Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Grade 12 Bonding Trip

Each year our school sends a few teachers out for a weekend with the 12th grade students on a bonding trip. In an effort to build community and start the year off right our students spent a weekend in Garmisch-Partenkirchen on the border of Austria in the German Alps. Marisa and I chaperoned the trip, along with a few other co-workers. Despite the six-hour bus ride we had an amazing weekend with an absolutely beautiful setting. The parents of the students organized the trip while we played the role of responsible adults. We all stayed at a nice, clean hostel and had a company take care of team-building exercises, scenic hikes, and a high-ropes course.

The view in Garmisch as we hiked up to the high-ropes course.

The high-ropes course was unlike any I'd been to before. They had nine different courses of varying degrees of difficulty and after a brief introduction and safety demonstration they let you go and try any of the courses that you wanted at your own pace. It actually worked out a lot better than having the entire group watch two people climb up a wall and encourage them. This is me on the most difficult course, laying out for a rope to swing to the other platform. Don't doubt the skills!

Me and some students that finished "Affen Himmel" or "Monkey Sky/Heaven" - the most difficult of the nine courses. It was pretty cool going through because you would always have someone in front of you to learn how to do the next element and someone behind that needed help. These kids were studs.

Marisa caught this cool shot of a student on one of the elements. I was amazed at the trust that the staff put into the particpants' hands. After the safety demo you were on your own and there weren't many staff members around to help out. It was totally safe, but Marisa and I both agreed that this kind of course wouldn't exist in the States. If it did there would have to be a staff member stationed at every tree making sure people don't hurt themselves. Maybe it's our culture of filing lawsuits when we do something stupid?

The teachers had to show off their skills in group jump-roping. The goal by the end of the weekend was to have 18 students jump rope at least once at the same time.

The goal in this team-building exercise was to get all team members over the fence without touching the string. Since I was the heaviest they decided to toss me over first so that I could help lift everyone else over afterwards.

Alpine cattle - yes, they actually wear bells and you can hear them ringing all over the mountainside. Some of them had the short little curved horns as well.

On Sunday we took a hike through Partnachklamm (Partnach Gorge) and the views were spectacular. Unfortunately the lighting was low, so not all of our photos turned out so well.

Partnach Gorge

While walking through the gorge we came into an opening where people had made dozens of these stacked stones. I'm not sure what the significance is, but they were kind of interesting.

Now this is the Alps that you picture isn't it?

Partnach Gorge

After finishing our hike through the gorge we ended at the ski jump course and stadium that was used when Garmisch hosted the winter olympics back in 1936. They still use it for competitions today and it's an impressive site.

We had visited Garmisch back in February for a short ski trip and it was nice to come back during a totally different time of year. We still love this alpine town and we'd recommend it to anyone. The trip was also a success in that there were no serious injuries and no damage done to the hostel in the process. Now we're all bonded and ready to take on the year.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Apple Crisp

Since moving to Germany my recipe repertoire has grow substantially. Who knew that with two burners and a toaster oven that could happen. One area of cooking that has been on the decline since moving here was my baking. I was afraid that cakes wouldn't cook through and I would have burnt tops and gooey middles. But after making a few cakes and some cupcakes I realized that the toaster oven works miracles.

In an effort to expand my baking skills I wanted to give an apple crisp a go. I thought this was a good way to get Fall started and also it is apple season here in Frankfurt. I found this recipe online with a video included and the results are below. I used all organic ingredients (whole wheat flour, etc.) and it turned out great! Justin is a big apple dessert guy and he enjoyed it very much. The recipe was super easy and the only hard part was peeling all the apples.

A scoop of vanilla bean ice cream complements the apple crisp well

For all you apple lovers out there this is a quick, easy and tasty recipe. 
Happy Fall Y'all!!!


Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Writer Next Door

Marisa and I have been completely blessed with great friends here in Frankfurt with all kinds of talent and from all parts of the world. Our Scottish friends Craig and Katie are two such amazing people who never cease to blow us away with their artistic gifts. While they never boast about these abilities, occasionally we catch wind of little side projects that they're taking on that we would never think about doing.

