Travel in an Age of Terror

The makeshift memorial to the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, in front of the American Embassy in Berlin.

Written 3/4 June 2017

Tonight, there were three separate incidents in London. What began with London Bridge soon made its way to the Borough Market, and before we knew it, the Vauxhall area was in danger too. Though it quickly became apparent Vauxhall wasn’t a terror-related incident though the others appear to be, three acts of violence were committed in the capital of the United Kingdom last night.

And two days ago, there was a terror attack in Kabul, Afghanistan that no organization has claimed, as of yet. It got news coverage, for sure, but it seemed to be a passing piece of news in a region of the world where we expect those things to happen. There are plenty of examples that compare the coverage and treatment of terror incidents in western countries with countries elsewhere (linked articles are just several among many, both liberal and conservative sources), but from here, a week removed from an attack at a concert in Manchester, four days after an attack in Baghdad, and only 72 hours following an attack in Kabul, this article about the varying coverage between western and non-western terror attacks from the am hours of June 3rd, before the attacks in London, seems especially prescient right now.

How do we reconcile these incidents? On a broader level, I struggle constantly with how to prioritize what to teach my kids. Is it what is required by Minnesota statute, or is it a more comprehensive understanding of the world we live in? Is it the information that will be most proximate to their daily lives, or is it what will actually help develop a broader perspective of the world, one in which an attack in Afghanistan is equally important to an attack in England? How do we keep kids from developing preconceived notions of large populations of people, based on the actions of a few, if adults with fully developed prefrontal cortexes (and significantly large amounts of power and influence) can’t seem to do the same?

Plenty of rational, thinking people I know are less comfortable traveling today than they ever have been. They don’t want to risk the possibility of something happening while they’re abroad. I certainly can’t tell them they’re wrong to feel that way, and it doesn’t really comfort anyone to think that it could happen in the nearest American metropolis just as easily as it could happen in a major European capital. So, what do we do?

I don’t have many answers, but I have more questions by the day. How can I simultaneously desire to help kids learn about and experience the world, and live in a world that kids feel less safe in by the day? How do I try to embody tolerance and acceptance while teaching about current events that seem to stem from intolerance and non-acceptance of those different from ourselves? Most importantly, how can we live in and raise children in a world where things are becoming more peaceful and tolerant, and not more dangerous and more closed-off?

 

Global Gratitude, part II: back on solid ‘Merican ground.

So, this post rounds out Eurotrip 2016. I’m grateful for the chance to chronicle my experiences this way, and in a few years, when names and places are escaping me, I’m glad I’ll have this lengthy, delayed, though hopefully *mildly* thoughtful account of an incredible few weeks. I can’t quite thank the Goethe-Institute or the people at the Transatlantic Outreach Program, Deutsche Bank, Robert Bosch Stiftung, Siemens, and the German Foreign Office, enough for the opportunity not only for two weeks in Germany, but for enabling a continuation of my trip, allowing me to see two new cities, and return to one of my favorites. My kids and I will benefit from the experiences I gained in these short weeks for the rest of my teaching career, and certainly I will for the remainder of my days.

Of course, as I’m a millennial, after I got coffee, the next thing I did when I got back on US soil was update facebook. Don’t ask why. I can’t explain the human compulsion to chronicle life via social media, but I willingly participate. Here are my immediate thoughts upon landing in Detroit:

11 July, Detroit Airport

“Back on solid ‘Merican ground. Gratitude is oozing out of me as I reflect on the past four weeks, so why not start sharing it now? In no particular order, I am especially grateful for…
1. A funny, engaging German seat mate named Rudy who kept the wine and the conversation flowing
2. Live piano and a Caribou in the Detroit airport
3. Snarky, clever British flight attendants who DO NOT like being accused of sounding a little bit Irish, thankyouverymuch…
4. Seeing American men in baseball hats as soon as we got into the airport (superficial I know…so sue me!)
5. The incredible people I met and the incredible places I visited in just over three weeks in Germany, the Czech Republic, and Austria.

