Wednesday, May 10, 2017
The past two days have gone by really quickly, and already it's the end of the last full day in Germany. Yesterday, we spent the whole day at school with our exchange partners to see what school is like in Germany. We followed them to their classes for the day- I had Maths, Art, English and Politics for the day. My favourite lesson for the day was Art as well as the English lesson spent with the 5th Class, telling them about New Zealand and answering their questions. The day went by quickly, like it always does. Today we visited the Berlin Zoo, and it was awesome! We had one and a half hours to look around the zoo, and it was so fun! All the animals were so fascinating, but I especially liked the polar bear, lying on its back and scratching its stomach, I thought that was really funny. We also went to the Aquarium, and had a look at the fish, amphibians and other water life. All too soon we had to leave, but we then got around 2 hours of free time in Ku'damm, which is a shopping area in Berlin. At around 3:15, we took the train back to Werder, to spend our last night in Germany. (by Cathy)
Saturday, May 6, 2017
On Saturday I managed to sleep in for the first time since we have been in Germany! Waking up at 11am meant that we had little time to get ready for the farewell party which was happening later on that day. By 5:30pm we were at the venue and the party began. The party, organised by the students of Ernst Haeckel Gymnasium, began with an introduction from some of the students. We then had two amazing performances by some of the German students. Us kiwis also performed two pieces(the national anthem and Tutira mai nga iwi) as well as a musical performance by Andrew and Josh. Us NZ students then all have a small speech, thanking our host families and teachers. I found this to be a very emotional part of the evening as we all have formed strong bonds with our host partners and families and we all can't believe that the 3 weeks are almost over. We then had a barbecue dinner before releasing balloons with our memories of this trip and hopes for the next exchange tied to them. This was my favourite part of the evening because we all feel that this trip was an amazing experience and even though we must leave so soon, this is not the end but just the beginning of life long friendships and experiences.
On Sunday my host family(Familie Vetter) took me on a bike tour with some of their neighbours to visit an orchard as part of the blossom festival. It was really nice to see a different part of the blossom festival which happens each year in Werder. I had lots of fun and the weather was great. Later that day Melina(my host sister) and I went to a bonfire at Ami's(Manasi's host sister) place with Cathy, Monique, Lucy and Mia. There we cooked bread over the fire and roasted marshmallows before watching the sunset. Overall it was an amazing weekend.
Today, we went to the "Story of Berlin" and "Madame Tussaud's".
At the story of Berlin, we took a tour down to a bunker which served as a nuclear shelter during the Cold War. According to the tour guide, the bunker would function for only two weeks after a nuclear strike and provide people with the most basic needs. Each of the 3000 beds was only 170cm long and they all had to share 2 women's toilets and two men's toilets. They could only eat one can of food per day. It was very interesting to see all the old stuff they had from the 1970's and I'm sure everyone had a good experience as well. We also went through the history of Berlin, which was a self guided tour in 24 stages.
After that, we went to Madame Tussauds, where we got to 'meet' our favourite people in the world. People such as Mezut Özil, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and Justin Bieber (not them personally) were made out of wax. I had so much fun there because every celebrity I saw looked so real (I kind of fangirled a little bit when I saw One Direction) and It was simply awesome.
After that, we spent a little bit of time in the Mall of Berlin before we headed back home.
Thursday, May 4, 2017
CHOCOLATE! That's pretty much my day summed up in one word. But there were some non-chocolate things so I'll start with those.
Today started with our morning at Ernst Haeckel Gymnasium where we spent our time writing. What we were writing I can not say in surprise for Saturday but I found it good to do something in German without the pressure of having to respond to a fluent German speaker.
