"Public Viewing"

For those of you following the Euro 2008, the European soccer championship, you already know what a fantastic game it was last night as Germany beat Portugal 3:2. For those who aren't, I'd like to let you know that my (second) favorite national team played brilliantly in the win against the favored Portugese national team.

I watched the game at a "Public Viewing", which is a German term using English words to describe a mass of fans watching a game on a public square. This is a brilliant solution to the German problem of having 30-40 million soccer fans (in a nation of 82 million) who all want to experience the stadium atomsphere but don't fit into the stadium.

In the small city of Gütersloh (pop: 96,000), more than 5,500 fans packed themselves into a small area to cheer on their national team from afar.

A picture of the "Public Viewing Area". You can see the giant screen in front of the old courthouse.

Celebration after the first goal.

After the game, as is popular with the Turkish, Russian and Croation minorities after a win in this tournament, fans got in their cars and hit the streets. They drove through the city for hours honking, waving flags and cheering. A line of cars full of boisterous fans was still crawling by an hour and a half after the end of the game.

I had a great time at the game, and I know I'm pretty lucky to be in Germany during a tournament like this. The only people I'm jealous of are those who got to experience the World Cup here in 2006.

In other news, today was my last day of school. I got my report card, which turned out to be a very good one, and said goodbye to teachers and some classmates. On Sunday I'll be going to Austria with my host parents and one of my host siblings for a week of hiking in the Alps. After that, I'll come back and say goodbye to all of my friends here before embarking on my travels around Europe. Until next time!


Catching up

A whole lot has happened since my last significant post. A brief update to try to catch up:

Last month, I took a trip to Dresden on a long weekend with my host family. During my first trip into former East Germany (other than brief time spent in the Eastern part of Berlin), I got to experience Dresden, which is a beautiful Saxon city that was a cultural, musical, and architectual center before heavy bombing during World War II flattened cultural landmarks and crippled the city. During 40 years under East German rule, very little was rebuilt and dozens of a type of building called a Plattenbau were erected. The Plattenbau, which was an especially popular method of construction in East Germany, is a cheap apartment building made out of prefabricated concrete slabs.

An example of Communist-era cookie-cutter apartment buildings.

An example of a beautification project.

The Zwinger, an example of the beautiful architecture that was destroyed during the war but rebuilt afterwards.

The end-of-year seminar in Berlin was a great weekend. We reflected on our year, visited the Bundestag to tour the Bundestag and meet with the respresentatives who organize the government side of the program and prepared ourselves for arriving in the United States and the possibility of "reverse culture shock". Angela Merkel even stopped by and said a few words to all of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange participants.

One of the highlights of the weekend was definitely our thank-you presentation. We sang a spoof of the '80s German hit 99 Luftballoons in front of cameras, a couple hundred other exchange students and the American ambassador to Germany.

Another exciting part of the last few weeks has been the Euro 2008. Every day there's world-class soccer on TV, and there's always something fun to do when Germany is playing. This whole country is absolutely crazy for soccer and it's a great time to be here. Hopefully I'll have another more detailed update about the Fussballfieber here.


Quick Update: End-of-Year Seminar

Just checking in to let you all know that my End-of-Year Seminar starts today in Berlin. There's a lot planned for this 4-day seminar, including a visit to the German parliament and meetings with the representatives who are responsible for this program. Most of all, it will be interesting to compare my experiences to those of the other exchange students I'll be with. I'll check in when I get back and hopefully by then have some interesting food for thought!


How to Visit a German City

In my 10 months in Germany I have done a fair bit of traveling and learned a lot--not only about the history and culture of cities, but also about how to best visit a German city. Here are a few tips:

1) Inform yourself. The most important part of an interesting and fun visit to a city is, in my opinion, having the right information. A little bit of basic history (Wikipedia is enough) is often helpful for a framework during guided tours that sometimes rattle off lots of names and dates.

Even more important is knowing what is worth seeing wherever you're going. Sure you can find a list of museums at a tourist information center, but how will you know which ones are worth visiting? Check out sites like Wikitravel, Rough Guides, and Lonely Planet
to see what the best Sehenswürdigkeiten ("things worth seeing", one of my favorite longer German words) are. Consider what you're interested in and plan your visit around that!

2) Walk. Most cities I'm familiar with are very pedestrian-friendly and can be visited very well on foot. Almost all have a pedestrian zone in the middle where no cars are allowed at all. In most German cities you can find the Altstadt, the historical district, somewhere near the center. Plan an afternoon stroll and get some ice cream or take an evening walk to get a beer or two and see more of the city.

