Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Castles and Cathedrals: Heidelberg, Koblenz and Köln

This past weekend, our group took our big weekend outing. On Friday, we woke up at 6 in the morning to catch the train to Heidelberg. After about 6 hours of riding the train, we reached the town. Heidelberg is the town where, during WWII, the Americans bombed the city with pamphlets that said, “We are not going to bomb your city because we want to live here after the war is over.” Because of this, all of the city’s old buildings are still (mostly) intact, and the place is fairly Americanized. The sights were awesome, as Heidelberg is kind of nestled in the foothills of the Alps so it’s an absolutely beautiful place

Heidelberg from the castle

While we were there, we saw the Heidelberg castle. It is a pretty incredible building as it was a site where for a couple hundred years, one of the selectors of the German king lived. When a new ruler of Heidelberg would take power, he would build his new palace amongst or on top of the other palaces already in place. So there are buildings from 1500 all the way to 1800 within the fortress. The fortress was partially destroyed by the French, so now some of it is in ruins, but it was still a great sight to see.

The next day we woke up and went on the train so we could go to Koblenz, and then Köln. Because of the way our tickets work, we can’t reserve seats on the train, so if someone does reserve our seat, they can kick us out. If all the seats are reserved then we have to find a place on the ground to sit. This happened on our trip to Koblenz. A few of us found a spot near the back of the train to sit, and we spent the time looking out at the Rhine River and admiring the landscape.

We also passed the time playing with a rubix cube

We only spent a couple of hours in Koblenz, taking a quick cable car ride to an old fortress and exploring up there for a bit. There was a festival going on so the place was buzzing with entertainers and tourists from all over. Again the view was absolutely amazing.

After our couple of hours of free time, we boarded the train yet again for Köln. The major sight to see in Köln is the church right outside the train station called the Köln Cathedral. This thing was massive! I tried taking pictures of it, but there was no way I could get a picture of the entire thing in one shot. The building took almost 600 years to fully complete, and it is one of the highest stone towers in the world.

A large church indeed
The church spire

We went to the mass on Sunday, which was interesting. It was my first mass, and it was in German with a little Latin dispersed throughout, so I had no idea what was going on. It was a good experience though. I can say though that I am not a fan of the smell of the incense they used.
After mass, we got a group together and climbed to the top of the tower, all 530 stairs in a single spiral staircase. We finally got to the top and spent some time observing the city (sorry no pictures, but I can assure you that it was very pretty)
Eventually, we had to get back to Berlin so we could start school the next day. So we boarded the train to take the 6 hour ride back to Berlin, get some sleep and start the next week of school.
There’s my super quick summary of last week. It was a whirlwind of activity, but I enjoyed it immensely. Getting to see so much history in so little time was fantastic. The amount work that had to be put into all of those buildings still astounds me. I’m now about halfway through the program here. Classes have been going well. The trips have been awesome. I’m alive and well, and God is good. Thank you for all of the prayers and I hope everything is going well in the states.
I think that’s all for now. If you want me to expound on anything or have any questions for me, feel free to ask.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sachsenhausen, and thoughts (mostly thoughts)

Sorry for no pictures, but this post is already really long and it's really late at night right now. I'll have pictures up soon!

