1/25/15

Heidelberg, Germany...

Our travel plans for Saturday, January 24th included an early morning departure to visit Heidelberg, Germany. We left at 8:14 AM and arrived in Heidelberg around 10:30. We boarded the bus and headed to the famous Heidelberg Schloss, took the Bergbahn up the hill to the Schloss, bought tickets for the guided tour and were underway with the tour at 12:15 PM.

A few pictures to capture the experience. In the snow, cold, and conditions with taking pictures with gloves on and my iPhone - you get what you get. For anyone interested in seeing more touristic and professional photography, just click on THIS to see the beauty of Heidelberg.

Looking down from the Schloss to the Aldstadt portion of Heidelberg...

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Looking down on the Neckar River from the Schloss...



The three largest wine barrels in the world existed, one remains, in the Schloss that held 220,000 liters of wine. Water was not consumed back in the day due to potential death from contaminated water, so a lower alcohol content wine was the daily drink by man, woman, and child. Here is the remaining huge wine barrel...



After the guided tour, we ate at a restaurant in the Schloss which in retrospect was not a good choice as it took more than an your for our food to arrive. I had hoped to allow 1 - 2 hours of free time in the Aldstadt for the students, but the slow service for lunch took away most of that.

While we were having lunch, as had been forecast the snow started to fall. By the time we made our way down the mountain to the Neckar River and turned around to look back up at the Schloss, the scene had changed to this...

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Upon our descent, we immediately went to our second scheduled visit for the day at a very unique museum: Dokementations - und Kulturzentrum Deutscher Sinti und Roma. It is the only museum in the world that is dedicated to the 500,000 Sinti and Roma (or the politically incorrect term we often use and hear in the US: gypsies) that perished during WWII's genocide known as the Holocaust. I had a special interest to see this museum because, even though things have become better in historical documents, accounts, and literature about the Holocaust in the past 20 years to include more mention of the Sinti and Roma, it still pales in comparison with other groups that are focused on in the study of that period. Our latest edition of the textbook we are studying does a better job of mentioning the Sinti and Roma, but doesn't go deep enough. I felt going to the one and only dedicated museum in the world for it was going to be quite an experience for me - and the students.

And it was!

After our tour of the museum, the man who had greeted us and issued us the audio guides said there was someone he wanted to introduce to me. The man introduced himself and asked who I was, where we were from, and what we were doing. So I told him we were from Simpson College in Iowa, why were in Germany, and what we were studying. He wrote all of this down on a sheet of paper. He started to explain to me that his grandfather and great uncle were survivors of the war, and that is father was born one year after the war was over, but that 13 family members had been murdered in Auschwitz, Ravensbrück, and Natzweiler camps. His father has 6 children of which he was one of, and the father - Romani Rose - became a civil rights activist and is the Chairman of the Central German Sinti and Roma. He explained that is why this unique museum was located in Heidelberg, and not Berlin for example. He asked why I was teaching a class about the genocide. I explained that my mother-in-law and her siblings were survivors and we talked, and shared stories. Then he said he had a present for me and went into another room, only to return with a 200 page book edited by his father entitled "The Nazi Genocide of the Sinti and Roma".  It is filled with German documents, stories, pictures solely devoted to telling the story of the Sinti and Roma. Much of what we saw in the museum is in this book, so I feel like I was inheriting quite a special document.

Regardless, we visited a little more and he invited us to come back for a more subsequent visit, lectures, and meeting some more people if we were interested. The museum has no entrance fee, and upon his gift to me of his father's edited book - I asked if he would accept a donation. He refused and would not accept it. I was moved by his passion, his stories, the way he looked into my eyes and shook my hand. It was an experience and moment that I find hard to describe, but suffice it to say there was almost a pleading, a suffering, and a request to tell the story; share the history; and be a link in the chain. He didn't even have to say that to me, it was if we both understood looking into each other's eyes, and the handshake that this was the responsibility. Or the gift.

Needless to say, I left the museum perhaps on a different level than the students, but certainly emotionally moved as I headed down by myself to view the Neckar River, the Aldstadt and try to absorb it all in the time we had left before catching the bus back to the train station.

The old bridge in Heidelberg that crosses the Neckar River...