While walking, you have the time to look around and get a feel for the city and the people there. You also save money and get good exercise!

3) Take public transportation. As I have often mentioned, German cities have the advantage of excellent public transportation. Buses, subways, and streetcars will help you get around quickly and fairly comfortably. Some streetcar lines might be a good alternative to a tour bus if you just want to take a comfortable ride through the city. Look into all-day or 3-day passes that let you ride as much as you want to.

4) Take your time. Plan enough time to properly see the city--one day is not really enough for most cities. Don't plan too many activities on a single day, because at some point your brain just can't take in any more information.

5) Try the local _____. Every German city has at least one local specialty. Many have breweries that are famous in the region and a tour of the brewery would be a great way to spend an evening. Try the local food, drink, or dessert, like Spätzle or Weißbier in Southern Germany or Altbier or Killepitsch in Düsseldorf.

6) Ask. German cities are, in my experience, very tourist-friendly. Most signs in German train stations are multi-lingual. You will be able to find signs and instructions in English in many places. There still are, however, many other places where only German will help you out. In this case, don't be afraid to ask! Most Germans can speak at least some English. Pick someone who doesn't look like they're in a hurry and ask them politely if they speak English and are willing to help you.

For all the other people here who have experience traveling in Germany: what do you think about these tips? Any other recommendations for people traveling to Germany?


May 1st

May 1st, also known as May Day or International Worker's Day, is a national holiday in Germany. In the name of cultural research, I decided to accompany my classmates and friends during the Tag der Arbeit. This holiday corresponds to Labor Day in the United States.

May 1st is celebrated in different ways around Germany. In bigger cities, May 1st is marked by demonstrations and parades organized by worker's unions. Where I live, people ride their bikes on a Maitour to a meadow or park and celebrate there.

I first met up with two friends from my town to bike over to a friend's house in Gütersloh, where we met other friends for breakfast and started celebrating the "Day of Work".

After a hearty breakfast and a few glasses of Weizen, we set off to meet some other friends in the middle of Gütersloh.

The troop is getting bigger...

After meeting up with yet another group, we left the city in a band of about 40 people. As you can imagine, this requires frequent stops to reorganize the group. In this picture you can see the wagon with some of the supplies for the tour.

Messing around at the Wappelbad, a park next to a river. Here we lounged, chilled and hung out with many other kids we know.

All in all, the "1. Mai" was a lot of fun. I still can't find a connection between the history and the tradition in this area, but there are some things you don't have to question.


Trip to Berlin

I'm back with some pictures and thoughts about my trip to Berlin. I spent four days the week before last on a Bildungsreise, an "educational trip" in Berlin with Nick, another exchange student, and Wolfgang and Birgit, his host parents.

I was actually really lucky to get to go along on the trip. Every exchange student from my program has a sponsor in the Bundestag, the German Parliament. Nick's sponsor invited him and his family to go on the trip, but Nick's host brother couldn't afford to miss so much school. So, I got to visit a wonderful family in Düsseldorf for a weekend and spend four days in Berlin.

The Jäkels and Nick

The trip turned out to be very interesting. Most of what we saw was focused on the eastern part of the divided Berlin during the socialist East German regime. One thing that stands out on a visit to Berlin is that it has been shaped by its recent history--World War II, the Holocaust, the division of Germany, and the reunification. If you know what to look for, you can see history everywhere in this city.

A row of bricks traces sections where the wall used to be.

Almost all of the wall was torn down immediately after the reunification. A few sections, however, remain standing and have been painted over, most famously the East Side Gallery.

Another aspect of Berlin's history that has left its mark on the city was World War II. Traces of this time are found all over Berlin today, be it the over 1,000 Stolpersteine, which stand in front of houses in which Jews killed during the Holocaust used to live, or be it the scars remaining from World War II.

Picture from Stern magazine

This shows the Reichstag, where the German Parliament meets, at the end of World War II.

This picture shows the Reichstag as it looks today.

Not all of Berlin has been restored. The Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche was left a standing ruin as a reminder of the war. Another building was built next to it, but the damaged tower, called der Hohle Zahn (the hollow tooth) is still a landmark in Berlin today.

We then visited the former headquarters of the Staatssicherheit (state security), the East German secret police whose tens of thousands of employees spied on, question, and imprisoned East German citizens. All of the files they kept laid end-to-end would be about 100 miles long. Ever since the reunification, more and more of the files are being made available to those who were spied upon. Some find that friends, coworkers, and even spouses were informants for the secret police.

