 191  Prague and January in Berlin 264 Prague and January in Berlin 373 Prague and January in Berlin 402
During a bright and sunny March day, Seb and I took a day trip to Potsdam. Potsdam houses a large historical park (Sanssouci Park), and we enjoyed walking between the different historical buildings. One of these buildings was where the Potsdam Conference was held, where treaties were signed after WWII. Many of the buildings in this park were built for Frederick the Great, who had his summer home there – these buildings include an “orangery” and a Chinese tea room.
Potsdam Day Trip 007      Potsdam Day Trip 040  Potsdam Day Trip 069

St. Patrick’s Day turned out to be a fairly minimal affair in Berlin. One of my British friends mentioned that there was a St. Patrick’s Day parade going on, and according to the website it was a fairly big event. Seb and I arrived, and found that the parade consisted of the Berlin bagpipe band, along with “St. Patrick” chasing around a big snake (aka: four people under a sheet). There were lots of people walking alongside the parade doing nothing (including us) and the whole thing was slightly silly but still fun. I found out that the Berlin pipeband has a pretty cool bass drum, with the Berlin bear playing pipes.
Later March 084
At the end of March, my dad arrived for a visit! We took a short trip to Amsterdam, and had a great time there absorbing the culture. We were able to visit both the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House, and we came home with lots of cheese and tulips.
Dad's Berlin Trip 126 Dad's Berlin Trip 197
During the rest of Dad’s time in Berlin, we made sure to check out all of the tourist highlights, including the Television Tower and the government building.
Dad's visit - red camera 468 Dad's visit - red camera 501
Over the Easter Weekend, Sebastien and I took a short trip to Magdeburg and Leipzig. These towns were quite easy to get to, and it didn’t take very long to see everything that we found interesting there. Both of these cities experienced a phase of historical importance, during which they were as popular as Berlin is now (Magdeburg was first, and then Leipzig). One of my favourite things to see on this trip was the Monument in Leipzig, which was erected in memory of the battle of Napoleon that took place there 200 years ago.
Magdeburg and Leipzig 025 Magdeburg and Leipzig 034 Magdeburg and Leipzig 164 Magdeburg and Leipzig 348
Around Berlin, I was lucky enough to visit a few Easter Markets, which were surprisingly similar to the Christmas Markets. The main difference was the lack of glühwein, and also the weather!
At the beginning of May, I went with Sebastien and a group of others to a Wine Festival going on in Werner, which is a town just outside of Berlin. We went to this festival two weekends in a row, and got to enjoy cheap, fruity wine while taking in the sunshine. There was a stage with live music, and lots of festival foods available. There were also various rides and electronic games, which reminded me of the Calgary Stampede.

Wine Fest May 008 Wine Fest May 019 Wine Fest May 033

The last trip that Sebastien and I were able to take during this amazing year in Berlin was to Usedom Island, just over a week ago. Usedom Island isn’t very well known amongst Americans as far as I know, but to Germans it is a fairly common vacation spot. While Usedom itself is in Germany, the island contains parts of Poland, and we enjoyed going across the border for our dinners while there. We visited Peenemünde, which is where Wernher von Braun and a team of engineers built rockets during WWII. Besides this, we got to enjoy time on sandy beaches, and also got to see lots of farm animals in the small towns on the island. The trip reminded me of all my favourite things about Portree (Isle of Skye, Scotland), Victoria (British Columbia) and Nova Scotia. It was a lovely, relaxing experience for Sebastien and I, and I am so glad that we had the chance to take that trip before I left.
Peenemünde 180Peenemünde 084Peenemünde 345
So what comes next? In four days’ time, I will go to Nova Scotia for a week-long trip with my mom. While there, I am hoping to take a look at the Dalhousie University Campus, since it is where I will be spending my next two years completing my Master’s in Library Studies. I have started a librarian blog, and am hoping to write in there more often from now on.
I have no idea when my next trip to Europe will be, but I am hoping it will be sooner rather than later. I’m having a hard time believing that my nine months there has officially come and gone. It has been an unforgettable year, and my life has been enriched for the experience.
Thank you so much for reading this blog. I am sorry that it went on for so long! I did a fair amount of things over the course of the year that I will never forget. I hope that you enjoyed reading about them as much as I did writing about them.
Liebe grüße,
Robyn

 
1 Comment

Posted by on June 14, 2014 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

German Farewells: The toughest part of travelling

Hi Everybody!
I am currently writing this post on the plane from Frankfurt to Calgary. Naturally, I don’t have internet access, so by the time you read this it will have been transferred from a word document to my usual blog.
I would like to use this entry as a chance to describe how my last few weeks in Berlin went. To be honest, it’s a bit of a selfish and boring blog, and more for my own memory than for entertainment purposes.
While the goodbyes were sad, I got to create a lot of great memories with the people I have befriended this year. While it is an unfortunate fact that travelling means having to say goodbye often, partings are sometimes a great way to let someone know that they have played an important role in your life. One of the inconveniences of not knowing a lot of German is that sometimes I couldn’t find the right words to tell someone they meant a lot to me; but I like to think that usually I got the message across.
The first goodbye gathering took place during my second-last week of work. A few of the students in my Conversation Course could only make it every second week, so we decided to have a bit of a party that week instead of waiting for my very last class. I brought in cookies that I had baked at home, and the lack of leftovers showed me that they were pretty well received! One of the grade six students was sweet enough to bring me a coffee mug, and two of the grade ten students gathered their funds to buy me more chocolate than I will ever need. A grade seven student brought me a bottle of champagne, which I’m assuming his dad bought. So much of my work this year was as an “assistant” and I spent a lot of time hovering in the background, and yet these students stated that their English was better thanks to the work I had done with them over the course of the year. It was a very memorable class!

