The Unforgettable Capital Cities of Slovenia and Lithuania (Part 2)

Hello hello! Nice to have you on my blog=)

If you have read Part 1, or the introduction to this blog, you would know that I attended Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia and majored in German. Yes, I said “attended” because I have already graduated! I graduated summa cum laude with Advanced Honors as well as an overall GPA of 4.10 and a major GPA of 4.17.

Not only did I finish my major coursework here in Germany by doing online courses with my home university, but the summer semester has also ended in Erlangen. The semester seemed really short and there were many holidays. It started in April and ended mid-July.

My next trips are to Budapest and Prague before I finish packing to leave my 11-month stay in Germany and travel to Ukraine to do a homestay while attending an intensive Russian-language course. It is bittersweet to leave because by the second semester, I really had a routine here, started opening up more and had better classes. Plus, summer is a great time to be in Germany! But, I know that I will return someday and it’s time to bring all the wonderful and challenging experiences I’ve had here back home and touch base with my loving family and friends. I have been a bit Germanized so it will be an adjustment being back home in Georgia, USA. So enough about my finished studies and future plans let’s talk about the amazing Vilnius, Lithuania!

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Street art gives a city more character

But before I get into my trip there, I want to share a bit of information about the country Lithuania and its capital Vilnius:

Lithuania is one of the three Baltic States located east of Denmark and Sweden in northern Europe. The population is estimated to be just under 3 million. It shares borders with Latvia, Belarus and Poland.

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The official language, Lithuanian, is one of only two living languages (along with Latvian) in the Baltic-branch of the Indo-European family. Fun fact: Among Indo-European languages, Lithuanian is conservative in some grammatical and phonological aspects having retained archaic features otherwise only found in ancient languages like Sanskrit or Ancient Greek. It is therefore an important source for reconstructing the Proto-Indo-European language.

Lithuania is a member of the European Union (including the eurozone and Schengen Agreement.) Here is a short timeline of the country’s history:

  • The shores of the Baltic Sea were inhabited by various Baltic tribes for centuries.
  • The Kingdom of Lithuania was created in the 1200s. Kind Mindaugas unified the Lithuanian lands and declared the first unified Lithuanian state.
  • In the 14th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the largest country in Europe. Present-day Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and parts of Poland and Russian were territories of the Grand Duchy.
  • There was a two-state union between Lithuania and Poland in 1569 (the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth), which lasted for more than two centuries until the Russian Empire annexed most of Lithuania’s territory in the late 1700s.
  • Around the end of WWI, Lithuania’s Act of Independence was signed, founding the Republic of Lithuania.
  • During WWII, Lithuania was occupied both by the Nazis and the Soviets. By the end of the war, the Germans had retreated and the Soviet Union reoccupied Lithuania.
  • In March of 1990, a year before the Soviet Union formally dissolved, Lithuania declared independence and became again the independent State of Lithuania after 50 years of Soviet occupation.

Vilnius is both the capital and largest city in Lithuania with more than 570,000 residents. The city is in the southeast of Lithuania. It is the seat of the main government institutions of Lithuania and is on a global-scale both economically and culturally important. Architecture in the Old Town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, and, in 2009, Vilnius was declared the European Capital of Culture.

The Old Town, with well over 1,000 buildings built over several centuries, is the historical center of the city. Vilnius is primarily classified as a Baroque city, but there are examples of Gothic, Renaissance and additional styles of architecture. Following are some of the highlights of the Old Town.

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Vilnius University
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The Gate of Dawn, one of five original city walls, which has a painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary inside
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The Blessed Virgin Mary is said to have miracle-working powers
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Literature Street with over 200 tiles to commemorate authors who have lived in Vilnius or foreign authors with a connection to Vilnius and Lithuania
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17th century Baroque ~Church of St. Peter & Paul ~
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Inside are more than 2,000 stucco figures

Travelling to Vilnius, Lithuania: My friend and I had actually planned to do a trip with a travel group but the tickets were sold out after we tried to purchase ours. She searched for cheap flights and we ended up booking two trips: one to Vilnius and the other to Thessaloniki, Greece. In the end, we saved money on these trips and got to do and see a lot more. Before our trips, we met up and watched some travel videos about our destinations and we both researched sightseeing to have in mind while exploring the new cities. I would recommend spending at least 3 days in Vilnius and maybe even up to 5. I’m not saying you would be bored after 5, but you would have had plenty of time to see major sites without being so rushed. We were there for 2 days, which was still very nice but I really felt at home in Vilnius and, looking back, there were a few more things that I would have liked to have seen.