After a walk to the train station we were off to Charlottenburg where we saw the mighty Olympiastadion in all its glory... in size at least. The building itself is grand in its structure but (besides being all grey) has a history that we went to explore. The current stadium was built before WW2 as Hitler was coming to power and was built to send a message to the world. The goal was to show power by building the biggest stadium in the world as well as to accommodate for the 1936 Olympics (hence the name). Unfortunately the first goal wasn't achieved very well as it was only the largest for a couple of weeks before being bested by the Americans who were building one at the same time. The second goal was reached and in 1936 the Olympic games were held in Germany. The stadium is 5 star meaning a number of things. First it can hold about 75,000 football fans. It can also accommodate for not just football but athletic events also with a running track which is blue and white to represent Berlin's football team, a long jump pit, and a swimming pool not inside but to the north of the stadium.
A highlight for me was a chapel inside the stadium where players can go, sit and pray. It can also be rented out for weddings and baptisms and fans can go up to three hours before the game and pray for their team. The reason it's my highlight is because the room was made of gold! The walls were covered in a thin layer of it. On top of that bible verses were written also in a number of different languages.
Before leaving we took a look at the bell tower that lay west of the main stadium. Frau Zimmer made the whole group take the treachorous climb up. It took only a few seconds because we took the elevator. :D However, there were a few stairs that Gus quickly ran up to claim his gummy bear that would be rewarded to the first to climb the tower. The view was decent but it was raining and there were safety bars on all sides but it was still good.
What followed was the greatest part of my day. A place called Schokowelt where dreams can come true. Walls lined with rows and rows of chocolate. As we entered a counter greeted us laden with multitudes of different ingredients that we could put in our very own custom chocolate bar. Taps oozed chocolate into a large mixer that kept the chocolate warm and creamy. I may have let myself loose a bit in there but I must admit the place was not the tourist trap I expected it to be. It was rather affordable.
Afterwards we returned to Werder for an afternoon spent with our host families.
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
Today we got to see something I had long been looking forward to, Berlin's East Side Gallery. The gallery itself is a 1km stretch of the Berlin Wall that once separated East and West Germany, a once blank canvas that displays 101 murals painted by artists from all over the world to create the world's largest existing outdoor art gallery. The East side of the Berlin Wall was originally part of a communist society, and an oppressed society that were not allowed to lay their hands on the wall from 1961 to 1989, which made it the perfect place for the world's artists to express their ideas about the world and the politics of the time, signifying their new freedom of expression following Germany's reunification and the falling of the wall.
Our tour guide Jörg Weber was an artist himself who spoke passionately and enthusiastically about the messages behind what he believed to be the most important murals in the gallery. His English was not always the clearest or easiest to understand, but I think he really gave us an insight into the world through the eyes of both people from the East and West of the wall at the time, and not only the history through the facts and figures we often hear, but possibly an alternate history - one that was not written but simply experienced by those people. I thought it was really important as well, that we heard everything we did firsthand, from a man who lived through the events he described to us (growing up and living to this day in the East side of Berlin), and is even depicted in one of the murals as he crossed the wall from the East to the West when it fell.
After we had bought some East Side Gallery merch, we walked the remaining distance of the wall (which was unfortunately mostly fenced off for it's protection) and onto the train, travelling to Berliner Dom led by Iain.
Despite my original assumption that Berliner Dom was "just another church", once inside I was absolutely in awe of the intricate carvings, statues and patterns highlighted in gold that covered every inch of the enormous building. Looking out over one of the balconies with a view of the 7000 pipe organ, central stained glass windows and 500,000 piece mosaics (of which there were eight), we received a short history of the protestant cathedral, from it's construction in 1905 to how it stands today. We got the chance to ascend the 200 steps to the dome's viewing platform and look out once again over Berlin, and also see the crypt below where the remains of the originals Prussian emperors still lie.
As the cathedral's maintenance is not funded by the government, we thanked our volunteer tour guide and some of us contributed to the church by buying gifts from the Berliner Dom souvenir shop.
Finally we trained back to Werder, with some knew knowledge, and maybe a new perspective of Berlin's history.