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The entrance to the bridge on the Aldstadt side has a famous sculpture of a monkey, The myth is, if you rub his coin you will have good forture, if you rub his hand you will one day return to Heidelberg...



I felt guilty touching the coin as I felt the experience I had encountered an hour prior in the German Sinti and Roma museum that my fortune had already been found, touched, blessed, enriched by meeting and hearing all about the Rose family. So I placed my hand on the coin more in a move of thanks for the day's adventure, and chance meeting.


1/23/15

Ribeye Steak in Germany!

Today marked the two week point for my time here in Deutschland. Having had pork, lamb, chicken, pork, fish, fish, fish, salads, pasta, pizza, pizza, pasta, fish, pork, salad, salad, cereal, pumpkin, potato, pumpkin, leeks, potato, pumpkin, pizza, etc....I had not had any beef yet. I guess the craving altered my evening plans tonight.

After work today, I helped my hostess take down her Christmas decorations outside before walking the 30 minutes to the gym to hit the weights. On the way home from the gym, the plan was to stop at the store and get some turkey or chicken to bake for my dinner. However, I spotted a restaurant that I had heard about, but had not yet located until tonight. It's a Mexican restaurant, and they also have steaks. Lust, gravity, desire, hunger, post weight lifting buzz, Black Angus craving - all led me through the front door of the restaurant called Joe Peña's.

The decor was nice, lighting was cozy, and the place was empty when I arrived because it was early yet for the German dinner hour.

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Even though the place was empty, all the tables were reserved. I sat at the bar and went for the 300g Ribeye steak medium rare with salad, and grilled veggies.

Tara - you know I just had to pull out the iPhone to snap a shot before I dove in...

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It was just what the Doctor ordered! YUM!

Tomorrow we are off to see Heidelberg where we will tour the Dokumentations- und Kulturzentrum Deutscher Sinti und Roma, and the Heidelberg Castle.

1/21/15

Out of my way!!!

Cultural Observation for today. Whenever I holler out at the walkers on the bike trail, it doesn't seem to have the same response as it does stateside. Maybe I am being too polite with my Ich bin auf der linken Seite.

I will next holler out a simpler....Fahrrad Links!!!....to see if I get a better response from the walkers. And there are a lot of walkers - which is good to see here in Germany.

I may have to buy a bell as I have heard a few others with the ting-ting of a bell. However, I'm moving along in the 14-18 mph range and coming up on people in winter hats and coats which might be part of why they are not responding to my calling out. Oh well...life could be worse. I will figure out the trail etiquette in German in due time.

I didn't feel any muscle aches today from the gym session last night. That's odd since I worked it pretty hard after nearly a two week layoff from weights.

I figured I had better take advantage of no rain or snow today to get a 90 minute Zone 2 effort in while the getting was good after work, and before the sun set. It is now setting at 5:01 pm rather than 4:48 when I got here two weeks ago, so I am getting a little more leeway on the afternoon side. I discovered a nice 3.7 mile climb up the mountain behind the house I am living in which will be a nice workout when I take it on.  Coming back down the hill should be a nice screamer!!!!

Here was today's post-work training ride...

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Schorndorf to Beutelsbach and back. I worked up a good appetite and ate some bread, cheese, and turkey cold cuts in my loft digs as there was no point in going out or cooking tonight. Tomorrow night is our first pizza night. I'll try to get a quick spin in after work tomorrow and before the snow starts on Thurday evening (forecast is for 1 - 3"). Looks like we have an upcoming week with snow just about every day which is going to land me in the gym on the spin bike until everything melts and the bike paths are clear again.

It is winter after all, and the first two weeks have been relatively warm and mild. At least I got to break out the winter jacket today which I was wondering if it had been a mistake that I brought it along. However, temps were in the 30's and I enjoyed having it.


1/20/15

Cultural observations...

This is pretty much a post simply to keep my family abreast of life here in Germany. All is going well, we have started classes, and the routine is well under way. I do have plenty of administrative work for the program going on the side that is requiring tending to, but it appears to be at a level I can manage at the moment.

Fears have been removed and I am speaking and doing everything in German just like the old days.

What's been new this week?

