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18 July 2015

Cologne (Köln)

View Europe 2015 on OhMissLia's travel map.


This Saturday was our first outing as a group, with all of the students of the Fort Hays State University English Department's 2015 Summer Study Abroad program. After lunch...

Again, I tried the local brew. Verdict? I didn't care for it... too much like American beer.

...we headed to an archaeological site that includes a huge Roman praetorium and a tour through Roman sewers.

I snapped a few photos like this for my oldest son to play with--he's had three years of Latin. :)

The Praetorium, residence of the Imperial Governor of lower Germania. It's hard to perceive the actual scope of this building from this perspective. The "room" we stand in houses only the very bottom portion; the original building was constructed around the first century, with the "step" in the front wall indicating where the ground level was at that time. The columns in the back are from later, fourth-century construction, and are only the very bottom of the columns. (Visit the website for aerial shots that give a better idea of perspective.) This building met its end from a huge earthquake in the eighth century, and suffered further damage in World War II. As you walk around this giant "room," you can see cracks and damage from both events.

Moss/mold/mildew/gunk from the old Roman sewer. I didn't get any better photos because I was busy staying focused on repeating my mantra of "You're not trapped down here, you're not trapped down here, you're not trapped..."

Most of the day--as, indeed, the city itself--centered around the incredible Cathedral. It took over 600 years to build and is so massive, with so many Gothic architectural elements that it is constantly being "cleaned." The scaffolding on it just revolves around and around, doing its thing... by the time the building has been completely cleaned and maintained, it's time to start all over.

At one point, Kay and Traci and I decided to visit the belfry. It was only a few euros, and the views should be great, so why not? What we didn't fully realize was that it was a 328' climb to the top--most of it a nonstop trek up a thin, winding, medieval stairway that was originally intended for no more than a couple of monks going about their business but now has to accommodate hundreds of stinky people going up AND down.

Kay needed a faster pace, so she went ahead. I plodded on while Traci kept pace with me. We eventually made it to the belfry and paused for this photo in front of St. Petersglocke, the largest free-standing bell in the world.


Little did we know that we weren't done yet. We went back into the graffiti-covered stairwell for more climbing, occasionally blindly taking a shot out of one of the open windows.

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When we reached this room--blissfully furnished with benches along the wall--we hoped we were done. Then we realized that the metal monstrosity in the middle of the rotunda was actually... more stairs!


Calves and quads screaming (mine were, anyway), we finally made it to the top--100 meters up. That's 328 feet of very vertical climbing to be rewarded with these views of Cologne's Colonius Tower, the Rhine river, and the cityscape:


My legs were shaking for the rest of the day! Did I mention my sandals had heels?

This is a shot straight up, through the mesh "ceiling"... my attempt to show how close we were to the top, but I don't think I succeeded. I was too weak in the knees to stand firm against the riptide of tourists long enough to frame a decent shot.

Here's a better perspective. We climbed to the equivalent of the top of the scaffolding box.

Cologne was heavily bombed during World War II; the Cathedral took fourteen hits, but its spires remained standing. This article has some incredible photos: http://rarehistoricalphotos.com/cologne-cathedral-stands-tall-amidst-ruins-city-allied-bombings-1944/

At its base are city squares; on this beautiful summer Saturday, they were full of people. We saw several bachelor/bachelorette groups--in Germany, this means seeing a group of people dressed in bizarre costumes and doing strange things.

Blog post with good explanation of this tradition: http://blog.young-germany.de/2010/02/something-borrowed-something-blue/
Funny photos of this tradition: https://www.google.com/search?q=german+bachelor+or+bachelorette+party+traditions&biw=1366&bih=681&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&sqi=2&ved=0CAgQ_AUoA2oVChMIxLTvhN_RxwIVhzqICh1J8wfi

And, of course (you knew this was coming) there were musicians in the squares. This guy remains one of my favorites from the entire trip; in my mind, I've named him The Happy Piper. (I really want to write this book!)

The climb in the cathedral took much longer than we thought, and by the time we came back down, it was well past time to go; we went straight back to the hauptbahnhof, and headed back to Essen. :)

Posted by OhMissLia 13:03 Archived in Germany Tagged germany köln cologne summer_2015 18_july Comments (0)

16 July 2015

Munich, including Nymphenburg


On my last day in Munich, Mark and I trekked out to Nymphemburg, the Bavarian royal family’s summer palace. After a long walk down a wrong turn, we posed for an "Oops!" photo before backtracking to the palace--which you can see in the distance in the photo.