Day 1: We had a very early flight, which meant that as soon as we arrived, the exploration was to begin. From the airport, we took a bus in the city center. We didn’t get off at a specific point but decided we could walk from there to the areas we wanted to see. We had coffee and started to take in the new atmosphere. Two of my first impressions were: how well-dressed and fashionable the women were and that most workers spoke good English. Some of the older people, who had outdoor stands for example, also still spoke Russian.

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Excited to start exploring Vilnius!

Our first destination was an alternative district of the city with an interesting history: Užupis, which means place beyond the river.

It used to be one of the more run down districts during the Soviet era, but it is now home to bohemian artists and their many galleries and workshops. It was declared an independent republic on April Fool’s Day in 1997.

We were able to catch one of the “free” tours (meaning only tips for the guide and no set price) in Užupis and learned some little details we wouldn’t have known otherwise.  It has its own flag, currency, president, cabinet of ministers, constitution, an anthem, and an army (numbering approximately 11 men). It’s not recognized as a Republic by any government, so it’s hard to tell how serious it’s meant to be taken.

By the way, you can get your passport stamped there. Here’s an informative video from Deutsche Welle if you’re curious for more: Uzupis. Supposedly, prices are really rising in this area and housing is no longer as affordable as it once was for local artists. The district is definitely worth a visit though.

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“place beyond the river” (one of nine bridges)
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This mermaid is said to attract visitors from all around the world. Those who surrender to her charm stay forever.
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Just a man walking his cat xD

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See his backpack? it’s a statue dedicated to travelers
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Try connecting with the cosmos here ~

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symbol for artistic freedom

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After the “free” tour, we had lunch and decided to find some Kvas. Kvas is a traditional Slavic and Baltic drink made from rye bread. It is classified as non-alcoholic and I think it’s delicious! It’s similar to soda/fizzy drinks but has a unique taste.

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Happy about the Kvas

I suggest doing a tour with a local guide to learn some interesting facts and not miss out on some cool areas of the city. It didn’t feel too large though and we were able to navigate fine with Google maps.

We went to the main square, climbed the tower and enjoyed the beautiful view before we climbed the hill to the Three Crosses. Between the square and the hill is a castle (actually on another hill), but due to renovations we could not climb up there; however, the view from the hill of the Three Crosses was incredible. We didn’t feel cheated by not having seen the castle. If you need directions, don’t be afraid to ask locals –like I said many speak very good English and seemed friendly enough to answer a few questions.

It’s always nice travelling with someone who has similar interests so that you’re in agreement about what to do. It also makes for a nice atmosphere when you can exchange impressions of a new place with someone who you connect with. We really felt at home in Vilnius and loved the city. One thing that we didn’t expect was to get lucky with shopping. We went to a mall and several different stores and I found some great items that you wouldn’t find where we live in Germany. It’s a fashionable city with good selection!

The rest of our day was spent eating good food (both sweets and a nice dinner), exploring more of the city, finding a hotel room and checking out the city again at night. Here a few snapshots of our shenanigans.

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Lithuanian National Drama Theatre ~Feast of Muses~ Muses of Drama, Comedy & Tragedy

Day 2: Since we had seen so much on the first day, we took it a bit easier the next day. We started with an amazing breakfast. With more delights of East-European cuisine like buckwheat porridge and tea with raspberries.

Our next stop was the Vilnius Museum of Genocide/KGB prison. Many parts of the exhibit are written in Lithuanian and/or Russian, so a tour guide would be helpful; tours are available in English and Russian. At the museum, you can see authentic cells of a former KGB prison and former offices of KGB officials.

The museum was established in 1992 and is a symbol of the Soviet occupation of Lithuania–a time that was both hard and tragic for Lithuania and its people. Lithuania lost its independence and was brutally repressed, but in the museum you have the chance to discover that many Lithuanians were self-sacrificing and persistent in their fight for independence. There is also an exhibit about the Nazi occupation and the Holocaust in Vilnius.

After the museum, we did more shopping, exploring and spent some time at the river after grabbing snacks from a super market. That is something I recommend for tourists in a new city. It’s cheaper than always eating out and you have a better idea of what natives buy, cook and eat on a regular basis.

