Sonntag, 11. Mai 2014

When in Rome...

My three young female German cousins and I were given the opportunity to see Rome, the eternal city, together for one week in early May. The eldest and I went one day early via a magical form of transport called "Mitfahrgelegenheit", which basically means you ride in a car with a total stranger for many hours and then pay them some money for this pleasure. It is almost always a good experience I have heard and ours was as well. Our driver was an Italian man, Roberto the plant biologist, and the fourth passenger was Santiago, a Mexican chemical engineer studying in Rome.

After 10 hours we arrived in Rome. My cousins had found a sweet little holiday apartment close to the center of the city and about 15 minutes by foot to the Colosseum. No big deal. The first night we trudged through the rain to get some delicious pizza, which was completely worth getting kind of lost in a huge train station full of homeless people and stranded travelers.

Rome was truthfully a complete blur of AWESOMENESS. My eyes were open the whole time and I was told that they got even bigger, which I didn't know was possible. I also felt like my jaw was on the floor the whole time what with being completely awe-struck by everything.

First, I want to say something about Romans. Yes, they are Italians, but they are also Romans. I got the feeling while there that Rome is a place to visit more than a place to live partly because it is so incredibly touristy and also because it is so crazy. The first night we were there sleep did not come easily, which could have been in part to the new bed, but I think it was mostly due to the noise on the street outside. All through the night sirens were blaring and car horns too. Apparently in Rome it is impossible for emergency vehicles to get through the heavy traffic so they don't even try, which means a blaring siren will just stand in one place for up to 5 minutes! Also, it seems that Romans/tourists in Rome get hurt a lot because there is never a time when no sirens are heard. Secondly, the horns. I came to the conclusion that Romans honk all the time for a number of reasons: they are mad at another driver (most common), they are greeting a friend, they saw a pretty woman or man, they are upset or happy about the soccer game results, or they just don't want to be left out,

The Italians I came into contact with were all very warm and friendly. The only bad experience I had was getting my ass grabbed by a creepy old guy, but I didn't let that ruin my opinion of Romans. On our last day I got stuck in the turn-style in the train station and it was a bit scary actually, but about 10 Italians stopped to help me, all putting there own tickets through to try and help. One said, "I think you will stay there forever!" and laughed. Pretty much, if you try and say a few words in Italian then they will try a few in English. It was wonderful.

The Colosseum was insane. Foro Romano was nuts. The Curia (Senate building) was humbling. Vatican city was surreal. The Sistine Chapel was breathtaking. St. Peter's dome made me literally gasp. The Castle of the Angels made me think of what it was like to live in a dungeon. The churches (of which we may have entered 40,000) were some of the oldest and most beautiful structures I have ever seen. I saw art by Rodin, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Rafaello, and more who I can't remember. I ate the best pizza, pasta, ice-cream, and drank the best coffee of my life in Rome.

I need to elaborate on the coffee. I am not a coffee drinker. However, the first time I put that warm creamy brown liquid to my lips in Rome I tried to think of all the ways I could never let go of that coffee. It is somehow so smooth that it feels like liquid velvet. With a little sugar on the foam it sweetens the bitterness. The cappuccinos have the right amount of milk and foam. Not only that, it creates this deep feeling of calm and comfort, which I have never, not once, had from coffee anywhere else in the world.

There is so much to be said about Rome. There is not enough space to do it in. I will leave only with this: Rome is a city for dreamers. It is a place to go to expand your mind. The emotion, the grime, the bad public transport, the love, the history, the art, the incredible amount of homeless severely disabled beggars, the food, the wine... these are all things that make up this colorful city, which is both stressful and impossible to hate. I will cherish that adventure for a lifetime to come.

Mittwoch, 2. April 2014

A holiday to dwell on

Two weeks of being with people I love and doing things I want to. That is freedom at its finest.