Students and Karaoke 013 Students and Karaoke 019 Students and Karaoke 029 Students and Karaoke 033

The next day was my last day with my favourite grade six class. When I first started working at this school, I never would have expected that I would enjoy working with younger classes; the idea of trying to keep a group of young kids under control seemed extremely daunting. However, while older students were constantly worrying about the impression they made on their friends, young students were eager to learn and would constantly put effort into their work – no matter how many mistakes they made. There were three or four classes that I worked with a lot over the year (whereas there were other classes which I only sporadically worked with), and I feel like I made a connection with a lot of the students in these classes.
Grade sixes are unfortunately not the best of secret keepers: the teacher I work with had told me there would be a surprise for the last half of the class, and as the students walked in, at least three asked her loudly about when we would get to eat. However, we spent the first half of the class being productive, and then the teacher announced we would be walking to an ice cream parlour nearby. It was a gorgeous and sunny day, and the parlour turned out to be on a pretty street I hadn’t really noticed before.

Students and Karaoke 040 Students and Karaoke 042 Students and Karaoke 050
The class also presented me with a group photo they had taken the week previously while they were on a field trip – and they had all signed the back. It is such a nice memento, and I think it’ll be great to be able to remember what each student looked like when they were so young.

There was one grade seven class that I consistently worked with throughout the year, regardless of other schedule changes. It was actually the first class I ever taught – it’s quite strange to think back now to how nervous I had been back in September. The teacher of this class was one I really enjoyed working with, and on my last day at work she presented me with a card that the grade sevens had all signed. On my last day (which was Wednesday May 28th, thanks to the holiday that was that Thursday) the English teachers all presented me with a few gifts as well: a coffee mug and notebook for when I go back to university, and a novel and card. I was so happy that they showed this recognition for my work over the year!

Malificent 037 Malificent 072
I had two classes on that last day: one with a grade ten class, and my very last Conversation Class. The grade tens also presented with me a card – I really enjoyed preparing material for this class in particular, and I feel like they found me quite relatable as I worked with them this year. Conversation Class was pretty small, but there was one student who had gone home thanks to sickness earlier in the day, but made it to class since it was my last one. I was a bit emotional as I walked away from school that day; it was such an amazing opportunity to get to work there, and I can hardly believe it’s over.

Malificent 039 Malificent 059
Besides school, there were other groups of people that I had to say goodbye to. While most months I tried to avoid doing too many costly activities, I didn’t want to miss out on anything in my last month in Berlin. I have a group of friends doing the same work as me, whom I met at the orientation in September. Right before my last week of work, about six of us got together for a night of Indian food and karaoke. There were plenty of cocktails involved, and a lot of laughs. Sebastien and I got home at about 7 in the morning from a night club, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how great a time it had all been.

Students and Karaoke 096 Students and Karaoke 099

After that, we made sure to get together for one last “Sneak Peek” movie night. We actually read online that no sneak peek would be taking place that week, so we decided to go see the newly-released “Maleficent” instead. One of my lovely British friends, Sarah, came over before the movie, and we cooked a tasty vegan meal and watched “Sleeping Beauty” so that we would be all caught up on our Disney references before seeing “Maleficent.” We then met up with the others for dinner, and had a great time at the movie. That evening was my last time getting to see Sarah, as well as my Australian friend Simone. The goodbyes were unpleasant, but I have high hopes that I’ll get to see both of them again soon.

Malificent 090 Malificent 105 Malificent 106 Malificent 109

The more I write, the more I realize that we had a lot of “goodbye” visits…one of my friends left on the same day as my last day of school, and we went out the night before that. Sebastien and I went out for one last “Sneak Peek” (I know I said “Maleficent” was the last one, but by this time there were only two from our original group left) and on that evening I was able to see two more of my friends for the last time. For the record, the movie was “Walk of Shame” and it was a pleasant change from a lot of the intense dramatic movies we had seen lately!
I had one week without work before leaving for Canada, and on June 2nd I had my last band practice with the orchestra I had joined in Berlin. The fact that I was leaving was announced, and we managed to take a lot of great group photos. We wanted to take one of us all posing with our instruments, and someone said that I should stand in the middle since I’m the one leaving – it’s a good thing I thought to lie my string-bass down on the ground and sit beside it, because otherwise you wouldn’t be able to see most of the band! While a few people always agree to come out for dinner after practice, that week a sizable group all came along. We ate at my favourite Italian restaurant, and it was a lovely evening. A lot of people took the time to come up and say goodbye to me individually, which I found touching. I must have heard the joke “well, you’ll have to come back for our concert in November!” about thirty times, but I thought it’s very sweet that they want me to come back!

Beginning of June 074 Beginning of June 078 Beginning of June 080 Beginning of June 084 Beginning of June 087 Beginning of June 093 Beginning of June 094 Beginning of June 099
During the week I had off of school, I also took the time to do a few “last” events for myself. I went to my favourite Irish pub for lunch, and sat there for about two hours reading my new book. I hear that that pub is insanely busy during the evening, but in the afternoons it’s quiet and relaxing. I also went back to my favourite bookstore one last time. I managed to resist buying any books, but enjoyed perusing the two-floor English selection for quite a while.
This past weekend, there was a Cultural Festival going on in Berlin. Sebastien and I, along with a group of his friends, decided to check it out. It was about 30 degrees outside, and there were about ten of us walking around enjoying the sunshine and the sights. The festival consisted of lots of food and drink booths from all sorts of countries, and at least four different musical stages with live music. My favourite was the salsa/Spanish stage, where performers effortlessly played types of music I’ve only heard in restaurants or night clubs. Some booths were serving coconut drinks straight from a coconut, and by about 4 in the afternoon there were coconuts littering the ground everywhere. The American contribution was mini-donuts and churros, which made me chuckle a bit. There were a lot of vegan options at the festival, since a lot of cultures thrive on this cuisine. I decided to stick with my langos, mainly because once I was hungry it was the first delicious thing I spotted.