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Lithuanian cuisine: Cepelinai, a potato stuffed dumpling with ground meat, cottage cheese or mushrooms
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Lithuanian deserts

Well that’s pretty much it about our time in Vilnius. We caught the bus early the next morning to the airport. I loved the city and I think you will too. Since it’s not so well-known, I found it necessary to add some facts about the country and Vilnius itself =)

For more information about what to do and see in Vilnius, check out:

With love,

Stephanie

My Goals for a Year-long Exchange in Germany (A Bilingual Text )

Mein Name ist Stephanie Ford und ich studiere Deutsch an der Georgia State Universität in Atlanta. Seit Januar 2015 bin ich eine sehr engagierte und motivierte Deutschstudentin. Außer meiner Studiumarbeit sehe ich täglich YouTube-Videos an, lese die Nachrichten auf meinem Handy, höre Musik, spreche mit mir selber, oder mit jemandem, der bereit ist, mein Deutsch zu hören. Wenn ich genug Zeit habe, lese ich auch Romane, schaue mir Filme an, lerne Grammatik und neulich viel Wortschatz. Weil ich schon ein fortgeschrittenes Niveau erreicht habe, ist ein Jahr langer Aufenthalt in Deutschland einer der besten Wege, um meine Deutschkenntnisse noch zu verbessern. Auf Deutsch könnte ich denken und sogar träumen. Ich möchte C2 erreichen, und die deutsche Kultur tiefer kennenlernen. Wenn ich an der Friedrich-Alexander Universität studieren würde, hätte ich nicht nur die Chance meine Deutschkenntnisse zu erweitern, sondern auch die Chance in und um Bayern zu reisen. Und ich könnte mich wirklich entscheiden, ob ich in Deutschland arbeiten möchte.

(My name is Stephanie Ford and I study German at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Since January 2015, I have been a very engaged and motivated student of German language. Apart from my university studies, I watch videos daily, read the news on my phone, listen to music, speak with myself, or with someone who is willing to listen to my German. When I have enough time, I also read novels, watch movies, learn grammar and, recently, a lot of vocabulary. Because I have already reached an advanced level, a year-long stay in Germany is one of the best ways to improve my German skills even more. I could even think and dream in German. I want to achieve C2 and get to know the German culture deeper. If I had the chance to study at FAU, I would not only have the chance to expand my German skills but also the chance to travel in and around Bavaria. And I could really decide whether I want to work in Germany or not.)

Sehr intenstiv möchte ich mein Deutsch üben. Ich würde auf jeden Fall die Möglichkeit benutzen, Radio auf Deutsch zu hören, deutsches Fernsehen zu gucken, sowie den Zugang zu deutschen Bibliotheken, Buchhandlungen und natürlich der deutschen Universität zu verwenden. Ich würde gerne Germanistik, andere Fremdsprachen, und verschiedene Kurse in Verbindung mit Linguistik, Kultur und Geschichte nehmen. Vor allem könnte ich mich mit Deutschmuttersprachlern unterhalten. Bayern ist eines der schönsten Bundesländer. Ich möchte viele Städte und Ländern in der Nahe von Erlangen besichtigen. Ich habe es vor, Englisch in Deutschland zu unterrichten, und diese Erfahrung wäre sehr praktisch, weil ich mich für ein Studentenvisum bewerben und mich auf die deutsche Kultur einstellen muss. Ich möchte meinen Sprachtraum erfüllen, viel reisen, und sehen, was ich in der Zukunft machen möchte.

(I want to practice my German intensively. I would definitely use the opportunity to listen to German radio, watch German television and utilize the access to German libraries, book stores and of course the German university. I would like to take Germanistik, other foreign languages, and other courses in connection with linguistics, culture and history. Above all, I could converse with native speakers. Bavaria is one of the most beautiful German states. I could visit many cities and countries close to the city of Erlangen. I have the intention of teaching English in Germany and this experience would be very practical because I have to apply for a student visa and I have to adjust to the German culture. I want to fulfill my language-dream, travel a lot, and see what I would like to do in the future.)

The Unforgettable Capital Cities of Slovenia and Lithuania (Part 1)

Dear readers,

It’s time now on my flight leaving Greece to reflect on my trips in Europe and put my adventures into words. I’ve been on three trips (or maybe 2 1/2 is a better description) since the last time I wrote about my travels. A bus ride and morning stop in Liechtenstein with half-a-day spent in Innsbruck, Austria. Two days in Vilnius, Lithuania. And three days in Greece (Epanomi and Thessaloniki). In this post, I will cover a trip I made back in September then begin with my trip to Lithuania. In the following post, I will discuss my bus ride to the German-speaking countries of Liechtenstein and Austria and finish with my time in Greece.

The semester has started again in Germany. Three weeks of classes are already behind me. I still have German language classes; I finally got to have Russian again and I’ve even started a beginners French class. In just a few weeks now, I will be a college graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in German Language & Literature. I have about 3 1/2 more months in Germany before I return to Georgia, USA. As far as my next plans.. well, I’m planning to apply to a couple honors graduate programs both in the USA and in England. I’d like to study journalism, history and maybe even something connected to art or politics. When I return to USA, I want to travel—slowly see all 50 States. And before I make it back to the States, I want to study Russian language in Ukraine for at least four weeks. Not to mention, I would also like to work as an English teacher in Asia within the next few years. Another travel goal, is to visit all former countries of the Soviet Union.

