Friday, June 1, 2007

Switzerland

Our final weekend of our Cross Cultural trip took place in the Swiss Alps region. On Saturday the 26th, we made our longest bus ride of the trip from Leipzig, Germany, to our final home in Wengen (pronounced "Vengen"), Switzerland. It was a long 8-10 hour bus ride, but luckilly, we made a late lunch break in Luzern, Switzerland, and also it was a chance to by Swiss Chocolate, because it was going to be much more expensive in Wengen, so this was the groups only chance to load up on chocolate, and several people did. Luzern is a nice village, and has the sweetest picture setting I have ever seen in my life. It is located off an awesome blue lake, not the dirty lake water we have here, but it is blue, and it has green rolling hills in the background, and even further in the background are the glaciers of the Swiss Alps. It was awesome. But, finally in the early evening, we arrived in Laterbrunnen, Switzerland, and this is where we stopped the bus for the weekend, and we took a cog train to our final destination. To get up to Wengen, there is only one way in, and one way out, and that is the cog train. It was a 20 minute train ride, filled with waterfalls, tunnels, and great views of the towns below.
After the train, we were finally there, in Wengen, which has an altitue in the 4,000 feet range. We stayed in the Falken Hotel, which was a 5 minute walk up hill from the train station, but I think that walk was just fine for what our hotel had in store for us. For many of the Bluffton students, we were lucky enough to have our rooms facing the glaciers, and on Saturday, it was a clear afternoon, and the view of it was awesome. You see a small town, and then you see mountains in the background. There was no set plan for Saturday evening, so many people got an early start on hiking trails, which was a good idea in the end because Saturday turned out to be a better day than the set hiking day of Sunday, which Sunday turned out to be foggy all day. On Sunday though, the group I was with hiked up to the town of Kleine Scheidegg, which took us 2 hours and 15 minutes. Kleine Scheidegg has an elevation of in the 6,000 foot range, 2,000 feet higher than Wengen. This part of the trial was filled with trees and waterfalls, and had a great view of Wengen below. We stayed in Kleine Scheidegg for about a half hour, and then we decided that we would hike up more to the highest hiking point possible, Eigergletsher, which has an elevation of nearly 8,000 feet. This trail took about an hour to hike up, and was very dangerous. There was one point were we hiked up the trail and it was about 4 feet wide, with cliffs on each side of us, and one false move and we were falling for a while, but luckilly, that did not happen. We stayed up on top of the mountain for a while because it was really cold outside, about 30 degrees farenheit, and most of the group was wearing shorts. But then we hiked all the way back down the mountatin, and back to our hotel, and we arrived there about 3 P.M., so overal it took 8 hours and 1/2 hours to do, and I did not figure out how many miles we hiked, but I'm sure it was quite a few.
Later Sunday night, the hotel held a party for the Bluffton students at a local pub, which is also owned by the owners of the hotel. There was good times had by all, which included a lot of dancing and just getting to hang out for a while.
Monday we started our traveling to Zurich, Switzerland, but we almost did not get out of Wengen. During the night on Sunday night, 8 inches of snowed fell between the hours of 4 A.M. and 8 A.M., and it did not stop falling when it was time to leave Wengen at 11:30 in the morning. There was an announcement at the train station that trains would not being running at the time, but just a few moments after this announcement, a train came up the hill, and many of us piled on the train in hopes of getting down the hill. Luckilly we were able to make it down, but roads were closed until 4 P.M. because of down trees along the road. But finall, we made it to Zurich, and the next day, we were able to make our way back home.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Germany: Part 2

