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Rotary exchange student on tour

Caroline Johnson is spending this year as a Rotary Exchange student in Germany.

This is the second installment in a series of letters she is writing home about her adventures.

The excerpts are shortened due to space constraints. In this episode Caroline talks about her adventures on a two-week tour of Germany which she took in October.

For this tour she got up at 4 a.m. September 30 to make the train trip from her home in Neuss to Duisburg via Dusseldorf where she met 46 other exchange students from Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Finland, Australia, New Zealand, India, Chili, U.S., Costa Rica and their bus driver, a Rotary member and three past Rotary exchange students.

Sept. 30, 2006 Neuss, Dusseldorf, Duisburg, Speyer, Heidelberg.

We drove an hour and a half to rest stop and I had to pay 50 cents to use the public toilet.

Then we made our way to Speyer where we walked up 153 stairs to the top of the Speyer Bell Tower.

Ich habe gesiet der schon Horizont von Speyer (I saw the beautiful skyline of Speyer).

There were three cathedrals in sight. We stayed that night in Heidelberg at my first Youth Hostel.

Later that night we were given free time to walk the streets in a downpour of rain. The group scrambled through the Alt Stadt full of street vendors and bars.

Mein zwei Freunde und Ich haben gefinden (My two friends and I finally found) an ice cream and waffle shop where Ich habe gekauft (I bought) a hot crisp waffle covered in chocolate sauce. It was the perfect thing since I was thoroughly soaked.

Oct. 1 Heidelberg, Freiberg. Today we toured the Heidelberg Castle. After climbing 515 stairs to the castle we admired the surrounding countryside.

Drove fourish hours to Freiberg where we window-shopped and took pictures of the church in the centre of the small town.

This time it was clear skies and the stars were out.

Oct. 2 Freiberg, Insel Mainau, Boden Sea, Bavaria, Fussen.

Auf dem Bus (on the bus) this morning I finger-knitted a scarf and wrote in my daybook. We arrived at Insel Mainau which is an island owned by a noble family on the Boden Sea. It was very tropical and the weather was perfect. I visited a butterfly atrium.

Then the group rode across the lake on a ferry. We drove another three hours into the mountains of Bavaria where, at the youth hostel in Freiberg, I got my hair cut by Lilia from Russia...

Oct. 3 Fussen, Schloss Neuschwanstein, Oberammergau.

Our first destination today was the famous Schloss Neuschwanstein (Disneyland castle) built by Ludwig II.

The king’s bedroom had paintings of Tristan and Isolde. There was a swan theme all over the castle.

There were many paintings and carvings of swans in the most unique places.

See Sunrise, page B4

Even the doorknobs of the King’s bedroom were little metal swans. It was the Fairytale castle of the world.

Then we arrived at Oberammergau. At the youth hostel our bus got stuck in the mud.

The boys tried to push it free and with the help of another car with a towline we managed to free it. After that event we then had to climb a mountain to reach our hostel.

Wir haben gefeiern zwei geburtstage (We celebrated two birthdays) with a feast fit for a king and then we danced the night away. I learned to salsa and I brought out the fluorescent glow sticks I had brought from Canada.

Oct. 4 Oberammergau, Schloss Linderhof, Munchen.

Ich habe getrinkt heif Chocolade fur Fruhstucke (I had hot chocolate for breakfast) and it was the best I have had in my life, not too rich and not too weak. Wir haben gegehen zu Schloss Linerhoff (We went to Schloss Linderhof), another castle built by Ludwig II.

It had a gold Neptune fountain in the front gardens. It was built at the bottom of a mysterious mountainside where the mist lays quietly amongst the dark trees. Then we had a city tour on our bus of the beautiful city of Munchen. (during free time she joined 25 students to visit the English Gardens in the city centre).

Oct. 5 Muchen

(It was a very cold morning when groups of five exchange students set out to tour the city by train).

I visited the deutsch technical museum where I saw many airplanes, different architectural structures and musical instruments. I managed to play a Steinway and Sons Grand Piano in the museum. Afterwards I bought a pair of pants for 30 euros and a shirt for 15 euros at the New Yorker store.

That night the 50 of us went to an Australian and Irish pub and participated in Karaoke night.

Oct. 6 Muchen, Dachau, Rothenberg

This was a very sad morning. We visited the concentration camp in Dachau that every prisoner entered through to the place where some lived until the end of their lives.

This is one of the well-known death camps used to keep prisoners during World War II. The entrance to the camp had an iron gate with the inscription Arbeit Macht Frei, which means Work Makes Free.

I could feel the powerful stillness close in on me. I walked through one of the gas chambers and read some of the personal experiences of some of the survivors of this camp. After this historical experience I felt uplifted that others should also learn from this horrible event gain respect for the past. Then f or lunch I had to buy an expensive meal at McDonalds for five euros. At the youth hostel in Rothenberg I found a piano and I played for most of the exchange students . Titanic was popular. We took part in a night tour of Rothenberg at 8 p.m. and had free time after that.

The guy from New Zealand, Elsa from Alaska, Milla from Finland and I bought these sugar coated cookie balls from one of the shops and sat on the shop’s couches. We talked about different school stories from our home countries.