You may ask if my trip to Slovenia was in September why am I writing about it now? But, it’s all connected and my trip there was amazing so I think it’s worth sharing. It’s a trip that I definitely recommend! Two weeks into my study abroad program here, my intensive German language course started. It was Monday-Friday. (Fridays ended a bit earlier.) The class lasted at least 3 hours each day. That means that with a relatively small group (about 15 students), we got to know each other during the 2 1/2 weeks pretty well. It was also still vacation time so most students weren’t too worried about their studies yet. We talked a lot and had a nice time together. One of the other female students mentioned a travel group called Euro Trip Adventures, that was going to Slovenia over the weekend. I hadn’t heard much about Slovenia, but the suggestion intrigued me and I bought myself a ticket. Unfortunately, the tickets were sold out before my friend could get hers so I ended up going alone. As I mentioned in the post about Switzerland, Euro Trip Adventures can be an easy way to get know new people while traveling. So it turned out just fine going alone!

~night time in Ljubljana, Slovenia~

Overnight bus rides are quite exhausting–as was my bus ride to Slovenia and back again the next day to Germany. Space is limited and you have to be able to kill time during the journey. I recommend bringing water, healthy snacks, a pillow, your phone charger, cash, a book or games and toiletries for freshening up. My stop (in Erlangen, Germany) was first so I had gotten comfortable and was able to fall asleep by the time the last group got on the bus. Euro Trip Adventures usually stops in at least 4 cities in Germany to pick up all the travelers. It was a actually pretty funny because I laughed out loud in my sleep–no idea what I was dreaming about–and quite a few people heard me and I ended up waking myself up, but not really caring that I had laughed, and falling back asleep. I ended up making friends with the guy who sat next to me. So I hadn’t scared him too bad by laughing in my sleep 😀

In the morning, we stopped at a truck stop so that we could freshen up, use the bathroom and have breakfast. It was still another hour or two before we reached Lake Bled in Slovenia. By the way, most buses offer snacks and drinks so cash always comes in handy! The tour guide collected the money from everyone who wanted to do a tour of Ljubljana. That’s the capital of Slovenia and quite a lovely city (more about it soon.) The tour either cost 10 or 15 Euros.

Lake Bled itself was such a stunning and serene site. We had about 3.5 hours there, which was plenty! The lake was an amazing color and so clear. We had enough time to climb the steep hill and enjoy the view from the castle. The view was incredible! Being at the castle and looking down on the water was magnificent and fairy-tale-like. My eyes  devoured the scenery. We also had time to have cake at the castle-café (the view was also quite nice from the other side of the castle at the café) and more time to explore down below and walk around the area near the lake. There was an entry fee to the castle–about 10 Euros. Slovenia is part of the European Union and uses the Euro so we didn’t have to worry about exchanging currency.

The bus ride from Lake Bled to Ljubljana lasted–if I’m not mistaken–about 90 minutes. At Ljubljana we had about 8 hours to explore the city. The tour leader took us from the bus stop into the city center and told us where we would meet for the tour with a local guide. Before the tour, we had time to explore some of the city. I had lunch and got to check out many different parts of the city like the center, some side streets and the market area as well as the many bridges. I hadn’t done too much research about tips, sightseeing or the history of Ljubljana before the excursion, but I learned quite a bit on the tour! The tour guide was awesome. He was a history teacher and seemed passionate about the city and his country. The city was charming. The history quite interesting. And overall, we got to see a lot during the tour. What I got from the tour was that Slovenia is an interesting mix of Slavic, Roman and Germanic/Austrian heritage. You can see multiple influences in the architecture. There are, of course, authors, poets and thinkers that are Slovenian–part of their own story and heritage. Quite a lot of history is represented in artwork and sculptures in Ljubljana. I was engaged and impressed by the beauty of the city and its history. The tour even included a trip up to the castle in Ljubljana. After the tour, we had more time to explore the city. I got to try local beer and wine, see more areas of the city and experience the beautiful night-time atmosphere of the lights and bridges.

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To conclude, I thought Ljubljana was clean, charming, cute, inviting and somewhat romantic. It felt like the city greeted me with a nice, warm hug. And I learned more about history. There’s never just one story and our world is so rich with different cultures that aren’t mainstream but still very special. Stay tuned for Part 2 which will be about my trip to Lithuania and an update about my studies here and back home!

Sincerely,

Stephanie F.