Clture Festival 009 Clture Festival 017 Clture Festival 022 Clture Festival 049 Clture Festival 051 Clture Festival 064 Clture Festival 078Clture Festival 055
We spent a long time at this festival, but once we left, we headed to a bar with three of Sebastien’s closest friends. We didn’t stay long since we were all exhausted, but we shared a heartfelt goodbye. It makes me so happy to know that these people are my friends too, as well as Sebastien’s – I’ve known some of them for three years by now. I really hope that I will be able to visit again soon!
On Sunday, we had one last dinner at Sebastien’s parents’ house – and we enjoyed our meal outside in the 35 degree weather. I am so grateful to Sebastien’s family: while I am extremely excited to return home to my own parents, I have always appreciated the fact that Sebastien’s family is so welcoming.
Monday was reserved for just Sebastien and me to relax. I did all of my packing on this day (and was able to fit it all comfortably in my suitcases without exceeding the weight limit. Woohoo!) It was hot again, and we went for a swim in the lake nearby. Over the past while I have been asked countless times what Sebastien and I are planning to do since we’re back to long distance; we’ve been pretty good at managing it so far, and I think we’ll continue to do so without any trouble.
The goodbyes I have gone through have been tough, but they’ve provided me with a lovely way to truly appreciate the bonds I have created with different people over the course of this year. There were so many aspects of my life here – work, international friends, the orchestra, and Sebastien’s circle of friends – that I had to enjoy. In my short life, I have been to a lot of places, and been able to meet a lot of terrific people; I consider myself to be the luckiest girl in the world for this. While I hate having to leave Berlin, I am so excited for all of the people in Calgary I will be reunited with – and by the time September comes, I will be embarking on an entirely new adventure.
Sorry for all of the sappy sentiment! Thank you so much for reading this blog. It is because of positive feedback that I continue to write, and I am so lucky to have people that care about what I have to say.
Auf Wiedersehen,
Robyn

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 11, 2014 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Celebrating Spring and Science (and Wine!)

Hello All!

It has been quite a while since my last post, and for this I apologize. After the whirlwind of travelling adventures that took place in April, May has slowed down a bit. However, I’ve still been up to lots of entertaining activities, so I shall take advantage of this blog to write about them!

For quite a few years now, Sebastien has attended a Wine Festival just outside of Berlin during a weekend in late April/early May. I often get to hear about the Wine Festival, but have always been unable to attend thanks to living in Canada. But like so many other things I have finally been able to partake in this year, I was able to come to the Wine Festival! A group of us (some of Sebastien’s friends, along with one of my good friends from England), took the Regional train out to the small town of Werder, where the festival takes place. Apparently this town is extremely quiet for most of the year, but during the festival it goes insane. Reminds me a bit of the Canmore Highland Games in that way, except that the festival goes on for multiple weekends.

The proper name of this festival is “Baumblütenfest,” and it is primarily a celebration of Spring and blooming flowers. A large part of the festival is the fruit-flavoured wine. When we first got off the train in Werder, there was a wine stand selling 1 litre bottles for 5 euros. They had tasty flavours like raspberry, strawberry, rhubarb, cherry, and pear. Sebastien and his group knew to stop and pick up a bottle here, because everywhere else within the festival was selling the bottles for a minimum of 6 euros. By this point, it was about 11am – perfect time for a bottle of cherry wine!

It was quite a long walk from the train station to the area where the primary festival takes place. We walked along a main residential street, and eventually stands started appearing along the sides of the road.

Wine festival 002 Wine Fest May 002 Wine Fest May 003

There had been a lot of people on the train, and as everyone moved towards the festival, the streets got continually more crowded. Once we were in Werder’s more commercial area, there were lots of shops everywhere. Mostly they were selling different foods and drinks, but there were some shops selling jewelry, clothes or other hand-made knick-knacks. I was ecstatic to see that they were selling langos (a thin dough deep-fried and then loaded up with toppings like garlic and sour cream) but didn’t get one on that particular day.

After walking for a while, we eventually crossed a bridge that lead to most of the main events. We veered off to the right, where there were a lot of various rides and games for children (very much like the Calgary Stampede) and we found an area of grass to sit and relax on by the water.

Wine festival 018 Wine festival 019 Wine festival 020 Wine festival 022 Wine Fest May 007 Wine Fest May 008

We hung out here for quite a while, and enjoyed the sunshine. We had been under the impression that the day would be rainy, so it was a pleasant surprise to see blue sky (even if that did mean I was boiling in my waterproof layers!)

After this, we went across to a more adult-themed area of the festival. At this spot, there was a stage where live performances were going on (which would turn into DJ performances during the evening) and there were picnic tables to sit at. The thing that made this an “adult-themed area” was the increase in alcohol-selling booths, and the only ride around there was a crane from which people could bungee jump over the water for 50 euros. Come to think of it, there were also bumper boats, but the bungee jumping was a more noticeable attraction.

Wine Fest May 017 Wine Fest May 019 Wine Fest May 023 Wine Fest May 025 Wine festival 023 Wine festival 024 Wine festival 040 Wine festival 045

Sorry for all of the pictures all at once! But as you can see, the bungee-jumping crane was situated behind the stage – the picture I took from close up was near the washrooms.

For our first time at the festival, we didn’t stay all that late into the evening. But we decided to go back the next weekend, and once again lucked out on the weather. There were a few different people on the second outing, but we still had a great time. The primary difference between the first and second visits was that I got to enjoy a langos, and we stayed later into the night and danced in front of the stage for quite a while.

Wine Fest May 028

One of the things I love most about Berlin is all of the outdoor events. In the future, I would love to plan trips to Germany around the beginning of December, because that’s when the Christmas Markets are all beginning, but aren’t too full yet. And the Christmas Markets are pretty legendary!

