Sunday, February 10, 2008

Germany - Day 9: 2/8 (Aachen and 180mph on the Autobahn)

Today I was able to sleep in a little and not get up until 7 am. Beatrix was taking me to the city of Aachen today, where she and Voker attended college and Gideon is now attending. It is also the city where she and Volker where married and is home of Aachen RWTH, which is a technical school that she describes as one tier below M.I.T. I tended to some further e-mails this morning while Beatrix went shopping to stock the house with food while she was off in Spain this weekend and after she returned, we departed.

Aachen is about a 90 minute ride west from Kamp-Lintfort. Along the way we chit chatted about a variety of issues. I found out that Beatrix’s “house helper”, Jana, is Bosnian and has been with the family for eight years. According to Beatrix, her German has improved markedly over the past eight years, but she speaks almost no English at all. I am finding that there are so many words that are similar between the languages that it is near impossible to say that you don’t know any German or any English. For a quick example: to make a long story short, there was a question as to how one would translate Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” into to German. The translation: “Ice Ice Baby”.

We arrived in Aachen after Beatrix showed me the most bizarre looking hospital I have ever seen, where she worked before moving to Kamp-Lintfort and becoming a teacher. It had most of its pipes, ductwork, and conduit on the outside of the hospital, and they were painted bright reds, yellows, and blues. She said that they were in such a rush to build the hospital that they designed it as they went and the end result was that it cost over double the original estimate, over three million Deutch Marks more than originally thought, which caused much political turmoil.

Aachen is an ancient city, which is still structured like it is in the middle ages. It was really built by a man named Karl der Grosse, whom I had never heard of before. It is in the formation of a wagon wheel, with an outer ring of streets and an inner ring of streets. The most impressive structure besides the city’s Capitol Building is the Aachen Dom, which hold some impressive artifacts. The streets and alleys are narrow and have outdoor cafés and wandering musicians who play music in courtyard after courtyard.

Beatrix and I walked around quite a bit and then made it to the Aachen Dom. After looking around the first floor, Beatrix suggested that we take the tour, which I agreed to do. Unfortunately the tour was in German and this time I understood about as much, or maybe even less, than the documentary on gorillas in the Congo, but they provided me with a handout giving pertinent information. While sitting listening to the guide explain things in German, I started reading the handout and it talked about Charlemagne extensively. I sat there thinking about his name in English…Charles the Great. Charles is so close to sounding like Karl. And der means “the”. Grosse means…wait a minute! Grosse means “big” or “great”! Charles the Great, Charlemagne, Karl der Grosse!!! That made everything make so much more sense.

Housed at the Aachen Dom were some amazing artifacts. The first is the sarcophagus of Charlemagne, including his actual remains. A funny fact: 90 of his bones are all that remain because the church, in times on need in the past, sold them off and put a small slip of paper in each one’s place explaining that it was necessary for the financial stability of the church, but to never do it again.

There was also a vessel of like construction dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Inside it was said to hold a dress of Mary’s, Jesus’ nappies (I assume baby clothes), a loin cloth of Jesus, and “the decapitation cloth” of John the Baptist. There were figurines carved into both vessels and Beatrix noted that on one side of Charlemagne’s sarcophagus, there was a carving of Charlemagne in the middle, with the pope and the Holy Roman Emperor on each side. It was noted that Charlemagne’s carving was taller. Each carving sat in an archway. The way the figurines were depicted, the pope and the HRE had to bow their head slightly downward and in the direction of Charlemagne because of the height of their arches. Beatrix noted that this was done on purpose to indicate that Charlemagne was greater than both the Pope and the HRE and it was a political slap in both of their faces.

I also had the chance to see the Imperial Throne of the Franks. Many German kings sat upon this throne and possibly even Charlemagne, himself. It is said that the stone and wood construction is believed to be made of materials that were transported from Jerusalem itself.

After the Aachen Dom, we walked around Aachen, seeing its famous hot springs and taking not of the Roman influence on the area. Beatrix also pointed out that the population of Aachen is very educated and that there is little industry in the area outside of the making of chocolate, baked goods, and marmalade. We stopped at a café and I had kaffe and some dessert (cappuccino canello und Krippekramandel) which I ordered in solid enough German that the waiter came back and spoke to me in German, where then the game was up and I had to smile at him and have Beatrix translate. At least I fooled someone, finally. After that, Beatrix showed me where she was married, I had a chance to see the royal crown and jewels, and we started heading back to Moers. Frau Canavan’s had called me earlier in the day and had asked that I come to Ice Skating Disco Night that night in Moers and I agreed to. At about 5:00, Beatrix dropped me off at Frau Canavan’s hosts (Patrick and Sarah’s) and we talked about a variety of topics from differences between German and American teaching to student attitudes to rugby and soccer.

At 7:30, Patrick (a German who speaks English with a Scottish accent) dropped Frau Canavan and I off at the Moers ice skating rink, where I attempted to not break myself on the ice. It was apparent that this was a popular place for teens because the Germans were all very good skaters and most of the Americans, besides Parkes, were not. It was a fun two hours, even if I was the SECOND oldest person in the building. I had a good time scaring Niki every time I went past her. I may have been a large reason that she spent more of her night lying on the ice than standing on her skates. I also met a German student named Dorian who had done the exchange to BH-BL and knew many people there, including Herren Kramer, Hildebrandt, and Himpele, along with other students whose names I did not recognize.

The event ended at 10:00 and Frau Canavan and I walked around Moers for 45 minutes, waiting for our ride. At 10:45, Volker, who was coming home from Bosnia, picked us up on his way through Moers in his Audi S5, which is just a ridiculous car. After dropping Frau Canavan off, he delivered on an earlier promise. On the autobahn, he took off and the last time I looked at the speedometer, it had crossed over 270 km/hr, and he said before he started slowing down we were going about 180 mph. I could not believe how well the car handled and how fast the other cars were zipping by us and the scenery turned into a straight up blur. What a sweet ride. When I win the lottery and send my wife, mom, and sisters, to Ka De We, I will be at the Audi dealership.

After making it back to Kamp-Lintfort, I am calling it a night. Tomorrow Heinrick Lemm is taking Frau Canavan and I to the Essen, which also means the word food. It should be fun. Even though I don’t need to be ready to go until 10, its now 1 A.M. and I need to get some sleep.

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