I am a little at a loss as how to write about this past week in any sort of comprehensive manner, so instead I will just make a list of what we did and insert my comments.
Monday: A long orientation day at the foundation the supports our fellowships. We listened to speeches about the foundation, we quickly presented our projects for the year, we listened to the advice of alumni fellows, and we schmoozed with our mentors and the foundation staff. All auf deutsch, of course.
Tuesday: A tour through das Haus der Geschichte and the Palais Schaumburg (read more about this day here).
Wednesday: A visit to a large solar energy company that started in Bonn. We listened to a presentation by one of their PR guys, who was clearly confused about whether he should speak German or English. Meaning that he explained all the technical parts in German using technical German vocabulary, but would repeat simple stuff like “we get energy from the sun” in English. Then we got to see a lot of examples of solar panels.
We also visited Beethoven’s birth house (the third time for me) in the afternoon. In the evening we attended a concert at the Beethovenhalle by Cappella Andrea Barca, with András Schiff as conductor and piano player. I have attended a lot of classical concerts in my life, but have never seen someone conduct an orchestra and play piano at the same time. It was pretty cool, and in the style of Mozart, I guess. (As an aside, they will also be playing Carnegie Hall at the end of October.)
Thursday: After an hour-long bus ride, we arrived to tour brown coal mine. Although it was extremely interesting to see the process for open pit mining — I saw some of the largest machines I have ever seen in my life (seriously, these things were straight out of a Star Wars movie or something) — the landscape had all the appeal of a wasteland. We also drove through a small town that was built back on top of an “empty” mine after the mining was complete. Looking at the land and the town, you would have never known anything had happened there. According to the power company’s PR person, the people were quite happy to be displaced from their original homes so that they could rebuild newer homes with the money from the coal company. But that left a bad taste in my mouth, and there was something eerie about driving through this perfect (but soulless) town. Anyway, it just reminded me that energy has to come from somewhere, and so it is important to reduce my own energy consumption.
As a contrast to the day, we spent the evening at a wine tasting in Ahrtal at the Weingut Meyer-Näkel, a family run winery. They specialized in red wines, which is somewhat unusual for Germany, and we had a long evening of tasting wines in a beautiful and rustic setting.
Friday: As a self-proclaimed pacifist, I was pleasantly surprised by an interesting visit to the Bundesministeriums der Verteidigung (Federal Ministry of Defense). The colonel who spoke to us took great pains to explain just how unique Germany’s military philosophy is. Given the legacy of World War II, Germany has built in many controls to make sure that military power will never be abused again, even though this sometimes means that other NATO nations become frustrated by Germany’s slowness (or unwillingness) to take military action. Even though it is probably not as simple as all that, I appreciated that the official governmental stance of a major European nation still takes into consideration its actions from 70 years ago, rather than buying into any sort of cowboy mentality.
And then as our final event of the week, we visited a local newspaper in Bonn. I loved seeing how newspapers are printed and assembled, but the factory was so loud that I could never really hear what the tour leader was saying. Unfortunately, what could have been a really interesting discussion of freedom of the press with 10 Russians, 10 Chinese, and 10 Americans, was (ironically) suppressed when one of the editors decided to discount and ignore such questions.
That sums up the first week of our orientation. Plenty of pictures are here, and I will continue to update the album at the end of every week. We have a pretty packed schedule (including a relocation to Berlin on Wednesday), and it is actually hard to find free time when I am motivated to blog rather than sleep, veg, or hang out. But I will do my best.
I feel blessed to have this opportunity to be exposed to all these different parts of German culture. Really, how amazing is that?