29 May 2007

Pentecost Weekend

Monday was the Christian holiday of Pfingstag, or Pentecost as it's known in English. As a state holiday in Bavaria school was out today and yesterday making a four day weekend. Unfortunately plans to travel for the whole weekend fell through, but I managed to see some new sites.

Saturday I went to Würzburg with the International Organization. I spent most of my time roaming around the city with Dylan, a fellow Tennessean new to Eichstätt this semester.

The city lies about two and a half hours northwest of Eichstätt in Bavaria. I was slightly dissapointed by what I saw there; I would say that Eichstätt is more beautiful than this city of 100,000. One of the city's draws is its wine. The region around it produces some of the most wine in Germany, and the hills around the city are covered with the parrallel rows of grape vines. There was also a famous African festival going on while we were there, but it turned out to be an over-priced and over-hyped attraction in my and Dylan's oppinon. Really, the highpoint of the day was playing frisbee in front of a former palace. The first photo below is from the historic bridge over the Main River looking at an old palace. The second is a view down the same bridge and toward the city's cathedral.

While in Würzburg Dylan and I killed some time in a bookstore. I found a German travel guide on the USA and curiously turned to the section on the Southern states. One of the things the thick section began with was a very short dicitionary on what it called the South's English dialect. Words included lickity split, sugah, knockin' boots, and ya'll.

On Sunday Dylan and I quickly realized how dead Eichstätt was due to the four day weekend. Nearly a soul was out on the streets at night, and when we walked into a popular bar we found it deserted as well.

Yesterday I went on a bike ride with Alexi down the river from Eichstätt. We visited small villages along the banks of the Altmühl and took in the sites of the nature park. At times these villages were nothing more than a church and a handful of houses lining the street.

Here are some views of two houses we came across. Viewing the other buildings in the region reminded me that the Baroque architecture of Eichstätt really is unique for Bavaria. While highly decorated with flowers and gardens, most of the houses we saw displayed plainer facades than one finds in the meteropolis of the Altmühl Valley.

Further down the road this lone tower caught our eyes. We pulled over to investigate and found out that it actually stood on a man made island off of the river. Our curiosity raised when we discoverd that it dated to the 1100s, but were unable to determine its original purpose. One glimpse into the hole at its base revealed that its only use today is as a roost for birds.

The ride was also full of views like the one below. Here one sees a field of poppies in the foreground and a village behind it. Bavaria truly is an attractive corner of the world.

At night I went out to eat with Dylan in a restaurant neither of us had visited. We were drawn in by the fact that the menu was written in the Bavarian dialect as opposed to standard German. Imagine trying to read a menu in English written by a first grader. Not that those who speak Bavarian are uneducated, rather the Bavarian dialect looks and sounds surprisingly different than standard German.

Afterwards we decided to go the Theke bar, but found it closed due to Pentecost. Dylan commented it was like an episode of the Twilight Zone, a bar closed in Germany. It was the first time I had seen the Theke closed.

It's been raining the entire day today, and as such I've stayed mostly indoors. It's actually only the second time it has rained like this since I have been here. Most of the time rain only comes in the form of a mist or light sprinkle, and usually at night. While on this weather subject, I'll also state that I've only heard thunder once here. I miss the thunderstorms that roll across the Memphis region during the Spring time.

No plans for the next weekend, but hopefully something will develop.

25 May 2007

Munich to Memphis

Wednesday night was an information session for German students about studying abroad. The Internaitional Organization asked many of the foreign students here to represent their university and answer questions from curious Germans. While some of the American students groaned about or flat out ignored the simple request, a fellower Memphian and I myself jumped at the opportunity to bring more Germans to Memphis.

Rachel, new to Eichstätt this semester, and I prepared a simple display and eagerly spoke with interested individuals. We wrote and printed nice brochures about the universtiy and the city, adorned a board with Memphis post cards and facts, brought along a photo essay book on Memphis and even a box of American brownies. All the while my laptop displayed a side show of photos from the city and university, and played a mix of Memphis music to lure people closer to our table.

