…and then I was eating a pig spleen, debating the second amendment with a seventeen-year-old German girl.
I’m tempted to end the blog post right there.
The past two days have been full of a wildly diverse set of German experiences. Yesterday we visited a school, which is my favorite thing to do whenever I travel. We started our time at the Gymnasium (smart kids’ school) listening to some students discuss a project they’ve started at their school to help local refugees assimilate into German society. They volunteer every week to be friends to the refugees, help them learn German, and plan various activities. Their goal is to end racism at their school (a lofty goal, to be sure, but one worth applauding). We were all touched by their presentation, but Lauren (our Texan) was especially so. I loved the part when she raised her hand and, through tears streaming down her face, said, “I just want y’all to know that y’all are an inspiration. I wish our students in America could think of half of the things that you just said. You’re tearing me up back here. Y’all are going to change the world, and it’s so…beautiful.” Really, their project was beautiful. Also, these kids spoke English completely fluently in addition to the other 2-3 langues they each spoke. They knew about world news and politics and asked if we thought Donald Trump could actually become president (No. Sorry Dad). American high school students are…um…not like that. We need to get our crap together, America.
After the students’ presentation, we got to observe some classrooms. We visited an English class where students were presenting on the United States, and we saw the presentations on Nebraska and California. I felt bad for the student who got Nebraska – what’s there to say? He talked a lot about corn and mentioned “if you want to go somewhere with a lot of silence, this could be the state for you.” Personally, having been to Nebraska, I’d give him an A.
Once we left the school, we attended a meeting with the mayor of Regensburg. She told us about the policies Regensburg has adopted for immigrants (immigration is a huge issue in Germany at the moment). Once the meeting was over, the teachers and I stopped by an outdoor cafe and shared some pizzas under the blue sky and the spires of the cathedral. This city is literally one of the most beautiful ones I have ever seen. We had a bit of free time after this, and then we went on a brewery tour of a reeeaaally old brewery. It was built in the middle ages and still uses a lot of the same buildings and all of the same ingredients. We ate at the brewery’s biergarten for dinner, and guess who joined us? The high school students who did the refugee project! Our group leader had invited them earlier, and they decided to come join us. This seemed a little strange since we were drinking beer (nothing crazy – we were on a brewery tour and hence trying the brewery’s beer), but the legal drinking age here is sixteen so I guess that’s not weird (even though it was still definitely weird). Also, the kids were swearing in English and I was about losing my mind. “Ahhhh!” I would say. “You’re little! You shouldn’t be saying that!” Then they all (students and teachers alike) laughed at me for being so conservative. Speaking of conservative, one of the girls was very excited to talk about politics with me because she has “never understood how someone could be a Republican.” Ha ha. We talked about gun laws over some beer while I tried some of Rob’s pig spleen (Rob is our resident “order the weirdest thing on the menu” guy, pictured below). By the end of the night one of the girls said, “American teachers are cool. They’re not like German teachers.” I assured her that by no means would any American students ever have this kind of experience with American teachers. It’s simply not done. It was awesome in Germany, though, and the kids really were great. They’re seriously going to change Germany. I don’t know how to get that drive into American teenagers, but I’m working on it. Maybe I need to feed them more pig spleens.
This morning we visited Siemens corporation (both their technology side and their healthcare side) to get an idea about how the German vocational training system works. It was fascinating, and America needs to get on board with this type of education asap. We had an extremely fancy lunch (think white tablecloths, suits and ties, and fresh flower centerpieces). Of course I ended up sitting by the leader of Siemens healthcare, the guy in charge of everything. I mentally thanked my Nana for teaching me the correct European way to butter a roll, how to use the plethora of silverware on all sides (and top) of my plate, and all of the other etiquette rules that I absolutely could not mess up today. Siemens is a huge sponsor of this program, and I would hate to offend the guy and make him think that maybe these American teachers aren’t a great investment after all. I don’t think I did anything TOO stupid, and I got out of the lunch relatively unscathed.
Once we left Siemens we went to Nuremburg, where we visited the site of the famous Nuremburg trials from post World War II. We also visited some Nazi rally areas, which have been strangely left to decay since the 1940s. It’s as if Germany doesn’t know what to do with these parts of its history.
It was a long bus ride back to Regensburg, but when we finally got back a bunch of us went out for Greek food. We were thoroughly spoiled by our waiter who gave us lots of free extras, and we had a great time laughing and enjoying the company of people with whom we all have a lot in common. We’re leaving Regensburg tomorrow, which is a bummer because it’s started to feel like home, but I suppose it’s time for the next adventure.