Friday, August 19, 2016

Kristin Returns to Germany

The U.S. Embassy. I made the guards nervous I think because
I spent a bit of time early one morning sitting on a bench just to
the left of this picture.
It feels rather weird. I am trying to write up my summer vacation, but I am simultaneously preparing to move to China. As I wrote in my last post I have received my Chinese visa and (not previously written) this morning I got confirmation of my flight reservation. While I am not looking forward to another long flight it is time to tell you about my last trip before living life gets in the way.
At the Brandenburg Gate
After a week in Zurich, I flew to Berlin. Landing in Berlin was almost like getting a breath of fresh air. While I greatly enjoyed Zurich, Germany is familiar and comfortable. In Switzerland, I couldn't usually understand people on the street. Swiss German is very different to High German; so much so that I can't begin to understand it. When I landed in Germany it was almost like magic: I could understand everything! In Germany, I typically understood how things worked (for those of you who do not know, I spent my senior year of high school in Germany as an exchange student and have been back to Germany to visit several times). When I had questions in Germany, I had friends to ask. Thus, returning to Germany was kind of like going home.
The dome was closed for cleaning. I went up to the terrace, but it's
not nearly as interesting as going up to the dome
 (something I've done before).
I spent the first 4 days in Berlin visiting my friend A and her son B. Switzerland is so expensive that when A offered for me to stay with her I jumped at the chance. I have been to Berlin many times, but I spent most of my days checking out the sights and often finding museums and exhibits I had not seen before. I spent my evenings hanging out with A and B. I had a great time. Be sure to check out the photos.
After 4 days in Berlin, I took the train to Munster where my friend C lives. Munster is a fairly small college town and there isn't that much to see there and I had been there before, but I had a good time nonetheless. There is a guidebook author, Rick Steves, who has a great book called Europe Through the Back Door. I read it a couple of years ago before my trip and throughout the book, Steves talks about always being on the lookout for opportunities to spend time with locals. Additionally, throughout Steves guidebooks, he speaks about trying to be a temporary local. In Germany in general and Munster in specific, I got the opportunity to be a temporary local. Not only did I spend my evenings with C and her husband U and their son B, but I also got a couple of other opportunities to live like a local. Munster is a bicycle city. Everywhere you turn you have to watch out for bicycles. My friend C often will go up to about two weeks without driving her car (an unbelievable feat for most of the United States). Most of the time she travels by bicycle. My first afternoon in my hotel I was reading the guest book and saw that they rented bicycles for only six euros. Thus, the next day I rented a bike and headed out to meet C. Now I love to ride and I often bike 10-15 miles at a time, but I had a few challenges with this bike. First, it was big! I lowered the seat all the way and I could just barely reach the pedals. This wasn't so much a problem for pedaling as it was for handling the bike, especially in traffic. This brings me to point 2: in Anchorage, I bike mostly on trails, many of which aren't crowded at all and those that are I can maneuver easily because my bicycle is small. The third challenge was a bit of a surprise. When I was a child my bicycle had brakes that you applied by pushing backward on the pedals. For my tenth birthday, I got a road bike (my current bike is a mountain bike though) and it had hand brakes. At first I found it rather difficult to use the hand brakes, but of course, after a short while, I mastered it. I had never seen an adult bike with brakes on the pedals. I can no longer truthfully say that. The bike I rented in Munster had both hand brakes and pedal brakes. Now you might be thinking, "wait a minute if the bike had hand brakes why has she listed this as a challenge riding this bike?" That's because Munster is a city and cities have stoplights. When I would stop at stoplights (a bit of a challenge because of the bike's overwhelming size), I would have trouble starting again. I was accustomed to resetting the pedal by pushing backward so that when the light changes I push off and away I go. However, push backward on the pedal resulted in applying the brake. My starts were often rather awkward and I have to wonder what people thought when they saw me (probably not much because unlike in China, I do no stand out in Germany).
Despite these challenges, I had a great time riding along the bike paths and getting a feel for the city via the most common transportation system. I also had a great time in the downtown area. On my second day in Munster, C, B and I rode downtown (C has a child seat on the back of her bike that B rides in). We did some shopping and other things downtown before heading to the local market to get B some waffles. After we got the waffles we found a place to stand/sit/ hangout. It was near an older couple who engaged in conversation with C about housing prices and other topics directly related to
"Munsterland" (the way people in the area refer to the greater Munster area). Now while it might not sound interesting to engage in this kind of conversation I enjoyed it. This is part of what it means to be a temporary local. I got the chance to really hear what locals think and about the local issues. After a while, though the wife engaged me commenting that I must not be from Munster because I hadn't said much on the topic. I replied that I wasn't even from Germany. The husband tried to guess where I was from and guessed Scandanavia (throughout my entire trip I don't think anyone ever guessed correctly - a number of people, especially native English speakers, guessed Canada). Now I have to admit, my least part of this conversation was when they asked me about the election (a topic that all the Europeans I engaged in conversation with wanted to speak on). One thing though that I found particularly interesting was the wife's tale of traveling through the US alone (the husband's tale was also quite interesting, but that was more related to the fact that he doesn't speak any English). She told me about how a lot of people we really surprised that she had traveled throughout the U.S. by herself, but she had told them she was never really alone. She had been very surprised but greatly enjoyed how the Americans were always engaging her in conversation. Everywhere she went people were friendly and talked to her. It's always so nice to hear people have a good impression of your country.

After Munster,

A lives near the Charlottenburg Palace

This is painted on the Berlin Wall in a section that has
been turned into an art display:
The East Side Gallery.
 I traveled to Croatia for a week. I had a number of really interesting times there and so I will try to get that written up before I leave for China (in 79 hours!)

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