Wanderlust war bereits ein mittelhochdeutsches Wort und beschreibt die Lust am Wandern, den steten inneren Antrieb, sich zu Fuß die Natur und die Welt fern der Heimat zu erschließen // A middle-high German word describing the joy of wandering, the constant urge to walk through nature and the world far from home.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Wir sind das Volk // A Weekend in Leipzig

     [I will warn before starting, this post ventures into historical context of Leipzig during the DDR and is cobbled together from our tour of the city and our visit to the Stasi museum; if uninterested simply scroll down to the pictures at the end].

     This Saturday we ventured to Leipzig, a larger city of about 500,000. We left early in the morning following Frühstuck (breakfast) at the Colleg. Leipzig is the biggest city in Saxony-Anhalt (our state in Germany) and is only about an hour away from Lutherstadt Wittenberg by train. Leipzig has an interesting history, and actually became a prominent city in Germany because it was a center for trade fairs. Many of the buildings in the city center (the Innenstadt) were built to house merchants and their wares and surround central market squares. Anchoring the Innenstadt are the Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas Church) and the Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church). Both are what you would expect of European cathedrals—towering, ornate, and centrally located.



back of Nikolaikirche (doesn't do it justice, having trouble with my zoom)

     The Nikolaikirche is particularly central, both within the Innenstadt and in Leipzig’s history during DDR times. During this era any religious affiliations were discouraged, as the socialist party saw religious loyalty as a threat. If a student was known to have been confirmed or was attending regular services they could be kept out of University and were forbidden from any government position. The Minister of State at this time actually created an entire governmental branch devoted to State Security (which really meant socialist party security), tapping phone lines, intercepting personal mail, planting spies within citizens’ families, essentially doing whatever necessary to ensure that the people of East Germany never had enough individual freedom to threaten the authority of the socialist party. The office of State Security was headquartered in Leipzig, in what is now the “Runde Ecke Museum” (round corner museum), a museum chronicling the history of the State Security, or Stadtssicherheit, Stasi for short.

     While some citizens were largely unaffected by the infiltrations of the Stasi, others attempted to flee the country. Still others remained in East Germany, and in Leipzig, peacefully speaking out against the government. This is where Nikolaikirche comes back in. Large Monday devotions were, and are, common in Germany, and often attracted those protesting the government, as churches were the only places safe from state occupation. Beginning in September 1989 East Germans joined together in what are now called “The Monday Demonstrations,” standing against invasions of privacy and abuses of freedom. Soon the Church (which seats 1700) was not large enough for the crowds, and demonstrations spilled out into the Nikolaiplatz, the plaza outside the church. On October 9, 1989 the crowd grew to 70,000. Citizens carried candles and chanted “Wir sind das Volk,” meaning, “we are the people.” The Stasi actually occupied the square at this time, and worries that it would result in public massacre thankfully did not materialize. These demonstrations eventually led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the forfeiture of the Minister of State’s power; these demonstrations are now known as the “peaceful revolution.”

     Being in Leipzig today it is hard to imagine this past. Only twenty-two years later Leipzig is a thriving trade town, and the Innenstadt is a metropolitan force, attracting students, families, tourists, and citizens of Leipzig to a plethora of shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, museums, and yes, clubs. We spent the entire day roaming the city center, shopping and eating, and later eating and dancing. The Nikolaiplatz was perhaps my favorite part of the Innenstadt, and certainly my motivation for rambling so far into historical background in this post. In the plaza is one free-standing pillar, an exact replica of one inside the church, representing how the people brought the church outside of the church during the demonstrations. There are also small lights replacing cobblestones throughout the plaza, lighting up at night to commemorate the candles of those that took part in the peaceful revolution outside Nikolaikirche. I have a few pictures of the plaza, but they hardly do it justice.

     The people of Leipzig were friendly and fun, and excited to share their history. Following are a few pictures I was able to snap on our whirlwind tour.

sunlight shining on the back of the Nikolaikirche...