So yesterday we went to a concentration camp called Sachsenhausen. I would be the student that everybody will be complaining about waiting for an extra hour before sending a search party. I guess it was because I got lost in the stories of all the different people. It took me forever to look through the different accounts of what happened there. I have been to Holocaust museums multiple times in the past, but I’ve never actually stepped foot where it all happened. Just having the opportunity to picture yourself in a place where so much evil occurred was very humbling. For those of you who don’t know, Sachsenhausen did have a large amount of Jews and other “undesirables” but most of the prisoners were for political reasons. Listening to the stories of brutality from the Nazi’s was horrifying, but what I found most interesting was tower E. The tower was like any other tower surrounding the camp, but this one had an exhibit within its walls. The exhibit focused on the residents of Orienburg (the town where Sachsenhausen was located) and their actions surrounding the camp. What really shocked me was that the residents did in fact know about the camp. When the prisoners were transported to the camp, they were forced to march from the train station in the center in town to the camp 1.5 miles away. They marched straight through the town. There were accounts from villagers expressing their feelings when these events occurred. At first they were told by the government that the prisoners were enemies of the state who caused problems in other parts of the country. Due to this, the residents actually lined the streets to yell and jeer at the inmates as they marched past. But eventually, word started getting out about the mistreatment of the prisoners that were there. But no one did anything about it. Sure there were a few people that would sneak bread and other parcels of food into the camp for the greatly malnourished individuals that were there, but on a large scale, nothing was really tried to help end this mistreatment. And it wasn’t like the prisoners were out of sight either. Many would have to come and work on their hard labor projects in the streets of Orienburg. But the really shocking part was the interview on the practicing church in the town and its interactions with Sachsenhausen. Their story was basically the same as a regular townsperson. They knew about the problem. They knew that there was mistreatment, yet they did little to nothing in terms of action to stop these acts from happening. They priest of the church even got to go into the camp to administer communion to a member in the jail of the camp. He got to see first-hand the horrors of what was occurring, and afterwards, he and his congregation began praying for the prisoners. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe prayer is the most powerful thing a Christian can do. However, I also feel that God gives us the ability to act when we see evil occurring in the world. Now I don’t know what they could have done to rectify this awful situation, but I feel that when such an evil is occurring, along with prayer, we as a church body should be active in stopping such evil. We have been given the truth and an ability to discern good from evil, and I believe that it is our job to make sure to do all we can to make sure that good triumphs over evil. I realize that we will never be able to truly triumph over evil and that only Jesus will be able to defeat evil for good, but I feel that as followers of him we are charged with trying to make good overcome evil. So this is why I was so shocked at how the townspeople declined to do anything to help these victims. This is also what worries me if we don’t learn from our mistakes. We can’t close our eyes to injustice. And if we see injustice, we can’t let ourselves be held back due to the belief that we can’t make a difference, or the fear of what would happen to us. We can see plainly what that type of thinking resulted in here at Sachsenhausen. We must be willing to take the risk to ask God what we should do to stop such evil, and then act on this petition. And God-willing, we may be able to prevent this evil from occurring again.
            As you can see, this was a pretty moving experience for me. I definitely feel like we have a distinct duty as a church family to fix injustices in the world. From poverty, to sickness, to food and water distribution, we have a job to go into the world and feed the hungry, quench the thirst of the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the convicted, the list goes on and on. The list seems overwhelming, but we must just remember to keep praying and seeking the will of God, and through that prayer and seeking, our eyes may be opened to the hurting, broken and dying, and our minds, skills, and bodies may be used to overcome evil and spread good to the world. And it doesn’t have to take place in across the world either. As can be seen in the past, evil is present in our hometowns too. We must be focused on helping wherever we can, however we can.

            So, there’s my reflection/rant. Sorry it’s so long, but as you can see this little excursion impacted me quite a bit. We’re having a great time here and can’t wait for more adventures! Please keep praying for us!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

We made it to Germany!

Hello all. Sorry for the large gap between updates. We’ve successfully made it to Germany! We have been here since Saturday now, and are starting to get used to the city. A little bit about last week first. We had one week up at Calvin. We moved pretty fast from the get go, covering the first 4 and a half chapters in the week. Most chapters take about a week each normally, so that kind of shows you how fast we were moving! It meant a lot of homework, but I still was able to have fun with the guys on the cross country team in the evenings, which I really enjoyed. But Friday came, and the group boarded the plane for Germany. After a total of 14 hours of traveling, we finally arrived in Berlin.

