Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everybody!... (or Frohe Weihnachten if you are in German speaking lands!) I hope everyone had a happy holiday's and is looking forward to a happy New Year. Thank you for all the cards and presents that so many people sent me! They all really ment a lot.

I had a fairly uneventful Christmas. My host family is not particularily religious, so it felt odd going through the motions without the meaning (ie: going to church, no nativity set, etc). I definately missed many of the traditions my family at home has but I also learned some new ones. For example... real candles on the tree! Or taking a Christmas walk (the idea is that everyone has eaten so much that everyone goes out for a stroll). We took a trip down to the dikes and walked along the sea... but the tide was out, so only the Watt was there. Germany also has TWO official days of Christmas. Every child's dream, right? I think most people disregard the second day though since the overall German christmas time is counted differently.

It all starts with Dead sunday. This is the sunday before Advent, therefore 5 sundays before Christmas. All those who have died in the past year are honored at the churches. Then the next sunday starts Advent and the 4 consecutive sundays following Dead Sundat are each honored by the lighting of a chandle in the Advent wreath in each home. Finally, Christmas Eve comes, known as Holy Evening here. Most german households will have a formal family room used only for special occasions. In here, on Holy Evening, the christmas tree is brought in and decorated by the mother (alone) and behind closed doors. No one is alowed to see it until that evening. Everyone then goes to Chruch with the kids to the children's service (there is always a children's service and a late night service) and when everyone comes home, the father usually takes the children on a walk while the Christ Child (a 7-8 year old version of Jesus, accompanied by angels... today the Christ Child is being replaced by Santa Claus due to the large scale advertising and media influence from America) comes and delivers presents under the tree. All the presents are then opened on Holy Evening and a large Christmas dinner eaten. Some of the older children then go out to clubs and celebrate with friends late in the night after the parents go to bed.

First-Christmas morning, many of the older kids sleep in. Families will usually visit relatives or close friends. Of course they will eat more and take their Christmas walks. Second-Christmas is about the same, but is more casual. Many people go out and it is no different than a normal saturday or sunday (which here are always slow because almost all the stores and resturants are closed in the weekends).

The teacher that showed me around his museum called me up on second-christmas and took me on a tour of all the local churches in the area. We had thought they would be open, being christmas and all (we were mistaken). But I still had a lot of fun and saw some really neat things and learned a lot about the transition this area of Germany made from the old religions into Christianity. So now, I got a pretty basic first hand knowledge of the history of East Frisia from the Ice Age until the Middle Ages. Herr Heinz also told me a little about the economy of this area and what he believes will become of this area. Its a poor land. He also said that the people and the traditions of the Harlingerland (I live in the Harlingerland, the easternmost region of Ostfriesland) usually run about 20 years behind the mainstream of the general German trends. I guess it is a little bit sad to think about the future here. But it helps me to put into perspective the people and what I see around me.

So today and in the next few days before I head off the Berlin for New Years (whooo!!!) i'll be trying out all my new christmas presents and working on an Egg (my hobby... I create Faberge style eggs) for Diana because she is leaving in 2 weeks. I hope everyone had a merry Christmas and will have a happy New Year!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Stone Age?

I got a very strange phone call yesterday... only just shortly after getting out of school for christmas vacation. An unknown teacher (to me) phoned and wanted to know if I could meet him at 10 in the morning in front of his museum, which is located inside the only remaining Holland style wind mill here in Esens. So this morning I got up early and biked to the way opposite side of town (20ish min).

I was in for a surprise. It turns out that this teacher has been doing archeology projects and excavations in the mudflats (Wattenmeer... see previous blogs for more info). The ebb and flow of the water, the coast, and the islands (which are only really big sand banks as it turns out) has been consistantly moving and changing thoughout the ages. As far back as the ice ages, the water receded so much that you could walk from here to England, theoretically. But more recently, people have been living here for about 3000 years, and like normal humans, they have been altering the landscape ever since (as well as the natural change from the tide and wind). I learned a lot about the landscape here, the bogs that were used for ''fire wood'', the nature of the tides when there is no dike, and the extreme change of the coast line. The many settlements here were pearched upon ''high'' hills... really only 20 feet or so above sea level, or on the coast... and some even out on the watt on man made hills (one hill was made entirely of cow manure!). People lived out on the watt until the early 1600's (through the entire middle ages!). Sometimes storms would detroy the settlements or the tide would overtake low lying towns. Therefore, there are a lot of buried treasures lying around.