The brilliant and wonderful woman who gave me life came to visit me in Germany for my long holiday. Before she arrived I was in a state of really needing to get the hell out of Hamburg. It had been 2 straight months since I left the city and I was on the edge. Somehow, without any form of communication to tell me that she had arrived in Frankfurt and caught her train to Hamburg, we found each other. I sat on the platform with a bouquet of fresh tulips from my favorite florist and my head craned to the left trying to see her train. Finally, it arrived and only 30 minutes late!!! Deutsche Bahn is dependably late so I wasn't worried. I happened to stand right near where she was sitting and I saw her beautiful head peak out the window. She waved and smiled and immediately a wave of  joy and longing (Sehnsucht in German, way better word) washed over me with such force that I burst into tears. We hugged and hugged and I wept and we kissed and hugged some more and it was simply perfect. I have never needed someone so much like I needed my mother at that moment.

After 4 wonderful days in Hamburg we trained down to a town near Munich (Schwabhausen) and Würzburg to visit family. We spent nearly one week with them and saw quite a lot of Germany I would say. Mom was in such good spirits even when she was tired and stressed. She ooed and awed at everything and my German aunt even said "I love the excitement of the Americans". Very sweet. We had some quality mother daughter time, which was much needed and we barely got irritated with each other. What bliss. We spent Sunday night in Frankfurt before Mom and I parted on Monday. We explored a very little bit of the city, which I have never seen, but was actually quite nice. The sun was shining on the Main and we were just soaking in our last hours together. Mom was a great sport and an excellent travel companion. At the airport the next day I sent mom on her way to the U.S. and I found my own way to France to visit a dear old friend from Dover-Foxcroft, Maine who is also a teacher in France. The airport parting was miserable and we both cried. I cried a lot after leaving her. Getting lost in the biggest airport I have ever been in was also not pleasant, but eventually I found my gate and could settle into my thoughts and a good book.

My visit to France was embodied by this incredible thrill that my friend Molly and I, both young women from central Maine, had managed to make it to where we are today. When Stevie, Molly's friend from high school came to visit us in Dax that weekend, it was an overwhelming magnificent trio of central Mainers in France. We all took different paths to get there, but we were there and we basked in the glory of our rurality (new word: coined it!) and tenacity. We visited the Atlantic ocean from the other side in a town called Biarritz, which was truly magnificent. We ate delicious home-cooked meals, drank French wine, ate French cheese, and of course a baguette or 20. We rode bicycles through the night to dance in a club in which Molly and I were the only dancers. We covered ourselves in colorful feathers and joined a Carnival parade (1 week late mind you). We went bowling and picnicked by a pond in the sun.

This week of sunshine and time with an old dear friend really rescued me from the potential despair I could have sunk into after having parted with my mom. This was a holiday to remember and I am so grateful that I have this opportunity to experience other European cultures to such an extent. Next stop: ROME in MAY!!!!

Samstag, 11. Januar 2014

Sounds of war and screams of joy

When I was a little girl I used to make my parents and sister wake up at the crack of dawn to open presents on Christmas day. As I grew up, Christmas day started later and later. Eventually, presents became less important and rather the traditions that we had and the people we celebrated with became the core of the holiday. This year I was in Germany for Christmas. My first Christmas not at home in Maine. To be honest, it was completely normal. I got to experience a traditional German Christmas with all the glory of a foreigner. I realize that Christmas is no longer this concrete holiday that we celebrate the same way every year, but rather a fluid and changing part of my cultural world. You no longer have to be Christian to celebrate the holiday and where you do it also doesn't matter. How you celebrate it is completely subjective. I have some Jewish friends who celebrate by going to the movies or ordering Chinese take-out. I think the holiday will continue to develop and I will celebrate a little differently every year. Now that I have the customs of a German Christmas under my belt I will share them with my family and friends and spread those traditions to those I love. That is how Cultural Anthropology works my friends!