Similarly, there are a fair number of Easter Markets that go on. A few days after Easter, I went to work and found out that I wasn’t needed in my first class because the students were writing a test. Since I had 90 minutes to kill, I headed back to Alexanderplatz (two stops away) and got to look around the Easter Market since it was still going on for a few more days. There were rows of different shops selling candy, cheese, bratwurst, t-shirts, jewelry, and other goodies. Based on my addiction, and the fact that I will probably not have access to any once I’m back in Canada, I bought a langos. There were quite a few beer booths and sitting areas around, but they weren’t very busy since it was still 10am on a weekday by this time.

Easter Market Alexanderplatz 017 Easter Market Alexanderplatz 018 Easter Market Alexanderplatz 030 Easter Market Alexanderplatz 031 Easter Market Alexanderplatz 033 Easter Market Alexanderplatz 035 Easter Market Alexanderplatz 037 Easter Market Alexanderplatz 060

The most exciting parts of this Market (besides the langos, of course) were the merry-go-round and the goats. At least, I think they were goats…I’m not quite up to snuff on my different breeds of sheep and goats. But there were also bunnies beside the goats, so in general there were a lot of adorable critters. And the merry-go-round was a double-decker one! In the end I resisted the urge to take a ride – it costs money and I didn’t quite blend in amongst the 6-year-olds. But it was fun to look at and take pictures of!

Easter Market Alexanderplatz 039 Easter Market Alexanderplatz 045 Easter Market Alexanderplatz 052 Easter Market Alexanderplatz 053 Easter Market Alexanderplatz 063 Easter Market Alexanderplatz 073 Easter Market Alexanderplatz 076

But enough about animals and merry-go-rounds. The last exciting thing I wanted to mention in this blog took place this past Saturday, and was the “Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften,” or in other words, long night of sciences. Berlin is known for it’s various “Long Night Of” events, and in the past Sebastien and I have been able to attend both the long night of Museums and the long night of Libraries. The concept is that people pay one fee, and are able to walk in to any number of institutions. On the long night of museums, we were able to make it to about four museums between 5pm and midnight. For the long night of sciences, various libraries and universities were open, and you could go and see experiments take place. Sebastien, being the amazing planner that he is, took the time to make sure that we could hit up a lot of different things that specifically interested us. We started off at the Humboldt University Library, where they were offering tours of the library and a look at some of the “behind-the-scenes” work of a librarian. Of course, the complicated part of this entire evening was that everything was in German; even if my conversational skills in German are now fairly good, my understanding of complex science is pretty terrible! Our first plan was to join a tour of the library, but once I realized that this was the same library I’ve visited with different grade 11 classes at work, I figured that it was unnecessary. After that, Seb and I were able to see books being digitized. We saw how a fancy scanner is used to make a copy of each page, and after that, the librarian adjusts how the pages are seen on the computer before they are made accessible online. I learned a lot of interesting things about how copyright is involved and how this process differs from things like Google books. At least I think I learned these things: Sebastien translated most of it for me once we left!

We then headed over to the Technische Universität to catch a few lectures and experiments. We started out with a lecture on the idea of life on other planets, and this was followed by a lecture on satellites. After this, we went to see various experiments – two of which involved wind and the idea of wind resistance affecting the speed of vehicles. There was one huge hurricane machine, in which wind is simulated at different speeds. A few people got to go inside it individually, and the challenge was to see how long they could hold on to a few boxes as the wind speed increased. This was a lot of fun, especially since I could enjoy the visual experiment and didn’t have to try and understand the German. I also ran into someone that plays in my orchestra there – it’s not very often I see people that I haven’t met through Sebastien! Another experiment we got to see involved a plane turbine. I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on, but Sebastien explained it to me after we left. The experiment itself involved the energy it takes to give a plane speed. So we went into one room wearing headphones and eye protection, and watched a controlled stream of fire. When certain factors in the machine were changed, the sound of the fire got insanely loud as the pressure changed, and I was holding my headphones even closer to my ears in an attempt to drown it out.

At about 11pm, we went to watch a science competition in the lecture hall – different scientists explained their experiments to the group, and at the end we voted for the best one. The guy that won gave quite a good presentation – he was on a team trying to build a robot that could function on Mars, and he made his presentation engaging and funny.

To end off the evening, we headed to the Technische Universität Library for some dancing. You couldn’t hear a sound as you walked up to the library, because everyone on the dance floor was wearing headphones! It was quite the cool concept – there were three DJs, and each person could choose which DJ to listen to at any given time. When you looked around while not wearing headphones, it looked like everyone was dancing without music. But once you put on the headphones, you could join in the party – even if you were off the beat from the person next to you because you were listening to a different station. Who said libraries were just for nerds?

On Sunday, I went to a vegan restaurant for one of the tastiest brunches I’ve ever had, and on Tuesday I am headed to a blind restaurant with a group of my friends. We’ll be eating in complete darkness! It’s been a lot of fun exploring events that Berlin has to offer. I am down to my last three weeks of work in Berlin, and am determined to enjoy every moment before heading home for the summer.

I hope that you have enjoyed this latest blog post. Have a terrific week!

Auf wiedersehen!

-Robyn

 
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Berlin: Dad’s Tourist Experience!

Hi Everybody!

As you may recall, my Dad was visiting me here in Berlin for two weeks. We had an absolutely terrific time, and now that he is back home it is time to tell you all about our adventures! We actually took a road trip to Amsterdam in the middle of his visit, but I’ve decided to make that a whole other blog post since I have so much I would like to say about the experience.

Dad had excellent timing on his trip; he took off from a snow-covered Calgary and was greeted by a sunny Berlin. Over the course of his two weeks here, he got to see everything come to life: trees are now covered in new leaves, and there are gorgeous daffodils and tulips everywhere. It’s hard to believe that there is still snow in Calgary this late in the year…but hopefully Spring is right around the corner!