First Time Visiting a Concentration Camp (August 2017)

Dachau

September 1, 2017: I saw a concentration camp for the first time this week. I was in Munich before I traveled to Erlangen. I went on a tour to Dachau. Even though I was physically at the place, it was still hard for me to picture the terror that occurred there. Because something so terrible, yet so controlled is simply unthinkable. The tour guide really knew a lot about the history of the concentration camp and I learned a lot of details that I previously did not know. For example, that Dachau was used as a safe place for refugees in the 1950s.

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Memorial artwork to commemorate the lost lives during the years 1933-1945

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On the grounds of Dachau near the maintenance building and entrance
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a multifunctional unit that was used for registering new inmates; the quote on the roof of the building is translated as: “There is a path to freedom. Its milestones are Obedience, Honesty, Cleanliness, Sobriety, Hard Work, Discipline, Sacrifice, Truthfulness, Love of thy Fatherland.”

 

Dachau was the model for other camps. It was first. The quote on the front gate of the camp reads “Arbeit macht frei.” Working was supposed to “rehabilitate criminals and other wrong-doers.” There were some German speaking victims who lived in the camp, but many came from different countries and could not speak German. The largest group of prisoners came from Poland, followed by Germany and then citizens of the former Soviet Union. Therefore, some of them could not even understand these quotes, which were supposed to guide their every-day thinking. As soon as they arrived at Dachau, prisoners were stripped of their individuality and basic human dignity. It did not matter if they had a uniform that fit or shoes that matched. Their entire body was shaved. They were placed into a category according to “the crime that they committed.”  (See below.)

marking system

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front gates
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liberation by the Americans

 

Apart from having to work 12-hour shifts after only eating a thin soup, the victims were subjected to various types of torture by the guards. The fear and discipline there was so intense that guards barely had to supervise when prisoners admitted new prisoners or had a role as a leader among fellow prisoners. Many prisoners died from starvation and diseases since hygiene was so poor and quarters were so close. Although the Nazis tried to keep it hidden, many prisoners committed suicide by jumping onto the electric fence surrounding the grounds.

The first crematorium was too small to keep up will all the deaths and a second had to be built. (The second featured disinfection “showers” in one part of the building.) Apart from the physical abuse from guards (some really awful forms of torture were used) and lack of nutrition and individuality, prisoners also lived in extremely crowded conditions. Where 200 men should be living according to the size of the housing, 2,000 men were living there. The beds were not divided but rather a huge wooden bunk bed.

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The barracks
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Each of the 32 former barracks are no longer standing, but they are indicated by the foundations you see here.
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The perimeter fence
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“Remember how we died here”

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gas chamber disguised as a shower room “Brausebad” ; reported to have never been used
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the first crematorium

 

The true situation of the camp was not portrayed in newspapers as such. Work camps were supposed to be something good for the country. The Nazis didn’t build murder camps in their back yard in order to hide what was happening in a neighboring country like Poland. There were numerous concentration camps in Germany and a few death camps as well, but Dachau is not considered to be one of them. It is still estimated that there were 200,000 prisoners at Dachau and deaths as high as 30,000.

If someone tried to escape the camp, they would have most likely failed due to the ditches and large electric fences around the grounds. There was also an SS academy (SS: “Schutzstaffel”- a Nazi security group) nearby as a final threat. Prisoners also saw the academy when they were walking by foot to the camp during arrival–a threatening introduction to Dachau. Sick were kept separately until they got better (if they got better). Even some experiments were held there such as tests with air pressure to see what humans could withstand as well as hypothermia experiments. Hundreds of prisoners suffered, died or were executed in the medical experiments.

Political prisoners, who had attempted to murder Hitler or who had committed similar crimes, had larger quarters in special facilities. For example, Georg Else, a Swabian carpenter who attempted to kill Hitler on a lone mission, lived under relatively favored conditions until he was shot dead in front of a wall in Dachau. Else had installed a time-bomb in the Munich Beer Hall, where Hitler commemorated the anniversary of the failed Nazi 1923 putsch. Due to foggy weather, Hitler changed his travel plans to an earlier train ride and the bomb went off after Hitler was already gone. Such political prisoners were killed before the camp was liberated by Americans under Hitler’s orders. If seeing all these horrible facilities as an informational museum wasn’t heart-breaking enough, they also played a film that told the story of the Holocaust and of Dachau with original footage.

There are also numerous artistic and religious memorials throughout the grounds that commemorate the victims and urge us to never forget. WWII and the Holocaust are discussed to great extent in American schools. What isn’t discussed enough is the 150 years leading up to the Nazi siege of power, which teaches us how such horror developed due to political instability and poor living and working conditions. The horrible crimes that were committed were not based on a single decision, but were part of a long process of terror, propaganda and total control by the Nazi government. We might be aware of fascist aesthetics and hate among others, but would we be willing to stand up to it? Would we be passive and live off the struggle of others? Or would we too become a victimizer when our governmental authority tells us that it is okay? (A video series about social psychology– to help us understand how such horrible things could happen anywhere)

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“Never Again”
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The colors and symbols represent the marking system used to label inmates. However, on this memorial piece there is no pink represented (for homosexuals)
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“May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933-1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defense of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow men”

 

The following photos are of the various religious memorials at Dachau.

