Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Just a few thoughts

Busy, homework, travels-none of the usual excuses even apply because I have just been neglecting my blog. I apologize deeply for not keeping all the avid readers up-to-date in a timely manner. I haven't traveled to any exciting, far off regions of Europe, so I suppose in my mind nothing I could write would top the other experiences I have had so far. Of course, the past few weeks have brought me as much joy and happiness as the first three months even without the travel.

April has brought a some wonderfully happy, memorable conversations, lots of random laughter, and several fun events. All these great, everyday moments can be attributed to my friends here at Harlaxton. It is so nice to write about my friends at Harlaxton. As many know, I came overseas knowing Laurel Harrold and we have travelled everywhere together, and I have loved it so much. I am so lucky and blessed to have had such a understanding and positive person as a travel companion, but I found it difficult to branch out and meet others. This month I has proven that I have accomplished this. This week I sat at lunch for about one and a half hours, not because the food was very good, but because I enjoyed talking to my friends so much. That was the first time I didn't eat and leave. It was so nice to laugh.

In the past few weeks I have been a ladybug at a costume ball, been filmed for a Harlaxton promotional video, taken a bike ride along the canal with friends, seen two live theater productions, and celebrated Easter. School is winding down (tomorrow is the last day of class), and I haven't had that much homework. This sounds so strange to write, but I am going to say it: I have had some free time. Often my life doesn't allow this much and I really can't remember the last time I could say that I had a few weeks of time that weren't jam packed with homework and other activities. The time has been filled with reading The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet. The book made its way across the ocean with me, and I intended to read it while I was here. Little did I anticipate that I wouldn't get to it until the last two weeks of the semester. I am nearly half way done with the almost 1,000 page paperback, and so far I would recommend it to anyone. It may have special meaning in my eyes, as the setting is Medieval England, a time I have studied and a place I have come to dearly love.

As I mentioned, some of the activities that have filled up my empty time are theater-going and some fun around the Manor. Last Saturday I went to London (all by myself!) to visit the British Museum and see the matinee of Spring Awakening. First off, London was as packed as I have seen it. The British Museum was the busiest museum I have been in ever. Families were everywhere. In England and Europe, the Easter weekend is often a time for travel and vacation (or holiday, as they would say). Every major tourist destination is busy. In the British museum I tried to ignore the screaming children and make my way through the throngs of tourists to see the amazing objects. My favorite area was the Enlightenment Room. This housed lots of objects from a period of change and discovery. There were famous thinkers and scientists that were revolutionary for their time. The room itself is quite beautiful as well as it was a King's reading room at one time. After a few hours at the museum, I ventured on for a walk through London's streets. I have found that one of the best ways to discover a city is just to walk and look around, listen to the sounds, notice the people. So many times (I am so guilty), tourist just want to hit all the hot spots quickly, but there is something almost magical about getting to know an area through its people. I finished the walk at the Novello Theater just in time to collect my ticket, buy a program, and have a cup of tea at the cafe next door while reading up on the show history and cast.

Spring Awakening has murmured though the halls of Harlaxton as the musical to see. Many students have taken it in and loved it. I talked to several about their opinions and never heard a negative comment. After hearing the rave reactions, I had only one question, where should I sit? In most situations I would look at the ticket price that would determine my seat, but Spring Awakening offers a unique opportunity for audience members to sit on the stage. A few of the people I spoke with cautioned me against doing this for my first viewing as the view may be obstructed a bit, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to be that close to the actual cast.

On the stage, an actor or actress was always next to me just waiting to go on to the main part of the stage. I could see the spit fly out of the the actor's mouth as they enunciated every word! When the music gained speed and the volume grew, the stage shook and so did I. I was part of the show. What a great feeling to be so close to a production, yet it went on as if I was not even there. It was the most unique way I have ever seen a show in my life.

I have never seen such truthful, raw theater. The young actors and actresses who danced and sang upon that stage shared the questions and issues that young people faced. Laced with sadness and fear, the show creates a dynamic that is honest and music that has no limitations. Basically, it is one of those shows that keeps playing your mind long after you have left the theater. You ask yourself and others questions, and that is what good theater is.

Last night I had another theater experience that was memorable. I went to Nottingham to see the Royal Shakespeare Company on tour perform, The Tempest. The production was in collaboration with the Baxter Theater Company from South Africa. It was set in Africa which is not the normal setting for the show. The costumes of the spirits were reminiscent of The Lion King. It was obvious that the director and producer were looking to make a comment on the colonial overtones associated with the production. I am not sure where Shakespeare's actual text and play fits in with all these extra elements of the production, but it was entertaining! Visually, it was very appealing and I most enjoyed Ariel's portrayal. Between the traditional African masks, puppets, and music it was quite a production!

Tonight was the last outing for my Meet-a-Family. This is a British family that Harlaxton matched me up with to have simple dinners and outings. Their kindness and hospitality was so much appreciated. We went out to a family restaurant tonight and it was a nice ending to a wonderful aspect of my semester.