We finally made it. :)

The grounds include numerous museums, the palace itself, and the "apartments" where the modern royal family lives, including Franz, Duke of Bavaria. Learn more about the Wittelsbach family--and their unpursued claim to the English/Scottish house of Stuart--here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz,_Duke_of_Bavaria

The palace was intended as a summer residence, and has a recurring Nature motif. Which, of course, I fell in love with. I could totally live here, no problem! Except I'd get rid of Ludwig I's Gallery of Beauties, LOL. http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/sch-nheitengalarie-gallery-beauties

The resplendent entry hall, with views of the front (long lawn with a pond with fountains and swans) and the back (manicured gardens with statues of Greek gods).

Close-ups of the details on the chandeliers. Swans were very big with this family--Ludwig II did, after all, build Neuschwanstein ("New Swan Stone") Castle! I love these beautiful chandeliers!
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We strolled the grounds, as well, stopping at a hunting lodge adorned with Artemis sculpture...


...and pausing to watch a gondola glide by on a canal.


We walked toward the back door of the palace...


...pausing to examine Athena's weird-looking gargoyle-owl...


...and to pretend to be a queen, waving from her balcony.


After the palace, we stopped for lunch.


A place with outdoor dining, of course, and the stereotypical surly beermaid. Actually, one was surly (Mark: "May we sit?" She: "Think you can find a seat?" while rolling her eyes and gesturing to the empty section) and the other was... gently rude? After some discussion with Mark about the menu, in which he was trying to translate some items for me, she looked straight at me and said, "Americans are lazy with languages." I agreed with her and asked her to give me a break, because I'd only been in the country for three days! Thankfully, she seemed to accept that as a reasonable excuse for not being fluent in German.

It made for an interesting lunch, and became the third incident of anti-foreigner sentiment we'd experienced that day. Until this day, I hadn't seen a hint of it, but as we were leaving that morning, still in the train station, someone bumped Mark hard and cussed him out for being a foreigner--with her kids at her side! Mark handled it better than I would have, but since I don't speak the language, I had no clue what the problem was until after the fact. Later, on our way to the palace, we stood at a crosswalk with a woman who tried to tell us that we were standing in the bike lane (we weren't--her bike's rear tire was blocking it as she spoke, though). Then the "surly" and the "gently rude" servers mentioned above. It was an interesting introduction to the "Germany for Germans" folks--people who, for various reasons, don't want non-Germans in the country. There's no proof any of these people were of that group, of course, although it wouldn't surprise me if the lady at the train station was one of them. Anyway... it did provide a clearer picture of the life of an ex-pat, and what Mark deals with in his everyday life.

After lunch, we headed to the apartment so Mark could gather materials for the English class he was teaching that evening, where people can practice speaking English by discussing current events. I was privileged to accompany him to the class, meet his students, and occasionally give an American perspective on the topics discussed. At the end of the class, Mark invited his students to ask me, "a real live American," any question they wanted. There was only time for one question, and it was the one Mark had predicted they would ask first: "Do you own a gun?" It was really eye-opening for me. I had no idea that that was the European perspective of Americans, but given the news headlines over the last year, I am not surprised. I wish we would have had more time to chat, but a conversation like that could have gone on all night!

After the class, we strolled around a part of Munich that I hadn't yet seen... the Oktoberfest grounds! It was mid-July, and the tents were already being built. To get some sense of scale... each of these "tents" will seat 10,000 people, and there are 14 of them!

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After pausing to goof around by the statue of Bavaria herself...


...and by one of the many Bavarian lions scattered around the city (much like Seattle's pigs)...


...and at the European headquarters of Apple and Starbucks...


...we finished the evening at--you guessed it--a biergarten! Tonight's beergarden was the famous Augustiner, and, of course, it was crowded. We had another rude encounter with someone while searching for a seat, but eventually we found a table--next to the pissoir!