This teacher has done a lot of excavations out on the watt. One has to wait until the tide is low, and there is only a few hours to work. But he has quite a collection and several floors on information that he and his team has assembled. So, he gave me almost a 2 hour private tour of the collection. The greatest part of it all was getting to hold pieces of pottery and tools that were over 2000 years old as well as stone tools made in the stone age! Imagine! Of course, it was all in german, and the neat part was that I understood almost everything. Something like that would have been impossible only a month ago.

Sorry for my spelling... deutch interference. I will write a christmas message on the 25th.

Sunday, December 18, 2005


I went on a little weekend trip to a small village near the border of Neidersachen (the ''state'' I live in now) and Nord-Something Westphalia. I can't remember the name exactly of the state. It is here that my neighbor Birdgit (who taught me German back home in Lima) grew up. Her mother still lives there and I spent a couple days with her. It was very interesting. The barns and houses in this little village, called Frille, are absolutely beautiful.. and are very typical german with the wooden beams in the walls and the quotes written over the doors. The nearby city, called Minden, was also very beautiful and has a rather large Cathedral for it's size (only 80,000 people). There is a lot of history in the area, ranging from the 30 Years War, Charlemagne, a sizable Catholic influence, and the 2nd World War.

The city and countryside were absolutely destroyed when the Allies bombed Germany. It is unbelievable to see what the damage was from pictures and to listen to some of the stories of people who lived durning those hard times. It also rather frighten's me to know that the Americans even bombed small villages like Esens. What reason would there ever be to lay waste to every organized town, city, and village in a country? I got a first hand acount (from both Birdgit's mother and from a museum we visited) the absolute devestation Germany experienced and the hardships. Only a very small glimpse, but enough to make my skin crawl. It also makes me realize why WWII was supposed to be the war to end all wars. I learned an awful lot in the past 2 days. It is hard to put to words exactly everything and how I feel. Hearing things like ''We didn't know they were burning the Jews'' makes your heart skip a beat.

But other than that... there were lot of other things we did. There was a record player in my room (more of a huge, extremely comfortable and cozy living room tucked into an upstairs corner) and we played christmas songs for an hour or so friday night. I also watched a chistmas program from Bavaria (and am extremely glad I was not sent to Bavaria!... although they have a lot of pretty snow). And a little old Russian lady (over 80!) that lives across the street came over for breakfast sunday morning and we all walked to church together. A Russian accent in German is really tough to understand, although not at all uncommon. There were Russians that I met only last weekend on the train who were going for vacation here in East Frisa! Fancy that... but I guess it is a lot warmer here than Russia at the moment. The little old lady in Frilla came to Germany about 10 years ago with her family. She is rather really adorable. But I feel sorry for her. She has the same teary eyes as the germans I met in East Germany. Although I think they are due more to the unfortune that her 25 year old daughter is dying of cancer. She is, however, still very adorable in a small and dainty with a determined little heart, little old grandmotherly way. I can only imagine what she has seen in her years.

I can only say it was a very unique and inspiring experience to visit ''Oma'' here in Deutschland.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Beck's Beer

Something about Christmas season makes all the Germans want to be jolly-er than usual. What better way to celebrate than with BEER! It's impossible to get on the trains these days without at least one rowdy bunch, whether it be the biker dudes or the soccer fans with their crates full of beer bottles, teenagers with backpacks full of cheep drinks, mothers all out for shopping with their wine and wine glasses, or the little old ladies with their schnops and cookies (I have seen this all)... there is always someone drinking or drunk on the trains.... WHOOOO! It makes the train rides somewhat more hilarious. It also surprises me how completely normal it is for anyone of any age to be trashed in public.