On Dad’s first night here, we made a schnitzel dinner and gave him a chance to relax after the long flight. In case you’re not quite sure what schnitzel is: it’s a type of meat (usually pork, but we also tried chicken) that has been beaten into a very thin cutlet, and then breaded and fried. Understandably, I have yet to meet a non-vegetarian that doesn’t enjoy it.

I unfortunately had to work during Dad’s trip, but he was able to make himself quite at home around Alexanderplatz while I was teaching. He took a lot of photos of the (East) Berlin TV Tower, and was able to entertain himself in both the huge Galeria there (a large, fancy department store), and the Alexa Mall. He highly recommends the McCafe inside of the mall, since they serve impressively large coffees and have an outside terrace where people can sit.

ImageImageImageImage

On our first day exploring the city together, we took Alexanderplatz as a starting point for what I think of as my “Grade 11 Tour”. When I was in grade 11, my school band came to Germany for two weeks, and we spent about two days in Berlin. We ate almost all of our meals at a restaurant right in Alexanderplatz, and stayed at the Radisson Hotel just down the street. I pointed out to Dad the restaurant where we ate, and also showed him where I had been a waitress for two weeks last summer. We then headed to the Radisson, and stopped at a few touristy shops along the way. The lobby of the Radisson is pretty amazing to see, because there is an enormous aquarium in the center that stretches to the ceiling. You can technically take an elevator up the middle of the aquarium, but this attraction is connected to an aquarium around the block, as opposed to being controlled by the hotel.

ImageImage

Of course, the Radisson was just the precursor to the amazing Berliner Dom. We only viewed it from the outside on the first day, but Dad later took my recommendation and went inside. The vastness and beauty of the dome’s ceilings can only really be appreciated in person as opposed to photographed. He also took the climb to the upper roof of the dome, from which you can see a large part of the city.

ImageImage

ImageImageImageImageImage

Unfortunately the weather wasn’t terrific on the day that Dad went to the top part of the Berliner Dom, but I think he still thoroughly enjoyed the experience!

After we had taken a few photos of the dome from the outside, we continued to walk towards the Brandenburg Gate (or Brandenburger Tor). It was a few blocks farther away than I had remembered, but our walking efforts were eventually rewarded. We not only saw the Brandenburg Gate, we also saw a group of dancers doing a routine around a dressed-up border guard. The routine was quite spontaneous and there were no costumes worn, but you could tell the dancers were well trained.

ImageImage

Image

After this, Dad and I called it a day and headed home. The next day, Dad once again entertained himself while I was at work. For my Conversation Course we watched Sonic Underground, since the students had been requesting it for weeks. Unfortunately, I discovered that the show was not nearly as awesome as I recalled from my elementary days. But after that, Dad and I met up with Sebastien by his university campus. The first thing we checked out was the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, which was bombed in World War II. This church has been preserved with the hole in the top of it, and is impressive to see.

ImageImage

We then headed over to the “Kaufhaus des Westens”, which basically means the Department store of the West. It’s an extremely fancy store, and includes pricey brand-names. The main reason we went in was to check out the seventh floor, which houses interesting foods from all over the world. The contribution from America includes pop-tarts, maple syrup, marshmallows, and hot sauce. Of course, each of us had our own favourite part of this floor: I was all over the tea, Dad was into the coffee, and Seb was quite interested in the beer. In any case, it was a nice tourist stop, as well as the fountain which was right beside it.

Image Image

After this, we headed to the small town right next to Berlin, in which Sebastien’s parents live. We ate dinner at a large Chinese restaurant there – Seb and I have eaten the buffet there once before, and remembered it being delicious. It’s quite the impressive building from the outside, and on the inside they have a large number of intricate details. Not to mention that they have a small fountain with a live turtle in it, and there’s a crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Definitely a great way to spend an evening! From there, we picked up Sebastien’s parents’ small car to take on our road trip for the weekend.

ImageImageImageImageImage

On Thursday, I had one shift and then we took off on our Amsterdam Adventure – but I’m going to save that for another blog entry. Just to keep you in suspense!

The first big adventure we had upon our return to Berlin was having brunch in the (East) Berlin TV Tower. I made a reservation for us before Dad arrived, and we therefore had priority treatment when it came to lining up for the elevator both up and down. One neat detail in the Berlin Tower was that the roof of the elevator was glass – so we were able to watch our speedy ascent. If I remember correctly, the Berlin Tower is over twice the height of the Calgary Tower – however, the revolving restaurant at the top is fairly similar. Dad and I got a spot right beside the window, and even though the day was a bit cloudy we had a great view.

ImageImageImageImageImage

After this, I still had some time before I had to work, so we headed to the East Side Gallery. This is basically a stretch of the Berlin Wall still standing, on which a lot of people have painted art. Dad was quite surprised to see how small the physical wall itself was; but while people make it seem like the wall itself prevented people from going in or out of East Berlin, in reality it was the security surrounding the wall that was more dangerous. The art there now is quite interesting though, and it was a good thing for us to see. There is an interesting bridge at the end of the stretch of wall, as you can see in the pictures.Image

ImageImage

Image ImageImageImage

That evening, Dad came with me to my orchestra practice. We went out for dinner afterwards the way we usually do, and Dad enjoyed speaking with the two English teachers that are members of the band.

Image

On Thursday, we briefly visited Checkpoint Charlie. This used to act as a checkpoint between East and West Berlin, and there are now two guards that stand representing the checkpoint, and also a museum in which there are various artifacts from this period. I remember visiting this museum on my band tour in grade eleven, but on this day there were way too many school groups for us to go inside the museum.