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We had a great time, but eventually had to head back to the apartment. It was time to collect my things and go to the train station, so I could catch an overnight bullet train to Essen. A man sat across from me, a Sicilian-Croatian man who loved to sing--loudly--and chat with everyone on the train. He was delighted to discover that I was an American, and we chatted for a while. Eventually, he went back to his singing... until someone asked him to be quiet, and he settled down.

I eventually drifted to sleep, contemplating my adventures over the previous 80 hours. I'd flown over 5,000 miles and found an old friend (Mark and I have known each other since we were about eight years old). We'd scampered around through palaces and beer gardens and all kinds of places. I'd discovered Mozart balls and Bavarian beer and sweet mustard. München ist wunderbar!

And now I was on a speeding train heading toward another, very different, region of the country with more adventures awaiting me.


Posted by OhMissLia 21:31 Archived in Germany Tagged germany munich summer_2015 16_july Comments (0)

15 July 2015

Munich, including Dachau

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The day started off with a beautifully laid-out breakfast with Mark and Laura.

A wonderful Bavarian breakfast: coffee and beer, weisswurst with sweet mustard (yum!), pickles, and a pretzel!

Mark had some things to do, so I was on my own for the day.

I feel it’s important to view a Nazi concentration camp if possible, so I headed to Dachau. I really don’t have words for how I felt. Dachau was the very first KZ (concentration camp) the Nazis created and served as a model for those that followed. As I stood in the waiting room for the shower area, then under the showers, then in the room with the plaque that said, “This is where the bodies were piled,” I was just thankful for the knowledge that this specific shower area was never used en masse. I don’t think I could have done it otherwise.

This is the prototype "shower" room. Fake shower heads were installed above, and chemicals were poured into the grilled window via an outside chute.

There is a beautiful garden/wooded area in the back of the camp, where the ashes of the cremated were buried. It's a quiet, contemplative place where few people go. I can't say that I found peace here, but the shady quiet provided some personal space that allowed me to process what I was seeing.

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Also seen along this path:

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This is a view of the perimeter, with a guard tower in the distance. Between the ditch/moat and the fence was the "neutral zone," and guards would shoot inmates who set foot on it. There are stories of guards who would steal an inmate's cap and throw it into the neutral zone, forcing the inmate to retrieve it--appearing at roll call without the cap meant a severe, if not fatal, beating--and then shoot the inmate when he entered the zone. There are also stories of inmates intentionally walking into the neutral zone as a method of suicide.


I spent some time getting my head together before heading back to the city.


When I returned to Munich, I visited the Residenz, residential palace of the Bavarian royal family for hundreds of years. While it was absolutely beautiful, I was struck more by the absence of some of the art, rather than its presence; holes that used to be occupied by artwork that couldn’t be restored after the Allies bombed Munich in WWII. To see these beautiful pieces missing large sections—often the centerpiece in a room—was startling, and spoke volumes all by itself. This first photo below features some blank spots.


I was pretty done in by the time I returned to Mark and Laura’s flat, but after a short rest I was able to join them for a trip to the English Gardens for dinner. I am so glad I did—what fun! We ate our food in the shade and played several games of Uno.


This poster was at the English Gardens, advertising a dance that takes place at 6am!! Laura explained that this tradition began when someone realized that the barmaids couldn't ever attend a dance because they always had to work, so a special dance was held at odd hours just for them. The English Gardens still holds such a dance every summer.


A notable sight while travelling to the English Gardens, near the university. These are bullet holes, where university students protesting Hitler were shot. I don't know details of the story, or if this site is specifically related to the White Rose resistance movement (http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/revolt/whiterose.html), but it's a fair assumption to make.


Posted by OhMissLia 21:31 Archived in Germany Tagged germany munich dachau summer_2015 15_july Comments (0)

26 July 2015

Berlin, day 3 of 3

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The next morning, Sunday, I went with a few classmates and Saskia (a professor from Essen, Germany who taught a course at FHSU last summer) to the Stasi Museum and the DDR Museum (DDR = Soviet East Germany, known as the GDR in the USA). The two museums are a great complement for each other—one outlines the Soviet-based Stasi organization, infamous for its spying on DDR citizens, and the other is an interactive experience describing everyday life in the DDR.

