21 June 2007

Cheeseburgers and Parties in Germany

No new city visits or journeys to pass on; I’ve stayed in Eichstaett since the last post. My time in this town has began to wind down, and I feel the need to absorb as much of this corner of the world as possible before I board the final train away from here. No need to dwell on that topic for now though, I still have roughly two months left.

Last Thursday was Kultur Open Air, a university event where different clubs present themselves and sell things to raise money for their programs. AK International, the international student organization, wanted to sell different foreign items prepared by natives of the respective countries. The Japanese sold sushi. The French sold crepes. AK recruited Dylan and I to sell authentic American cheeseburgers.

After stops in five separate grocery stores we had seemingly bought Eichstaett out of hamburger buns and ground beef. My small kitchen looked and smelt like the back storage room of a McDonald’s. We spent most of the afternoon slicing tomatoes and onions, shredding lettuce, and forming hamburger patties. It turns out around 20 pounds of ground beef will suffice for 100 patties.

We arrived on campus with all of the supplies about an hour before the starting time, 7 o’clock, and set up shop. Dylan received grill duty, I applied the toppings, and Brandon (who we didn’t know had also volunteered) took the customers’ money. Dylan and I expected to be able to relax between customers while talking the other foreign students into giving us free samples of their concoctions. We got the free food portion of that assumption, but not the down time.

As soon as the first people were let into the festival we worked without a pause for three hours. A line quickly formed in front of our booth and it became very clear that the cheeseburgers were the hottest item for sale. Dylan and I cursed a certain fast food chain for making this little bit of Americana so popular around the world.

Things probably could have we gone faster if we had a better grill. Some customers in line grumbled about the waiting time. They must not realize that cheeseburgers, when made properly, aren’t necessarily fast food.

Here’s a photo of Jishu, who made Chinese dumplings, and the two German girls who helped her.

And here’s a photo of Bettina, one of the two ring leaders of AK International.

The long queue of customs persisted until the last cheeseburger left the grill. Even after then we had to wave disappointed individuals away.

We did get free cheeseburgers and drinks, and after we were done we were able to walk around and enjoy the festival.

This is a party of week of sorts, with at least one every night. Tuesday night’s was held in the courtyard of one of the student dorms. By the size of the turn out it seemed to be very successful. It felt like a large beer garden. For the most part Dylan and I enjoyed the night with German friends.

Here’s a picture with Dylan and Laura.

One with Dylan mistaking a candle for his drink.

Another with Steffi and Francie.

And the last with Steffi, me, and Dylan. The last went mentally insane seconds before the click of the camera.

11 June 2007

Fronleichnam Weekend in Augsburg

Last week saw its fair share of festivals and activities to keep me busy. Here’s a run down of the events over the last 8 days.

Two weekends ago there was a Fliegerfest, or Flyer Festival, in Eichstätt. On Sunday I went with my French friend Alexi to check it out. Uncertain of what to expect exactly, we discovered it was nothing more than an air show. From the size of the crowd I would guess it was a popular event. Alexi and I stayed for a while watching the aerial acrobatics before heading back down in the valley. Had we paid for it I would say it wasn’t worth our time; however, considering entrance was free, we spent our afternoon well.

Thursday brought the arrival of another holiday in Bavaria, Frohleichnam. We in America would refer to it as Corpus Christi, a predominantly Catholic celebrated holiday honoring the Holy Eucharist. As a state holiday, the university was closed Thursday. In the morning I rode into town to watch and participate in the fesitivities.

I discovered most of the old town decorated for the special occasion. Workers had placed the limbs of birch trees against buildings lining the street, creating the feeling that a forest had grown up overnight in Eichstätt. Red banners with gold trim hung from windows and balconies, and flags waved in the air. Speakers were placed around town to broadcast the voices of the choir in the cathedral. The second picture below shows the town hall next to the Market Place.

Helpers transformed a series of steps across from the town hall into a outdoor altar. Three others were set up around town along the path of the procession that was to come.

I arrived in the Market Place at around ten o’clock, the procession began at nine, but the main public square was its last stop before the cathedral. A crowd began to gather on the cobble stones and soon white cloaked altar servers could be spotted walking up the street from the West. They carried banners and led the procession into the square. As they approached I could begin to see the hundreds of people who followed and hear their voices carrying a hymn.

Behind those young men was line of at least a hundred clergy members. The bishop came close to the front of the procession. In the first picture below he is wearing the golden robe and holding the staff. Behind that group came priests, monks, and nuns.

