germany1.jpgGuten Tag! Hello from Weimar. Weimar is a city in the state of Thuringia in the former East Germany. Previous to all of that, Weimar was the home of Goethe and Schiller and then later the Weimar Republic. As a result of all of this wonderful history, Weimar is now the home of this fantastic SMU study abroad summer program that I find myself in now. I’m now just in another sliver of Weimar history. (In photo right: SMU students in SMU-in-Weimar.)

The long journey

My journey to Weimar started in my home in DeSoto, Texas, with a short drive to the D/FW Airport, which then took me via a 9+ hour flight to the Frankfurt Airport. Even though it was my third time at the Frankfurt Airport, I didn’t recognize a single thing and really stretched my nonexistent German language skills.

I made it to the baggage claim and got all of my bags quickly (thank God!) Then I had to carry seven months’ worth of luggage (compact but very heavy) around the airport looking for the train station. Whichever way I got lost in was very fortunate because when I went through the passport check there was no one there, so no line. I never had to go through customs or anything like that.

I went up three stories to the train station and talked to the man at the counter, because my ticket to Weimar went from the Frankfurt Main train station, not the Frankfurt Airport train station.

After about 20 minutes of confusion and a ticket to Italy, he gave up and told me I couldn’t ride the train to that train station. So I went downstairs for my German subway adventure. I waited in line at the information desk, because I could not for the life of me figure out how to buy a ticket out of the electronic ticket machine.

After a long wait and being told off for not buying a ticket from the Airport to Weimar, the man behind the counter gave me a subway ticket. At this point I was completely exhausted because I only slept about 30 minutes on the plane and I had been dragging my luggage around this big airport. I was starting to think that Frankfurt wasn’t such a bad place to stay for five weeks.

Lost and hungry

I wondered around underground Frankfurt looking for my elusive subway stop and would never have found it if I didn’t ask this nice woman. I think she felt so bad for me that she rode with me to the Frankfurt Main Station and then helped me find my terminal there as well. I am very grateful for her because I would probably still be stuck there now.

The main station is like a big shopping mall that happens to have trains come up to it. I was excited to see so many food choices because I hadn’t eaten in a long time and what I had eaten wasn’t really a meal. I went to the ATM, but it wouldn’t let me get any money out because I wasn’t an EU citizen.

So I went back to my terminal and sat there and enjoyed the smell of the food… for three hours. I never checked the time, but apparently my plane came in an hour earlier and my excursions took an hour and a half. I booked my train ticket so I would have a lot of time to figure out everything. So I had three hours to sit and watch the trains and people go by.

It was kind of exciting because every 10 minutes a group of boys and men dressed in all sorts of strange outfits would get off the train with beers in both hands singing songs. Apparently there had been a very exciting win for the Berlin Football/Soccer team. At one point there were about 100 fans cheering and singing with about as many policemen surrounding them.

Train hopping to Weimar

About three trains went by going to Weimar, but I was just not comfortable getting on them, even though my ticket was for any train. I waited for my time and then raced to my car and got on. I then had to drag my luggage through the car and lift it all onto the luggage rack. I then sat down and waited for my transfer.

The ticket lady came by after about 20 minutes to confirm that I bought a ticket. At this point I had to buy another ticket, because my credit card didn’t match the credit card on the ticket, because my original credit card is floating around SMU/Dallas/Texas/the World with someone who is not me.

After that excitement I just prepared myself for the coming transfer. For this I had three minutes to get off and get on the next train. I was pretty terrified. With the help of some very nice people it went as smoothly as possible, and I survived the transfer. The problem was that I just got on the train without any regard to the car, because I knew it would be better to be on the wrong car than not on the train at all.

I’m not as sure about that now. I’m not quite sure why I didn’t just sit down anywhere, but I had some resolve to find my exact seat. I literally dragged my suitcase, which was around my wrist with my carry-on bag attached to it, and loosened my backpack straps so that they would fit around my horn case that was also on my back. I can’t even imagine what I looked like.

I could never find my seat, so after 10 minutes I just sat down. The train wasn’t full, so I didn’t put my luggage on the rack. Then I was confused about the time that I was supposed to arrive (my watch just doesn’t read military time!), so I thought I had missed my stop. Through all of this excitement I finally made it to Weimar. When I got off of the train, I saw David and Martin (actually I saw Martin’s cello), so I knew I was at the right place. We went downstairs and met our tutor, Bea, who took us to our dorm.

