Sins of the Past

Going to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp was very interesting, but incredibly sobering. It makes one wonder how people are capable of doing such terrible things to each other. Most concerning of all is how it was a gradual process. It wasn’t so bad at first, just strongly encouraging people to leave. Then people were forced out of the country and eventually arresting and sent to their deaths. All the while, the German people were fed propaganda and indoctrinated in the Nazi regime’s ideology.

The results of those terrible events can still be seen today. The German people are very averse to strong nationalism. It may very well be why the new right wing nationalist movements in Europe don’t seem to be gaining and hold in Germany.

It affects things more subtly as well. There are gold colored plaques throughout Berlin that mark the locations of Jewish families that were forced from their homes and businesses. Just as the plaques are present, but not advertised, the Holocaust museum in is under the radar as well. There is a field of rectangular stone slabs. In the monument park lies the entrance to the museum under the field. There are no signs or advertisements, but it is there.

I don’t think the German people will ever forget about what their country did in the past, but maybe one day they won’t be burdened by the guilt.

Taste of Italy

This last week many of us parted and took our separate ways. We embarked on a week of travel to wherever we desired. I went with Robert to Naples, Italy to spend a few days with our friend’s family.

Now, no trip to Italy is complete without eating some delicious food. To help describe some of the things we ate, I’ve included some pictures.

The first picture is a dish of mussels, clams, and octopus over a bed of crisp bread in a delicious sauce.

The pasta below is a potato pasta covered in cheese. It was incredibly filling and tasty.

The last two pictures are our trip to the “bar.” Bars in Italy exclusively serve coffee, while their pubs serve alcohol. The pastries were filled with delicious ricotta cheese.

We ate a lot more, but this gives a small taste of it.

Germany, Italy, Food, and really long Layovers

I came. I saw. I ate lots of food.

Seriously though, a lot has happened in the last month and a half. I arrived here dazed and confused with no idea what I was doing. I am now slightly less confused now that my time here is done. My German skills went from almost non-existent, to the level of a 3-year-old. However, that is being very generous to myself.

I’ve finished my engineering classes of course, but I have learned far more outside of it. I can now get around the city on my own, navigate the various transit systems in Europe and how to figure out where I am when I am lost.

Did I mention the food? I’ve discovered that my favorite German food is Döner kebab, despite it being Turkish food. I have also eaten enough Schnitzel and potatoes to last a lifetime. I’ve had delicious Italian food in Naples as well.

I’ve spent way more time in airports and train stations than I should have and I’ve been to places I never thought I would have just a year ago. I’ve eaten pizza in Naples and visited the home of Martin Luther. It’s been a great set of experiences.

Contemplating the legal extortion that is paid-for-use Bathrooms, and other thoughts on Germany

I don’t know what I think of this whole Germany thing yet. On one hand, it’s exciting to be in a foreign country and all, but I don’t think I like it. It may very well be because I have never lived in a large city before, and it is a huge change from rural Iowa life. However, it may be something else. This trip has really highlighted how many things we take for granted as “normal.” For example, most public bathrooms here require you to pay. That was quite a surprise when I found out I might add. It’s other things as well. No one smiles here. I’m cognitively aware that Americans smile much more than other cultures, and I know Germans tend to be more reserved with outward expression. It still bothers me though, even though I know people don’t mean anything by it, it’s just how they do things. There are so many cultural behaviors that seem normal until you go somewhere else.

The differences aren’t only cultural though. They are also pragmatic as well. I can honestly declare that I think the Euro and German pricing models are far superior to their US versions. Euro bills change size and color based on value, providing tactile feedback on value. A far superior system than homogenous green bills. The coinage is great too. The coins are worthwhile amounts! Dollar, 50 and 20 cent values make the coins worth using. Don’t get me started on public transit. It’s fantastic. It really is. The US system is abysmal in comparison.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the trip here.

First Thoughts – Better Late than Never

(These thoughts were recorded at the beginning of the program, they just didn’t get posted until the last day.)

I’m on this trip because I wanted to experience Germany. I wanted to walk the streets of Berlin and live in a place thousands of miles from home. I grew up in a small rural town in Iowa and I’ve always wanted to see the world. I traveled to places around North America, but I’ve never been beyond it. This was my chance to study and live abroad during my time at Calvin. While this may imply that I am here to be a tourist, my intentions are completely different. I hope to live, in some small way, like Germans do. To see things from their point of view. To learn about how their history influences who they are today, and what they think of the world.

More practically, I want to learn what it’s like to live in a city. How to get from point A to point B without the cars that are a vital facet of rural Iowan life. How to find food, housing, and other necessities without superstores or the convenience of a home. I want to learn the language, but also to experience not being able to communicate. To know what’s it’s like to be a stranger in a strange land.

My hope is that by the end of the program I will have learned how to live in another country, at least in some small way. I will, of course, learn about Statics and Dynamics, as that is the engineering class I will be taking. However, the lessons I learn outside the classroom will be more important.

I hope that not everything goes well on this program. That may sound strange, but there is a method to my madness. While I hope nothing seriously bad happens, I do hope something will go wrong. Such that we must adapt to it. That we become uncomfortable and must change our habits and grow from the experience.