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Jewish memorial

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more than 6 million Jews fell victim to Nazi tyranny
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The Mortal Agony of Church Chapel
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Protestant Church for Reconciliation
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Russian Orthodox Chapel

 

That’s it for this entry! I shared what I learned about the camp during the tour. I introduced the camp and some of what happened during the Third Reich. The Third Reich is a very extensive topic in German History. Too much has been destroyed and lost to even paint a full picture of every atrocity that happened at Dachau. But, we know enough to hopefully never allow something like the Holocaust to happen again. And I hope that you are feeling grateful rather than depressed after reading this. I strongly recommend Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. The book is a response to the question: “How was everyday life in a concentration camp reflected in the mind of the average prisoner?” Frankl was a psychologist and Auschwitz concentration camp inmate.  It is a book that very well may change your perspective about the purpose of life.

Currently, German students take day trips to such camps to learn about the Holocaust. Learning about history is just as important as being aware of what is happening in the moment all around the globe. Remember, not all Germans were Nazis and not all Nazis were German. We should never forget, be informed of today’s news and self-reflect. Thanks for reading about my experience at Dachau!

 

Sincerely,

Stephanie F.

New language, new life

How Learning A Foreign Language Has Given My Life New Meaning (originally written October 2016)

 

Learning a foreign language not only reveals how other societies think and feel, what they have experienced and value, and how they express themselves, it also provides a cultural mirror in which we can more clearly see our own society.” —Chancellor Edward Lee Gorsuch

 

Foreign languages have different structures, unique grammars, varying sound systems and dynamic expressions fitted for those languages. Therefore, stepping out of the comfort zone of one’s mother tongue can be very intimidating; however, learning a foreign language will invite you into the global community, challenge you to grow personally and will benefit you no matter your interests, career or age.

 

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Have you ever wondered what someone was saying in a foreign language you couldn’t understand? Have you seen Arabic written and desperately desired to read it? Each language has its own mystery. That means any language can offer you something new and thrilling—whether it be the diminutives in German, the free word order in Russian, or the alveolar trill of the “rolling” Spanish “Rrrrr.” You can learn a new way to insult someone—or compliment them. Most likely, you will choose a language that you enjoy hearing; however, refrain from being discouraged when you do not understand everything immediately. For instance, the beginning of your foreign language-learning journey is similar to the first time you hear a beautiful song where you are first captivated by the overall sound; then, you develop the ability to slowly pick out words, next grasp a gist of the meaning, and then, finally, the philosophical richness of the language.

 

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The study of Latin and Greek was necessary for scholars until the late nineteenth century. Maybe reading Homer’s Iliad in Ancient Greek is not a primary goal for us in the twenty-first century (everything is already translated into English, right?), but studying a foreign language in post-secondary education makes us stronger scholars. Not only is our scholarly aptitude enhanced because of the access to original material in a foreign language, but also because we become more creative, more flexible and better listeners once we have studied a foreign language. Each of these attributes lead to an improvement in the study of all other subjects.

 

DOLLS AND DICTIONARIES.jpgTranslation is possible but so much is lost in the process. There are many forms of language, such as academic, written, and colloquial. Academic language allows us to verbalize complex concepts through words like connotation or morpheme, whereas spoken language consistently changes and written language records history. Accordingly, when you are able to understand a foreign language, not only do you gain access into the daily lives of the speakers but also a glimpse into the minds of the thinkers and artists through literature, music, and overall new sources of information in the language.

 

PETERSBURG“[T]he traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep [.]” – Margaret Mead, American anthropologist. Traveling abroad is more than just a “vacation.” The more you know about a country’s history and how its residents live, the better you will be able to converse with those around you. The most satisfying travel abroad will be one in which you communicate in a foreign language. Through using your language skills, you experience an intangible, rewarding feeling as you navigate through the environment better, by ordering meals, bartering at shops and experiencing the cultural nuances.

 

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Learning a foreign language allows you to understand the world in which we live in just a bit better. Other languages are not English vocabulary hidden in different sounds. You may find yourself surprised when you have more in common with a native speaker of an exotic European language than someone from your hometown, which I have personally experienced. My community is no longer limited to my hometown, the state of Georgia, or even my country of origin—learning a foreign language has opened up the entire globe as a place of possibility for deepening my relationship with myself and others. Ultimately, learning German for almost two years and Russian for about half a year has improved my ability to learn, deepened my understanding of myself and has given me so many opportunities to meet people from around the world; therefore, it is no surprise that I enthusiastically recommend learning a foreign language to anyone.