We also visited a former prison of the Stasi. Here prisoners were tortured psychologically, being questioned every day and not being allowed human contact other than with the interrogators.

The prison grounds.

An example of a van with which the secret police would inconspicuously take captors. Painted on the side of the van are the words "Obst und Gemüse", making it look like a delivery van for fruits and vegetables. Inside are four tiny cells and a seat for a guard.

After a lot of walking and soaking up information and a several pleasant evenings in Berlin, we hopped back in the train to Düsseldorf. Here you can see Birgit and Wolfgang sitting comfortably in the ICE with the display in the background indicating a speed of 250 km/h (155 mi/h).

I'll be back soon with a report from my favorite holiday so far, May 1st.

Has anyone else been to Berlin? What were your impressions?


Multilingual madness

One question I've gotten on multiple occasions is whether I think in German or English. Without getting too abstract, I'd like to try to explain how it works.

When I speak German, I don't think of sentences in English and then translate them. I kind of open my mouth and German flies out. When I'm trying to express more complicated ideas or when I back myself into a corner during a grammatically complex sentence, I really have to think hard, but I feel like I think in German at the time.

When I speak English, of course I think in English. English is my mother language and it's just natural that way.

But the hardest part to describe is how I think when I'm not talking, for example, if I'm biking to soccer practice or on the train. I guess I could best explain it like this: if I'm thinking of anything language-related that's happened in the past or that will happen in the future (a conversation, something I've read, something I've written or will write), then I think in whatever language that it's in.

But I feel like my consciousness isn't really in any language. When I let my mind wander, reminisce about past events, ponder an important issue in the world today, or wonder what the future will bring, the thoughts just are. They don't need to be brought to words; words are used to transfer ideas between people, while my thoughts are just for me.

What I'm much more interested in is knowing how all of you bilingual and multilingual people out there handle this. For anyone who speaks more than one language fluently, what language do you think in?


Trip to Bavaria

Hello and welcome back! I hope everyone had a great spring break. Mine was excellent. After a very nice trip to Bavaria in the first week, I spent the second week relaxing and hanging out with friends here.

Just a quick recap of my trip, centered around a select few of the pictures I took.

I started off the 350 mile trip at the train station in Rheda-Wiedenbrück, my host town. This is a view across the tracks of a train station in small town Germany. I've become very fond of traveling by train since I got here, and I'm especially fascinated by the high-speed trains in Europe. The German high-speed train is called the ICE, which stands for "Inter City Express". Deutsche Bahn, the German rail service, has this really terrible habit of naming things with English words.

Picture by Dennis Schollbach

On the route I took to Augsburg, the train reaches a top speed of 250 km/h (155 mi/h). If you're sitting in your seat looking forward, you barely notice anything. Once you look out the window, you realize how fast you're truly going.

The over 2000 year-old city of Augsburg, founded by the Roman emperor Augustus, has, like any other somewhat large German city, a beautiful, historical city center, good public transportation, like the streetcar below, and a huge church.

A streetcar in Augsburg

Downtown Augsburg

The next day, two other exchange students, their host families, and I went to visit a castle in Harburg. The castle is one of the oldest and best-preserved castles in the region, and we had a very interesting tour there.

A view of the Innenhof (courtyard) of the castle

The castle dragon guarding the valuables.

After one of the heartiest meals of my life at a restaurant in Oettingen, we went on to walk off all of the Spätzle, Weizen, and Schnitzel in the nearby town of Nördlingen. The town is one of the few towns in Germany with the historical wall still completely standing. This house is actually partially built into the wall.

The next day it was off to Munich, the 3rd biggest city in Germany and an incredibly popular tourist destination, best known for Oktoberfest, basically one of the biggest parties in the world.

The new city hall in Munich. I walked around a corner and this view just stunned me. So, I took a picture.

The German Museum, which is kind of like the Air and Space Museum, but it focuses on all kinds of science and technology. It does really come across in the picture, but this building is massive.

This is a sign I saw near the University of Munich (which is beautiful, by the way). It's basically advocating the abolishment of the Euro. As I wrote in a previous post, the introduction of the Euro was very controversial and led to a huge increase in the cost of living in Germany.

The text of the poster, loosely translated:
"Yes to a united Europe, but with national currencies!"
"The German mark stood by our sides."
"We demand a referendum for the re-introduction of the German mark!"
"Vote for List 18 at the European elections!"