Before I sign off this post I want to give a bit of an update on my other life (the one that goes to school at William Jewell and calls Jefferson City her home). I have been offered and accepted the position of Editor-in-Chief of the Hilltop Monitor, the William Jewell campus newspaper. I a so excited to take this position. In the past semester, the Monitor has provided me with lots of wonderful experience, fun, and skills. I am looking forward to leading the whole staff for a year. I know that I can propel change if needed and provide support for other campus organizations. This is of course a big job, so I will need lots of prayers and support as I take on this challenge that has countless opportunities.

For the summer, I am so excited to live in Jefferson City in my own room with my family. So many of my friends from home have secured jobs in places all around the nation, and I am sad that I won't have them to provide a little fun in my life. On the other hand, I can't wait to live at home no matter if they aren't there! I am working at the Missouri Department of Conservation with the Outreach Program in the Digital Communications shop. I will continue to blog throughout the summer, so you will be updated.

Everything seems to be withering away, but I can't let my guard down quite yet. I have three finals and an eight day trip to Italy!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Munich and Since

Bavaria. What comes to mind? sausages, pretzels, BMW, castles, churches, lederhosen...maybe even the Olympics? I hadn't thought much about the culture of Germany (bavaria in particular) before venturing off for the second long weekend of the semester to Munich. Laurel and I did and saw so much that I can't possibly share it all, but I will highlight some of my favorite moments.

Munich is a beautiful city with character that permeates everything from the buildings to the food and especially the people. Marienplatz, the city center is overpowered by Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall). This foreboding, somewhat overpowering, neo-Gothic style building houses the world-famous glockenspiel that plays a fifteen minute carillon depicting a wedding between the Duke of Wilhelm V to Renate von Lothringen in 1568 as well as the Coopers' Dance, a medieval dance performed in 1517 to avert the plague.
On Friday, we joined the hundreds of spectators who gather underneath the glockenspiel perched
high above on the facade of the Neues Rathaus to view this iconic show. Don't get too excited. The first five minutes only feature a chorus of the 43 bells while the remaining ten minutes are repetitive and lack the excitement the crowd waits for. It is definitely "one of those" tourist must-sees that probably will be a bit of a disappointment. Oh well, you take a picture and move on to the next hopefully, more fulfilling site.

If you are wanting to see to high points of the city and you are in between meals (food literally is a site in of itself), the next place you will most likely head is to a church. Munich is chalk full of churches of grandiose style and importance. We went to Asamkirche, Burrgersaalkirche, Frauenkirche, Peterskirche and Michaelskirche (did you deduce that "kirche" German for church?). All of these churches are near the city center and each is unique.
My favorite was Asamkirche because of its incredible rococo style and detail. I am also amazed by the story behind this church. The architects, brothers Agid and Cosmas Asam (the church is named after them), built the brilliant building as their private chapel right next to their home, but eventually gave it to the citizens of Munich even though the brothers footed the very large bill.
No surface is left undecorated. I was surprised by the small size of the "chapel" while being overwhelmed with the ceiling fresco and walls dripping with gold. The impressiveness of the rococo style featured in Asamkirche captures the lavish, unrestraint nature of the builders. The other churches we visited were all impressive as well Frauenkirche is home to the twin onion-domed spires which have becom
e an icon of Munich.

Munich also has a wonderful museum scene. There are too many to take in on one trip, but I visited the Deutsches Museum (German Museum), Alte Pinakothek (Old Picture Gallery), and the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum (Bavarian National Museum). They all had large, interesting collections. The Deutsches Museum was a unique place as it housed amazing scientific and technological exhibits. There were several kids visiting, and I can see why!
The presentation of dry topics such as the making of paper and glass are displayed and explained in fascinating ways. I saw a V8 engine, turbo jet engine, and a 19th century sailing ship. There are several do-it-yourself experiments and stations. Basically, the science-guru and the art and literature person can find lots to learn within these walls. The Alte Pinakothek was one of my favorite art galleries thus far. The museum is organized by country and period so it makes contextualizing the work easier (especially since every sign and caption is in German!). I especially enjoyed the very large collection of Peter Paul Ruben works. His works are have movement and are fluid as well as colorful and fascinating. You could spend a lot of hours with his works. I found myself getting lost
in the painting and asking lots of unanswerable questions. I love to wonder and let myself lose myself in the unknown, even if just for awhile.

One of the most influential reasons for going to Munich was to see Neuschwanstein Castle. I had heard this was the castle to see in Europe. King Ludwig II had built a masterpiece in the mountains that was literally fit for a fairy tail as it is the inspiration for the Cinderella Castle in Disney World. The castle is located just outside of Fussen, Germany in the Bavarian Alps. To get to Neuschwanstein from Munich there is a two-hour train ride, a bus ride, and then a thirty minute walk! This trek was not for the fair weather traveler, but it is so worth the time.