Cover art for Craig's first book. After his father passed away he was asked by the publisher to finish the series that he had started. After a few years he's done just that, which is an awesome tribute to his dad.

Recently we were invited over for a surprise celebration for Craig's first book launch on Amazon. He wrote "In the Firing Line" which is a continuation of two other books that his father, Cliff Rennie, wrote in 2000 ("Offside in Ecuatina") and 2003 ("Goal Behind the Curtain"). They're soccer-themed books with a strong Christian influence. While the Amazon.com version has not been released yet, we were celebrating the book's release on Amazon.uk. It was the middle of the week and Craig was totally surprised when we dropped in wearing soccer jerseys asking for autographs.

The author, apparently from the "Eastside" of Scotland, displaying the first two books of the series. They were quite popular amongst young readers in the U.K., which I would probably compare to Matt Christopher sport-themed books in the U.S.

the "Launch Party" - such a great idea from Katie, who secretly prepared soccer-themed snacks and decorations as well.

the "team pose" with Craig (sporting Roma), myself (sporting Eintracht Frankfurt), and Jan (sporting the Netherlands).

It was good fun on a random Thursday and we're super-proud of Craig on this huge accomplishment. We hope to see more from him in the future and I'm just waiting for the U.S. launch date so that I can download a copy on my Kindle.


Friday, September 9, 2011

Summer Reading 2011

Every summer I look forward to the time off, the traveling and the warm(er) weather like anyone else. As a teacher I am especially thankful for the time to read some literature or new fiction and not think about my subject for a few weeks. Last summer I got into Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead and this year I was looking for a real page-turner. After hearing several good reviews from co-workers and watching the first film with English subtitles, I decided to give the "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" series (a.k.a Millenium Trilogy) a go.

The Millenium Trilogy

Stieg Larsson was a Swedish journalist that wrote this series in his free time. He died suddenly in 2004 (age 50) from a heart attack before seeing the books hit the shelves. The first in the series, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is a suspense-filled crime novel about a journalist, Mikael Blomqvist, that is hired by the CEO of a large corporation to investigate the disappearance of his niece. He digs into the twisted history of the CEO's family with the help of a computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander that consequently has a dragon tattoo, and uncovers way more than expected. I found it very entertaining and it made for a good movie, even in Swedish.

While the first novel stands alone and sets up the characters, the last two in the series, "The Girl Who Played with Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" respectively, went together like one long novel. Not to give much away, the second novel is mostly an uncovering of Lisbeth Salanders past with a lot of government conspiracy theory going on. The last novel is more of a scramble of research for a major court case related to the second book.

I highly recommend this series if you like page-turning suspense books. They're all great escape novels that would (and have) made really good movies. While there won't be any more of his work being published, unfortunately, his long-term girlfriend has copies of his unfinished manuscripts for a couple more installments to the series and may try to finish them out for publication. Only time will tell.....


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

How the Other Half Lives - East Germany 2011: Berlin

Berlin is a fascinating European city with a unique history and an ever-changing appearance. When I last visited in 2004, I recall the city being kind of run down and dirty and very different from most other German cities. This time I came across a massive city that portrayed itself as a cleaner, more modern city that is so sparsely populated that it never felt crowded. Having 50 years or so of history during which it was divided and separately governed, the result is a huge city with no true center and two of many things such as cathedrals, libraries, universities, museums, etc.

We only had three days in Berlin, which isn't enough to do it justice, but we filled our time with a walking city tour day, a museum day, and a palace day. In between we were able to catch a variety show at the Friedrichpalast theater. Below are some snapshots to give you more of a visual:

Pretty sure this is the Berlin Cathedral

"Mother with Dead Son" - in remembrance of the fallen soldiers in WWI and WWII. This is housed in a small building with an open roof to expose the memorial to the elements.

Humboldt University - Berlin's oldest university (1810) and home to many famous thinkers such as: physicists Albert Einstein and Max Planck, founders of Marxist theory Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, poet Heinrich Heine, German unifier Otto von Bismarck, European unifier Robert Schuman, and W.E.B. Du Bois. Producing 29 Nobel Prize winners, this university also served as a model for other universities in the West, such as Johns Hopkins.