The dorm

Oh Jakobsplatz. Imagine original communism- the white-washed high-rise box. Possibly the ugliest building in all Weimar. I fortunately got a second-floor room. The plus side is that they are single rooms in a suite configuration. My suitemates are a Korean girl, a Polish girl, and a German girl. My room is bigger than my double room at SMU, but the communist simplicity/harshness may outweigh the size. It is painted an odd color of puke-yellow and white with sturdy pine furniture. There is a modern refrigerator in every room. The bed is tiny with no springs in the mattress. The view is of a backside of a building covered in graffiti and a street lamp. The worst part is that I have seen gas stations with cleaner bathrooms. Not luxury, but nevertheless functional.

germany3.jpgIt is across the street from the Weimar Atrium, which is basically a shopping mall (with a bowling alley and a 3D movie theater). There are two grocery stores, an electronics store, shops, food (including Subway), etc. It is about a 10-minute walk to the market square and the school. (In photo right: One of the many posters welcoming Obama to Weimar. He was scheduled to make a visit, but had to cancel it at the last minute. He did, however, visit Buchenwald Concentration Camp.)

The city

Weimar is an absolutely beautiful town. Some of my favorite highlights so far include the beautiful music school, the statue of Goethe and Schiller, the produce (and bratwurst stands) in market square, and of course the park. The park is absolutely gorgeous in the English style. Goethe apparently designed it. You can go visit his house and gardens there or sit exactly where Liszt would write his compositions. There is a river, babbling brooks, a 4K trail, and ducks.

germany2.jpgWe went on a tour of Weimar with a very animated tour guide named Dieter (like Peter with a D). He quoted poetry, did little dances, told stories, and basically acted through the entire history and buildings of Weimar. It was hilarious and definitely made the two-hour tour much more exciting. (In photo left: a palace in Weimar.)

We got to see Goethe’s house, Schiller’s house, Anna-Amalia’s roundtable, the romantic gingko trees, the inspiring linden trees, the founding place of the Hitler Youth, and a place where Hitler gave a speech. Weimar is just the right size where everything is walkable, but you can still find exciting and new things in the nooks and crannies of the alleys.

We started classes on Tuesday. At 9 AM I have first-level German, and at 11 AM I have CF German Culture in Weimar. In German we are learning basic conversation skills, basic grammar, numbers, and places. Only Lauren and I are in the class, so we get a lot of practice and are basically being tutored for two hours a day. We are given about two hours of German homework a day.

germany5.jpgIn the CF, we have overviewed basic German history until the 18th century and read Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther. We are now on Goethe’s Faust I. There is a lot of reading for the class, but you couldn’t really ask for better reading. The most amazing part about reading Goethe in Weimar is that Goethe’s influence is all over the city. If you sit in the park while reading Werther, you can see Werther lying there and Goethe writing nearby. It is quite magical. (In photo right: Goethe’s home in the park in Weimar.)

IMG_2007.JPGOn Thursday, we went to Leipzig, which is only a 50-minute train ride away. We took a two-hour walking tour of the city. The city is under major construction. There have been major restorations since the fall of communism. We went to Mendelssohn’s house and took a tour. We got to sit in his salon where he gave recitals as well as see his study where he wrote many of his famous pieces. We also got to learn more about the life of musicians of that age. (In photo left: The church in Leipzig where Bach worked and where he is buried.)

After eating dinner at the ever-so-scrumptious McDonald’s, we went to go see the Gewandhausorchester. They played Beethoven’s Overture to Egmont and Symphony #8 and two Bach Piano Concertos. It was absolutely magnificent. The orchestra played with unbelievable precision. We sat in the choral terrace behind the orchestra. I had never sat behind an orchestra before, so it was really great to see the musicians and actually be able to see the conductor. Riccardo Chailly was conducting. It was great to see how he interacted with the orchestra, and it really added an extra element to the performance. We traveled back to Weimar on a bus for two hours. I was so exhausted that I went back to my room and crashed.

This weekend is the German long weekend, so almost everyone will be off somewhere. I am not quite sure exactly where I am going, but I think I will go to Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp on Sunday. It is a two-hour train ride with two transfers and then about a 30-minute walk to the camp. I will return on Sunday night and probably spend Monday in the park and soak up some nature.

Well, goodbye for now. I have some adventuring to do!