What a gift to love the place I’m coming home to just as much as the places I’ve been.”


I cannot overstate the importance of this particular trip in helping remind me why I do what I do, and am becoming who I am becoming. The two week immersive learning experience exceeded my expectations in ways I can’t describe, but the 11 days that followed were self-indulgent, freeing, enlightening, and reassuring. 


My first Christmas back home after my study abroad experience, my mom got me a gift that has remained incredibly profound in my daily life, though I don’t know that I’ve actually told her that. It was just a piece of card stock, about the size of a business card, with a quote that I didn’t fully understand the value of then.

“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”

Mary Anne Radmacher

How true it was then, and remains to be. London and central Italy await…and I can’t wait to head back to where it all started. Roma; non basta una vita.

 

MC Lean

Berlin; Day 2

I apologize for the tardiness in keeping up with these posts; I figured that I should finish one adventure before I take on my next, so I’ll hopefully be more faithful in documenting the last weeks of our trip. This is all more for my own memory than anything else (…and also for the two family members who actually read this!), but if I can encourage even one person to do or see some of the things we had the chance to experience, it’ll be worth it.

28 June, Berlin

Our second full day in Berlin started with a wonderful surprise. Though I’m sure many of us had heard of “Cabaret” or read the Berlin Diaries, I had no idea prior to coming who Christopher Isherwood was, or why his tales were such an important part of Germany in the inter-War era. We took a walking tour of the neighborhood Isherwood experienced as an adult. We learned about Isherwood, his experiences as a gay male in Hitler’s Germany, the Schöneberg district of Berlin, and got to hear wonderfully-told stories that we may have never encountered otherwise. It was an incredible morning in the most unexpected of ways. If you’re interested in taking the tour, Brendan, a Brit expat, was a wonderful guide, and gives tours regularly.

We then had the chance to experience the Topography of Terror, which is a necessary stop for anyone who wants to feel the weight of life in Berlin during and after Hitler’s Germany. The documentary evidence of the Third Reich is incredibly moving and heavy; the remnants of the physical structure of the headquarters is eery, and the traveling exhibits they have are well done.

The remainder of the day was one of the most emotion-dense afternoons I’ve experienced. We had the incredible opportunity to hear about the experiences of Margot Friedlander. I’ve written about our experiences with Mrs. Friedlander before, because such an experience needs to be documented in numerous ways. The inhumanity and injustice of her experiences and the experiences of millions of others have weighed on me many times since, and it doesn’t get easier to understand. I think of what she shared with us on a near-daily basis, and often repeat the mantra she shared with us for living in the modern world:

“Be a mensch. Be a human. Be a thinking, feeling human being.”

We then got to experience the German people’s second favorite food–Italian– as we met with a representative of the federal foreign office for dinner. I enjoyed our conversations with someone so interested in our experiences and the education systems in the United States. It’s still incredible to me that the German government has made such a concerted effort (and financial investment) to help others encounter modern Germany. I’m grateful for the chance to have participated, and for the continual chances to relive it; here, in my classroom, on social media, and through the hundreds of photos and memories I took back home with me.

A really productive, thought-provoking day. One that will definitely be motivation to get back to Berlin soon!

MC Lean

 

 

Global Gratitude, part 1.

After I left the group, I was reminded that traveling alone provides quite a bit more space to think about what it is you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Though I really do appreciate solitude, and love walking around cities on my terms, I don’t enjoy eating alone, so I felt like I needed to occupy myself while I would eat. One way I often passed the time was to write down whatever I was thinking about. As I continued on in my solo travels, I realized that what I was often thinking about was gratitude. So, in honor of that, with an eye toward the upcoming November holiday when everyone seems to exude more gratitude than during the other 11 months of the year, I’m sharing my thoughts of gratitude. Because I truly do understand how lucky I am to get to do the things I do, I’ll hope to continue doing this year-round, not only when I travel, but in all aspects of life. Some of my reflections are deep and meaningful (to me), some are incredibly practical, and a few are even completely superficial, but the gratitude is real in all cases.