Oh shit! Guess what? It is a new year!!!! I know. I almost forgot ;-). But seriously, I am so glad that it is finally 2014. As I think most people would agree, the new year is like a new page, a new leaf, a new start. It is completely cliche and cheesy, but it is true and I think it helps people to feel like that have power again and hope again. Of course most New Year's Resolutions fail miserably, but some do succeed and I think that any chance people take to better themselves is worthy of hefty celebration. I was in Hamburg with some tremendous young intelligent women for New Year's Eve and Day. We celebrated to the max and did not leave a thing out. For dinner we cooked an insanely elaborate Mexican meal with yummy spicy beans, guacamole, SALSA from the USA since you can't procure such luxury items here in DE, and many other yummy sides. I tried to make margaritas with vodka. Oops. I know. They were actually alright, but not the real thing. After dinner we chatted, ate homemade chocolate mousse, and painted our faces with war paint for the big celebration. Somehow we made it to the Alster, which is like a giant pond in the middle of the city where lots of rich people live. We posted ourselves on a bridge with two bottles of Prosecco and plastic cups and sparklers. It was absolutely surreal. Hundreds of people crowded the bridge. Drunk screams of joy and excitement mingled in the air with cracks, fizzles, pops, and bangs from firecrackers. The street was left mostly clear for the larger fireworks. Since most people were probably either pleasantly buzzed or completely plastered, all sense of safety and sensibility went out the window. People were setting professional grade fireworks off in the midst of this huge crowd. The air was full of sulfur and smoke and ash. It was like a war zone, or at least how I can imagine one. Not only was this completely wild, but cars were still driving across the bridge through this complete and utter chaos. They swerved between exploding fireworks. It was wild. I even saw an entire box of fireworks catch on fire.
Midnight drew nearer. We opened a bottle and distributed the fizzy drink. We lit sparklers, screamed, laughed, hugged strangers, and checked our clocks diligently. Apparently Germans don't count down the last 10 seconds like Americans, so of course, we Americans had to countdown. It was thrilling. I felt like a hot-air balloon that could float away with happiness. At midnight people tried their best to explode the city with celebration. All inhibition was gone and it was just pure humanity. That night will live on in the book of New Year's Eves that are hard to beat.

Now it is a new year. The gyms are more full than normal with people trying to fulfill New Year's resolutions, somehow we feel like this is a new chance to start over. I believe it. I will always be a complete romantic about New Year's. I think people need the chance to turn over a new page. We need the hope that it is possible to start again with a somewhat clean slate. Of course, we carry all of ourselves from past years forever, but a new year is a chance to say "hey, this year, things will be different". I want to keep that hope alive. Thinking of all the things that have made me who I am and trying to see beauty more in everyday life. Happy New Year everyone. I hope it's a good one.

