Monday, February 18, 2008

Germany - Day 19: 2/18 (Kickin' it in "the Duce")

Days Left to Departure: 5
Broken Rubber Bands by Shan: 3.5
Doerners that I Owe Hagan for A Job Well Done: 2
Emergency Bathroom Trips by E & J = U.S. Nat'l Debt

Random event that I left out of my blog yesterday: there was a mild earthquake in Kamp-Lintfort. I was sitting on the couch, reading in the living room and the house started to shake. It wasn't big shakes, mind you. I have felt worse from ice sliding off my building's roof when I was a sophomore in college, but I definitely noticed. I looked up and none of my host family seemed to take any notice, so I made a mental note to drink less coffee, and let it go. But when Sandmann brought it up in his blog and then I thought about it, I realized that I hadn't lost my mind.
When I asked Beatrix about it, she said that because of the massive mining that goes on in Kamp-Lintfort, that the occasional earthquake is a semi-common occurrence and that they don’t even notice them anymore. Even so, they can be felt all throughout the greater Moers area. Parents of young ones abroad: realize it was an interesting tidbit and footnote on the day, not a reason to call in panic. We have not broken apart from the rest of Europe and fallen into the ocean.

Today was yet another excursion, this time to Düsseldorf. I know that I have done some that not everyone has and, likewise, some have done trips that I have not, but have heard about in endless detail (how ya doin, D.J.? - although I will admit that the military museum was pretty cool), not including walking around Moers and Kamp-Lintfort, but let’s count them:

  1. Berlin
  2. Aachen
  3. Essen
  4. Duisburg
  5. Amsterdam
  6. Düsseldorf
  7. Cargill - the company, not a city
  8. Munster (Wasserburg Anholt Castle)
  9. Köln

Each trip has required 30 of us to be organized enough to take multiple means of transportation, including street cars, low and high speed trains, buses, and recently, a boat. The stress of getting that many people on and off all of the transportation venues is starting to show as we have been to upwards of at least 9 cities in 18 days, not including the ones that we are staying in and that we are attending school in (although for a lucky few, they are the same). In short, I can tell we have all been together for 18 days because of two reasons:

  1. Certain idiosyncrasies that were funny on 2/1 have slowly become annoying (myself included)
  2. People have been taking breaks from other people for their sanity

I guess it goes with the territory of traveling as a group of intercultural and intergenerational people. The youngest is a 14 year old American girl and the oldest is 61 year old German man. That is a huge range of difference of experience, knowledge, likes, and personality to balance when you spend as much time as we have cramped together on street cars and running down platforms that we aren’t supposed to be on (thanks, Laja!). It has been interesting to observe the different groupings that have made themselves clear and how different groups interact with each other.

On Thursday we head off to the Roman influenced Xanten, which I have been greatly looking forward to, but Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday morning will be school, school, and school. Before that happens, though, we headed via train to Düsseldorf today, where, according to J-Fogg, the shopping was great, but the smells, not so much.

You could really tell that there is something of a cultural saturation setting in. Fewer pictures were being snapped today, and the background of our surroundings seemed to be an afterthought for a lot of people. If it wasn’t for the animal and wildlife preserve that we visited before we left, I would have probably only had about a dozen real pictures, besides the ones shot for the sake of humor and reaction. I called it The Brass Lion Point. There is a side story to go with that, but I have even reached a critical mass with the blog, so it’s going to be concise and observant, not exactly play-by-play (or tangent-by-tangent). The truth of it is that not being an architect, that I can only look at some many gable end roofs and be impressed with the differences between here and there, and not with the exclusively nine different types that were particular only to Amsterdam. When asked if I wanted to take pictures of a unique office building and apartment building and I opted to pass on them as I found them somewhat interesting but not exactly memory worthy, I could feel a little resentment that I was not taking the opportunity to bask in the amazingness of the apartment building. It wasn’t for a lack of interest; it was for a lack of mental and spiritual room.

I wonder if the students are feeling this. I am trying to learn as much German as I can, take in a history that I have not really studies since high school, learn names, places, pick up on cultural nuances, and then compare them from place to place in under three weeks. Maybe that was why I cherished yesterday. I could be “just an English teacher” and veg on the couch doing something I like to do in America…read. And this evening I polished off the first fifty pages of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and it felt good (even if part of me is just reading it to feel some literary posh). That being said, as I walked across the school yard this morning, I heard kids talking in German about the "American Teacher" which was funny because I could tell that they were talking about me for sure, finally, but they didn't know that I knew.

It seems that the breakneck speed that we are seeing Germany is reminiscent of a teacher trying to get through the last unit before the test. It doesn’t matter if you get it as long as the material has been officially covered. And because of that, I have been slowing down to smell the roses, have some fun, and see some things on terms that will make sense to me, not to my chaperon counterparts, per se. It seems that the kids have already beaten me to this strategy, and I take my hat off to their practicality. So I lingered in the aquarium at parts longer than I was supposed to and took ten minutes to site on the bench next to 100,000 gallon shark tank to be by myself and think of the last time I went SCUBA diving, off the coast of Ocho Rio, Jamaica.

Today was fun, overall. Looking over Düsseldorf from the big tower was interesting, but I agree with some kids that after doing something very similar in Berlin, it had a been there, done that feel to it. I enjoyed walking around the city for nearly two hours with Casey, Parkes, and Sandmann, checking out shops, grabbing some stone oven pizza, and walking through a great market where I bough some awesome fresh strawberries, realizing how much I have missed things like fresh fruit as I don’t have much control on my diet here.

The weather was great, sunny and only a little cool, and parts of the day allowed me to walk around with my jacket in my back pack, sporting just the polo and a baseball cap. Notice that they matched, J-Fogg!

At the wildlife preserve, we met up with a teacher from GSG whose first name is Juerg (although I am sure that is not how it is spelled). He gave us a great tour of the aquarium, and I was AMAZED how great his knowledge of the English names for so many fish and water creatures was. He even knew obscure references to these things called knife fish when I said a fish that looked like a swimming peace of bacon looked like one based on how it moved. He teaches English and Biology. I should move here. That sounds just like my cup of tea.

I went through the usual rigmarole of inciting fits of laughter from J-Fogg and Erin, which managed at one point to break rubber band number 3.5 from Shannon, and required an EMERGENCY bathroom break from the two girls. I did notice on the train on the way home, though, that after 18 days of the same reaction, it’s so easy that it’s almost not fun anymore. I mean that single word, not even said with particular gusto or emphasis can set them off. Even Sandmann can do it…well, almost.

So even though Düsseldorf probably won’t be super memorable because of the sights, and that might just be because it was German Destination City #9, it was memorable because of the people I spent time with today. Casey, Parkes, Sandmann, and I hit everything from stores selling surfboard, to book stores (Casey has GREAT vision, by the way), to a shop with the largest Doerner Kebab rack we have yet seen. It was laid back and casual, especially with the kids (as I was the only chaperon with them for those two hours) and it reminded me once again why I wanted to come on this trip. Spending so much time together can make any group grate on each other’s nerves, but I am proud how they, and really, we all are handling it as we wind down to a last few days. It was kind of sad that today was my last “Monday Morning” in Kamp-Lintfort, but I remind myself that this trip is just one stage, one adventure, in the great labyrinth that is life. Why would I want to walk the same path over and over? And what fun is it to head out straight and fast when you can simply spend the rest of your time enjoying the maze?

Sorry to be so abstract and meandering, but that’s where it is at, today.

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