...and on the pillar in the plaza

a better view of the Nikolaiplatz


walking the Innenstadt

inside just one of the many old trade buildings

the oldest coffee house in the world (the coffee was delicious of course)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Renovation // Day Two in Lutherstadt Wittenberg

     We have been in Lutherstadt Wittenberg for two days now, and it's hard to describe everything we have encountered without thinking I've slipped back into some kind of dream. Our dorm, the "Colleg Wittenberg," is located right off of the city plaza, a criss-crossing of cobbled roads and winding alley-ways with buildings so tall they seem to form a sort of arching tunnel at times. What is most striking, for me at least, is the unique juxtaposition of historic and commercial, crumbling and renovated, medieval and modern. Wittenberg is located in East Germany, in what used to be the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik), or GDR in English. The DDR was socialist until the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of the German states that followed in 1990, meaning that where we are living now has only been a unified state for about 20 years. Buildings that fell into disrepair after the war were often left that way or demolished during this time, replaced by block-ish buildings unique to the DDR.
      Lutherstadt Wittenberg is an interesting part of this transition, as it is the home of Martin Luther, and thus has high stakes in Reformation history. Yet despite its history and its ongoing renovation it is aging rapidly; young people move to bigger cities and bigger universities. The university of Faust now houses us, a group of 12 American students making their way through Germany for a semester. It's unbelievable. The community is taking action, trying to make this a place of international study once more, building hostels and dormitories to bring youth from all over the world. We are their first group here for the full semester program. They are so happy to have us here, so welcoming. The mayor's assistant rode by on his bike yesterday and came to a stop to extend about five official welcomes. He couldn't stop smiling, saying how happy they were to have us here. It's incredibly humbling.

But anyways, here are some pictures: this is where we live.

Jüdenstraβe, our street

back of the "Stadtkirche," or City Church

side of the "Rathaus," or Town Hall

side-roads and bicycles, this city's canvas even on a snowy day

the "Turm" or tower of the "Schlosskirche" or Castle Church

Rathaus again

Turm again

lovely architecture

the soup bar where we ate lunch today, delicious

I ate the "Gemüsesuppe mit Hackbällchen," or Veggie soup with meatballs

city sign in front of die Stadtkirche


an empty building...

....nestled between beautifully renovated structures

Until next time, bis später.

My Mailing Address, for those with good penmanship

I love to write letters. So for those with good handwriting (this part is flexible), and a few extra cents for international postage (unfortunately this part is not), here is my mailing address (I promise a reply):

Colleg Wittenberg
Kelsey Swindler
Jüdenstraβe 8
06886 Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Deutschland

We arrived yesterday in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, and I am venturing out this afternoon to buy some cheesy Luther postcards (they are everywhere) and snap some photos, so another--more colorful--post will be coming in a bit.

Bis später (later)!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Walking Far From Home // Iron and Wine

Leaving in a few short days and this is the one song I keep coming back to. And, it just so happens, it will be officially released with the full album "Kiss Each Other Clean" the day we fly out. Thank you Iron and Wine, thank you thank you.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Wanderlust: a definition, a bridge

     It took me a while to decide on a fitting title for this narrative. I thought it would be appropriate to find a word, or words, that could describe my outlook both in English and in German, bridging, in some way, two worlds and two homes. I went through--and decided against--most of my favorite German words, mostly because they were too difficult to spell/pronounce/spell and pronounce and I wanted to be fair to those of my friends and family who do not speak German (so, about 99%). The translation for "rubbish" was very close to being the winner, not because it really describes this trip in any way (although the irony of it was pretty great), but because the German translation is "papperlapapp," which is really just incredibly fun to say. 
     I finally came upon Wanderlust, a word that is so integrated into the English language at this point that most probably don't even realize it's German. I include the definitions below; I think my choice will be self-explanatory.

English: wan·der·lust noun \ˈwän-dər-ˌləst\ : a strong longing for or impulse toward wandering
German: wạn•der•lust / n : die Lust am, zum wandern

     The German definition directly translates: the desire to/enjoyment of travel. And as I leave home this seems to describe a way of traveling--happily and with curiosity (or as one dictionary I stumbled upon worded it "with itchy feet"). 
     With this in mind I hope I also allow myself some sense of "settling in," as Lutherstadt Wittenberg will soon be where I eat, sleep, and study for three and a half months, and I look forward to calling it "home" as well.
      So, countdown to take-off: 17 days. Can't wait.