You can purchase a train ticket that covers up to five people's journey and this is much cheaper than individual tickets. Since just Laurel and I were traveling together it would still be a little pricey. Luckily we met two girls, Chen and Vivian, in our hostel who want to go on the same day, and we decided to travel together and split the ticket. These girls were from China, attended college in Shanghai, and were exchange students in Sweden for the year!
Chen and Vivian were so nice and we had such a great time discussing the differences in our study abroad programs as well as our homes as neither of us had been to the other's home. I was so surprised to find out that they had never driven a car! I loved meeting them (yeah for hostels and meeting people from all around the world!).

Ok, back to the castle. Once we finally got there, we were greeted with a traveler's best gift: good weather. Not just good weather, but beautiful, breathtaking weather. We toured the castle and took lots of picture. The interior of the castle was interesting because it is completely dedicated to the operas of Wagner. King Ludwig loved Wagner's operas and every room has paintings and sculptures from his operas. It was so interesting to learn that the castle was never complete. The second floor is not finished because King Ludwig II died before the castle was complete and the construction and interior decoration ceased. Even more amazing, were the surroundings. Pinned up upon a rich blue sky, dolloped with white fluffy clouds, the mountains were indescribable.
While standing among such a phenomenal visual representation of God's creation on this earth, I felt liberated and happy. It felt great to feel truly happy to be there, breathing the air and feeling the warmth. The pictures are wonderful, but my memories of this day are everlasting impressions in my mind of a place that is another world away which I
was blessed enough to visit.

Another very important trip we made that was a 25 minute subway ride outside of Munich was to Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial. I can only begin by saying that I am so happy I went to this place, stood on the grounds, and allowed myself to begin to process such atrocities. This place is not scary or frightening; instead, it is truthful. I began by walking in the front iron gates which read, "Arbeit macht Frei," or 'work makes freedom.' What a way to be greeted. This lie and many others lead to devastation that is much larger than my intelligence can comprehend. The actual barracks that housed the prisoners have been leveled and the only original structures that remain are the maintenance house and the crematorium. Filled with more information than one brain can retain, the old maintenance house provides a much needed background on the rise of the Nazi part and the propaganda as well as lots of information regard the use of Dachau specifically.
I won't reel of all the facts I found surprising because this would only solidify the horror that is alive within a concentration camp. After the museum, I stepped out onto the gravel and saw a lot of emptiness. The space that was once filled with over 206,000 prisoners during its 12 year operation is now empty. This emptiness signify their release from a life of fear, but it is also a blunt reminder of the 32,000 people who died on those grounds. Their bodies were burned in the crematorium that occupies a corner of the camp. Only their ashes remain, now in a grave marked with the phrase "Grave of Thousands Unknown." I live in Jefferson City, MO, a town with a population of 39,000. Within the 12 years this concentration camp was in operation, the whole population of Jefferson City, MO would have been imprisoned about 5 1/4 times and 82% of the 39,000 people would be dead.

I found it very important to realize that Germany allows visitors to learn about t
heir darkest days in detail. This memorial is open to all without charge.
"Never again" is clearly written in five languages underneath the memorial. So much can be learned from places like Dachau, but how much is changed is determined by individuals. Let this example help humanity to learn the value of freedom and respect that must be given to every human with no qualifier.

Such a heavy topic required quite the meal to follow. Bavaria is undoubtedly known for its food and drink. If the annual Oktoberfest isn't enough to prove their love of sociable eating and drinking, their beer halls are. The importance of sociable eating cannot be emphasized enough. They all love to crowd into traditional halls and have a good Bavarian meal complete with white sausage, potato salad, pretzels, and a Dunkel beer. We ate at the very touristy, yet so famous, Hofbrauhaus. Most people would say that didn't go to Munich unless you went to the Hofbrauhaus. I did enjoy my Bavarian meatloaf (which is like a thick piece of bologna), potato salad, pretzel, and beer. The next night we tried a more local and traditional hall, Weisses Brauhaus (they even have their own brew). It was a wonderful experience. These beer halls are packed full of people, so no one has room to move. You share a table so that every seat is full. We had a great time chatting with the people seated at our table. We met Lena and her boyfriend. They spoke pretty good English (so many times better than my German!). I loved talking to them! It was so fun. I would highly recommend checking out a few of these places if you ever get the chance to visit Munich.

After the day at Dachau, however, we decided to try something a little different. In Europe, Mexican food is not on every corner like at home. You must seek it out. This we did. I had read that Joe Pena's promises to be the best Tex-Mex in Munich (I don't think is too difficult to accomplish as I never saw another Tex-Mex joint in the city!).
They don't disappoint. I had wonderful chicken enchiladas that were amazing. This place was also packed to the gills! The people at our table laughed at how excited we were to eat our food. We explained our love of Mexican and they laughed lots more. I just don't think European people understand the wonders of Mexican. It was so great to have a taste of spice and a taste of home all in the same dish!

I think I should end on that note! What better way to tie up this post than with some Mexican.
Since Munich I have been busy working on classwork, going to the gym (I have been everyday this week!), and have a little bit of fun too. This week has gone by so fast. I look at the calendar multiple times per day, and I am always amazing to calculate that in 30 short days my plane will have landed and England will be an ocean away again. I am determined to make these days the best ones.