"Berlin Wall: 1961-1989" - the double brick outline traces the former wall around West Berlin and if you can read the plaque correctly, then you are standing on the former West Berlin side.

Marisa, modeling in front of the former East German mass-produced vehicle, the Trabant (or Trabi for short). There was a huge waiting list to get one of these bad boys, they used a two-cycle engine (think weedwacker) that put out plenty of smoke, and the body was made out of fiberglass rather than metal.

The bear is the city symbol of Berlin and years ago they did a Bear Parade type thing that rivals the popular Cow Parade exhibit that has popped up in cities all over the world.

Berlin Wall - one large remaining section of the wall seen from the East side. FYI, the Eastern sides were painted white so that people trying to escape could be more easily seen, while the Western side was covered with graffiti because they were free to get that close to the wall.

Here's a nice mural showing the prosperous lives in the good ol' DDR..........everyone's working together, all smiles, the sun is shining, and life couldn't be better......

"Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe" - Finished in 2004, it is composed of 4.7 acres of concrete slabs of various heights placed along uneven ground, forming a maze-like experience.

It's open to interpretation, but it was a very unique experience to walk through this thing.

Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) - former entrance to the city, erected from 1788-1791, it is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the city. It was completely jacked up during WWII, but was restored from 2000-2002. You can still see patched up bullet holes all over.

I had to get a photo with this guy because he reminded me of my brother who once made a full suit of armor out of cardboard boxes and duct tape. I guess this is sort of the Captain Planet equivalent.

Pergamon Museum - German archaeologists love going and digging up other people's stuff. This museum is named after the city in modern-day Turkey where this Pergamon Alter was excavated. It's a huge temple built in the 2nd century B.C. with a massive sculpted wall that wraps around the whole thing depicting a battle between the gods and the giants.

Close-up of the wall sculptures.

Market Gate of Miletus - from an ancient Greek city in modern-day Turkey as well. It's amazing how people are able to take entire walls like this and put them in museums.

Ishtar Gate - probably the second most famous piece in the Pergamon Museum, this was the processional gate into the ancient city of Babylon in modern-day Iraq. It was built in 575 B.C. by King NebuchadnezzarII.

Ishtar Gate and the Processional Way, lined with scary lions.

Assyrian reliefs, similar to the ones we saw before in the British Museum in London. Not sure how many of these Iraq has left after all of the confiscations going on.

Pergamon Museum - they also had a huge collection of Islamic art, including this prayer niche that was beautifully decorated with glazed tiles with Arabic writing.

Pergamon Museum - I also liked this temple to Athena, whose name is spelled out there in Greek. It's neat to see inscriptions so wonderfully preserved.

Deutsches Historisches Museum - I just liked this painting because I've seen this Imperial Crown on this guy's head from the Holy Roman Empire. I believe it's held in a museum in Vienna. It's always neat to see some things come full circle in European history.

The original Lukas Cranach painting of Martin Luther which has been widely printed in history textbooks.

I really like these spiky German helmets from the 1800s and early 1900s.

Sweet painting of "Germania" ready to whoop some tail. I do like the hardcore eagle emblem that shows up throughout German history.

Charlottenburg Palace - Berlin residence of the Hohenzollern family. It was built at the end of the 17th century and originally named Lietzenburg, but when Friedrich III, Elector of Brandenburg's wife, Sophie Charlotte, passed away in 1705 it was renamed in her honor.

Private chapel in the Charlottenburg. It's a beautiful palace with my favorite room that was decorated with thousands of pieces of porcelain. It's definitely worth the trip if you like palaces and find yourself in Berlin.

Reichstag, or German Parliament building. The same place that was once burned down by anarchists (allegedly), allowing Hitler to gain power at a vulnerable time in German history, now stands rebuilt after the war and is topped with a glass observation deck so that visitors can keep an eye on the legislation taking place below.

One last picture of my mom and I. It was an excellent trip and we thoroughly enjoyed the visit. I was glad that she was able to see a little of where we live and also experience the German culture, landscapes and cities that she'd learned about years ago in school.


