The Meldrums have been in Aachen on the West border of the country for the last year while Tyler works in a Post-Doc program that utilizes new technology to analyze artwork (aka the coolest job ever) and have one more to go. The Canons have been in Chemnitz on the East of the country for the last year on a mission trip with the Christian HIM program teaching English using the book of Luke from the Bible. It was such a treat to see these friends again and in visiting both East and West we got a fairly well rounded view of the country in our too-brief week.
We took the train from London to Germany and during our stop in Brussels we got our first real taste of not knowing the native language(s). Surrounded by about five languages, being tired, having to pay to use the bathroom, and just wanting a hot chocolate, darn it, resulted in a mini-break down. It didn't last long and we were happy to finally reach Germany where there was only one language to navigate and English speaking friends.
Day One in Aachen was very relaxing, Tyler took us on a brief walking tour of the town which we found to be utterly charming. Once Sara was able to meet up with us we went grocery shopping in the Netherlands (a 10 minute bus ride away) and came away with two things that have changed our culinary lives forever: Speculoos and Stroopwafels. Speculoos is a cookie-turned-creamy-spread that looks like peanut butter but tastes like heaven. Stroopwafels are waffles "made from two thin layers of baked batter with a caramel-like syrup filling in the middle" (thank you, wikipedia!) There are American versions of each of these and we are trying our hardest not to buy them out.
Day Two was Sunday so we accompanied the Meldrums to church! It was Fast and Testimony meeting where there is no formal sermon; rather, the floor is open to members of the congregation who feel moved to speak, so I got to hear a lot of different deliveries of German. I should say here that though I studied German for three semesters in undergrad, I only remember enough to be frustrated that I don't know more. That being said, there were some people that I understood fairly clearly and others that I was hopeless with. By the end of the service my brain was exhausted. Ben on the other hand knows no German and couldn't even try to understand, so he was not brain-tired. Regardless, we went back and took a nap. Upon waking we walked over to the Aachen Cathedral.
To give a little background: Aachen is the Westernmost city in Germany. It was a Roman spa town, favored by Charlemagne and the coronation site of 30 Kings and 12 Queens of the Holy Roman Empire. The Cathedral is now home to Charlemagne's remains.
Left: Charlemagne's Coronation Chair, never actually used. Right: Stunning tile work
Aachen is known for it's many fountains. We only saw a few on our walks, but they were really good ones!
My favorites: Left- the cycle of money, from the poor to the rich. Right- marionettes! Every joint on this fountain is moveable! Coolest idea ever.
Day three was our anniversary! The day began with a trip to Cologne. We exited the train station to fine this sight:
Understandably Germany's most visited landmark. Unfortunately, as you can see, there's a bunch of scaffolding up around the Cathedral, but it was still breathtaking. We were determined to climb it, but first: pretzels!
We tried both plain and nougat, I think I preferred the nougat.
The Cathedral was a feat. Because the way up was a continual spiral staircase there was no break in the climb. Just 15 minutes of straight stair. And we're talking the narrow part of the spiral because the wide part was being used by the people coming down. It was slightly terrifying. Totally worth it, though.
The view from the top, which was absolutely COVERED with graffiti.
Sara mentioned visiting the locks on the bridge, which and I can't believe we almost missed. People place a lock on the bridge and throw the key away in the river below. This is apparently the thing to do, but we had never seen anything like it before. People take it seriously, too. Some went so far as to have their faces engraved on the lock.
Just a tiny portion of the bridge which is COVERED with locks.
Then something exciting happened: Ben found a lock in his bag! It was from the hostel we'd stayed in our last nights in London. We didn't have anything with which to write something awesome like "Ben & Babs 4EVER 2012" but we found a solution: we stuck ours onto a lock that just happened to have "BA" carved onto it's face.
An Anniversary Miracle!
We left super duper early and made all our connections to Chemnitz! We quickly discovered that Germans in the East are far less willing/able to speak English with you when, after stumbling over an order of bread and wurst, a woman spit out the longest, most convoluted response in a dialect of German I had never heard before about how her colleague did something wrong and she broke the wurst so she was going to give us two different kinds of wurst and not charge us for the bread. Thank goodness for Krista (who was also partially lost), we would have been up the creek without her.
It was a wonderful, restful first day filled with food, good conversation, and the Germany version of Settler's of Cattan.
It was a long, LONG game which Ben won.
The next morning Krista and Chris prepared an amazing German breakfast for us. I far prefer this to the traditional Scottish or English breakfasts. Despite all the bread, there is something far less heavy than British breakfasts... oh yea, the meat. I could eat this for every meal, every day, yay carbs!
An excellent breakfast with excellent hosts!
From there we went on a walking tour of Chemnitz, which is completely different than Aachen, but charming nonetheless. We ate more wurst and bread, and stopped at an Eiscafe, where our eyes were much bigger than our stomachs (did I mention all the bread and meat we'd already had?) I had Spaghetti Eis, which I had been excited to try since knowing we'd be visiting Germany. It's basically ice cream formed into a spaghetti noodle type shape then covered in strawberry sauce. We don't remember what Ben's dish was. Ultimately, not the best ice cream we've ever had, but it was a fun experience.
Meat, bread, and ice cream galore!
We stopped at a shopping center and stocked up on not enough German chocolate and found the biggest container of Nutella ever.
The church that Chris and Krista work with was having a sports night for the missionaries and the readers (especially the youth) to encourage them to use their growing knowledge of English and we were excited to attend! The church has a small congregation and the members that we met were friendly and all around awesome. It was so nice to know that our friends have great people to take care of and look out for them while being so far from home.
For the games, we were split into two groups, came up with team names and competed for some Ritter Sport. Ben's team was "the Flying Cows" and my team the "Fighting Mole-Hunters." Ben's team won. (Ben: there may have been cheating involved.)
The church and the scoreboard.
The following day was our last so we decided to spend a few hours in Berlin, from which we would fly home. Because we had such little time we decided we would take a hop-on, hop-off bus tour, which we definitely think was the best idea. We saw many of the embassy buildings, the KaDeWe, Checkpoint Charlie, a portion of the Berlin Wall, Museum Island, and we got off at the Brandenburg Tor, walked through the Tiergarten and back to the Hauptbahnhof. Along the way we ate more Currywurst and couldn't resist getting jelly doughnuts.
Beginning our tour!
The Berlin Wall and Check Point Charlie
The remaining portions of the wall and check point Charlie was the most surreal to visit and we chose these places to disembark. Perhaps it's because their existence and the events they represent were so recent. Maybe it's because it's incredibly strange to see a German dressed as a disheveled and smoking version of a US soldier ready for photo ops or to stamp your passport (which we had done). It's also neat to see Berlin reclaiming these places as their own; embracing their past for what it was and moving forward.
Left: Berliners at Brandenburg Tor, Right: through the Tiergarten
Our stay in Berlin was painfully short but we're glad we went and glad we took the bus tour to see as much as we did. We said goodbye to our friends and hello to a tumultuous trip back to the states, though I made great friends with a four-year-old cherubic British girl named Edie who made my flight back genuinely an awesome time (Ben and I flew separately... lessons learned...)