The 2nd half of our week in Germany took place in what is known as Luther Country, as this is were Martin Luther spent his life. After leaving Berlin on Tuesday, we were making our way down to Leipzig, Germany, and on the way we stopped in Wittenberg. Here, we stopped at the church were it is said that he posted his 95 Thesis on the door. Since, the doors have burnt, but now there is a replica of the thesis on the door, but the door in now metal. Inside the church, there is another replica of the thesis in back of the church. After lunch on our own for about an hour, the group walked to the other side of Wittenburg to find the Luther House. At his home, he would taught many young men who were pursuing ministry. The students would sit at the dinning room table while Luther would talk to them, and these conversations that Luther would have with his students were published, and there are many versions and copies of the talks Martin Luther would have with his students. It was also mentioned here that Martin Luther, before the modern age, was the most storied and most publisized person of all time. We were told that his house was like a small dormatory that housed his students, when in reality, for those of you know how large a dormatory Ropp is, it is a little bigger than all of Ropp, which I consider to be pretty big. There is a nice court yard in the center of the home, and built into the home to connect 2 of the buildings together is a balcony walkway. It was an incredible feeling walking through the home. There were interactive games for us to use, many authentic materials from when Luther was there, and information of plenty, but mostly incredible because it was were Martin Luther lived. It was at this place we spoke to students, were he lived and breathed; I couldn't help but think that I was there in such a place of history.
On Wednesday, we made our way to the Wartburg Castle. This castle is most notable for the 10 months of hiding that Luther did there, and it is also where he translated the New Testiment of the Bible from Latin to German. Luther believed that he should speak to the people, and so he started to preach in German, the common language from where he was. The tour of the castle included seeing the room where Luther did many great things for Reformation, a festival room on the top floor of the castle, which is still used today for a local high school's graduation, a chapel, which still has a picture on the wall of 6 of the 12 apostles of Jesus. It is amazing the how the castle was built. I found it hard to believe that the castle is still standing because it lies at the top of a high, steep hill, and the walls are on cliffs. It just seemed like a hard, drenching rain would cause the walls to fall down. But it hasn't, which is amazing. From the top of the tower, there is an awesome view of the town below, and a picture of great scenary.
We spent the next two days around the city of Leipzig, Germany, and on Saturday, we made made the final leg of our trip, going southwest to Switzerland for a day of hiking in the Swiss Alps.

Germany: Part I

On our travel day to Germany from our hotel in Dracton, Netherlands, we stopped in Munster, Germany for about an hour or so. There in Munster are the Anabaptist Cages. The anabaptist cages hang about 100 feet up on the tower of one of the churches, and it was a symbol of religious persecution to the anabaptists. When they were in use several hundred years ago, the cages held three bodies, one in each cage, and the bodies were left there to rot. Our travel destination for this day ended in Hannover, Germany, about 2 1/2 hours outside of Berlin, where we spent the next 2 days.
On Sunday the 20th, we spent about 6 hours in the city of Berlin, 3 of which was spent on our own, exploring what we wanted to and also doing some souvenir shopping, along with lunch. At 3 in the afternoon, we met back at the bus for a 3 hour guided bus tour of the city of Berlin. Such sites on this tour included the Parliament building for the German Government, remains of the Berlin Wall, the Peace Gate, the Victory Tower, the spot were Hitler had his headquarters (now demolished), an airport in the center of Berlin, and something that kept many people on the edge of their seat, the nude sun bathing park.
Monday, the larger group split up into smaller groups, and we did a city study of Berlin. We had three requirements for this city study, which included: 1 museum, 1 church, and 1 of our choice. We had 11 hours to do our study, and in my group, we went to The German History Museum, which was a very interesting museum, dating to artifacts from the early A.D. years to the present. For me, the most interesting part of the museum was the World War II years. History has always been of interest to me, and it was interestin getting to learn the German side of the story of what happened. Here was also the first time I had seen a real swastica flag, and when I saw it, I immediately got a sick feeling in my stomach, just thinking of what had happened to the many innocent lives during these years. After the museum, we visited St. Hedwigs Kathedral (yes, spelled with a 'K'). Earlier in the day we visited Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous of the checkpoints dividing East from West Berlin. The East of dominated by the Soviet Union and the Communists, and the west was dominated by Great Britain, France, and the U.S., Checkpoint Charlie being the U.S. checkpoint. Going through these checkpoints was the only way for people to get into East and West Germany. Finally, my group visited the Parliament Building. There, an elevator took groups of 70 up to the roof of the building, and there, visitors have a great view of the city.