Sunday, September 4, 2011

How the Other Half Lives - East Germany 2011: Dresden

In 2004 when I studied abroad in Germany I was living mostly in the town of Weimar in the former East Germany, or the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR). Since we were in the eastern part of the country anyways we took several long weekend trips to major cities in eastern Germany such as Erfurt, Dresden and Berlin. Since living in Germany we hadn't taken any return visits to these places and Marisa had never seen them. I had a lot of fond memories from my time there and when my mom came to visit us in August we had a good excuse to go and see them.

My mom, Melonie, was making her first trip to Europe and had actually studied some German back in the day so she was eager to see some of the places that she had heard about in school. We spent a crash course day touring Frankfurt, then took a relaxing day on a Rhein river cruise complete with a visit to Rudesheim, then took a long train to Dresden for a couple of days before ending our trip with a few days in Berlin. Sure, it was ambitious; but we pulled it off in style and had a great time. This post features a few pictures from Frankfurt and the Rhein cruise with an emphasis on our stay in Dresden.

My mom, Melonie, and I on our Rhein river cruise. This is an awesome thing to do in West Germany because it's relaxing and the views are spectacular with all of the castles (literally every few kilometers) and vineyards that line both sides of the river.

Dresden is the beautiful capital of Saxony and sits on the Elbe River near the border with the Czech Republic. It is easily distinguished by its blackened stone buildings which are made from locally quarried sandstone. The black color comes from a natural chemical reaction with the surrounding air (oxidation), making it appear to be older and burnt. It was arguably the most demolished city in Germany during WWII meaning everything was reconstructed fairly recently. In many cases, such as the Frauenkirche, the buildings were left in rubble and not reconstructed until after reunification in the early 1990's.

Dresden on the Elbe River with a view of the Augustus Bridge and the Frauenkirche in the background.

View of the Royal Palace, Dresden.

Frauenkirche or "Church of Our Lady" as I would loosely translate. This is amazing because 20 years ago it was nothing but a pile of rubble.........literally. It collapsed due to Allied bombing on February 13th 1945 and wasn't rebuilt during the good ol' days of the DDR. It wasn't until the early 1990's that a few citizens pooled together and committed to the rebuilding of the church to the exact specifications as before and using original stonework whenever possible. This is why there is a checkerboard appearance to the outer walls which include older sandstone that is blackened by oxidation, and the newer white sandstone that will eventually reach the same hue.

Frauenkirche - Restoration completed in 2005........60 years after its destruction!

die Fuerstenzug or "Procession of Princes" is a huge wall of Meissner porcelain tile that depicts the princes of Saxony from 1127 up until 1904. It's awesome to see the change in style over the centuries and the detail simply must be seen in person.

Close-up of the Fuerstenzug.

die Semper Oper - Dresden's opera house. It's probably the most famous opera in Germany and when I studied abroad I was able to see a ballet version of Don Quixote there. Pretty rockin' windmill scene if I remember correctly.

Marisa and mom in the Zwinger Courtyard, which is an old palace that was built between 1710-1728 simply to compete with Louis XIV's Versailles. The inauguration was on the occasion of the wedding between Frederick August's marriage to Maria Josepha, which united Saxony with the Habsburgs. Today it houses a few collections of weapons and armor, scientific instruments, and porcelain.

Dresden palace of some sort.

The highlight of the palace was this tough-looking joker and his partner that guarded the passageway into the old city.

The Elbe has flooded Dresden on numerous occasions, the most recent being in 2002 and 2006. To have an idea of the extent of the flooding look no further than under the Augustus Bridge at the water line that cleaned off the older sandstone.

We took a gander in the modern art museum which had an interesting sculpture collection including this guy which was one of the "Three Bersekers". Now there's a word that doesn't get used enough.

While the Elbe does flood from time to time, there haven't been any reports of tsunamis - just this one on the Augustus Bridge.

Dresden was great for a couple of days and just as lovely as I remembered it. We headed north from there to visit Berlin to round off our trip.


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