4 July, Prague

“Today, on the 240th anniversary of the ratification of our Declaration of Independence, I’m grateful for the freedom of movement. In the literal sense, certainly, as the 25,000 steps I’m walking a day have freed me to see these cities in the way I want to. Figuratively though too, as the ability to travel, to explore, to be challenged, to be restless…this is what makes life worth living.”

5 July, Vienna

“Today, I’m incredibly grateful for wireless internet access. It certainly makes most other aspects of life easier, but it has also revolutionized travel. I can call or text across an ocean for free. I can connect with fellow travelers or new friends in more meaningful and direct ways than ever. I can book hotels, tours, and train tickets, find advice and events to attend, and I can even watch Netflix in my hotel room on nights when I just want the Sound of Music.”

6 July, Vienna

“Traveling is a trip (ha!). Suddenly, I’m acutely aware of every person I walk by on the sidewalk. Every noise, every piece of refuse, every smoker. After two weeks of being surrounded by Americans nearly every waking moment, now, it’s just me. There’s some satisfaction in that, to be sure. I do what I want when I want. I stop to eat when I feel like it, and don’t need to find bathrooms on someone else’s schedule. I can skip the ‘checklist’ tourist items if I feel like it, and wander random streets until I don’t want to anymore. I can walk and walk and walk, destination unknown, with my fitbit as my only constant companion. But Aristotle is sticking with me today. People truly are political animals. I’m realizing with every day that passes how much I truly thrive on interactions and connectedness. I find myself smiling at every baby I see. I eavesdrop on English conversations, making passing judgments on the people and the topics I’m listening in on. Today, I’m especially grateful for a kind Viennese waiter, who, once having gotten over the surprise that I was having dinner by myself, chose the beer, the side, and the meal I would be having. Having spent an entire day without saying more than 20 words in English, this man and his kindness was exactly what I needed to enjoy the best meal I’ve had thus far in Europe. The food was great, but the care for someone who would only be in his life for an hour or so was an incredible reminder of the value of slowing down and taking time to think, appreciate, and listen. Often, life moves at too hectic a pace to appreciate. My two hour solo dinner, my kind waiter, my delicious Austrian cuisine, the beautiful Viennese evening…doesn’t get much better than tonight.”

7 July, Vienna

“Today, I’m thankful that I get to see the world while I’m able to. I go too many hours between meals, I walk until I seemingly can’t anymore, and then I walk some more. Today, I went to Schloß Schönbrunn, a 17th century Baroque palace that was once a home to Austro-Hungarian Emperors. While there, I realized that one of my travel flaws is that I get easily annoyed with tour groups that are big, loud, and inconsiderate of other people’s space. What I need to remember instead is how fortunate I am to have the means and the self-assurance to travel on my own (and the RBF probably doesn’t hurt…). Group travel is awesome and exhausting and a variety of other things, but being here and doing this on my own is a pretty incredible thing.”

Berlin; day 1

27 June, Berlin

I had been to Berlin once before, as a young, impressionable 21 year old on my first international trip before my study abroad experience began. I did what I thought tourists were supposed to do: checked boxes of the most well-known sites in the city, ate some sausage and drank some beer, and moved on to Athens without any particular affinity for the city. I later realized that my love for Europe was borne out of being immersed and uncomfortable; a few days in Berlin was clearly not enough to fully understand the gravity, history, and modernity of this incredible city.