I had a very early morning start today. I had to catch the train at 7 am for the 2 hour ride into Bremen where we met up with some other exchange students and headed to the Beck's factory... the most popular beer around here and the leading export of German beers. If you look at the bottles, it even says it is brewed in Bremen (I know lot's more about the lables... but for another time). WELL... I learned all about modern brewering, the history of Beck's beer, and lot's about Beck's beer in general. It was actually quite fun. At the end we got to do taste tests... although, all the free beer that you want is hardly taste ''testing''. HA! Afterwards we walked around Bremen until 7 that night, finding other exchange students at random until we had a gang of about 15. Let's say it was an eventful day....

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

something new

ok... so after 4 months in this little (now deserted) tourist town I found the coolest thing ever... this really old barn turned into a cafe. Its full of antiques and stuff, not at all unlike Juniper Beans in Honeoye Falls, except cheep (and good quality too!). Inside is all these old tables, paintings and old pictures on the walls, cool looking antique chandeliers and things everywhere, and the rafters are full of stuff (from old toys to horseshoes). In the town, everything is decorated with lights and is quite picturesque. The only people around town these days are natives in Esens (so things are quite empty)... but now it has a lot more of a cozy small town feel than before. Not much else is new. I just wanted to comment on the amazingly cool cafe.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Sorry everyone

Ok... sorry everyone for my negativity and bad posting. It's really tough sometimes here. In the last month with the onset of extreme nordic coldness I have been confronted with the task of actually settling down here and learning to live life as a German, not an American visiting Germany. Not an easy task. I've been learning to find a balance between what I used to be and how much I've changed... something that will change who I am in the long run as well.

Thankfully, in the last week, my german has gotten to the point where I can actually read simple books and short stories and I understand 90%. That's a big thing because now I can start tackling writing that I get in school. And, with my new school schedule I've already made 3 new (german) friends.

Over the weekend Esens recieved two new exchange students, both from South Africa. They will be staying for 6 weeks (and leaving the same week as both Jacob and Diana). That will be a sad week... losing most of my best friends here all at once. But, I will be going to a new host family shortly after, of which I look forward too. The more I get to know my next host family, the more I like them. Meeting with one of the new girls made me also realize how much I've learned in the past 4 months. I've learned a language, a new culture, new friends, new family, a new diet (I've lost 5 lbs here!... and I'm more in shape!), and a lot about myself.

Anyway... more of my usual stories... with December here, things have taken on a whole new flavor! Every town has Christmas markets... they are outdoor markets with mostly handmade crafts. Everything from candles, jewelry, food, and world renowned arts and crafts (nutcrackers, small wooden angels, everything... quality german craftsmanship! simply uncomparable). Every other booth is a bar where one can get waffles and other fried christmas foods and Glühwein (glowing wine... red wine with sugar and spices) or Grog (something with rum). My favorite booths are the honey booths. There are beekeepers here in germany that make the most excellent honey that I have ever tasted. But then, people take the wax and make candles and the honey to make marvolus foods and drinks (honeywine anyone?). If I didn't love maple syrup so much, I would say honey is my favorite food. But the idea of making a million things out of honey is not at all different than what we do with maple syrup.

Thankfully I am almost done with christmas shopping, or I would go broke. Saturday I visited one of the biggest Christmas markets in the north in Bremen. Afterwards I went with my host dad (from my next host family... I was in Bremen with my next host family) to a Boy's Choir christmas concert. I finnally learned a few more german christmas carols. I have also discovered that my two favorite chritmas carols at home (Silent Night and Es ist ein Ros' entsrungen... I can't remember the english title anymore) are actually German ones.

So, things aren't really all that bad here. I'm off to wrap presents and get down to the post office. Tomorrow is my host sister's 18th b-day. 18 is a big one because kids are allowed to drive and also, the german government and culture considers an 18 year old to be a fully grown adult, with all due respect, responsibility, and freedom. A lot different from our 21 year old ''new'' adults. Schöne Adventzeit! (Happy Advent time... it isn't merry christmas.. schöne Weihnactzeit... until around the 20th)