I joined a choir last night along with 4 of the students. The choir is called the Schorndorfer Kantorei which normally is about an 80 voice choir made up of members of the community and region. Last night, for the first rehearsal in 2015 there were more than 100 that showed up. We were introduced as the Americans joining the group and got a warm welcome from everyone.

I joined a gym today called Clever Fit. They usually only have one year contracts, but I explained my situation and why I was in town to the point that they are letting me do a month to month plan while I am here. I only need the weights and machines, but the compromise was that my fee would include everything at this fitness center - weights, trainer, cardio, massage, tanning, drinks, showers, classes, etc... .  From my Facebook post about the experience today...

Cultural Observation: A German Gym (Fitness Center) is just like it is in America - except everybody totally stares at you in Germany. Non-stop! On the other hand, gym etiquette is much better in Germany for everything else (beyond the staring). People obey the rules, put their weights back, wait their turn for the machine or bench, are very polite, and people talk to each other. Thumbs up on the experience! But the staring....is sorta creepy and odd compared to the Midwest gym scene.

We had our first snow today since arriving. It didn't stick in Schorndorf itself, but just up the hill the mountains are covered and the trees look beautiful.

We eat at one restaurant on M-W-F. Tuesday is our "roving day" and today we went to an Italian restaurant (Italian owners and cooks) called La Scala. The pasta - as one would imagine from a true Italian cook - was great!

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We will rotate through 2-4 other restaurants on our Tuesdays as it was a group decision to do that. Thursdays, I will simply give money to the students so they can eat somewhere on their own for lunch as every Thursday at 5 PM we will have a Pizza Abend which has been a tradition for the Simpson Schorndorf program. That way, I'm sure that everyone is getting 5 good hot meals a week. Part of the experience for the students is culturally for them to try new things - including food. One student ate pumpkin (pumpkin soup) for the first time in her life yesterday. Several had never had oil and vinegar on a green salad before and didn't finish their salads because of it. The owner pulled me aside and asked if there was something wrong and what could he do about it. I told him not to worry that the salad was excellent. I suggested perhaps we have the dressing on the side so the students can regulate themselves what goes on the salad and how much of it. He said that would be fine.

I turned in the forms and purchased the monthly local transportation cards yesterday. Tomorrow we go to the Police Station to register that we are living in Schorndorf and pick up our forms to apply for our Visas. I bought train tickets for our Saturday trip to Heidelberg, and for the next two weekend trips as well including a trip to France.

A few of our dates and arrangements got ironed out at the Volkshochschule for some upcoming events we will do with our host families. A joint trip with the host families, a presentation evening where we will present photo projects and do some singing/performing for them, and a final good bye/friendship evening in April before we go. Everyone is very nice here which I'm not sure what I was expecting having lived in Vienna. I have had nothing but positive experiences with everyone I have met and dealt with during these first 2 weeks. That certainly makes for a more pleasant transition and experience thus far. Maybe it's still the honeymoon phase so to speak.

That's it for now as I must prepare tomorrow's lesson plans a bit more thoroughly based on how the first two days went.

Bis bald...


1/16/15

Adapting to life in Germany...

Coming up on the end of my first week here in Germany, I can talk about some of the adaptation issues I have been coming to terms with the past few days.

#1. Walking everywhere. This I remember well from living in Vienna for many years. Walking about an hour a day is no big deal if you live in Europe, but it has been a bit of big deal for my legs to adapt to the amount of walking. Today was day 7 of being here and the shins and legs are trying to adapt with their morning stiffness and reality of adjusting to all of the walking. No wonder I remained slim when I lived in Vienna - the walking burns a lot of calories.

#2. I had to buy a wine opener as my hostess did not provide one in my loft apartment, so I went shopping yesterday and debated between getting a Swiss Army knife with a corkscrew, or just getting a normal corkscrew. The Swiss Army solution was nice, but pretty expensive. I settled on quite a unique little pocket corkscrew that travels well and is very form-functional. It works well and I think it looks pretty darn cool...

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I took the group to our first lunch at a restaurant we will be eating in quite a bit the next few months...

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It's under new ownership by a man named Luigi Greco. He is young, energetic, Italian, and will take good care of us between now and the end of April for our lunches.