Ben (one of my good friends here and another exchange student I was traveling with) at the monument dedicate to "die Weiße Rose" a resistance group in Munich during the days of Nazi rule. The leading members of the group were arrested and executed for their anti-Nazi political actions.

A demonstration in Munich against the oppression of Tibetans and the violence in Tibet right now.

A really strange basketball court. The surface is exactly like a normal basketball court, but the court itself is hilly. This was in front of a school in Munich. I wonder if kids actually play there and what kind of basketball results from a court like that.

Every trip to Munich has to stop by BMW Welt and the BMW Museum. OK, the museum doesn't open for another 2 months, so we just gaped in awe at the gorgeous cars in BMW world.

This pretty much sums up the biggest complaint I have about my year here in Germany: the weather isn't so fantastic. That's Ben making his way through wind and snow at the end of March.

All in all, I had a great trip to Bavaria. I got to hang out and travel some with my good friend Ben, meet his wonderful host family, and learn about a new region of Germany. Bavaria is a very charming place with strong traditions, beautiful landscape, friendly people, and great beer. The many different dialects and cultures add to the intrigue of Bavaria. I learned that it's a much more complicated picture than just Bavaria, that Bavaria actually consists of Swabians, Franconians, and Bavarians, all of whom speak different dialects and have some of their own traditions. Furthermore, larger cities like Munich have transcended regional cultures and developed personalities of their own. I would definitely recommend a visit to Bavaria to anyone traveling to Europe.



People I meet here often ask me things like:
-"Which cars do they drive in America?"
-"Do people in America like George Bush?"
-"What is school like in America?"
-"Which sports are popular in America?"

My response usually starts with, "Well, it depends where you live, but where I'm from..."

But the situation is often too complicated to be explained with one sentence. Obviously there are going to be many more hybrid cars on the environmentally friendly West Coast than in sparsely populated Montana. Of course the residents of liberal New England aren't going to be quite the fans of Bush that some in his home state of Texas are. Clearly the school system in Fairfax County isn't going to be exactly like the school system in Colorado or even that of neighboring Loudon County. Naturally there are more NASCAR fans than ice hockey fans in the South. But in America, in general? I have no idea.

A couple of weeks ago, this issue of Stern came out.

Picture from www.stern.de

The cover reads "California: the Better America". Of course I was immediately offended that a German magazine called the America I live in the worse America, but I thought I'd give it a read anyway. The article was actually pretty good; it focused on innovation in Silicon Valley and environmentalism all over California.

The article portrays a part of America with which many Europeans can more easily identify. Some Europeans might also find the health care system in Massachusetts or bans on the death penalty in more liberal states great.

These are more examples of the small differences that make it really difficult to describe "what it's like in America", and even more so difficult to give a concise answer to any such question. But in the Cultural Studies class that I helped teach in the first semester, we spent a fair amount of time on this topic, so I had the chance to try to develop some sort of general answer.

We divided the United States up into five regions loosely following the divisions of the US Census Bureau: the South, the Northeast, the Midwest, the West, and the Pacific. Then, the class was divided into five groups, and each group made a presentation about the economic, social, and political characteristics of the region. Of course there are lots of differences within these regions: Northern Virginia, for example, could be considered an island of the Northeast at the edge of the South. But at some point you have to give up detail in order to keep the project doable.

One thing that occurred to me during the activity--apart from the diversity of the nation--is how little I know about how life in other parts of America really is. I've lived my whole live in Northern Virginia, and the only other place I know fairly well is the Midwest because I have so many relatives in Wisconsin. I don't think that life in Texas is really all that different, but I don't have much to judge that on.

The project turned out very well. One of the highlights was a group of German students' mock slang dialog(which actually wasn't all that appropriate for school, but hey, "it's all good").

I guess the most important point to this is to take the diversity that we can see in our own country and realize that this applies to other countries, as well. Of course the political views in Catholic Bavaria are going to differ from those of the industrial Ruhrgebiet in Nordrhein-Westfalen. So, the question, "What is it like in Germany?" is just as difficult.

What are the first things that come to mind when you think of the answer to that question? If the answer is a jovial man holding liter mugs of beer, wearing Lederhosen, and eating pretzels the size of a steering wheel, then you've got a stereotypical picture of a specific part of Germany called Bayern, or Bavaria in English. The truth is, I haven't seen a one pair of Lederhosen in my 8 months here. I suppose this stereotypical image comes from Oktoberfest, the most well-known festival in Germany, but it's not at all an accurate image of Germans in general.