The turn out surprised even the event's organizers, the university's study abroad department. For most of the two hour event the second floor library lobby bobbed with a human sea. It definitely seems that more German students desire and see the importance to study abroad.

With the large turn out and attention Rachel and I received there might be a spike of German students coming to Memphis in the next couple years.

I also feel inclined to report on some negative news. It amazes me that the largest, and essentially the only amount of bigotry, intolerance, or prejudice (call it what you want) aganist my identity that I have encountered while studying abroad comes not from Germans or other foreigners, but from a fellow American. Apparently some Americans still possess a strong stereotype with the South, believeing that it is a backward, racist, and primitive region.

One of the new Americans from Minnesota is the cause of this negative news. While other new Americans, obviously not from the South, will pass an occasional joke about the region and the fact that a few us here in Eichstätt hail from there, I know they mean what they saw light heartedly. However, this one boy is so clearly closed minded to the possibility that the stereotypes of the South are false, more so he makes no hesitation to inform me of the South's alleged inferiority. As you can imagine, I no longer attempt to correct his misperceptions in a rational way, or talk to him at all for that matter.

I find it very sad that someone can have the open mind to come live in another country and culture, but can not be as accepting toward his own countrymen. Maybe some Americans should stick at home and travel our diverse land before crossing the ocean. For those like the boy from Minnesota it might be a more eye opening experience than a semester in Europe.

Not to leave you on a bad note though, here are a couple photos I took the other night. As I came home from a party I noticed something moving on the corridor floor outside my door. I clicked the light on and saw to my surpise a hedgehog walking about on the concrete. As I watched him I heard a noise out on the grass and looked out to discover another one of the prickly critters. I went inside and grabbed my camera to photograph my late night visitors. As I got close to one it would freeze and roll into a ball with its spikes standing in defense.

Hedgehogs are protected animals in Germany and one is not allowed to harm them in anyway. They are nocturnal animals, so your best chances of seeing one is on a crisp Spring night. Too bad they never made it over North America.

21 May 2007

Andrew and Natalie's Visit

The time since my last post has been full of so many activities that I can’t possibly devote an entry to all. Instead, I will pick the highlight of the last two weeks or so. Two Fridays ago my friends Andrew and Natalie arrived in Eichstaett and stayed for five days. I tried my best to submerse them in German culture for each day of their stay.

They are both from Memphis originally and have spent the time since January studying abroad in Angers, France. Their semester ended at the beginning of May and they will be doing a little travel until their return to America at the end of the month.

Friday was dedicated for Eichstaett. They arrived around noon and we spent most of the afternoon roaming the streets. At Trompete, my favorite restaurant in town, I guided them through the German menu and we ate dinner. They also had their first tastes of the beer from the local brewery, Hofmuühl, and became hooked. After the dinner we went in the Theke student bar, and then lost track of time in party hosted by the journalism students. Before midnight the party was tie and jacket, but after twelve it was open for all. Unbelievably, entrance, food, and drinks were all free. We thanked Charlotte for the invitation. In the first picture below is Natalie and Andrew at dinner, and the second is at the party with Charlotte.

Saturday I awoke in the mid-morning and headed to the store to buy fresh bread and other items for a typical German breakfast. After reducing the filling spread of bread, meat, cheese, jams, and other foods to crumbs we boarded a train to Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

Rothenburg has been the subject of one post on here before. It’s one of the best preserved medieval towns in Germany, and only about two hours northwest of Eichstaett by train. Here is a view of the town from a section of its defensive wall, and another of Andrew waiting for the train at a transfer station.

A four and a half hour one-way train ride forced us to begin Sunday early. Our destination for the day was the world famous Neuschwanstein Castle. This is the iconic castle of Germany, if not one of the most iconic symbols for the whole country. The long journey from Eichstaett took us to the Alps in southern Bavaria, close to the Austrian boarder, and brought the loss of my favorite jacket. The Helly Hansen fleece became the victim of a preoccupied mind and was forgotten on board one of the trains. Though it was tough we managed to push on to the castle.

We finally arrived at the village of Hohenschwangau and paused for lunch. As you can see below, Andrew and Natalie enjoyed their portions of currywurst. This simple dish consisting of bratwurst and curry sauce is a favorite around Germany.