Dienstag, 3. Dezember 2013

The Poplars of Dachau

 The drive to the concentration camp was tense. I was nervous. I have seen Holocaust memorials and the like, but never have I ever been to a camp. The day was perfect for such a visit. It was cold, rainy, and raw. The cold sucked the heat out of my bones and I had a perpetual chill running up my spine. The walk to the camp was fairly long from the parking lot. The path takes you through a beautiful section of forest and eventually an information placard appears with information regarding Dachau’s concentration camp. We crossed the very train tracks that were used to transport prisoners to Dachau. At the crossroads before the gate entrance prisoners were sorted (only men at Dachau) and sent through the wrought-iron gate. The gate is at the end of a short tunnel made of brick and at the top of the gate stands the phrase “Arbeit macht frei” or “Work makes you free”. The entire camp is surrounded by a relatively tall fence with barbed wire around the top and on each side is a watchtower standing ominously in the gravel.
It is massive. I had not expected the camp to be so big. Enormous. It is flat and gray and cold except for a massive line of poplars standing in the middle of the camp, which marks the road that ran between the two rows of barracks. We went to the museum first and read for three hours or more about the camp and its history. We could have stayed two more hours and still not read everything. I could spend hours talking about all that I experienced, but I will stick to a few key informational points that I think are important. Dachau was the first really extensive concentration camp built in Germany and is the one that a lot of other camps were modeled after. It was completed in 1933 with the rise of Hitler. A lot happened at this camp other than the internment of Jews, Gypsies, Poles, Czechs, Homosexuals, political prisoners, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. The prisoners were used to produce artillery for the German armory in addition to which all able-bodied prisoners had to work at some kind of job, especially demeaning, useless, strenuous, and repetitive jobs. There was also medical testing at Dachau, where doctors used the prisoners as guinea-pigs to test what the effects of extreme altitude are without assistance, new drugs, induced hypothermia, and many other diseases were given to prisoners to see what would happen.
A constant fear of death without trial or reason pervaded every corner of Dachau. Torture was regular and horrifying. Conditions were treacherous: hardly any food or water, incredibly ridiculous work conditions, living situations that were filthy, cramped, and cold. Constant harassment and degradation of the prisoners meant morale was in the deepest darkest realms.
The crematorium lay outside the fenced-in camp, but only just. This building was original, which made it even more unnerving. My heart was racing. The large brick chimney towering above the rather unassuming crematorium was sign enough: this chimney wasn’t used for the expulsion of smoke from baking… The ovens are huge. They could fit two to three corpses comfortably. Two sets of three each, six ovens total. At the end of the building was the gas chamber. Apparently the chamber had never been used for mass killings (150 people at a time), but there were accounts of small groups of 4 or 5 being murdered with Zyclon B.
Personally, the most intense part of the visit was the trees. About fifty enormous poplars stand at attention lining the aforementioned road between the rows of barracks. In a picture taken when the camp was first built in 1933, the trees were still rather small. They had been planted when the camp was built. They were there through the entire war and still stand today. They saw everything. If those trees could talk, what would they say? Could they describe the horror? Now they stand there still, tall, strong, and innocent.

Dienstag, 15. Oktober 2013

Oktoberfest 2013

Oktoberfest 2013: Munich, October 2nd

It was my first time at the real Bavarian Oktoberfest. I was naive, innocent, and completely unaware of what was in store. No party or festival or celebration of any kind compares to the WILDness that is Oktoberfest.
My dear old friend from Regensburg invited me to come and visit for a few days with the promise of a trip to the fest (known as Wies’n by all Bavarians). I immediately said yes and took a 6 hour train ride south back to Bayern, where I studied and therefore feel completely at ease. The night before our scheduled adventure it came to my friend’s mind that I had no dirndl to wear (traditional dress worn by women in Bavaria). Her mother was so kind as to lend me hers! It was too big and too long, but I didn’t care because I got to dress up like everyone else. To try and remedy the size problem I wore two bras, but my boobs still weren’t big enough.
Carrying minimal equipment apart from money, ID, and a camera, we headed to the station. People had been drinking since 10 or 11 in the morning already, but early afternoon drunkenness and debauchery are no foreigners at Oktoberfest. We had about an hour to kill before meeting up with my friends friends, so we decided to walk around and check things out. We wanted to see the old Oktoberfest, which is gated off and you can’t just walk freely in like in the more modern part, but rather must wait for the number inside to die down. Unfortanely, as we learned over mega-phone, there was an hour and a half wait to get in, so we decided to ride the giant swing ride instead. It is probably one of the least concerning rides at any fair and thus our reasoning. Before getting on the ride a sign reads “no drunken visitors may ride” and for good reason. I almost vommed and I was completely sober. It was a pretty funny site: there are all the nice polite Germans on the swing, chatting and sitting quietly, and there is Lucy… “HOLY SHIT! MOTHERFUCKER! JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR! SWEET MOTHER! AHHHHHHHH!” Needless to say the German man in front of me thought it was quite funny and felt it necessary to say “It’s not so bad”. Getting off the ride I was completely dizzy and had to hold on to my friend for support. I am not one for such forms of entertainment, but it was still a blast.
We finally met with the three other girls also clad in dirndls and went in search of a beer tent to set of camp. Luckily, my friend has connections and was able to get us some seats on a couple benches at a table in the Augustiner (famous Bavarian brewery) tent, which would definitely have been impossible otherwise. The funny part of this whole escapade was that the people we sat with were all over sixty. The two of us sat between two old men who were very friendly, but completely wasted. One of them kept trying to talk to me, but the fact that he was speaking Bayerisch (the dialect in Bavaria), was slurring his speech, and that the noise level in the tent was so high made communication utterly impossible. That was okay though, we were all just laughing, enjoying the company, and drinking our giant liters of beer anyway.
It was a spectacular night. I have never drunk so much in my life, nor will I hopefully ever again. I laughed, I sang, and I celebrated beer and community with some wonderful Germans. Although it was definitely in the top best experiences of my life thus far, I can easily say that I will only ever do it once. You can have too much of a good thing.