Nine years later, I’m thankful that I’m older and (arguably) wiser. Berlin is an incredible, cosmopolitan city that is continually changing and growing. We only had a week there, but I could have done another few weeks or months without question and still wouldn’t have seen even close to everything I wanted to see. We stayed in the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin, which provided a really interesting mix of ethnicities, foods, and sites in close proximity to our hotel. Immediately upon getting into our rooms, we promptly left again to find somewhere with a big screen to watch the German national team take on Slovakia in the Euro Cup. Though I’ve never been a soccer fan, it was fun to be in the city during the tournament. If soccer is the most popular sport in the world, I’ve got to be missing something, right? (…the jury’s still out on that one…)

The next day, we began seeing Berlin in earnest. We started the day with a lecture from Professor Wolf Wagner on the realities of modern Germany. We had lunch in his neighborhood, at a Swabian restaurant, which had food representative of Swabia, an ethnic enclave that today is divided between Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria in Southern Germany. We then took a bus tour of the city, and ended the day with a wonderful tour of the Bundestag, and lessons on German government and history. The Reichstag is an incredible mix of modern and traditional, and effectively incorporates the less savory aspects of its history well.

Like many public structures and monuments in Germany, the Reichstag presents information and history surrounding the government under National Socialism or during the period of Divided Germany generally without commentary. It doesn’t tell you what to think, or how to feel, but allows for the space and the interpretation to make the experience your own. This upsets some people, both travelers and Germans alike, and there are even domestic protests that surround the ways Germany chooses to honor those who lost their lives in the Holocaust. The way Germany, and Berlin in particular, deal with the atrocities in their history is remarkable. Controversial, definitely, but I just came across the German word Vergangenheitsbewältigung, which literally translates to “coping with the past,” which they’ve had to do with regularity in the 20th and 21st century. Especially since the fall of the Wall, memorializing those periods of history has become a priority in the country, and is done with incredible care and consideration. It is continually both reassuring and terrifying that we are so close to so many awful chapters in human history, and the way we deal with them is continually improving and expanding. Lots more to come on the ways that Berlin remembers and memorializes, but in an attempt to keep this chronological, I’ll just say that our first day and a half in Berlin only left us all wanting more…

(Also, ’tis the season to promote this fantastic opportunity, since the application just came out. If you’re a STEM or social studies teacher, please, PLEASE check out the Transatlantic Outreach Program. The application can be found HERE, and I’d be happy to answer any questions you have on the application, the lesson evaluation, the workshop, etc. Take advantage of this opportunity!!)

MC Lean

The cutest city I ever did see.

After a heavy, fulfilling day in Friedland, we were on our way to Quedlinburg. A small central German town, unknown to most of us prior to our journey, Quedlinburg was one of the highlights of the trip for me. Situated about halfway between Hanover and Leipzig, found in the state of Sachsen-Anhalt, the entire old city of Quedlinburg is a UNESCO world heritage site. The old town has one of the highest concentrations of timber-framed homes in the world.  Spanning five centuries, these homes (and now businesses) are some of the cutest, most endearing parts of this quaint city.

Check out the beauty and Disney-esque character of these buildings! It felt like Belle would pop out singing at any moment!

Relatively untouched by World War II, Quedlinburg is today, a sleepy town still largely untouched by traditional tourist pitfalls. In an effort to make the city sound even more enticing than I can on my own, I scoured the internet for other visitor information I could pass along to the six of you who are actually reading this in an effort to get people to this beautiful city. What that convinced me of even more fully is that YOU NEED TO GET TO THIS CITY! It seems to be a secret, even to the wide world of the internet–three of the four sites I found information on started with wiki.

A couple brief insights from our 24 hours there: Hotel zum Bär is centrally located, just off the main drag in the old town. We enjoyed our stay there, and I would suggest it to anyone looking for a hotel. We also ate dinner at the restaurant atop the Cathedral Hill, and the view, and the food were well worth the (not very difficult) walk up.

I have little else to say that the photos can’t say for me, except that the quiet peacefulness of this city provided a wonderful contrast to the loud, energetic, diverse, gritty city we were about to encounter in Berlin. When I get back to Germany, you better believe that a trip back to Quedlinburg is on the agenda. I can’t wait!