After lunch we rode a bus that took us up the hill and close to the foot of the castle. On the trail to the castle’s entrance we caught our first up-close glimpses of the fortress.

The story of Neuschwanstein is one of humor and near insanity. It was constructed in the 1860s and 1870s, in a time when castles were already obsolete. Its purpose was not for military defense in anyway, rather to simply fulfill one man’s fantasy. As only a constitutional monarch and not a true ruler of the land, King Ludwig II of Bavaria dreamed of living the life of a fairytale king. He began to spend less and less time in the capital, Munich, and more out in the countryside where he could better control his surroundings. Eventually he adopted a nocturnal lifestyle. His moon lit sleigh rides through the Bavarian forests and personal staff forced to wear period costumes created a stir back in Munich. The people soon gave him the name Mad King Ludwig. To complete his dream, Ludwig needed a fairytale castle, and thus he commissioned Neuschwanstein. Actually, he built a few smaller castles and palaces, but this one was the crowning touch. He lived in the castle for only 170 days before the government, displeased with his extravagant use of the public’s money, removed him from power and exiled him to an island in lake in southern Bavaria. Ludwig lived on this island for three days before being found dead on the lake’s shore. His death remains a mystery.

Around seven months after Ludwig was dethroned Neuschwanstein was opened for the public to visit. The rooms are elaborately decorated in numerous styles, such as Baroque and Romanesque. Ludwig’s favorite animal was the swan, as such a theme of this bird appears often throughout the castle. The name in fact means “New swan stone.” One room is an artificial cave with stalactites and stalagmites molded with concrete and plaster. I think I would agree with the public that the man was indeed mad. Here are a couple views from the castle windows.

After the tour we hiked a short distance to a gorge crossing bridge behind the castle for the great view seen below. Perhaps now one can appreciate it better. Disney used Neuschwanstein as inspiration for designing Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland.

We spent Monday in Munich, and I took Andrew and Natalie to my favorite sites in the city. We walked through the old town stopping at the main buildings before boarding a street tram to the English Gardens. This lush oasis is the largest city park in all of Europe. Here one can entertain himself with a number of activities. We first ate lunch in the park’s main beer garden under the shadow of the landmark Chinese Tower. Also seen below are two staples of Bavaria, the pretzel and beer.

Next we strolled around the park and came across a couple spectacles. First was the sun bathing area, nude sun bathing that is. We walked through what must have been the men’s section as flashbacks of the Estonian sauna came to me. Then we found the surfing section of the park. People use a section of a drainage canal and the wave it creates for the normally beach only activity. Munich must be at least a thousand miles from the ocean, and yet here were men and women riding their boards in the middle of the urban environment. A very creative use of space I say.

Finished in the English Gardens we rode the subway to the Olympic Park. We hiked up a steep hill for a free view of the facilities below and the Munich skyline.

The last stop in Munich was dinner at Hofbraeuhaus, the quintessential Munich beer hall.

We returned to Eichstaett at around ten o’clock and spent the night with some of my German friends in the Theke and, once that closed, in the Irish Pub.

After a late lunch Tuesday I said auf wiedersehen to my good friends and wished them well on the remainder of their travels and return to America. The earliest I will see them again is in August.

This week has me looking forward to a couple events. On Wednesday evening a fellow Memphian and I will be presenting Memphis and our home university to German students as part of a program to increase the number of students from Eichstaett studying abroad. Also on the horizon is a four day weekend, so there will likely be some travel coming up soon.

05 May 2007

Eichstätt Makes it on TV

At the beginning of April, while I was still traveling, a news film crew was in town for a segment about international students studying at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt. Apparently, there are students here from at least 70 nations around the world. The report may be in German, but it still offers some glimpses of the campus. If you want to see it go to this link: http://www.intv.de/

Once at the page go down on the center scroll bar to a rectagle that reads, "teleschau-Archiv." Click that and then select April 15 on the calendar that appears. After that you still see the calendar, but scroll down to the first heading titled, "Betreuung ausländischer Stundenten." Click that and the video clip should start playing. It lasts nearly three minutes.

