Wednesday, August 5, 2009
Reflecting on my days in Germany, though tough, makes me appreciate the experience more. Through studying abroad I have gained knowledge of other cultures and languages, made great friends, traveled to places I never dreamed I could go and have grown as a person as well.
I definitely have more confidence in myself and my abilities because of my opportunity and I want to thank everyone who made my journey possible.
Special thanks to the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire News Bureau and the Center for International Education for supporting me and encouraging me to write this blog.
Friday, July 10, 2009
I feel that I am leaving Marburg with a stronger sense of self, an appreciation for other cultures and a new found sense of pride in my home country. Of course, I am taking new friendships, memories and experiences from my time abroad home with me too.
Over the next week I will be finishing my German literature course, packing up my room and saying my goodbyes. I do not plan to blog more until I am back in the states.
Check out my pictures from Marburg at http://picasaweb.google.com/nemecse/Marburg#.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
About thirty people met together in the town square for the vigil. The majority of those that attended were Iranian themselves. Many wore black in mourning for those who have died and green to show support for the opposition.
After about two hours, the posters, candles and information booth were taken down. The permit had only allowed them to demonstrate for a certain amount of time. Some left but many stayed an in somber silence.
As I departed, a young Iranian women came up to my friends and I and gave us the white roses that had been surrounding a photo of Neda, a young Iranian woman whose death has become a symbol for the opposition movement. She thanked us for coming in English and went back to sit amongst the crowd.
I was touched by the kindness of her gesture, yet left feeling more helpless than ever. What could be done for these poor people? What could I do?
The following Saturday, I attended a protest rally outside the courthouse in Frankfurt. Thousands of people gathered around a stage in a sea of green, holding signs and chanting slogans in both German and Persian. Somehow among them we found Fatemeh and Hossein and they tied green steamers around our wrists and pinned green ribbons to our shirts. Many politicians spoke, songs were song in both English and Persian and an overwhelming feeling of solidarity was present throughout the afternoon.
I left Frankfurt that day full of a new appreciation for my country and sense of privilege for the freedoms that I have always known in the USA. The accounts of the injustices that the Iranian people have suffered seem so foreign and unreal to me. I can hardly fathom the existence of regime that feeds on the oppression of its own people.
As for the feelings of helplessness, they are something that I will have to come to terms with. As someone outside Iran, I can only keep myself educated on the situation and offer comfort to my Iranian friends until they too know the freedom that so many of us in the west take for granted.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
After finding our hostel in Dublin, we went right to the Guinness brewery at St. James Gate. At first, I went along with the brewery tour idea because it was something that my group members were interested in; however, it turned out to be really interesting and fun. The tour was very interactive and my senses were always stimulated by something new, whether it was tasting and smelling the hops and barley, listening and watching the varies video screens or touching the running water that at one time helped power the brewery. Of course, the free samples and complimentary pint in the sky lounge overlooking Dublin were also selling points for me.
The next morning we took a tour through the countryside, which was by far my most treasured experience in Ireland. For 26 Euros, a guide drove us and six other people through the rolling green hills, stopping at the ruins of monasteries from the sixth century, ancient burial mounds which featured carvings over 4,000 years old and the hill where according to legend, St. Patrick lit a fire challenging the pagan king and giving Christianity a foothold in Ireland. At each place the guide would stop the van, turn around in his seat and give us the history and significance of the place we were about to visit. The information was always in a story format and full of humor, which made it more fun and easier to digest.
Over the next few days, we visited the Blarney Castle (and kissed the Blarney Stone of course) in Cork and wandered along the Cliffs of Moher, near Galway, enjoying the view and the smell of the sea. The greenness and serenity of Ireland was exactly what I needed and soon I felt refreshed and ready to take on my last month of classes in Germany. Speaking English without guilt and the self accusations of laziness was also nice for a change.
However, my trip was not all perfect. While in a pub in Dublin, my purse was stolen. If I had been smarter about what I took out with me that evening, the next day would have gone easier for my travel companions and I and we could have continued exploring the city as planned. Unfortunately, I did not return to the hostel after taking a tour of the countryside, so not only was my money, ids and debit card taken, but also my iPod, camera, cell phone and most importantly, my passport were gone as well. Suddenly, I found myself penniless and without any kind of personal identification, which I would eventually need to get back into Germany.
The next day I went to the U.S. Embassy straightaway, while my travel companions waited patiently outside. The process of getting a temporary passport was surprisingly painless and after filling out a few forms, I walked out of the embassy doors with an emergency passport. The whole process took at most two hours.
Getting my bag stolen did not ruin the Ireland experience for me. Really, it could have happened anywhere, even if I was at home in Wisconsin. Luckily, I was traveling with caring and supportive people who were willing to lend me money until I sorted things out.
That being said, I really enjoyed my time in Ireland and hope to visit the island again in the future. Feel free to look at pictures from the trip using this link: http://picasaweb.google.com/nemecse/Ireland and as always, questions are welcomed.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
On Tuesday, June 15, my classmates and I begin a German literature course. I am excited at the prospect of starting something new, however saddened that I will be in a class with only the other Americans from the University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point and UW- Eau Claire. One aspect of Stuffe Eins and Zwei that I really enjoyed was working with and befriending students from other countries.