Wasting time in the Amsterdam Airport

 We got in at around 7 in the evening here, and had little more time than to walk around for about an hour, eat a meal, and get to bed.
Now a little about where we’re staying. It’s called the St. Michaels Heim. It’s kind of a mix between a hotel and a youth hostel where there are private rooms, but there are also very large rooms that can sleep 7 or 8. There are currently 6 in our room. But we’re living very comfortably.
Our Home for the next couple of weeks

Ok back to the trip. On Sunday, we woke up and got ready for church. We caught the bus (I think I’m finally getting the hang of this whole public transportation system, minus learning the names of the streets) and went to the American Church in Berlin. It was pretty cool as there were people from all over the world there; South Korea, Egypt, Zimbabwe, just to name a few.  We then proceeded to tour the central part of Berlin and see all the touristy things. There should be some pictures below.

American Church in Berlin

Group photo in front of the Reichstag

We went car "shopping". This one might be a little
above my price range

The different colored bricks mark the site of the Berlin Wall

Sunday evening, I went on a run with another student and cross country teammate Landon Potts.  We just went out to kind of explore the town, and ended up finding the Olympic Stadium! I kind of wish I had brought my camera with me so we could get a picture, but it was just awesome to take my first run in a new country and wind up at an Olympic stadium.  It was a good end to the day.
Monday we woke up, ate a quick breakfast and went out to the bus stop to get on the M29 and take us to our class. The public transportation is really nice here. All of the students received a Monatskarte, which allows for us to get on any bus, tram, train or subway in Berlin for a month. The busses are very consistent and cover most of the town, especially the places we need to go. And after a couple of days, I can officially say that I believe I have got the hang of it.
Anyways, our weekdays pretty much follow the same routine: get up, go to engineering class from 9 to 11:30, go to lunch at the Mensa (a government subsidized cafeteria on the campus), come back for German class from 1 to 4, and then take the bus home to eat, run and do homework in whatever order works best for that night. We haven't got to do much extra stuff because we've been getting a ton of homework, but it’s starting to slow down a bit, so we'll hopefully be able to get out a little more.
Ok I think that’s about all I've got for now.  Sorry about the whole wall of text thing, but we've had a very eventful couple of weeks! Tomorrow is our first engineering test and then Friday, we're going to Sachsen-Hausen, a concentration camp. An update should hopefully come this week.

Friday, July 5, 2013

1 more week!

Well, in exactly one week, I will be on a plane, heading to Germany! As I get closer to this date, my excitement for this trip continues to grow. Since coming home from college, I've kept busy being a delegate for my church at General Assembly, a short stint as a knife salesman, and most recently, a trip with my family to Amish country. It's been fun, but now I start a new, exciting adventure.
First, a little about the program. This is an engineering study abroad program, run through Calvin College. I will be in Berlin with 34 other sophomore and junior engineering students from Calvin. Next Monday, we begin our program with a week of Statics and Dynamics (a required class for my engineering degree) up in Grand Rapids. We leave for Germany next Friday evening and will spend five weeks finishing up Statics and Dynamics, as well as taking a German Culture Course. The engineering course is taught by Calvin engineering professors, and the German course is taught by a professor at the Technical University of Berlin. We will be in class Monday to Thursday, giving us Friday through Sunday to explore the city of Berlin and the country of Germany. We will be taking a few group trips. I know for sure of plans to go to Wittenburg and Heidelberg, and a concentration camp called Sachsenhausen. My friend Landon ( a fellow engineering student and cross country teammate) and I are also planning on running a race on August 10 in Berlin. We've been working through the registration, which has been a bit of an experience, considering our meager at best German. But, I think we've got it all set up and will be racing 10 kilometers through the streets of Berlin. My goal is to give a weekly or semi-weekly update on what we are doing as a group and what I notice while I am in Europe. This is my first time in another country other than my couple of trips to Mexico so I am excited to experience an entirely new culture.
I think that is all for now. I leave to go up to Grand Rapids tomorrow, so I would appreciate prayers for my journey as well as the group as a whole that we may come together and grow close together as brothers and sisters in Christ. Thank you all and I will hopefully get another post up soon!

Monday, May 13, 2013

2 months away!

In exactly two months, God-willing, I will have my feet on German soil! Right now, going through finals and everything is keeping me pretty busy, so I'll post more about the trip in the future. See you on the other side of finals!