Today the group met in the school foyer bright and early (7.45). We then went on the short walk to the Werder train station before catching our ride to Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Our first location of the day was the Reichstag, the German parliament building. After going through a rather intense security screening (passports and bag x-ray required), we had a guided tour around all of the interesting parts. We learnt about the government parties and a little bit about the way Parliament is run; as well as all of the interesting archetectural and artistic parts of the building too. After also exploring the dome at the very top of the building, taking plenty of cool photos with the mirrors inside and of the views outside, we left the Reichstag and headed through Brandenburg Gate for our lunch.
After our free time, we met with the tour guide who encouraged us to once again walk through the intense, emotion-provoking Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Going through this memorial is a moving experience, simultaneously feeling like walking through a grave yard and being trapped in a prison/maze. We went down into the inside exhibition after this, which was terribly sad but also very interesting. It showed photos, facts and first hand accounts of the horror that specifically the Jews of Europe had to endure during World War 2. One room was dedicated to simply reading aloud the names of each Jewish man/woman/child that died during the Second World War. It would take over 6 years to listen to each name and small biography, but we all took some time to listen and to try to imagine what their short lives must have been like.
I think we all would have liked to have spent more time in this memorial as there was so much to read and listen to, however after around 45 minutes we had to train home to our awaiting host families. It was an amazing day in Berlin, and despite the less than stellar weather, the sights were truly incredible. (by Maddy)
Monday, May 1, 2017
Once I had recovered from the very long bus trip the previous day me and my host family set off. We were headed for a region called 'Saxony Switzerland' (Sächsische Schweiz). This region is located in the east of Germany, it also has borders with the Czech Republic and Poland, it mainly consists of forest and farmland. However, this region is not typically flat like some other parts of Germany, it varys from flat land to mountain ranges along the eastern side of the state.
On the Saturday we arrived and wasted no time so we drove straight to Sächsische Schweiz National park where we went to a very famous bridge called Bastei. The Bastei is a rock formation towering 194 metres above the Elbe River in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains of Germany. Reaching a height of 305 metres above sea level, the jagged rocks of the Bastei were formed by water erosion over one million years ago. They are situatad near Rathen, not far from Pirna southeast of the city of Dresden, and are the major landmark of the Saxon Switzerland National Park. They are also part of a climbing and hiking area that extends over the borders into the Bohemian Switzerland (Czech Republic).
On Sunday it was decided that we were going to go on a hike to the Schrammstein mountains region. We started this walk in the town where we were staying, Bad Schandau. Very early on in the walk it got steep very quickly and I soon realized that 15kms of this kind of terrain was not going to be easy, after a few breaks and lots of photos we entered the actual national park. (before then we were walking along alpine pastures and the occasional forest). First of all let me say that this was by far the most beautiful place I've been in Germany so far, if you can picture a mixture of very open pine forests mixed in with large round rock formations in amongst them.
When we reached the actual base of the Schrammstein mountains, we had a quick break and then prepared for the literal climb up. I was completely shocked just to see how hard core this track was, I'm pretty sure I spent more time climbing ladders up rock faces that on the ground for this part. Once we finally made it to the top I very quickly realized that it was completely worth it, the view is absolutely amazing so much, so words can't really describe it. I will attach some photos so you all can have a look. Overall I would HIGHLY RECOMMENDED doing this hike if you are ever in the area.
On the Monday (it was a long weekend) we packed up early and got ready to leave. The plan for today was to drive through the Czech Republic and Poland then back to Germany, then home. We left Bad Schandau for the Czech Republic. It took us about 10 min to get to the border, then we just drove through forest in the Czech Republic, although it was still very beautiful, then we crossed back into Germany, then Poland. The first thing that I noticed was that there were a lot of very old buildings that had a lot of add ons and cement added to make them more stable. My host father later told me that most of them were left like that after the war and a lot were never completely rebuilt. But overall it was a very nice place. (by Connor)
The group met this afternoon at Berlin Tegel airport. It was an emotional farewell for everyone and the group is looking forward to the retu...
The group met this afternoon at Berlin Tegel airport. It was an emotional farewell for everyone and the group is looking forward to the retu...
Today we got to see something I had long been looking forward to, Berlin's East Side Gallery. The gallery itself is a 1km stretch of the...