ImageImageImage

That evening, I brought Dad to the usual Thursday “Sneak Peek” Movie Night. It was a lot of fun bringing him to Potsdamer Platz, because it’s a place I’ve started to take for granted since I’ve visited it so often. Dad being there with me reminded me of how cool the whole set-up is, with the roof that lights up at night. The movie of the week was “Labor Day” which was alright, but I don’t think I would bother seeing it again.

The big events of Friday were checking out “Bikini Berlin” and the Audi Showroom. “Bikini Berlin” is a brand new mall that has only been open for about two weeks, and the main reason we decided to check it out is that you can see into the Berlin Zoo. We found a window in the mall that looks into a few exhibits through the mall, and when we climbed onto the roof we could see a few monkey enclosures, and the elephants way in the distance.

ImageImageImageImage

The Audi Showroom was basically a building that contained a lot of movie screens depicting Audis, and there were four different Audis to climb into and check out. I quite enjoyed the one with television screens in the backseat.

ImageImageImageImageImageImage

After this, we went for currywurst. It’s basically sausage covered in a curry sauce and ketchup. Dad and I are definitely big fans!

The next day, the three of us went for a bike ride to a historical GDR tower that has recently been restored. It was originally used for looking out over the Berlin Wall to make sure no one tried to cross it, but now you can climb up and see some of the communication tools they had, as well as photos and stories of escapees. There was also a set of binoculars that were extremely powerful – you could see straight across the river into someone’s porch! Our trip involved first taking a ferry across the river and then biking a while to reach this tower.

ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

Our next big adventure was taking a trip to the Reichstag in Berlin, which is the main government building. On our way there, we stopped at Hauptbahnhof (Main Station) because of it’s elaborate multi-floor train system, and impressive, open set-up.

ImageImageImage

After this, we walked over to see the ever-impressive Reichstag, and walk up through the glass dome. This is the first time I’ve visited when the weather has been nice, and there wasn’t rain pouring in through the top of the roof. It was great to have a clear day, and all of the trees were showing their Spring blossoms.

ImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

After our time at the Reichstag, we took a brief stop at the Holocaust Memorial that is only a few blocks away. We didn’t have time to visit the museum underneath, but the Memorial itself was easily accessible. The concept of this Memorial – which is a similar to a maze – is to make visitors have feelings of loss and confusion similar to how Holocaust victims would have felt. Our visit was extremely short, but even then I managed to get lost amongst the solid stones.

ImageImageImage

We then went to Sebastien’s parents’ house for a raclette dinner. Sebastien’s parents find it funny that I constantly request raclette every time I go over there but it really is a great way to eat a meal, and it’s not at all common in Canada. Dad really enjoyed it – each person cuts up vegetables, noodles, and potatoes, and puts them in a tiny individual pan, then places cheese on top to melt in a small oven in the center of the table. It’s complicated to try and describe, but it results in everyone taking their time with their eating, and preparing their individual dishes exactly the way they like.

Sadly, the following day marked Dad’s last complete day in Berlin. We started off with a bike ride through the forest to Tegel, where Dad was able to enjoy a donair (which is a very important culinary experience in Berlin!). In the forest, we were lucky enough to spot some boars – it was my first time seeing them in person! There was even a cute little baby boar.

ImageImageImage

And so we reach the conclusion of my blog detailing Dad’s visit to Berlin. It really was a great trip! I hope you didn’t find my writing too tedious, or repetitive in regards to my landmark stories. I shall be sure to write my very exciting blog about our road trip to Amsterdam soon.

Thank you all so much for reading!

Auf Wiedersehen,

Robyn

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 17, 2014 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Geburstag Feiern in Deutschland :)

Hello Everyone!

Don’t worry, even though I used fancy German in my title, this blog will be in English. Quick translation of the title: Birthday Celebration in Germany!

My first few weeks back at work have been quite pleasant. The tasks I do for each class vary quite a bit; I do a lot of small group work to help students get more practice speaking, and one particular teacher is helping me get more comfortable with standing in front of the entire class. He’s actually given me the task of coming up with an entire lesson plan based on the material the students have to learn next – I’ve only gotten started, but it’s an interesting challenge for sure!

The most exciting event that happened since my last blog post is my birthday, which was January 18th. It was the first birthday I’ve been able to spend with my boyfriend since I was turning 16 – that was the year he was still in Canada. Since then, he’s always been in Germany for my birthday while I’ve been in either Calgary or Victoria. Needless to say, this birthday was certainly an unforgettable one!

About a week before my birthday, Sebastien told me to make sure I left the 17th (Friday) completely open, since he was going to borrow his parents’ car for the day. I didn’t really know where we would be going, but on the night of the 16th he gave me a new towel and told me we would be visiting a tropical island about an hour outside of Berlin. I made sure to pack my bathing suit in the car, but still had no idea what he could possibly mean. I know Europe is small, but driving to somewhere “tropical” like Spain or Italy would definitely take more than an hour’s drive from Berlin.

So on the morning of the 17th, we drove for about an hour, and eventually I started seeing signs for the aforementioned “Tropical Island”. We drove into what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, but eventually we arrived at this:

Image

I thought of the big tent-like structure back in Calgary, “Lindsay Park,” which was a gym with a weight-room and swimming pool. We then had a bite to eat in the car, and finally walked into the mysterious building. Unfortunately I left my camera in the car, because I didn’t want it to get wet in the pool.

We opened the door and were greeted by a gust of warm air from inside. I could hear club-like music echoing from behind the entrance gate, but still couldn’t really see what the place was like. Both Sebastien and I were given wristbands with an electronic button connected to them, and told that saunas cost extra if we wanted to use them.

Finally, we entered the tropical island. People were walking everywhere in a mixture of swimming suits and robes. We stood facing a wall of tropical plants, and could see a few rustic buildings as well. Sebastien then explained the concept to me – this huge dome was about the largest built in Europe, and was originally intended to build air-crafts in.But by the time the huge dome was completed, the air-craft companies were broke, so the dome sat unused for a number of years. Then, someone brilliant came up with the idea to turn the dome into a tropical paradise: keep it nice and toasty in there throughout the winter, add lush plants and big pools, and turn it into a great vacation spot.

