ICE-Sprinter trains. I think they said the top speed was 230kmh which is about 150mph. It's a very smooth ride too.
(I would recommend that you open this photo album in a different window and follow along as you read. Start with photo #67.)
The first night we were in Berlin (Friday) I went to see Die Zauberfloete at the German Opera house with Ryan Behrends and Erin Dillon. We got seats in the second row for the student rate of 13.50€ which is 50€ less than those seats usually cost. It was fantastic. We met a couple of American graduate students in set design doing a study abroad program from some California school. That was fun talking about music and theater with them over dinner before the show.
On our first day in the city (Saturday), we went on a 2 hour bus tour. We saw most of the international embassies, the Brandenburg gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the East Side Gallery, and the Holocaust Memorial. We passed some other things too, but those were the highlights. The East Side Gallery is a section of the Berlin wall which has been preserved. Every 5 years or so the city whitewashes the wall and invites the artists who originally painted the wall to return and renew their artwork. It's a strong reminder that only 20 years ago Berlin was still divided into two starkly contrasting sectors.
That night most of the group went on a "Pub Crawl". I'll just say beer was drunk and fun was had.
On Sunday we went on a walking tour of the Sachsenhausen Memorial Concentration Camp. I intentionally didn't post pictures of the camp because I don't think pictures do the experience justice. You really need to go there and see it for yourself, but even then there's no way to comprehend how life truly was in the camps. Sachsenhausen was a labor camp and housed something like 40,000 prisoners at the peak of the war. It was only a 20 minute train ride from the capital.
On Sunday night I saw a Konzerte der Bigband der Deutsche Oper, that was lots of fun. Again I sat in the second row. This concert was highlighting the music of Ray Charles. Which means they had a guest vocalist from New York who sang a few Ray Charles tunes with the band. She was a very good performer and she was very good at singing Ray Charles. Oh and the barisax player played a solo on the Duduk a very beautiful instrument. Take a look at this video for a sample of Duduk music.
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On Monday we went on a walking tour of Potsdam which is directly outside of Berlin. I guess a bunch of Prussian Kings lived in Potsdam. We walked up to the Sans souci palace built by Frederick the Great. After that I went up to the observation deck of the TV-Tower with Hilary and Austin. That was a really cool view of Berlin. Tuesday saw a couple of Museum tours and a real visit to the Holocaust monument. There's a fairly extensive museum underneath the monument. And I went up to the top of the German Reichstag, the seat of the German government.
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Wednesday was a free day, so I sat in the Tiergarten for a couple of hours in the morning went up to the observatory decks in two buildings and the packed for my trip to Kassel. When my mom was in high school, she spent a summer in Kassel. I went there to visit her former host mother, Frau Kunsch. Frau Kunsch doesn't speak a word of English, but she is also very patient so we were able to get along alright in German. I'm glad I was able to stop by and meet her. She still maintains a very fruitful garden with apples, plums, raspberries, tomatoes, strawberries, grapes, and a fruit that looked like currants. And they were all ripe except the strawberries. So I got to Kassel on Thursday and spent the evening chatting with Frau Kunsch. On Friday I wandered around Downtown Kassel and then up to Schloss Wilhelmshoehe which was built in 1785 by Wilhelm I, Elector of Hesse. It's a very stately building surrounded by beautiful gardens. Inside the palace is a large gallery of paintings of the Old Masters. I spent 3 hours in there. Then I hiked up the hill towards the Hercules statue. I didn't make it all of the way to the top because I got hungry, so I stopped for dinner.
On Saturday morning I left Kassel and took another ICE train to Frankfurt am Main to visit the 63rd Internationale Automobil-Austrieb the world's largest motor show. Basically there was a lot of cars. I was very interested in the Renault zero-emmision vehicle prototypes. I'll be very happy to see such cars on the road finally.
On my way home I experienced a rare glitch in the German Rail system. In general German Trains are very prompt and reliable. However, when I got to the Frankfurt airport where I was supposed to be transferring to an ICE to Stuttgart I found that the long-distance trains' terminal was on lock down for some reason. I didn't really understand why becuase the police officer was speaking very fast. I had to go back to the platform I had arrived on before walking the 500 or so meters to the long distance trains to find the right train. Then when we got to Mannheim I had to transfer to a different train because apparently the one I was on wasn't going to stop in Stuttgart after all. Whatever. I made it home. It's nice to be back in Reutlingen where I know the bus schedule and the names of all of the stops.
I went to the Baptist church again this morning. Erin Dillon came along this time. The sermon was given by a theology professor. He was a little hard to follow. And by that I mean that I only understood about 40% of what he said. But the rest of the service was easy to follow. I really feel like I've found a church home here in Germany. After the service the worship team leader asked me if I'd be able to play drums for them because their regular drummer is going away to school soon. I hope I'll get the chance to teach them some songs.
I ordered a Discraft Ultrastar Frisbee from Amazon.de and it came while I was away. There aren't any German companies that make Ultimate discs so I had to pay 18€ for this one that was imported from the States. But it was totally worth it. I went and threw it around with a couple of the other Valpo guys and a German guy that lives down the hall from me. That was a good time. I'm going to see what I can do about starting some pick-up games of Ultimate once the German school semester starts.
Thanks for reading. For reading this entire post, you get a cake. Actually, the cake is a lie, it's really just a wikipedia article about cakes, but you get the idea.