#3. Jet Lag sucks for me! I've dealt with it since 1990 on a regular basis. No matter what I have tried over the years - it always takes me a full week to adapt. Last night was the first night I slept normally from 10 pm to 5 am. I am hoping tonight, after a 75 minute Zone 2 bike ride and a full day with the students to make it a few minutes longer tomorrow morning. Who knows?

#4. The language has bounced right back for me after not having lived in a German speaking country and using it every day since 2003. I was worried the first few days, but here at the end of week 1 and all is coming back at a good rate of remembrance. I've moved beyond functional to actually doing quite fine.

#5. One can choose - as a leader - to be a Den Mother, a guarded Paternal figure, or a mix of both to guide the experience of the students. I think I am in the "mix of both" category, but certainly will try to "be all that I can be" to the group of 11 that are here.

Today, we took pictures for our monthly rail/bus card, visa, and anything else we might need. Those that wanted to get a SIM card for their phones to be able to use their US Smart Phones here in Germany got set up. The rest of the day was pretty relaxed as we talked about their host family experience last night to make sure everything was going to be fine, had lunch, decided on a meeting point for tomorrow's day trip and got everyone home on the right bus or train.

Saturday day trip #1 tomorrow to Stuttgart to see the Art Museum, the new shopping city, walk the shopping district, and choose a ballet as well as an opera performance at the State Theater to purchase tickets. A lunch thrown in there at some point as well.

Monday will begin the official classes from 9 - 12, and 1:30 - 3:30. I've got a few miles to go with my syllabi in the next 48 hours to say the least...

1/14/15

Jet lag is always a beast that wreaks havoc on my sleep cycles, so I thought using exercise this time would help curtail it.

It is a bit warmer than traditional this week in southern Germany. I jumped on the chance and used the nice weather as an opportunity to hit the bike. I traveled 14 kilometers over to one of the neighboring towns on Tuesday by riding to Weinstadt.

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It was a wonderful 59 degrees outside with sunshine, and very little wind. This made for a pleasant 1st journey. I only stopped for 2 photographs as I wanted to keep riding and get back to the house in time to do some work.



The rear Arkel rack came with extenders to have the rack 4 inches lower than it is shown in these pictures. Once I got back to the house, I put the extenders on and that lowered the center of gravity. It also made for a much easier mounting and dismounting process to swing my leg up and over the rear rack and pack.

Did the ride help curtail my jet leg? Nope!

Wednesday's pleasant start to the day weather wise gave way in the mid-afternoon to huge rain showers with thunder and lightening. The high was only 46, but I got my first trip to Aldi in to purchase groceries. I arranged for a few more things for our visit, then had lunch with my host, her daughter, and grandson. A second trip out and about in the early evening was a nice hour walk as I bought some coffee, fresh bread, garlic, and avoided getting rained on since I timed it perfectly.

Did the walk curtain my jet lag? Nope.

It will be back in the 50's on Thursday when I pick the students up at the Stuttgart airport and bring them to Schorndorf where they will meet their host families. Friday will be our first day of classes, and Saturday is our first weekend day trip.

Now, to see if I can get some sleep...

1/10/15

Arrived and settled...

I had a safe schlep from one continent to another. No surprises outside of one suitcase arriving with the zippers all messed up as it appears TSA didn't take their time to zip it back up properly after they inspected it. It was an easy fix involving sliding the zipper all the way back around to the other side which was too much to ask the authorities to do - or so it appears as my bag was hand delivered through the heavy baggage door, dropped on the floor where all of my stuff dumped out on the floor for all to see!

Here's where home base will be the next 4 months...



Upon arrival Saturday afternoon, my hostess mentioned to me that it was the 80th birthday of Sherrill Milnes and she had just heard an hour radio broadcast highlighting his career. That broke the ice as we launched into a discussion about baritones. This and a glass of champagne to welcome me to her home was how it started, followed by homemade pumpkin soup, a 2 hour visit in German, and a trip to the grocery store.

I managed to stay awake until 7 pm - then slept for 9 hours.

Daylight is 39 minutes shorter here than in Iowa, so it is dark until about 8:13 am here, and is dark at 4:48 pm making for a shorter day. It's 40 degrees this morning at 8 while I type this and get ready to make some breakfast. Heading to 56 by Tuesday which might be a good day to assemble the bike and check out the local riding.