Thursday, April 14, 2011

Germany- Travel Day

We ate breakfast at the hostel and then took three subway trains to the train station. Then we boarded a train and rode for five hours to Cologne, Germany. Standing on the platform waiting for our next train we met the group of students that had gone to Prague and the McLaughlins with the group that had stayed in Frielassing when we went to Berlin. We were all together again and traveled together to Aachen and then changed trains one last time to get to Verviers. We were so glad to get back!

When we got back the McLaughlins got an email from his sister telling him that their mother was in critical condition and suggesting they come on home. It has been hard on them to decide to go but we convinced them we would be fine. They will be leaving on Monday and we will finish out the last few weeks without them. Prayers would be appreciated on their behalf.

Germany - Day Seven

We arrived in Berlin by about 3:00. We had spent all day on trains getting there. Then we took three different subway trains to our hostel.thank goodness it was right at our hostel. This was doubly important since when we emerged from the subway the wind was blowing so hard it took your breath away. It was bitter cold and blowing so hard it about blew you over. We walked leaning way into the wind. We dropped our backpacks off at the youth hostel. We discovered it was very youth oriented and Cliff, Jon Michael, and I were in a room with a sink but we had communal bathrooms down the hall. At least they weren't coed!

We left the hostel and went in search of the Berlin Wall. We walked forever since our group tends to get lost but we finally got there and took pictures. Then some went off to buy tickets, some to explore, and JM and I set off to find the Hard Rock Cafe. We ate a wonderful American meal (I had nachos complete with guacamole and sour cream!)with the gang and had a blast. Then our family and four students took off to see Blue Man Group. It was the same as the New York performances we have seen with a few exceptions. They played with the German language some. It was a blast and it was so neat to see it through Jon Michaels eyes. He loved it!

It was late by the time we get back to the hostel and even though it was loud, we fell asleep with no problem.

Germany - Day Six

Germany - Day Six
April 11, 2011

It was nice to have a day to sleep in. This was a day of free travel and many students took full advantage of it. We had a group that left for Prague yesterday and also the McLaughglins and a couple of students went to visit friends on a military base not far away. We had e rest of the group. Some went hiking, Cliff went to Vienna, some went in to Salzburg to shop, and a good portion of those left stayed and studied, feeling the time pressure of one week of classes with finals and papers and projects. Becky was one of those students and she watched after Jon Michael this afternoon while I treated myself to the Sound of Music tour in Salzburg. I was joined by two of the students and we had a lovely afternoon visiting all the sites in the movie. I loved every minute of it. Before I left, my folks gave me some money just for things I normally wouldn't splurge on myself for. this gift has bought this tour, a concert and autographed cd by the violinist, some jewelry and a few other things I probably wouldn't have bought for myself otherwise. I appreciate both thhe money and the loan of my Dad's great camera that he uses to take weddings with. I'm getting pictures I never would have gotten with my little camera. 

It was a wonderful day and I smiled all day just enjoying the lovely countryside, the interesting stories about the country and the filming of the movie, and the great company. It was a bit strange to go from the enormous gravity of Dachau yesterday to the light and fun emotions of the Sound of Music tour today. But life is like that. Emotions and circumstances can change on a dime. I'm just glad I get the chance to experience it all. Bed comes soon tonight since we leave for Berlin at 4:30 am! Back to Verviers on Wednesday. 

Germany - Day Five

Germany- Day Five
April 10, 2011


How do you begin to write about a place such as this? I'd studied about it in school and again when I was a National Pilot Teacher for an adult education curriculum linking the steps that led to the holocaust to those that led to the hate crimes happening in Tennessee. But even that didn't prepare me for walking through the compound, the crematorium, the museum. How can you prepare yourself for standing in the disrobing room, the gas chamber labeled "shower" room with fake shower nozzles, the rooms where the bodies were piled, and the body shaped ovens created for only one reason?

This time I also had my children and husband with me. Jon Michael and I had several long talks about what it was and what he was likely to see there. I left the choice up to him. He decided to go and I left him with the option of leaving at any time just in case. I appreciated how well the memorial site showed the gravity of what happened here without exploiting the horror. I couldn't have taken him any younger or another child that didn't have the maturity he has. Becky was deeply affected by it as well and we are still processing with her and some of the other college students. You want to shield these children from the face of such an evil as this, but you want them to know, to remember, to honor those lost, to know that good was still present in the midst of such evil. The film emphasized that the death toll would have been even higher had they not helped each other and sacrificed for each other. It does make you want to hold each other tight and be thankful, though.

One of the most meaningful events of the day was the worship service we had in one of the small chapels they have there for remembering, worship, and meditation. John gave a brief talk about a God who allows suffering and read some passages, including some from Job. Then he compared the death and suffering of these innocents to Jesus who was innocent and yet suffered and died for our sins. It hit me then that he also died for the sins of those who DID these terrible things. What a loving God we have! We sang songs like Holy Ground, The Greatest Command, and In Christ Alone. The words of the last two verses of In Christ Alone were very powerful. "No power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from His hand!" We took communion and I felt it in a different way than ever before. The closing prayer was led in a rough, raw voice by a young man who had been deeply touched but still pushed through with heartfelt love and faith. It is an experience none of us will ever forget.