Speaking of Bavaria, also known as the Texas of Germany, I'm taking a train there on Saturday for the first week of spring break. I'll be visiting a friend in Augsburg and then traveling with him to Munich. Hope you all have a relaxing week off! Comments, questions, and discussion are always welcome.


Klassenfahrten und Kurstreffen

Just thought I'd stop by and write a little bit about two features of German schools that I've learned about this year--Klassenfahrten (class trips) and Kurstreffen (course get-togethers).

I already wrote about the class trip to Spain, which is called a Klassenfahrt in German. The whole class travels together generally every two or three years starting in the 5th or 6th grade. Popular destinations include Spain, France, Berlin, and Prague. Students experience culture and history during the day and the teachers have their hands full with mischevious students at night.

A get-together of all of the students and the teacher of a specific course, called a Kurstreffen, takes place in the higher grades of the schools. A course, for example the music course in the 12th grade, will meet up at someone's house or a bar, drink a beer, and converse. I was at my first Kurstreffen last Wednesday. It was held at a friend's house and turned out well.

The Kurstreffen illustrates a few differences between Germany and America that I've noticed all year. Germans and Americans deal with alcohol completely differently. In Germany, beer and wine are legal at age 16, spirits at age 18. It's not unusual for teenagers to have a few drinks with adults, and above all, alcohol is not nearly as taboo.

The result: a teacher drinking alcohol with students is a customary occurence in the higher grades once a school year at the Kurstreffen. I feel like something like that could get a teacher fired at an American school. It's really just a matter of different perspectives.

What do you think of Klassenfahrten and Kurstreffen? Would it be good for classes at American schools to travel for a week, or is it unfair to expect that all of the students pay so much to travel? Do course get-togethers blur the line between school life and personal life too much? Do these two activities contribute to a better school community?


Learning English in Germany

I've recently started tutoring a group of four students through my school's "Schüler helfen Schülern" (Students helping students) tutoring program. The program matches tutors from the upper grad levels with students from the lower grade levels and provides a room for one hour of tutoring a week. The students signed up to be tutored in English. Imagine their surprise after they found out that their tutor is an American exchange student!

At the beginning of the first lesson last week, I asked the students what their goals were for the tutoring session and why they think learning English is useful. The students wanted to get good grades, be able to understand music that they listen to, and thought it would be cool to be able to speak another language. But what one of the students said really made me realize something about learning English in Germany: "I have to either learn English or Turkish to have any chance of getting a job here."

Now, the situation the way I understand it is a little more complicated than that. Of course there are lots of jobs for people who can't speak English. But it seems that the aspect of employabilty that foreign language skills affect the most here is mobility. Without knowledge of English, many Germans have trouble climbing the career ladder. On the other hand, there are lots of small businesses founded by Turkish immigrants, which explains why Turkish would help job chances.

This explains the demanding English classes in German school. In the highest grades at my school, students analyze Shakespeare, Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, and novels in English. Germans often learn 3rd, 4th, and even 5th languages in school, too. English is portrayed as a requirement for getting a good job here, and other foreign languages along with English help even more.

So, for those of you worried about English fading away as the mother language in America, don't worry. You can always come to Germany and get by speaking only English here.


Research Paper

I'm back! You can blame the short break in posting on the research paper that was due two days ago. In Nordrhein-Westfalen (the state I'm living in), every student in the 12th grade has to write a research paper through one of his or her courses on a specific topic.

One friend of mine, for example, wrote about music in film through his English class, meaning he wrote his whole research paper in English. Another wrote about epilepsy and seizures through his biology class. Through my history class, I wrote my Facharbeit about the expulsion of 12-16 million Germans after World War II, something that I knew nothing about before I came to Germany.

The topic is very controversial and is therefore very hard to summarize, but I'll give it a shot. Throughout history, there have been many groups of German-speaking populations spread throughout Central Europe. Even the wide borders of the German Empire founded in 1871, which were much different than those of the currentBundesrepublik, didn't contain all German-speaking populations in Europe.

Image from Wikipedia. Please click for a larger version.

In addition, Nazi Germany annexed Austria in March of 1938, the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia, which had a very high German population of over 3 million, in November of 1938, and finally the rest of the "Czech" part of Czechoslovakia in March of 1939.

Image from Wikipedia. Please click for a larger version. The red border corresponds to the border in the first picture, and the dotted bluish border is the border of Nazi Germany in the middle of the war in 1943, not including all of the occupied territories and puppet governments throughout Europe.