Oct. 7 Rothenberg, Dresden

We walked along the city wall in the morning. Then the girl from Finland and I had lunch of lasagna and salad in a nice restaurant. We toured the huge Christmas shops for an hour. There were walls and shelves stuffed with tons of tiny Christmas decorations. Christmas lights added a glow to the cinnamon and cranberry scented atmosphere. We drove that afternoon to Dresden. I cleaned my suitcase and talked with the other exchange students. there were pool tables at the hostel and there were games going on all night.

Oct. 8 Dresden, Berlin.

We walked around Dresden and took many excellent pictures. I saw the Fraukirche (Women Church), which is known to all Germans. I got my hair braided on the bus. We travelled to Berlin. Everyone was sleeping on the way there. Half an hour before we entered the city one of the Rotex put on a documentary about the Berlin. Wall, which, at the end of the movie, we found out that it was not the movie they had planned on showing us. We enjoyed another city bus tour with one of the rotex describing things as we went along.

Oct. 9 Berlin.

I woke at 6:30 a.m. I saw a Berlin sunrise. We walked the streets of Berlin in one large group.

We started off in the train station, which is sometimes mistaken for an airport because of the immense size of it. It had been newly opened only two months before for the World Cup.

They started building it two years earlier. After passing the Deutschland Parliament House we stopped at Checkpoint Charlie. For five eros I got my Canadian passport stamped with the passport stamp of that checkpoint.

I walked 15 meters away from that tourist attraction to buy Chinese noodles for 2.50 euros. Amazing! My four friends and I took the train to the TV Tower where we met eight of the other exchange students on this tour. I paid eight euros to see Berlin from 203 meters in the air.

We saw the world clock and I could check what time it was in any part of the world. I bought a Fifa world cup T-shirt for five euros. We walked along the Berlin Wall and then I had a vanilla steamer while my friends had coffee. For dinner the entire exchange group had Doners, which is a Turkish dish. It is a bread pocket stuffed with meat and vegetables. I spent about half of my travelling money in Berlin. it was all worth it.

Oct. 10 Berlin Schwerin

As we left Berlin we drove over the bridge that was used for exchanging spies between countries back int he wars. We toured the gardens of a beautiful castle in Potsdam close to Berlin. We finally arrived in Schwerin where we saw another castle. We walked through Schwerin and we stopped by a large pond that was teeming with ducks, seagulls and one lonely swam.

Our youth hostel was tucked away in the outskirts of Schwerin so we were just allowed to relax and chill that night. I went to bed early.

Oct. 11 Schwerin, Hamburg

Somehow this morning I picked up my glasses and one of the lenses popped out. They were fine the night before. So for the rest of the trip I decided not to wear my glasses because it is difficult trying to focus on something with only one eye clearly.

We went back to the Schwerin castle and toured the inside of it. I saw a Steinway and Sons black grand piano in the throne room. I really wanted to play it but I was scared away by the stern old ladies supervising us on the tour. We then made our way to Hamburg but Had to leave the main road due to a traffic jam just outside of Hamburg. We had lunch at a very German food shop on the suburbs of Hamburg.

I enjoyed currywurst and pommes (sausage in a curry sauce with fries). We drove the last 45 minutes to Hamburg and stopped at a shopping centre so that people could buy refreshments and snacks for the free time we had tonight at the hostel. I bought Twix chocolate bars. I talked with a lot of the other exchange students from Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, and argentina.

Oct. 12 Hamburg

We had a wonderful tour of the Hamburg Harbor and walked into the church where Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach was buried. Then bought a jar of Linden honey for my host family. I had free time for the rest of the day so my friends and I had Chinese food and took the wrong train on purpose so that we could have a scenic tour of Hamburg.

Oct. 13 Hamburg, Duisburg, Dusseldorf, Neuss

We drove five hours back to Duisburg where we had started on the tour. Most of the exchange students met their host parents there. there were a lot of goodbyes and hugs. It was pretty emotional. i went back to Dusseldorf with the two girls from alaska and Brazil, and the two boys from Peru and australia. At Dusseldorf we went our separate ways. I took the direct train, 10 minutes back to Neuss Haupbahnhof (train station). I arrived at home to find that my host family had left me instructions, money, and two chocolate bars. My host mother left me a packaged frozen pizza wit the baking instructions in 12 languages so that if I had any questions I could check the other languages and to make sure I would know what I was doing. My host family had gone away to Insel Juist, which is an Island in Deutschland where motorized vehicles are not allowed. You either walk everywhere or you ride horses. It is an island with white sandy beaches and a very relaxed atmosphere. My host grandparents popped in after my pizza dinner and we spent the evening looking at photos from my tour. They love to travel and have made over 50 trips reaching all continents even the Antarctic. On Saturday they took me out for a fabulous four-hour Italian dinner.

These past two weeks have been the greatest time. I learned much about the history of Germany, but I have also learned about the rest of the world. sharing these special moments with people who have come from very different life styles and cultures but I still come out with the same conclusion, that experiencing new things changes a person for the better.

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