Before the literature course begins, I have a five day break, which I have decided to spend with friends in Ireland. We will be staying in hostels and exploring the cities and surrounding areas of Dublin, Cork and Galway. I am super excited to see what the “Emerald Isle” has to offer and am looking forward to having a pint while taking in some Celtic music.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
We also visited Schokoladen Museum or The Chocolate Museum together. The museum was interesting, with displays and information about how the coco-bean is grown, harvested and processed, coco farming and free trade organizations and a small Lindt chocolate factory where visitors could actually watch chocolate candies being made. The highlight of the visit was definitely the gift store at the end of the tour which featured many different types and flavors of chocolate. The consensus of the group was that the Chocolate Museum was worth the visit; however more free samples would have been nice.
While the rest of the group went back to Marburg, two friends and I stayed in a hostel and further explored Cologne. We checked out the nightlife, sampled the local brew and explored museums (which happened to be free because of some type of city promotion) the next day.
The next week we had a long weekend, so I decided to make use of my special ticket and travel around the state a bit. Every student enrolled in the Phillips University- Marburg receives a card that allows them free public transportation in all Hessen’s cities and free regional and intercity train rides.
One day I traveled to with some friends to Eisenach, which is located in the state of Thüringen, but is free with our cards. In Eisenach we toured Wartburg castle, which was where Martin Luther first translated the bible into German. We were able to see the very room and desk upon which Martin Luther sat as he worked, which was pretty cool.
Another day I traveled to Kassel and spent the day exploring the Schlosspark Wilhelmshöhe, a very large park, visiting the large statue of Hercules, enjoying the wasserspiel and touring the Löwenburg castle. I definitely want to go back to Kassel to explore more of the park in the future.
First image: Tom and I posing next to an advertisement in Cologne.
Second image: Me posing by the Wartburg in Eisenach.
Third image: Alyssa, Richard and I enjoying the wasserspiel in the Schlosspark Willhelmshöhe.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Leaving the train station, I was overwhelmed by the presence of police. They rode horses, sat in big vans and stood authoritatively on street corners. The parking lot was full of them as we got into the little red Ford. Birgit explained that they were there because of a Neo-Nazi, rally and protest march that was taking place the next day.
Birgit told me that every year the Neo-Nazis rally on May 1, protesting the presence of immigrants in the country. It is their belief that immigrants take jobs away from German citizens, which is why they protest on Tag der Arbeit. I also learned that historically, Tag der Arbeit was founded by the Nazis.
Every year a new city is chosen for the protest. This year, it was Hannover’s turn. Because of my interest and my endless flow of questions, Birgit decided to take me to see the rally the following morning.
Birgit and I set off at 11 a.m. to see if the Neo-Nazi protest was going to happen illegally. It was banned the day before because of fear of violence toward citizens and property, though it was fully expected to occur as an act of civil disobedience.
We walked most of the path where the march was supposed to take place and did not see anything out of the ordinary. Part of me was disappointed (I could have slept in!). The remaining part was relieved and dared to hope that this was a sign that extremist groups, like the Neo-Nazis, could no longer exist in modern society.
Later we learned that the rally did take place behind the train station and that some violence did occur. However, this is not what I experienced on May 1.
What I did experience was a big festival full of political speeches, music, beer and German camaraderie. This untitled fest occurs every year in Hannover and featured many kiosks from political parties (mostly from the liberal side of the political spectrum), though this year had a definite theme of diversity and tolerance and rejecting Neo-Nazi ideals. Birgit and I strolled through the booths, stopping to grab party information, buttons and postcards.
My favorite card from the day featured eight plump, delicious-looking bratwursts and said, “Braun und gut? Kann eigentlich nur eine Bratwurst sein!” meaning, “Brown and good? That can only be a bratwurst!“ Brown is the color traditionally associated with Nazism. Of course, everyone knows that Germans love their wurst.
The slogan for the festival was also “Bunt Statt Braun,” or “colorful instead of brown.” The adjective “bunt” can be used as a term for cultural diversity.
The runner up is a red postcard that reads, “Rote Karte Gegen Nazis,” or “Red card against Nazis.” Anyone that knows anything about soccer should recognize the symbolism here. A red card is a penalty card which can get a player thrown out of a match.
When I was not learning about German politics at the kiosks, I was listening to speeches. There was a stage surrounded by people waving flags and chanting “Nazis Raus!” or “Nazis Out!” Many had signs against nationalism which bobbed above the sea of people.
I saw the Minister President of Niedersachsen, Christian Wulff, give a speech about equality and diversity in Niedersachsen and how Neo-Nazi ideologies had no place in the state or the country as a whole. He publically thanked the 3,000 police patrolling the city, as well as the 15,000 people attending the festival. He received generous applause and the speeches continued. Later a reggae band from Spain took the stage and the waving signs and flags were abandoned as people danced to the music.
Later reflecting on my experience at the festival, I was very happy to have gone. So often is present day Germany pinned with its past of fascism and hate. Though history should not be forgotten, too many people associate modern Germany with racism and radical philosophies concurrent with WWII. Those who fall into this category, here’s a figure for you: there were an estimated 1,000 Neo-Nazis expected to rally in Hannover May 1. An estimated 15,000 rallied against them the same day. I am proud that I was one of 15,000.