The Stasi, officially the "Ministry for State Security," was the secret police of East Germany. They focused on spying on citizens, to the point where other citizens were recruited, coerced, or forced into spying for them. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the headquarters were swarmed by citizens, who caught officers in the act of destroying their records. Most were saved; to this day, any German citizen has the right to come here and request to see any records the Stasi had kept on them. People are shocked to discover that their neighbors, babysitters, even spouses, were reporting on them to the Stasi.

The headquarters building interior is very much as it was when in use, with original furnishings and items still in their original locations. This is the lobby, with original flags and statues. The trio of flags are for the DDR, the Socialist Unity Party, and the "red flag of the working class." The statue on the left is Karl Marx, the one on the right is Felix Dzerzhinsky--a particularly bloody Russian known for founding the Bolshevik Secret Police, the Cheka, and orchestrating the Red Terror. By the way, Vladimir Putin recently restored the title of "Dzerzhinsky Division" to a unit of his special forces police. Hmmmm.

This is one of the umarked vehicles the Stasi used to grab people.

Western music like Iron Maiden was believed to be an attempt to lure East German youth.

The conference room of the Stasi decision makers, all original and intact. Who knows what horrors were conceived here?

Before this museum, I'd had no clear idea of what the relationship was between the East German and Russian governments, or what really went on. Seeing these things, especially within their own environment of the hated Stasi building, made it all crystal clear. Now it was time to learn what life was like for the average East German citizen, at the very interactive DDR Museum. This museum really comes alive; visitors can try on clothing (uniforms, fashions), thumb through books (approved schoolbooks, novels), play with children's toys (wooden hand grenades, not balls), sit in a typical East German home (watch what you say!), and listen to the radio or watch the TV of the time. http://www.ddr-museum.de/en

Welcome home! This is part of a typical East German living room--come on in! Sit down, relax, watch some TV. Just be careful of what you say...

...this sign is posted on the wall behind you. Visitors in the Stasi portion of the museum can sit at an actual listening machine the Stasi used and listen in on the conversations in this living room, just like the real Stasi did to real citizens in real living rooms.

Children's schoolwork and toys were war-themed.

Saskia is a fabulous guide; she expanded on the museum information with stories about her family’s personal experiences during these times--for example, because they lived not far from the DDR border, her family's TV signals were often jammed when East Germany jammed signals from the West. She has personally studied this era of her country's history, and has extensive knowledge on the subject. We were SO very lucky to have her with us!

Me and Saskia with Ampelmann.

This green man is the Berlin-specific “walk” sign at intersections. He’s famous! You’ll see Ampelmann (“traffic light man”) on merchandise all over the city. He was briefly replaced in the 90s as the city sought to get rid of previous East German icons… but, using the protester's slogan of “we are the people,” a committee successfully saved Ampelmann. He’s the star of the city’s traffic safety films, and he even has his own store/website! http://ampelmann.de/html/geschichte_english.html

The Berlin bear is also seen everywhere, a beloved symbol of the city. When I asked Saskia if the bear had anything to do with the Russian bear, she responded with an emphatic, "No," that Berlin had always been symbolized by a bear. Subsequent research has informed me that these particular bears are "buddy bears," with arms outstretched in a gesture of welcome, peace, and hope. No wonder I like them!

I spotted this Buddy Bear from across the street, and zoomed in, several floors up, to snap his photo.

Berlin. Before this weekend, the word conjured dark images of barbed wire and burning books, urban grit and foreboding buildings. Now, the images are much brighter: the peaceful Brandenburg Gate and smooth Spree river, great Indian food and a friendly bear. Although I had done some research before travelling here, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I really enjoyed it. The graffiti is both depressing and impressive; the construction is both encouraging and frustrating. There is so much to see-do-learn-experience that it’s impossible to do them all in a lifetime of weekends. Would I return? In a heartbeat.

Posted by OhMissLia 08:51 Archived in Germany Tagged germany berlin summer_2015 26_july Comments (0)

25 July 2015

Berlin, day 2 of 3

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The next day began with another stroll. On Museum Island, we went through a street market. At the entrance to the market, several of the cement blocks (holding up street lights or whatever) were graffiti'd (?) with quotations.


A most interesting vendor. Note the selection of items: Russian clothing and uniforms, gas masks, and an American flag. (That's the Bode Museum in the background, one of five world-class museums on Museum Island.)