MC Lean

Friedland

24/25 June, Eisenach and Friedland

The staff at TOP who put together our itinerary worked hard to give us a variety of experiences in Germany. On our way to a different bundesland, we had a quick, one night stop in the town of Eisenach where most of us had an authentic dinner of Thuringian sausage and local bier near Bach’s birthplace and childhood home. After dinner, some of us climbed a mountain (okay…a pretty big hill) to reach Wartburg Castle, where Martin Luther translated the New Testament from Latin to German. We happened upon a concert at the castle, complete with strobe lights and German rap; it was unexpected to say the least.

After our night in Eisenach, we were on our way to one of the most anticipated stops on our trip. We figured out early into our time together that our group, TOP 2, had largely written on the same essay topic in our application. Of four given topics, nearly all of us wrote on this prompt:

Article 16a of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany (Das Grundgesetz) reads, “Persons persecuted on political grounds shall have the right of asylum.”

After we returned from our trip, while reflecting on how to use what I experienced in my classroom, I actually went back to my essay to see what I had written. Though focused largely on how I would take what I could learned about refugees and asylum back to my classroom, I also had the chance to write about America’s current immigration crisis and compare it to the responsibilities that social democracies carry. It seems fairly obvious that European countries are dealing with Syrian immigration in varying ways and with varying degrees of success, but also that Germany is bearing more than its fair share of the weight of the Syrian refugee situation. We were all eager to find out more about how Germany was meaningfully integrating refugees into its society, and take the opportunity to humanize the crisis by meeting some of the displaced Syrians currently awaiting placement in Germany.

We stopped in the town of Friedland for the day, which became notable following World War II because of its geography, as a city located on the border between the American zone (Hesse) and the Russian zone (Thuringia). Here, following World War II, a camp was built for German prisoners of war as they were returned from Russia, other returning soldiers, and people who had been displaced from their homes as a result of the war. During the Cold War, ethnic Germans from  Eastern Bloc countries also came through Friedland, hoping to escape Soviet Oppression. Today, the former train station serves as a new museum that documents flight, expulsion, migration, and integration. Fluchtpunkt Friedland, or the Friedland Museum, was an eye-opening experience for many of us, as it provided context for the migration happening into Germany today. In addition to providing insights into the refugee situation in Germany today, it also chronicles the plight of other refugees post-WWII, with memorable portions of exhibits that focused on Cambodia and Vietnam. If you’re interested, the museum provides a brief video tour. The audio is in German, but the visuals are still powerful.

We also had the chance to visit the present-day Friedland resettlement camp, Grenzdurchgangslager Friedland, which is a transitory camp for people who are being placed more permanently in other locations in Germany. Mostly used for Syrian refugees in transit, the day we visited, we met many kids who were eager for the German-language coloring book and colored pencils brought as gifts by two very thoughtful members of our group.

During a unique and enlightening lunch experience in which not one but two restaurants weren’t able to accommodate us (it was a very small town after all…), and we ended up eating outside a grocery store (which provided a surprisingly fun cultural experience), we ran into an American from Ohio who worked for Caritas, a non-profit organization that actively works with the youth in the camp. She and our pre-arranged guides, who are also volunteers at the camp, were gracious enough to give us some of their time to walk us around, introduce us to some of the people at the camp, and show us the facilities.

I didn’t (and probably still don’t) fully realize the impact of this day. A little bit of clarity came just a few weeks later though, as my focus in this school year, and really, life in general was identified as I experienced a perfectly-timed reading of the Alchemist in Vienna:

“When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too…love is the force that transforms and improves the Soul of the World…because when we love, we always strive to become better than we are.”

Our time in Friedland was full of experiences none of us will soon forget, and put faces to the situation that so many will only hear about on the news. I’m constantly reminded of the comment the immigration lawyer we met with made our first day in Passau; “We need to help these people because they need help.” It really isn’t nearly as simple as it sounds, but who doesn’t wish this and so many other situations could be dealt with using a bit more compassion and understanding? I was glad to have been reminded of that on this day, and so many others since; continually working on becoming better and loving more.

MC Lean

 

Try to Make your Life

30 June, Berlin, Written 3 July on a train between Berlin and Prague

 

“How is it possible that something like this could have happened?”