Week 1: Traveling and The Netherlands

Before starting, I would like to mention a few things about myself. My name is Justin Shearer, and I am a first year student at Bluffton and am a member for the Men's Soccer team. And now what you have all been waiting for, the European Cross Cultural Trip through my eyes.
The journey started on Monday May 14th, when we traveled from Detroit Metro Airport to Chicago O'Hare. We had a 4 hour lay-over in Chicago and around 5:30 central, we began our overseas flight, which was around 8 or 9 or 10 (I forget how long, it was just a really long flight)very long hours to London, England. Again, in London, we had a long layover of about 5 hours. During these 2 lay-overs, it was actually pretty hard to keep myself occupied and not think about the time. I tried to write our first blog at the London Airport, and it did not turn out well. But, nonetheless, we made it to Amsterdam Airport in the afternoon on Tuesday. For those of you know who your modern music artists, and/or watch "Pimp My Ride," Xzibit was spotted, and several Bluffton members had their picture taken with him. It was strange though because the locals had no clue why these kids were taking a picture with him; many thought it was just another person, and not somebody famous. Also at the airport, we met our tour guide for the trip, Dave, who was very energetic man, and had 2 commonly used phrases throughout the trip: 1) Wakey, Wakey (he would say this on our bus rides to were we would go for the day, and when we arrived back at the hotel, because mostly, we slept on the bus), and 2) Walk with a purpose. We also met our bus driver for the trip, Robin, whom is the sweetest bus driver ever, and I do not mean sweet in the nice mushy way, but in the the, he is an awesome driver sweet way. We squeezed the bus through many small spaces, had amazing reversing skills, and he was just a really funny guy.
Our first week was spent in the northern part of the Netherlands, in the town of Dracton. It is a pretty large town, probably around the size of Findlay. The town usually died down after 6 P.M. because that is when all the shops would close down for the day. Our first day in the Netherlands, we visted the Menno Simmons monument, and then later a hidden church in the town of Witmarsum. The hidden church looked just like another shop in the town. The anabaptists would use hidden churches so that they would not face the religious persecution. Later that night, both the women's and men's soccer teams played against the Dracton club, made up of men and women from ages 21-29. In the men's game, the Bluffton team put up a good fight, but still lost the game 6-5. For substitution purposes, we did use 2 of the Dracton team's players, but still, we put up a good fight. The game was a lot of fun, and it was good experience getting to play a team from across the pond, where soccer is the #1 sport, and played by many. After the game, in Europe, it is a tradition that both teams get together and drink, and so we joined the Dracton club in the clubhouse and joined together in friendship and sportsmanship for about an hour or so.
Our second day, we went down to the city of Arnham, and that was the location of the soccer game that we watched on the trip. The teams Vitesse Arnham and N.E.C. met in the second round of the playoffs. The stadium seated about 25,000, but the game was at 12:30 in the afternoon, so about only 10,000 fans were there. It was a very nice stadium, with retractable roof, and a screened off section for the visiting fans. The fans in this game were very rambunctious, and chants of probably hatred towards the other team, and also giving the other teams fans the middle finger was very common. One of the most memorable moments from the game was when a Vitesse fan grabbed the ball as is bounced out of bounds, an N.E.C. player came to get the ball and make a throw in, but the fan threw the ball down the field and gave the player a double middle finger, and then the Vitesse fans went crazy, and also laughed. It was an exciting game, many good plays kept fans on their seats, and at the end, Vitesse won the game 1-0.
On our final day in the Netherlands, we experienced the city of Amsterdam. The first thing we did was take a group canal boat tour through the city. Highlights included the mayors home, the upper class homes of Amsterdam residents, many towers along the rivers used for protection during wars, and churches. Afterwards, the group went to the Anne Frank House. For those of you who don't know, Anne Frank was a little girl who was in hiding during the World War II years in the house of her father's co-worker. She and 7 others, who were all Jews, hid for several years there, and she wrote a journal, and her story is now published in vertually every country around the world. It was an amazing experience to see the Anne Frank house, and it is a sense of courage to me. She was able to survive like this for several years, and it should be motivation for many people. Much of the afternoon people spent in smaller groups getting to see the city in terms of shopping and eating at cafes. For those of you who don't know, in Amsterdam, such drugs as marijuna is legal, and in many food outlets, people will smoke it, but as we learned in class, cafes are good, and coffeeshops are bad, as these are the ones were most people will smoke their pot. The final thing we did in Amsterdam was at 8:30 walk through the Red Light District of town, as a group. Here, prostitution, pornography shops, and also drug dealers will come out and try to lure people to get people to buy their "goods." Personally, as I walked through this part of town, I wanted to throw up, and as I noted in my journal, "how can women degrade themselves like they do here, selling their body for the pleasure of men?" I found this part of town to be disgusting, and I was happy to leave it, but then, it is their culture.
This ended our first week of the trip, and on Saturday we made our trek to Germany.