Next, several organizations and clubs from Eichstätt entered the Market Place carrying their own banners. The first photograph shows a group of women wearing traditional clothing. In the second, one can see two police officers on the right and columns of firefighters on the left.

Mixed into the procession but mostly behind the firefighters came what looked like half of the town. Ten minutes after the first altar servers entered the Market Place the full procession gathered around the altar and listened as the bishop read some readings aloud.

After only another ten minutes or so the procession carried on to the Cathedral Place and into the massive church itself. I joined the flow and watched the end of the celebration standing in a crowded aisle.

Back in the Market Place this piece of art remained as a reminder of the day’s festivities. It was made from sand, soil, and flower petals. The translation of the message reads, “Whoever believes is never alone.”

I spent the afternoon traveling with Dylan, the fellow Tennessean, to the nearby town of Dolnstein for a medieval festival and farther on to Nuremburg.

On Saturday I met Dylan at the train station in the morning. We spent time on Friday contemplating where we could go for a day trip from Eichstätt, but hadn’t actually decided on a place. With a few minutes to spare before the train pulled out from the station, we flipped a coin for fate to decide for us. Tales, we would go to Stuttgart. Heads, we would go Augsburg. The coin landed and with that we boarded the train. Our destination was Augsburg, and the day would show us that fate had chosen well.

Augsburg lies to the west of Munich, probably less than an hour by train from the Bavarian capital. From the Eichstätt the trip takes close to twice that amount of time. The city’s history reads of multiple episodes of destruction and prosperity. It was founded in 15 BC by the Roman Emperor Augustus. War has destroyed the city at least four times, five if you consider the bombing from World War II. Today the population is around 275,000 and the city presents itself as a very clean and orderly one.

We arrived in the city at around noon and roamed on our own for about an hour. Below is a photo of the train station and the plaza in front of it. In the second photo is a building near the station.

Then we met up with local residents Steffi and Teresa. Steffi goes to the university in Eichstätt and is a friend of mine. She was home for the long weekend. Teresa is a friend of her’s that she brought along. It took them some time to ride their bikes in from a suburb, hence the hour that Dylan and I at first strolled around town by ourselves.

They took us around the city center and to the typical sights one would expect in a German city: a cathedral, a main shopping street, a market place, and nice parks. We spent most of the time in the latter. In the photo below you can see Steffi on the left and Teresa on the right. A few minutes before they had asked about gang symbols in America. They were thrilled to learn how to spell “blood” with their hands. The other pictures are of Teresa and Dylan while we were in the same park.

We eventually left to play frisbee in another park. We actually tried playing in the first one, but decided that wasn’t a great idea after one of my uncaught passes nearly decapitated a new born.
Then they brought me and Dylan to the Market Place. On one side of the square was Pow Wow, a café which they claimed to be the best in the world. On the other side of the square was the towering city hall. And in between were some friends sitting on a randomly placed couch. All are pictured below.

After the Market Place we went to another Pow Wow location a bit farther down the street. While Steffi was certain that the Pow Wow brand was the best in the world, she couldn’t say which location was best.

A few cooling drinks later and we made our way to the single attraction that brought me and Dylan to Augsburg: the Fuggerei. I’ll admit, it was the name that won us over.

Jakob Fugger the Youger started the Fuggerei in 1516 as a social housing project. It is now the world’s oldest housing project and still functions with that mission. There are three requirements that any needy citizen must fulfill in order to live in the Fuggerei. One must be a resident of Augsburg for at least two years. One must be a member of the Catholic faith. And one must have become indigent without debt. The walled community of today consists of nearly 70 houses, 150 apartments, a church, park land, gardens, fountains, and one café. Although I surmise that the later is more for the tourists. The rent for all of this has gone unchanged over the centuries: three daily prayers (the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, and the Nicene Creed) and the payment of one Rheinischer Gulden per year. Here’s the surprising part. That old coin is the equivalent of .88 Euros today. So residents pay around US$1.00 per year to live here. As the photos below attest, these were the finest housing projects I have seen.

As evening neared we returned to the train station. Dylan and I boarded a train back to Eichstätt and left the girls in their hometown.

Augsburg struck me as one of the cleanest and greenest large German cities I have seen. It reminded me more of a northern German city, like Hannover or Bremen. It may not have the better fame or richer history like Nuremburg or Munich, but it still should not be a city overlooked in Bavaria. The lack of tourists offers a look into the life of a more authentic German city. In the end, there's always the Fuggerei to visit.

There aren’t any holidays coming up this week, but there should be some other entertaining things to report on.