 

 

Inspired to learn a language? Check out my Language Learners‘ Toolbox for useful tips on how to effectively learn a foreign language!

~Stephanie F.

A December Excursion to Switzerland

Dear readers,

The semester at my home university ended three weeks ago. Although I did not get the full experience of attending class, I finished two online courses (Business German and German Civilization) and am that much closer to graduating! Every college student should try their best to keep a journal because the time will fly by and it will be hard to recall all the special times you had. I could write a novel just about my college years!

And it seems my time abroad has gone by even faster.. I’ve been here almost four months already. The winter days are much shorter than in my home state and I am responsible for everything here, so it leaves me a lot less productivity time. With that said, let’s get back to this blog entry. It will be about an excursion—to Zürich, Switzerland! I hope everyone has had a nice holiday season so far and will be able to rest for the upcoming year. Keep reading to the end to get an idea about what travelling means to me.

The first part of the excursion was a stop in Schaffhausen to see Rhine falls, which is only about an hour away from Zürich. A little bit of information about the falls:

Rhine falls (Rheinfall in German) are the largest water fall(s) in Europe. During the Ice Ages, tectonic shifts occurred, which forced the River Rhine into a new basin. This was over 15,000 years ago. The older riverbed was filled with gravel. During the Würm glaciation, the river was pushed south over a hard Limestone bed and it was this movement over the hard bed and easily-eroded gravel from previous glaciations that caused the falls to form. The height reaches approximately 75 feet and the width spans to nearly 500 feet. There are two main falls divided by a rock formation.

 

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Even before getting close to the waterfalls, I could feel chilly, open air. My face felt fresh and my lungs felt light and clear. The still water of the lake area was a relatively dark teal and there was quite a lot of fish.

Even though the falls were rushing, there were still many ducks swimming around directly at the falls. The water danced over the rocks in numerous streams and where the water cut down on the rocks, white foam gushed.


The falls are directly at the bus parking lot. We just had to walk down a few flights of steps. There were immediately restrooms, tourist shops, and cafes. The falls weren’t massive in height or width, but still a very a beautiful site. Looking at the water can be just as mesmerizing as staring at a fire. Around the falls were pathways and many open areas to examine the falls and take photos. There was also a castle sitting above a hill right at the falls. We had limited time there (about 75 minutes) and I wanted to eat something and check out the tourist shops so I decided to skip the walk up to the castle. And based on my internet browsing, one may have to take a boat over to the castle anyway.

 

 

Next stop: Zürich

The photos above were taken at Lindenhof. It provides a nice view of the city, including the university, the institute of technology, and of course, the old town. The Romans had a fort there in the 4th century and later, Charlemagne’s grandson built a regal palace for a place of residence. It is a peaceful place in the city and chess players often meet for some matches. It is also the oldest place of the old town.

The streets are not built according to a grid pattern and the tour guide even said Google Maps sometimes struggles when locating a certain street. There are also quite a lot of hills. Some years ago, there used to be a wall around the city, but it was preventing the city from growing so it was taken down. It was located near the main train station.

Our next stop was a church with a pretty interesting background. And supposedly the bell inside is larger than Big Ben. The clock on the church tower is so big that you can see it from almost any point in the old town. There used to be a person who stood watch in the tower and alerted the town of a fire by waving a red flag. And compared to many other cities, Zürich never had any bad fires. But, there is no longer a person who keeps watch in the tower.

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St. Peter Church

While walking around, we also saw the “financial street” with many, many banks. That is something Zürich is well-known for (being a financial center).  The city was quite crowded especially with families but it was the Saturday before Christmas Eve so it could have been a slight exception to the norm. Zürich isn’t the capital, but it is the biggest city in Switzerland. Since Switzerland is a small country, it is not huge in comparison to other European cities. The main university has 30,000 students.

The next few stops were two more churches before the tour guide departed from us and left us at the outdoor Christmas market near the lake. Our tour guide did a great job of giving directions like how to return to the bus stop, which was near the train station. And we got to walk on both sides of the town since we crossed the bridge after seeing the women’s monastery. The tour guide did seem passionate about the city and the stories she told were very interesting, but the tour seemed very short–like there weren’t many special sites to see, or that the tour guide wanted to do a very basic tour.