After invading Poland in 1939 and the start of World War II, Nazi Germany acquired even more terrritory. The Nazis forced Polish citizens from their homes and settled more Germans in this newly acquired territory.

Then came World War II with all of the horrible atrocities committed by Nazi Germany, above all the 6 million Jews and 6 million political dissidents, homosexuals, handicapped people, and other minorities killed during the Holocaust.

But as the war came to a close and it became clear that the Allies were going to win, the question arose, among others: what should be done with these German populations living in other countries?

Meanwhile, the advancing Red Army caused many Germans living in Eastern Europe to flee. The Allies then set new borders for Germany, which can be seen on the first map in this post. They then decided to expel the Germans from the areas outside of these borders. Families were given sometimes just hours' notice and told they could take whatever they could carry with them.

The numbers are highly disputed, but it's safe to say that at least 12 million ethnic Germans made the long journey from countries like Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the former Yugoslavia. They took whatever they could with them using makeshift wagons and horses.

Upon arrival in Germany, they encountered a situation no better than the one they had just left in Eastern Europe. The country lay in ruins, there were hardly any jobs and there was even less to eat. Most of the expellees sought a new home in West Germany in fear of the Russian government.

After the Wirtschaftswunder (econonomic miracle) in the 1950s, the expellees could finally find jobs and homes in Germany. The expulsion, as well as many other topics about World War II, was still a little bit taboo. It took a backseat to the national guilt about the Holocaust.

From Wikipedia, a picture of Germans expelled from the Sudetenland area in Czechoslovakia.

Now, one finds many families in which a grandparent or relative was expelled way back then, and the issue is no longer taboo. But it, along with all of the atrocities associated with World War II, still have a large impact on the German national identity, and they're something that the modern, democratic Germany really struggles with. Images like the one above are still a very meaningful part of German history.

So that's a short summary of the results of my 2,500 word research paper, and hopefully a good enough excuse for why I didn't post last week.

For the Americans, I'd be curious: who had already heard of this event before they read this blog? I knew absolutely nothing about it until I got here.


Paris on Wheels

Hey all, just going to report a little bit of this and that from my trip to Paris.

Last weekend I went to Paris with my host brother to vist my host sister. She is studying abroad there through ERASMUS, a program from the European Union that coordinates study abroad inside of the EU. The program guarantees that the students won't have to pay more tuition to study abroad and that the credits earned abroad will be recognized by their home university.

The post is called "Paris on Wheels" because we toured Paris with my host sister in a wheelchair. She tore her Achilles tendon in December and had gotten her cast off the day before we got there.

So we walked (and rolled and crutched) through the streets of Paris like this and took turns pushing the wheelchair. In this picture we're on our way to the Notre Dame cathedral, where we had a picnic.

But being with a handicapped person had its advantages. We got to cut the lines at museums and ride the cool elevator in the Louvre.

The Louvre is, by the way, one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. The building itself was actually a lot more impressive to me than many of the paintings. It's so massive that to actually see all of the 35,000 paintings in its collection, you would need over 9 months.

Famous Moulin Rouge, typical touristy picture.

The view from Montmartre, a large hill in the middle of Paris. Fabian is squinting because of the sun. There's a beautiful church behind me and a festive feeling all around. We had a picnic there and enjoyed the atmosphere.

This is a picture of the line outside of the Musee d'Orsay that we didn't have to wait in.

Verena sitting in the wheelchair and Fabian playing with the crutches inside the Musee d'Orsay. I actually liked the art in this museum a lot better than that in the Louvre. The impressionist paintings on the third floor were the most interesting.

The Tuileries Gardens, where we had our third picnic of the weekend. It was just beautiful.

All in all, it was a great weekend in Paris. We got to see a lot of culture, art, breathtaking buildings, and eat a lot of delicious baguettes. Seriously, enjoying a baguette with delicious cheese in the Tuileries Gardens is really something.

What really struck me about Paris as far as the language goes was the lack of English. Although Paris is probably the most popular tourist destination in Europe, there was very little English. Even in the Louvre, the most visited museum in the world, the displays were not very non-native-speaker-friendly. In contrast, many attractions in Germany also have English text under the German text. Is printing the text again in English a sellout to tourism or a hospitable gesture making museums and train stations more available to everyone?

I can really recommend Paris to anyone coming to Europe. The city really does have a charm of its own, even through rampant mass tourism. I guess I can't complain about tourism too much, being a tourist there myself...

PS: If you look to the right, you'll see that my blog has now been visited by people (or bots) from all six permanently inhabited continents! Woohoo!