Elie Wiesel died yesterday. We heard the news after we had just gotten back from a public viewing of the Germany-Italy soccer game at the Brandenburg Gate.

I’m a fatalist by nature, which is certainly inconvenient at times, but I couldn’t help but think about the coincidental timing of his passing. It was my last night in Germany, and after spending a significant amount of our week thinking about how humans remember and memorialize tragedy and inhumanity, this news seemed particularly poignant. This remarkable man has left an enduring legacy in so many ways, but certainly in the form of several books that millions of kids all over the world have read, and will continue to read.

Being in Germany, having just spent the better part of a week learning, re-learning, discussing, and contextualizing the Holocaust and the experience of Germany under National Socialism, Wiesel’s death seemed especially poignant, as we had just met with a survivor of the Holocaust, and had discussed in several conversations how important it was to tell these stories before those who lived them are gone. Afterward, we collectively, and strongly, felt an increased duty to be the conduits by which these stories reach broader society. We had previously discussed during our experiences that some things in the world around us are rapidly changing, and many believe we (people, educators, etc.) need to adapt to those changes or get left behind.

I believe that we, as social studies, humanities, and liberal arts teachers, will forever be story-tellers. The medium may change, the means may change, but we still tell stories, help kids contextualize stories, and help reinforce stories that are undertold. As the world around us is changing and the purposes of education are shifting, I believe it is implicitly the role of educators to help kids think and engage them in the world around us. Thinking deeper, broader, harder than they would otherwise, remembering that students are people first. People who will soon leave the safe bounds of school, and enter a world where they will be citizens, and consumers, and employees, and friends and family, but will remain, most importantly, humans.

We had the great fortune of meeting with Margot Friedlander, a Holocaust survivor who lived in the states for 64 years before her return to Germany in 2010. In addition to her chilling experiences in Theresienstadt (Terezin in Czech), she also shared words of humanity to bring back to our students. During her unimaginable experiences, she shared that she had continually wondered, “How is it possible that something like this could have happened?” She told us that people needed to always use their own feelings, and avoid being influenced by politicians and public figures. She mentioned that students should focus on doing the right thing, and that though we can never love everyone, we can certainly respect everyone. Her book, Try to Make your Life, shares her experiences before, during, and after her time in Theresienstadt. An incredibly profound message, we had the chance to listen to her story, and ask her questions about her experiences.

Margot Friedlander 6

I couldn’t help but think about my experience at Oksan Seowan when she made her last comment in answering a question about what we should bring back to our students.

Be a human being. Be a feeling, thinking human being. A mensch.

71 years after she was freed from one of the most vile acts of inhumanity we’ve ever known, this woman is still actively sharing her message and encouraging us to be more fully human. The importance of her story, and the story of everyone affected by the Holocaust, and the War at large has not diminished, and as her generation passes, it’s left to all of us to work to ensure her story and the stories of others like her, are not forgotten, and the lessons that were learned are shared.

Quotefancy-58993-3840x2160

As a result of these two weeks, our conversation with this incredible woman, and my personal reflections on the importance of the loss of Elie Wiesel, I’m more convinced than I’ve ever been that teaching (in many, many shapes and forms) is one of the most profound expressions of humanity I have encountered. That’s a pretty incredible thing to start a school year with.

 

MC Lean

“We are one world…”

Vacha 6/23

We had the chance to visit a Gymnasium in Vacha, a small town on the former east/west border of Germany, where we had the great fortune of sharing our day with several teachers and five incredible students. Julian, our primary tour guide, speaks five languages, two of which he learned on his own, after school. He wants to be a journalist or a teacher, because he believes in the importance of sharing what you know with people. He wants to travel, and influence people along the way.

