Reflections on Köln

Attending mass at the Kölner Dom was one of the most interesting things I’ve experienced on our outings. The cathedral itself is just magnificent. It is so large that it is nearly impossible to take it all in. Despite its enormous size, the builders still took care to cover every surface with ornate carvings. Stepping inside and attending the service gives you a glimpse of what an ordinary church goer would have experienced 500 years ago. The high vaulted ceilings do a wonderful job of making you feel small, and looking beyond the alter, the light streaming in from the stained-glass windows seems like heaven could just be on the other side. During the service, the smoke from the incense and the organ music enhance this mystical feeling. The service was entirely in German and I could only pick out a few words and phrases, but this is also like what might have been experienced back in the day, as the service would have been all in Latin. Despite this, I was still able to discern the main theme of the sermon, which was to offer what we have to God even if it doesn’t seem like much, just like the boy with the bread and fish that Jesus used to feed the five thousand. Overall, I think that it was a very unique experience that I’m glad I got to do.

Elevator Speech

Living in another country for the first time, I am not sure that I can describe it easily. Germany is very westernized, so the differences are not large. However, like the princess and the pea, the small differences were enough to throw me out of balance a bit. The hardest part is being around a language that is foreign to you. I can only image now how those feel who come to the US without knowing a lick of English. The whole world of interaction is nearly shut off. Thankfully here in Germany, many speak English, but not all. The other large difference is just how the people act. The slight differences add up in our cultures, so the people seem to be very different in a nearly indescribable way. I have definitely experienced the stereotypical cold German attitude, but I have also met some Germans who are happy and ready to speak and interact. They just expect different things out of interactions than are normally expected in the US. They seem to want a lot of information out of people, but is seems people in the US assume more – or just ask less questions. It also seems like there is more of a rush here. Everything is quick and efficient. In the South and even in Michigan, you can take time to ask a question to a clerk or just not rush. They may just have a culture of stress and working. Many people smoke and drink high caffeine drinks, which I believe points to their productive mentality. Another difference is customer service. Since they are not on a tip system, the waiters do not act as kindly and do not listen as well as they do in the US. This could just be the fact that we were in large groups though.

Another culture shock is the lack of clear Christianity in Germany. People appear to have less restraint when it comes to alcohol, sex, and other vices. It seems as if the ban on Christianity in the Soviet east and the more liberal influences of Europe have changed the culture of Germany away from the former Holy Roman Empire to a secular state. You can tell these differences in advertising and media. As a person from the South, the main shock was the open sexuality. Advertisements left nothing to the imagination, and there are sex shops and cinemas that openly display items and images. On top of this, alcohol can be openly consumed in public, and public intoxication is not strongly enforced. Now this does not mean that many people are sex crazed or drunkards. However, I fear that living in an environment like this can cause one to believe that the base morality behind these – controlling passions and baser instincts – is not valid. That it is fine to follow what you body wants whenever you feel like it – that inhibitions should be ignored.

Elevator Speech

I had a lot of incredible experiences this summer. This was my first time ever leaving the country, and being fully immersed in a different culture. I was able to experience different forms of worship at a different cathedral each weekend. Studying engineering at the Technical University of Berlin and learning German from native German speakers was even more immersive. On the weekends we would go to cities around Germany, and spend the day exploring the city. This last week we were able to separate into smaller groups and travel around Europe. My group traveled to Munich and stayed for two days, staying at The Tent, which was a hostel that is famous for being very cheap and super hip. After that we went to Zurich, Switzerland for three days, and on one of those days we went to Schwanden, and climbed the Swiss Alps. On the way back to Berlin we stopped at Freiburg, Germany and got to see the Schwarzwald (Black Forest). Then we got back to Berlin and got to relax until we left for America.

Protestant and Catholic Mass

This summer we’ve gone to many different churches throughout Germany, some Catholic and some Protestant. After our trip to Wittenberg, and seeing Luther’s church, I was able to see the differences in the two major religions in Germany. We were first able to participate in a Catholic Mass at the Cathedral in Cologne. The mass felt deeply religious and private, as a protestant, I felt like an outsider and even an intruder. The service felt more like a ceremony than what I was used to. At the protestant service I was actually surprised to find that much of the service was similar. The specifics of the service were different, but the overall feel of the service was the same. I was raised in a far more contemporary style of church services, and being in both of these types of services was far different than anything I was used to. One thing that I could tell from both services, was that the religious people here seem deeply devout.

“How was Germany?”

It’s currently 8:35am on Friday, and I am on the ICE Sprinter train speeding towards Berlin at 300km/h.

The fact that I will be leaving this place in a less than a day has not settled in yet. Every single meal, outing, even commute to class seems to have zoomed by, almost as fast as this train. There’s so many experiences to share, but here are just a couple.

Continue reading ““How was Germany?””

A Summary of My Time in Germany

It was fantastisch. Studying in a foreign city for five weeks and exploring other ones on the weekends gave a great sense of the culture, both as a citizen and as a tourist. Schnitzel and Doners, sehr lecker. Die Autos were interesting, but I wasn’t used to using public transport that much, so that sucked. And air conditioning is not common, so being there in a heatwave was irritating. But overall it was a great time filled with new experiences and memories I’ll never forget.

Oh yeah, and if you’ve ever heard someone say, “The beer there is cheaper than water”, it’s usually true, but the beer was not cheap, the water was expensive.

I’ve heard the program is going to shut down after next summer which is a real shame. The program is a great opportunity to study engineering and German(y) in a practical and fun way.

PS. For my free week of traveling, I went to Venice, Konstanz, and Prague which was a blast. All three places were drastically different in many ways and were fun to explore and relax in.