One of my favorite street musicians of the entire trip.

This guy was fabulous! If you peruse my full set of photos at https://www.flickr.com/photos/43163337@N02/ you may notice that there are several shots of street musicians. (And horses. And doors.) This is because, in my fantasy future, I will travel extensively and write a book about street musicians around the world. Since it’s unlikely—haha, impossible—that some publisher is going to front me the money to conduct this research, the best I can do is take a few photos/videos of the musicians and give them some coins. How I would love to interview them and ask their stories. “Tell me about your musical life… were you trained formally? Do you perform anywhere else? How long have you been working on the streets? How does your city treat you? Will you do this forever?”

Later, the full group headed to Checkpoint Charlie.

You are entering the American sector--to confirm, look at the soldier on the sign.


You are leaving the American sector--to confirm, look at the soldier on the sign.

The booth is a reproduction of the actual Checkpoint Charlie booth (original is in the nearby museum). The "soldiers" are there to take pictures with tourists--for a fee. I found this a little too celebrational-feeling for my taste. They play their part well, however--when we students posed for a photo under the nearby “You are leaving the American sector” sign, Dr. Scott and her sister were somewhat near the "soldiers" to frame the shot. The "soldiers" were quite surly; they had a few words with Dr. Scott. I’m not sure what their problem was, but they were definitely rude.


Lunch was currywurst. It had no taste, but I could tell that was because it came from a horrible touristy location. It was pretty much a large hot dog.


By going for lunch, I got separated from the group, so the rest of the day I just explored on my own.

From the Checkpoint Charlie museum. This photo is everywhere in Berlin, and I didn't know what it meant, so I snapped a photo of this display, which includes an explanation. It's Brezhnev (Soviet leader) and Honecker (East German leader) on the 30th Anniversary of the founding of East Germany. It's called the Fraternal Kiss, acknowledging that the relationship was tremulous and dangerous. The caption quotation is: "Lord! Help me survive this deadly love!"

Amusing trash can.

A large section of the wall that still stands. This is where the SS was headquartered; it is now a memorial and documentation center, titled the Topography of Terror. http://www.topographie.de/en/

Berlin has many faces, many facets.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The graveyard-esque memorial is 4.7 acres of confusion. It's not a maze, but the rows of concrete slabs are uneven in height and ground slope, creating an uneasy atmosphere amongst an otherwise orderly location. What remains of Hitler's bunker is in the far left corner of this picture, still controversial and relatively unmarked.

My first glimpse of the American Embassy, its flag at half-staff. You can see the edge of some of the concrete slabs from the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in the foreground.

I fell in love with Brandenburg Gate. Something about its majestic structure and reminders of peace really appealed to me--particularly the statue of Mars sheathing his sword.


The Room of Silence is a thing of beauty as it attempts to shut out the noise of the world outside and remind its visitors of the original intention of the Gate of Peace.

I stood for a while inside Pariser Platz, just enjoying the atmosphere. Even amongst the chaos that can be found in any heavily-trafficked area on a sunny summer Saturday, there was an air of jubilance. The bagpipe musicians played for money, sure, but their tunes were appropriate; "Amazing Grace" would transition to a jig without feeling awkward. The flags of the Allied nations whose embassies line Pariser Platz all flew proudly in the breeze; silent partners in peace and cooperation. I took a moment to take a video, doing a 360 of Pariser Platz beginning and ending at the American Embassy.

It was almost evening and my toes hurt, but there was still so much to see!

The Reichstag. You can barely see the dome from this angle. We'd hoped to be able to climb it, but it's difficult to arrange.

In Bebelplatz, a memorial to the book-burning event of May 10, 1933. The Nazis burned about 20,000 books that day; the memorial is empty bookshelves, enough to hold 20,000 books. It's underground, viewed through a window in the ground in the middle of the platz.

My dinner that night was another attempt at currywurst. The older Asian man running the place (a tavern across the street from our hotel) was quite intriguing; just one of those people who inspired me to wonder what their story is. Writing about him would take up another whole post; it's enough here to say that this currywurst was much better than lunch. :)

Posted by OhMissLia 08:51 Archived in Germany Tagged germany berlin summer_2015 25_july Comments (0)

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