Tuesday, September 22, 2009

German Adventure Day 10: Monday, July 27th

The day after we got back from Dresden, we went on a canoeing trip on the Alster River in Hamburg. Mike and I got our own smaller canoe, and in the other boat was Julius the Zealous, along with some friends of the Hampe family.

Hamburg's elite lives in huge houses on the Alster, so we got to see how people who think they're way better than anyone else lives.

It was a beautiful day in Hamburg. Summers there are so different than in Florida! Of course, winters are different, too, but not in a good way!

I was more than happy to let Mike do most of the work while I took pictures :)

This picture is a product of me pointing the camera towards the back of the boat and snapping a photo. I didn't want to risk capsizing the boat by turning around!

Strangely enough, I did the same thing for this one, and it came out really well!

At this point in the trip, I remember starting to get over a bit of the "culture shock" of being in a foreign country. I didn't realize how tiring it is to hear a language you don't understand all day, to have to rely on someone else or your best gestures to order in a restaurant or ask for directions. At first I was extremely timid, fearful of even paying for a purchase without having at least Mike right there, but at this point in our trip I was much more confident. Of course it helps that most Germans speak English! They are so funny - if you ask a German whether or not they speak English, they always give the same answer - "a little." But their definition of "a little" is very different from mine. I thought that I spoke "a little" German because I can count to ten...but Ms. Cashier at McDonald's thinks she speaks "a little" English and is fully fluent! I guess I should quantify the amount of German I speak as "very little," or even "hardly none at all!"

Sunday, September 13, 2009

German Adventure Day 9: Sunday, July 26th

Today we saw more of Dresden with Mike's relatives, Mattias and Elke. First we rode on Europe's oldest suspension railway to get beautiful views of the city.

The Blues Wonder (Blaues Wunder) Bridge over the Elbe river....which goes all the way to Hamburg in Northern Germany!

The Elbe River.

Elbe again.

We really enjoyed spending an extra day with Elke and Mattias. I wasn't sure what to expect before we met them, especially knowing that only Mattias speaks English. But they were both so welcoming and warm. Elke speaks about as much English as I speak German (translation: not very much, and not very well!), but she did not let that stop her from communicating with us. She just kept right on talking in German, and through gestures, pointing, and Mattias, we got most of it! But even when I didn't understand her, I was so grateful that she was trying. And Mattias, my English-speaking friend.....he was my saving grace! They asked us many questions about our family and life in the U.S. I hope they will come visit us someday!!

Before I show you more pictures, I have to tell you one of my favorite stories from the whole trip. When Mattias and Elke picked us up from the train station, we took our luggage and drove all over town for the rest of the day. When we got into their car, I immediately recognized the music that was playing rather loudly: it was an old Tanya Tucker cd (a country singer). I figured that when they heard we were coming to visit, they must have rushed to the store and bought the only English language music cd they could find to make us feel at home - how sweet! Well, the next day, we were driving around again, and an old Johnny Cash song comes on. Of course I made a comment about it to Mike, and Mattias cuts in and says "Do you like Johnny Cash? I love Johnny Cash!" I was dumbfounded - turns out they are both big-time country music fans!! I asked Mattias how in the world he - a German who grew up in Soviet-occupied East Germany - came to like country music, and he smiled mischeviously and said "Amazon!" So for the rest of the day our conversation sounded like this:

"Do you like Waylon Jennings?"

"Oh yeah."

"Hey, is this The Tractors?"


"They have a really good Christmas cd."

"I know, I have it!"
We had a blast with our relatives. Elke and Mattias showed us the rest of Dresden, including some places that were near and dear to Oma. Mike got ahold of the camera and took lots of abstract shots:

We spent the afternoon riding the train back to Northern Germany and the Hampes. Dirty bathrooms, smells, standing-room only....I've had enough of trains for quite awhile, thankyouverymuch!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

German Adventure Day 8: Saturday, July 25th

Mike and I took the train to Dresden....BY OURSELVES. What struck me as strange throughout this whole trip was the magnitude with which seemingly small accomplishments struck me. I am aware that some people live jet-setting, global lives which include things like flying halfway across the country and back in the same day just for a business meeting, or actually ordering from those SkyMall catalogs, but I am not one of them. Traveling to Georgia is a big deal for me, much less EUROPE! But one comfort I found in traveling so far outside my comfort zone was the fact that we had our hosts, the Hampe family, to keep us out of trouble. So as you can imagine, traveling on a train by ourselves in a foreign country was a big deal for me. Thankfully, we had family waiting for us on the other side, but in order to explain this to you, I need to dig out the Wolfe family tree....hang on a sec....

Okay, ready? Mike's grandmother, Gertrude Ludwig Wolfe ("Oma" to pretty much everyone) was born in Germany. She moved with her family to America when she was a teenager in the early 1930s. She left behind her extended family, including a cousin with whom she was very close, whose name is Kathe.

Oma lived with Mike's family for most of Mike's life, and Kathe (who speaks no English) kept in close contact with Oma through letters and phone calls. Mike's mom once told me that when she answered the phone to a string of words she couldn't identify (German), she would just go get Oma :)

Kathe has a daughter, Elke, who married a man named Mattias, whom I love dearly for 2 reasons:

  1. He is the ONLY one on this side of the family who speaks English.
  2. He loves country music.

Mike with Kathe, Mattias, and Elke

So now that you have your Wolfe family history lesson, , it's time for a pop quiz!! Just kidding - I'm still learning myself!

Elke and Mattias met us at the train station and took us to Kathe's home. She is now in her 90s and lives in an assisted living facility. And lemme tell ya, stepping into her place was like stepping into the twilight zone. Oma lived in a "mother-in-law suite" that was attached to the main house by way of the porch, and it was about the same size as Kathe's place. But what was really eerie was how they had decorated their respective homes EXACTLY the same - full of handmade crafts, family pictures, and lace. They really are two peas in a pod, from their mannerisms to their looks.

I can't begin to describe how special meeting Kathe was. Oma passed away in May, and everyone misses her dearly. She welcomed me into the Wolfe family without a moment's hesitation, and did the same for Nils. She greatly enjoyed speaking German with him! Kathe shared pictures that Oma had sent her over the decades, from baby pictures of Mike's dad to pictures from our wedding. Their bond was evident. She also asked us (through Mattias) for more information about how Oma passed away and what her final months were like. I feel proud to have met that side of our family, like we somehow brought the circle of our family, which spans an ocean and many generations, a little closer.

And I made a new friend!!! Kathe thought it was so funny when I struck that pose.
The feel and look of Dresden really spoke to me, especially after leaving the rush and crowds of Berlin. Dresdeners are very proud of their history, and although many of their landmarks were lost World War II or destroyed by the East German government, many of them have been rebuilt. Some pictures; along with captions when I can remember:

As you can see, the weather was not cooperating! Luckily the rain held off most of the day.

The clock tower.

A statue of the Saxon King John. Built in 1889.

Behind us is the main entrance to the Zwinger Palace, which was the first historical structure to be rebuilt after WWII.

The Frauenkirche - a Lutheran church whose reconstruction was finished in 2005. Elke and Mattias wanted to show us this church because Oma remembered it fondly.

A statue of Martin Luther in front of the Marienkirche.

The dome of the Kunstakademie, an Academy for Arts.
I was getting so bad about posting Germany pictures that I have taken to leaving Blogger up all the time, so that whenever I open my laptop I can upload a few pictures or write a couple of sentences and maybe eventually finish! Unfortunately Blogger does not always feel like letting me do this, so that makes postings even more delayed. I caught some sort of cruddy sickness from my kids, so I can't guarantee another post for at least a couple of days!