Sonntag, 29. September 2013

1 Month

I have been in Germany for one month. CRAZY! The time has gone so quickly and I have really grown in leaps and bounds (cheesy enough for you?). Tonight is my second night in my new apartment. I am in love! I am living in Eimsbüttel at the very southern tip, which means I am very central, but it is more residential and homey than where I was before. No skyscrapers here! My street is called Schäferstrasse, which means Shepherd Street in English. It is a narrow street lined with trees and old apartments with pretty balconies covered in plants. I share my apartment with a man and woman both in their mid-thirties and they are wonderful. My room is the perfect size and I have CURTAINS, which means I can actually sleep in on the weekends. On every corner of my block is a freaking adorable cafe and on my street there is a little classy bar. Oh, also, my flat-mate has a black cat named Panther who lives mostly outside, but comes in every so often to have a philosophical and passionate conversation with me.
In celebration of moving into my new apartment I had a lovely dinner party. With the help of a fellow Fulbrighter, I made homemade lasagna with homemade sauce. It was killer and my friends helped to make my new home feel very warm indeed. I need a ton of stuff from IKEA, but at least I have a comfy bed.

I have been neglecting my blog because I am so busy and still adjusting to living in a city. I have almost completely mastered public transit, which was a pretty incredible feat. I am discovering the cheapest places to buy food, the best open-air produce markets, and of course, the best places to go out.

This week I am heading to Munich for Oktoberfest and to visit family down south. Next week, me and two girls from the program are hopping up to Amsterdam for 3 days! I can barely wait!

Missing New England Fall and my family and friends... happy to be here in Germany though.


Sonntag, 8. September 2013


On Friday night, I joined some of the other American language assistants and their various interesting German flat-mates on the Reeperbahn: more commonly know as the Red Light District. Apparently things don't really get pumped up in the city on weekend nights until midnight, if not later. Now, it is important to clarify that the Red Light District where the prostitutes are is not actually accessible to women. I heard that if a woman were to walk on the street where men go to have a good time they would get urine thrown on them. Bizarre. Coming from Wellington (population 280 or so) this is quite a shock. That being said, Reeperbahn is still tawdry and sleazy. Neon lights cover every corner of the long wide street. Signs like "Gay Sex Kino" and "Sex Wunderland" line the side-walks. Sex shops are more numerous than Dunkin Donuts in New England.

We drank some local beer at this very funky bar, which was simultaneously someone's home. Then we walked around a bit, found a convenient store where the others bought beers to stroll with. As it were, open containers are very much legal on the Reeperbahn on weekends. I guess they aren't really legal in the rest of the city, but if you don't cause trouble then no one will bother you, probably. We found an empty stage in the middle of the square and parked it there for a while to people watch.

We eventually made it into a club called Molotov where it happened to be Gay Party Night. We danced for a couple of hours before all the Americans turned in, because we aren't used to the crazy late-night hours of the Hamburgers.

An interesting experience. A colorful city.