I had just finished reading a book called "Sarah's Key" that was about a 10 year old girl who had been in the round up of Jews in Paris and sent to an internment camp. It covered the story through her eyes, a child's eyes, that made it especially poignant. A couple of the kids bought it at the gift shop and one has begun reading it. One of my counseling students is writing her report on Logotherapy and Victor Frankl who survived one of the camps. These will all impact their lives. It gives me peace that these tender hearts were touched...outraged...ignited by what happened here. The knowledge will help make sure nothing like this will ever happen again.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Germany -Day Four

Germany -Day Four
April 9, 2011

Today was our trip to newschweinstein castle, the castle that Walt Disney modeled the Cinderella castle after. It was like stepping into a fairy tale. We rode a horse drawn carriage up most of the way and then walked through four floors of beautiful furnishings. The view out every window was gorgeous. Then we rode the carriage back down. The rest of the day was spent on trains and buses getting to and from the castle. It was a four hour, fairly uneventful trip getting there but we had a doosy of a time getting back.

It started when we came down the mountain to hear our bus left for the train station in five minutes. W ran to catch it only to find that they had to repair some tracks and the train station was closed. However, the train company sent a bus for us to take us to a working train station elsewhere, free of charge. So we rode for almost an hour to another train station. Our train took us to Munich where we  had missed our intended train and so had about 30 minutes to grab dinner and get on the next train. When our train left, they announced that it would only take us so far and then we would have to get off the train and travel by bus to another station due to track repairs. They crammed us on these buses, our entire group was standing, packed in like sardines. We rode that way in that hot, crowded bus for about 35 minutes. If I had fainted from the heat I would still be standing because there was no place to fall. At one point we couldnt find Bishop, the McLaughlin's youngest son but then we located them. His mom, Debbie, had stayed at the hotel as she was really sick and running a fever. His dad and I had looked after him today. I had last seen him with John but they had gotten separated. We finally arrive at the bus station and pile off. Then we all puke on to a crowded train and spread out all over the train but at least we all found seats. W finally got home about 10:15. They kids had a singing in the grounds of the church across the street with some young girls that had met several of our past groups and asked if we were going to have a singing like other groups. Or kids were happy to oblige! Now we are exhausted and heading to bed for much needed rest. 

Germany -Day Three

Germany - Day three
April 8, 2011

After our hotel breakfast, our group took off for Salzburg, a short ten minute train ride from our town. Our first stop was Mirabell Gardens where we reinacted scenes from the Sound of Music from the gnome garden and the fountain to the arbor and the "Do-re-me" steps. About a dozen of our kids wanted to film them doing the song on the steps, which they did with two of us taking pictures and filming. As they were singing, a huge group of Japanese tourists came up and started filming and taking pictures too! They gave the kids a big round of applause when they finished the song. They did sound pretty good! The kids were so delighted by the whole event! It was so fun.

After looking around Salzburg a while, mozart's house, little Christmas shops and places that sold cuckoo clocks, we got back on a train and headed to the salt mines where we had an afternoon tour. We all wore cute "Ghostbusters" jumpsuits and rode a mining train to the mine. We also slid down log chutes to get to port of the mines. We rode a boat on the lake while they did a light show on the cave walls and saw the process. They we rode a mine train back out. Interesting experience. Jon Michael wasn't sure the log chute was an experience that needed repeating but the rest of his family had a blast!

We ate at a Tex Mex restaurant that night that some of the kids had found. It was mediocre at best but we had good company. We walked back and went to sleep to the sound of the kids playing truth or dare. Brings back dorm memories of trying to sleep on a noisy hall.

Germany - Day Two

Germany -Day Two
April 7, 2011

We were glad to have a later start to our day today, we had breakfast at the hotel and left about 9:20. We caught a train to Konigssee and rode a bus out to where we could take a boatride to the island. We saw Hitler's Eagle's Nest high on a hill from the boat. We dipped our feet in the ice cold water, fed the ducks, relaxed and watched some of our kids set off for some hiking. We rode the boat back and shopped the rest of the afternoon. Then we rode back to the hotel and had cordon bleu for dinner. The kids visited and enjoyed the cool evening out on the patio. We enjoyed their chatter from our open windows. It is so peaceful here. Just to enjoy the beauty of the Alps, a sunset, good friends sharing this amazing experience...I think this is my favorite place of the whole trip to far. 

Germany - Day One

April 6

We had a very early train. We left the facility at 7:15 am. We had an 8 hour train trip to where we were staying in Germany. We rode a little train to Achen, Germany for about 30 minutes, another train for an hour and a half to Brussels, Belgium, then a four hour train to Munich, Germany, and finishing with a two hour trip to Frielassing, Germany close to Salzburg. The plan worked well until we got to Munich and Cliff, Jon Michael, and I got off at the wrong Munich stop. We were sitting in a different car than the others. Our itinerary just said Munich, not which Munich stop. Our connections were so tight we knew we would miss them. We got the next train in 15 minutes and pulled in just after our scheduled train with everyone else pulled out. We got another train in an hour and were met at the train station by John. A short ten minute walk brought us to a charming hotel where we had a view of the Alps from our windows, big fluffy pillows and duvets on the bed and a dinner of schnitzel. Germany has the greenest greens, the bluest blues, and the whitest whites. The gingerbread houses and crisp, clean lines of the whole area makes you feel like you have been swept into a fairy tale.

Just as we sat down for dinner, I looked in the dining room reserved for small groups and saw a sewing machine! I asked our waiter (also the hotel owner) what they were doing and he replied, "patchwork". I  said I knew they were quilters! He said " Come, come, come!" he introduced me to them as an American quilter and they seemed as excited as I was! We chatted for a while and they showed me their projects and the plan for this year's block of the month done in appliqué. When they were beginning their meeting I went back to my dinner of salad, fries and schnitzel as they said their goodbyes and wished me safe journey. It was a trip highlight for sure!

We walked around the town after dinner as the sun granted us beautiful photo ops as it set. W passed a woodcarver's shop and saw birdhouse, and trees transformed into wonderful creatures. We returned to the hotel where we got a lovely nights sleep and awoke to the Alps outside our window to greet the day.