Vacha 1
Julian (on the left, in the American flag shirt) tells us about the school

I asked Julian what he would want American students to know about Germany, as I explained that Americans students are often less internationally-inclined, and it would certainly be rare to find a high school junior who speaks two languages, let alone five. I wanted this seventeen year old to give me the silver bullet; how do I get my kids to think broadly and deeply? How do I engage them in the world around them? Most importantly, how do I get them on a plane, so they can figure all of this out themselves? Teach a man to fish and all that, you know…

I think he imagined what he said in response was common sense:

“We are one world; we shouldn’t be divided by boundaries. Only doing the same things every day is not experiencing life.”

It’s certainly not. What an important message from an incredible young man.

 

MC Lean

A brief intro to German schools…and German bier.

6/22 Neumarkt, written in Geisa

This afternoon we had another school visit. This time, it was an all-girls’ realschule in a town called Neumarkt. It was an incredible visit; the young women we met were bright, well-spoken (in what was a third or fourth language for them, as they were all studying French in school), and so pleasant.

image

They put together a presentation for us, including things like the structure of their schooling, their future careers, extracurricular opportunities, and what they do in their free time. One of the most surprising things though, was that the vast majority of them had very specific career plans. While one girl didn’t know what life was going to hold for her, most of the girls had particular ideas of what they wanted to do, and knew specifically what it would take to get them there. This is certainly the result of the German Dual System, and the fact that we were visiting a realschule. I’ll say lots more on the Dual System in a future, dedicated post, but this graphic provides a brief introduction to the various types of secondary schools that exist in Germany today.

image

In the midst of this wonderful visit, there was a strange moment for the American teachers. The lovely woman who gave up her day off to show us around and have her students present was interpreting questions from us for the girls. We were curious how they felt about the single-gender schooling, and the differences they saw in classes and social experiences. The teacher then asked how they liked math and science classes, and the girls kind of muttered responses. The teacher then responded by making a comment about how girls aren’t as good at math as boys are, and that they were glad not to share that class with them.

“Hold on,” I actually said to myself. What did she just say?! I looked around to see if anyone else thought this was strange, and it appeared that a number of us were taken aback by this. It may have just been a perfect example of cultural misinterpretation, it might have been German sarcasm that was lost on me, or it may have just be a distinct difference between this particular school and my experiences in education. I certainly can’t speak for the experiences of 14 other teachers, but I would imagine a good number of us have the experience not only of gender equality in terms of academic abilities and performance in math and science classes, but I would venture to guess that most of us had the opposite experiences, with high school girls asserting themselves academically and socially in ways that American boys don’t (which happens for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is heavily influenced by biology). This is certainly not to discount the abilities and intentions of high school males generally, but I think modern American teachers would be hard-pressed to find distinct gender-based achievement differences in our students.. In any case, the visit was wonderful, and we were grateful for our hosts and our experiences at Staatliche Realschule für Mädchen.

After our school visit, we stopped at Winkler Bräu for lunch and a tour of the German brewing process. Beer is an important part of German heritage, stemming from the days when it was safer to drink beer than water in most of Europe. This year is also the 500th anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot, which is a German purity law that regulated the ingredients that could be put in beer in 1516. Beer in Germany represents a really interesting intersection of church and state–for a long time, beer was primarily home-brewed or brewed in monasteries and abbeys (for more info about this, check out the German Beer Institute–yes, that exists. It gives a really, really interesting history of brewing in Germany, and other things). It did, and still does, have a strong connection to various Christian denominations, but none moreso that a few Catholic traditions. Monastery brewing is still frequent in Germany, and the Benedictines, both then and now, lead the way. It’s not a true German experience without at least a brewery or two on the itinerary, and TOP 2 is doing its best to fulfill that obligation.

Right now, we’re staying in the very small, very quaint town of Geisa, courtesy of the Point Alpha Foundation, which we’ll be visiting in a few days. Our lodging is in a former castle, and has incredible views of the town and the countryside. It reminds me a lot of the Tuscan countryside, but with Germany efficiency, so it’s a great combo that has led to a wonderful experience.

This is wont be the last mention of the German school system, or German beer–stay tuned for a more complete explanation of each! Thanks for sticking with me–

MC Lean