We first changed into our bathing suits, using the electronic wristbands to lock our lockers. The wristbands turned out to be really handy – you could use them anytime you wanted to do something that cost extra (like enter the saunas) and also to pay for food and drink, and then you would just pay for everything once you left. While that meant that people could easily lose track of how much they were spending, it also meant that they weren’t walking around with cash that could easily be stolen. Sebastien and I walked through the tropical plants to find a huge swimming pool, where a water-fitness class was just finishing up (hence the music from earlier – after the class, it became pretty quiet). We arrived at about 11:30, and Sebastien told me we could stay and relax until 3am.

So that is how we spent our entire day. There were two large swimming pools, and we took turns going in each of those and enjoying a few waterslides. In the middle of it all was the section with tropical plants, along with flamingos and turtles and large fish, and we took our time walking through and checking everything out. There were lots of areas to sit on lounging chairs, along with little tourist shops and nice restaurants. Part of the deal of this place is that you can stay overnight – there are large sandy areas of tents you can stay in, and there are several themed huts and hotels throughout the dome. I guess there was an area of hotels attached to the dome as well, but of course had no interest in leaving the dome to check it out. Some of the huts were along the water, and were made to look exactly like holiday homes along the beach. My favourite was an area that looked like Tortuga from “Pirates of the Caribbean” – there were about three levels, with lots of fake signs for fortune tellers and Pirate meeting places, and when Seb and I climbed to the balcony between rooms, we got an amazing view over the entire resort.

There were some things we didn’t do, since they cost extra – there was a section with three huge waterslides that would have cost 5 euros, and a small ride for another 3. There were also a few hot-air balloons you could go up in and get a walk around the grounds to see it all from above. But there was more than enough for us to do, and we enjoyed the luxurious experience of having hours on end in which to explore and relax. Around dinnertime, there was one restaurant that had a small stage, where you could pay extra to go see a show. The funny thing about that dome was that you could hear the music from the show no matter where you were in the dome. A lot of the restaurants required you to actually put on clothes, so Sebastien and I went for the schnitzel restaurant where you could stay in your bathing suits. There weren’t too many people at the dome, and by the time it was about 11 it became very quiet. When the clock struck midnight and my official birthday began in Germany, we were among about 6 people swimming in one of the huge pools. We stayed until about 1:30, and then finally faced the cold and drove home. It was a terrific day! Unfortunately I was unable to attach any photos of the tropical island here, but please Google search “Tropical Island Berlin” and you can see for yourself what I mean. Every time I’ve tried to attach photos here, it ended up deleting my entire blog post…so this blog isn’t going to be as rambe-y as originally expected.

I had a lot of fun on Saturday. A friend of mine who’s birthday is on January 19th graciously volunteered to have a group of friends over at her house before we went out to a club. There is a group of friends in Germany I’ve known for about two years now through Sebastien, and I was really happy about how many of them came out to celebrate. There were also a few people there that I’ve met through the PAD program. All in all, I like to think everyone had a good time! On the Sunday, we went over to Sebastien’s parents’ house for birthday dinner, and we had a pleasant evening. All in all, a terrific birthday weekend!

And so we reach the conclusion of today’s blog. I hope that you enjoyed the read, despite it’s shortness! Thank you so much for reading 🙂

Bis später,

Robyn

 
2 Comments

Posted by on January 25, 2014 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Christmastime in Germany: Highlights from Dresden and Berlin

Hey Everyone!

In my last post, I went into detail about the trip that my mom took to Berlin to visit me. Today I will elaborate further on the weekend trip we took to Dresden with Sebastien and his family!

The idea for this trip began with Sebastien many months ago, before I came to Germany. We were discussing my plans to do this program and come to Berlin for about a year, and he mentioned that we could even go to Dresden to check out one of the world’s oldest Christmas Markets in December. When my mom had booked her flight to visit me, we decided that the three of us should go; and once Sebastien’s parents heard about the trip, it was decided that the five of us would go together. Sebastien’s parents booked a traditional bed and breakfast for the Saturday night so that we would have a two day trip, and we drove to Dresden first thing Saturday morning.

It took us about 2 and a half hours to drive to Dresden, and I basically knit the whole time. When we reached the city, it appeared that we had brought Berlin’s wind and snow along with us. However, we got right down to the sightseeing. We parked the car and walked a ways through the city, then crossed a long bridge over the Elbe River. It was absolutely freezing on the bridge thanks to the wind, but it was still a gorgeous first glimpse at the Old City.

Image

ImageImage

Once we were within the Old City, we often stopped inside little shops to look around and escape from the cold. We soon came to our first Christmas Market, which was right beside the Frauenkirche. The Frauenkirche is a large protestant church; it had been destroyed during World War II along with countless other structures. Several dark blocks can be seen amongst the light ones in the church as it is now, and those dark ones are pieces of the original building whereas the light ones are new. Please don’t quote me on that, but I’m pretty sure that’s the case. We waited in line to be able to enter the church, but it was definitely worth it once we were able to enter and gaze up at the seemingly endless ceiling. Sebastien and I were both reminded of the interior of the Berliner Dom, which is interesting since they are both protestant churches.