The news crew interviewed two new foreign students for the piece. One is from Russia and the other from America. I don't think it's too difficult to determine which one is the American.

03 May 2007

Salzburg Excerpts and May Day Festivities

With the semester rolling along now for only a couple weeks it didn’t take long for the first excursion and holiday. Last Saturday the International Student Organization went to Salzburg, Austria. But the highpoint of the of the week up to now has been May 1st, a holiday throughout Bavaria.

This was actually my second time in Salzburg; it was one of the cities I saw while on my two week highschool trip in Germany and Austria. We saw the city for only a portion of a day, so I figured it would be worth it to make another trip. Unfortunately, this one was also very fast paced.

With a nearly four hour train ride both ways, we only had around another four hours in the city itself. Most of the time was spent on a guided tour and driving from site to site on a bus. We passed many sites which had something to do with the Sound of Music. The Von Trapp family lived in Salzburg and the movie was filmed in the area.

Salzburg is also famous because of a guy by the name of Wolfgang Amadeaus Mozart, it was here where he was born. His birth house is now a popular museum, and some chocolate makers have borrowed his name for their special creation: the Mozartkugel (Mozart Ball). The highly overpriced and small marzipan filled chocolate is pictured below.

What the tour guides don’t tell you is that Mozart actually hated
Salzburg. He moved away as soon as he could. Don’t let that keep you from visiting this city though. The old town is beautifully preserved and car free, and the natural scenery of the Alps is enough to call you back someday.

As the first day of May, Tuesday was an official state holiday and one for celebration. May Day has its origins from the Medieval Ages. While I never did fully understand the reason behind it, I did learn that historically it was the day the peasant workers and craftsmen received their annual wages. The celebrations revolve around the raising of the Maibaum, or May Pole, but they didn’t begin or end there.

Steffi, a German friend, invited me to a traditional May Day breakfast with some of her friends. Let me clarify that a little more, it was the traditional Bavarian May Day breakfast. We met at Café Paradeis, which with an opening year of 1313 is the oldest restaurant in Eichstaett, and sat under the morning sun. The meal consisted of a pair of weisswuerste (white sausages), a salted pretzel, sweet mustard, and beer. Actually most of us parted from tradition and ordered soft drinks instead of beer, although a soft drink for breakfast is as crazy for the Germans as a beer would be for most Americans. Weisswurst is a speciality from Muenchen (Munich), and in order to eat it one must first remove the outer skin.

In the afternoon a few us from breakfast met up with the International Student Organization and trekked up the valley ridge to the May Pole raising ceremony. The revelers had already cut down a towering pine from the forest and stripped off all of the lower branches, leaving only the crown of the tree in place. They placed a few adornments on the tree, like the Bavarian flag and the crest of Eichstaett. Then in a very slow process (around 45 minutes) they raised the tree with nothing but sheer man power. Through poles and ropes the tree gradually reached its standing position. The tree will remain until the next May Day when a new tree is brought from the forest. Here are a few shots of the event:

After the raising, the time came to celebrate with music and dancing. Attending these traditional celebrations is about the only way nowadays to see the famous lederhosen for men and traditional dresses worn by the women. In reality, the dresses and lederhosen belong to the Bavarian culture and have no connection to the rest of Germany; the same applies to their style of dancing.

I have said it before and I’ll state it again, the stereotypes and most of the knowledge that Americans have of Germany are not truly German, rather Bavarian. The locals often jump at the opportunity to defend this fact. Ask a Bavarian from where they come and Bavaria, as opposed to Germany, will often be their answer. After all, the full official name for the state is Freistatt Bayern, or Free State Bavaria.

Here are some photos of the men and women who proudly up hold the dancing traditions.

After the professionals danced a couple rounds they invited everyone to join the fun. Germans and some of the international students, including myself, attempted our best. It may not have been pretty, but an observer surely could not have groaned about our enthusiasm.

In the one below, Olga is dancing with a middle-aged German man in the middle. When the music started up he approached her as she was sitting and pulled her out to the dance area. She was stuck with him for the rest of the time.

The rest of the lecture free day was spent relaxing with ice cream by the river and eating dinner with friends.