However, I found the stories about the last two churches fascinating and even relevant for some of the previous research I’ve done on this blog, so I’ll share what I remember about them now:

Fraumünster (Women’s Minster): The story portrayed on the fresco is about some girls who were lost and the deer guided them to the river, which allowed them to find their way home. However, when the tour guide was telling the story I missed the transition from what was portrayed to how the church came in to the hands of female aristocracy. And although, women had control over this monastery, women have only been allowed to vote for not even 30 years in certain places in Switzerland.

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Felix and Regula (holding their heads)

The last site was Grossmünster. The patron saints Felix and Regula (shown on the previous church) were supposedly beheaded and buried there and when Charlemagne travelled through, his horse stopped there and he had a monastery built on the spot. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go inside this church. I did, however, see the court area of the previous church, which is shown in the pictures above.

 

Germany vs. Switzerland:

I noticed some differences between the Christmas markets in Zürich and the ones that I have been to in Bavaria, Germany. There were more stands selling goods such as umbrellas, clothes, candles, etc. in Zürich. Traditional food stands and hot drink stands were harder to find. I also noticed more international food in the mix (burgers, Indian food, American whiskey, etc.) Of course, there were Christmas lights, but no music and the overall atmosphere felt a lot different. It did not have that cozy “Glühwein feeling” like I experienced beforehand in Bavaria. Everything was 2-3x more expensive than typical prices in Germany (a small, regular coffee at Starbucks was 6 euros). Most places accepted euros at the rate 1 euro= 1 franc, but I am not sure how the conversion rate is if you were to buy Swiss francs with euros—most likely, the euro is about a quarter less in worth compared to the franc.

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Largest indoor Christmas market in Europe- Zürich train station

 

Concluding thoughts about the trip:
I got lucky and had a seat by myself on the bus, which meant I could catch some ZZZ’s since I brought my pillow with me. I met up with some cool people from the tour group and got to hang out with them after our city tour. If you are currently living in Europe, speak English and/or German, but do not have many friends to travel with and still want to see a few new countries easily—Euro Trip Adventures is a great option. I did not have many expectations of the places we went to beforehand, but I was not head over heels in love. The architecture was not very charming, exotic or historic (to me). Although the guide said it is authentic since it was not destroyed in any wars. The historic part of Zürich felt very small. The tour was relatively short for 15 euros.

Looking back through my photos now, I’ve been thinking that I did get to see some beautiful places in Switzerland and that maybe being there only for half of a day didn’t allow the beauty to quite sink in. I still think day trips are quite fun to get a taste of new places and learn a little history if you do the tours, but after my New Years trip to Berlin with a friend I have reconsidered aspects of travelling that I maybe overlooked since I’ve been living in Germany. Although, I did do another day excursion with Euro Trip Adventures and was much more impressed with that trip to Slovenia even according to the following points I’m going to discuss.

I think that there are 3 “levels” when travelling. The first is the most superficial–the outer layer. This is the level of tourism. I mean: seeing the major sites, eating at the well-know restaurants, trying out the things that have been recommended for tourists. I truly enjoy hearing legends and stories about new cities and adding to my overall knowledge of history. I also enjoy seeing churches, palaces and castles. Not to mention, museums, theater and other entertainment-attractions also make for a fun trip.

The second level is deeper and more authentic than the first. It means taking things a little slower and going with the flow. Getting to know the character of the city by spending time at the coffee shops and restaurants. Seeing the different people who are passing by and those who live and work there. Taking time to travel with the transportation and walking along the streets-seeing what you can find this way.

The third level could be more or less “extreme” depending on a person’s interests. Some people may want to go hiking, climbing, or even camping in the nature. I am not one of those people. However, I do like to see nature when travelling. I find water, foliage and flowers especially beautiful and calming. Even if I am travelling in European cities, I still want to try to appreciate nature. To close my eyes, take deep breaths, and relax my mind.

To conclude, I think all three of these “levels” are important to have a fulfilling trip. And day trips are quite nice, but I shouldn’t be so quick to judge. Learning the historical basics of a city is one thing, but spending several days there and developing a feel and understanding for the city (even if you may get to visit fewer cities) is also very memorable and enjoyable.

All the best in the new year,

Stephanie

Why “Austauscherfahrungen”?

Dear readers,

My name is Stephanie Ford and I am a big fan of world languages and culture. I will be living and studying in Erlangen, Germany until next August (2018).

My home university is Georgia State in Atlanta, Georgia. I am a senior and I’m currently doing a few online courses with Georgia State in order to complete my degree requirements. Although I miss class discussions, I still must do some “class participation.” My class participation is vor Ort (“locally”).

In this blog, I will share excursions, film reviews and research projects related to the course “German Civilization.” I will also share my opinions on sightseeing I may have done, useful insider tips, and some comparisons between German and American culture.

I invite my fellow students to read about my experience here as an exchange student as well as anyone else interested in Germany or studying abroad.