ImageImageImageImageImageImage

In the photo I included of the alter, you can see on the left that there is a green line (that would be a Christmas wreath) with four candles on it. In Germany, on every Sunday in December leading up to Christmas, families light a new candle to represent Christmas’s approach. Today, for example, Sebastien and I lit the third candle in our own Advent wreath (Adventskranz) since there is only one more Sunday before we reach Christmas. Here’s a picture of an Advent wreath we saw in Dresden in a restaurant last week:

Image

As you can see, the Advents wreaths can be found anywhere from in a church to in a restaurant, to many personal homes. Once we left the church, we noticed a Christmas Market on the other side of the church as well. We decided to take a walk through here, and purchase our first hot beverage of the trip. I tried hot chocolate with a shot of amaretto for the first time, and decided these two were destined to be together for all eternity. Unfortunately we picked a very poor time to go through this Market though, because it was absolutely packed and no one was able to move. It would have been impossible to physically stand aside and check out a stand somewhere, so we basically fought through the crowds to reach the other end of the Market. But once we arrived there, we were able to climb up a few stairs to a viewpoint, and appreciate how beautiful the Market looked away from the crowd.

ImageImageImageImage

After this, we paused for a meal, and I began to get some of the feeling back in my toes. We were lucky that the wind died down as the evening went on, and we hardly noticed the cold anymore. We spent a few hours looking around at the Christmas Markets, and got to enjoy all of the Christmas lights since it gets dark extremely early this time of year. In the end, Mum and I bought a few wooden ornaments, as well as pretty candle domes. As you can tell from the photos, a lot of the booths had elaborate decorations on their roofs – some of those were more impressive than the goods they were selling!

ImageImageImageImage

Image

Once we had roamed the Christmas Market to our hearts’ content, we headed back to the car. It ended up taking a bit of a while though, because we discovered another Christmas Market along the way. It wasn’t quite as fancy as the previous ones had been, but we managed to find lots to look at.

ImageImageImageImage

After that, we returned to the car and found our Bed and Breakfast (the German word for that is “Pension” – I had been kinda hoping I would leave there with a pension all ready to go, but maybe I would have had to stay there longer for that). After a nice hot meal, I’m pretty sure all of us got an amazing sleep thanks to all the fresh air and walking around.

ImageImageImageImage

As you can tell, the Bed and Breakfast was in a fairly secluded spot. We enjoyed a terrific breakfast there the next morning, then headed back to the Old City for a tour of the Opera House. In a way, the story of the Opera House made me think of Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail: there is a King who had to try building a Castle four times in a swamp before one finally stayed up. The poor Opera House has been rebuilt at least three times: once when it burst into flame involving a gas pipe incident, once after World War II when there was massive ruin everywhere, and once more when it was hit by a major flood in 2002. At this point, major precautions have been taken against any more flood damage, so hopefully it can remain the way it is for many years to come. I didn’t take any photos while on the tour, but some of the things we learned were pretty amazing. While everything within the building looks very grandeur, and appears to be made of marble and things like that, a lot of it is fake. The original designer figured that the imaginary world of an Opera should be maintained throughout the entire Opera House, instead of only on stage. Despite the fact that a lot of the construction is an illusion, it is lovely to marvel at. Within the physical theatre room, we got to learn lots of trivia about how an opera works, and how many sets are too large to be kept in the actual Opera House. We also got to see the five minute clock above the stage, that was designed to keep men from constantly checking their pocket watches back in the day. I was extremely pleased that we took that tour!

ImageImage

After that, we checked out a Christian church nearby, which was reconstructed after the war but not completely finished.

ImageImageImageImage.After we were finished in that church, it was time to head home. It had been a short trip, but a terrific one!

Back in Berlin on Monday, Mum came to work with me so that we could head straight to the airport afterwards. The teacher was quite late for the class, so I had my first taste of spontaneously taking over a lesson. I taught the kids about Christmas traditions in Canada, and made them write stories about their own personal Christmasses. After that, Mum and I met up with Seb and headed to the airport. It was extremely sad to see Mum go back to Canada, but I am so happy that she took the time to come here and visit me. We each had a terrific time (I’m so grateful that she is so easy going and good with anything we had to do!) and made a lot of new memories. Hopefully it will not be long until I see her again!

Since that point, I have been up to lots of Christmassy things. I am completely done all of my Christmas shopping, and have seen a whole schwack of Christmas movies. On Wednesday, I got together with some friends at the Schloss Charlottenburg Christmas Market. It’s apparently known as being one of the nicest ones in Berlin, and there were certainly some unique and well-crafted goods available there. The last time I properly saw Schloss Charlottenburg was in grade 11 when I was on tour with my high school band, and it was extremely different to see it with Christmas booths and fancy lights. It was great getting to see it all, and catch up with my friends – the only problem was that I got quite lost afterwards, and it took me an entire hour (and four busses) to get to my Orchestra band practice!

ImageImageImage

On Thursday, I spent the time between work and my German class at Kilkenny Pub. It wasn’t as fun as it had been with Mum, but it was a nice place to sit down and have a good meal (and I’ll admit it: do a bit of knitting). That evening, I brought a new friend I met through my German class to surprise movie night. Since the Hobbit (part II) is newly released, there was an amazing display at Potsdamer Platz, with a Christmas fairy dancing around at one point.

ImageImageImage

The film for this week was “Disconnect” which I had never heard of before. I had no idea what to expect (obviously) but it turned out to be the most powerful film I have ever seen. The movie follows three different story lines concerning Internet issues, and the genius of the acting and directing along with the truth in each story touched everyone in the theatre. It was nice to see film being used as an art form instead of just a way to make money, and I recommend this movie to absolutely everyone.

And now, only one week remains until I am on Christmas break. It’s been a refreshing change this year to not have final exams to worry about, but I have slowly begun filling out applications for a Masters program beginning next Fall. I have quite the “stressful” week ahead: work on Monday and Tuesday, then a field trip on Thursday and my work Christmas Party Friday. No wonder I love this job so much!

Thank you all so much for reading! I hope you all are gearing up for an amazing Christmas!

Frohe Weihnachten!

-Robyn

 

 
2 Comments

Posted by on December 15, 2013 in Travel and Working Abroad

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,