Monday, July 3, 2017

Europe 2017: My Hannover Family

After eating, sleeping, and traveling on the road for so many days, it was wonderful to go to the house of my family, eat home-cooked food, and sleep in a comfy bed. This is my mom's sister's family, and after years of saying, "I wish I could go to Germany and visit my family there," I finally took the chance!

I had a German breakfast of a hard-boiled egg, yogurt with strawberries, tea, and bread with gouda cheese laid on top. It was a filling breakfast that would definitely get me through the morning of touring the city. (Europe has pretty great breakfasts, by the way. It is making me reconsider my normal daily breakfast routine.)

Ben stopped by and picked me up, and he and I went to his school where he teaches. As all schools are doing right now, there was construction and renovation going on, so it didn't look like it usually does - but I'm very used to that. The classrooms are sparse because the teachers are the ones that move in and out, not the students. But unlike a Chinese school where it's very plain everywhere, there was student photographs and artwork on the walls, and the main entrance had a lot of open space for kids to congregate when they arrive. We checked out the faculty lounge - which is huge - and found that he and I have the same printer at our schools!

We checked out the house that he and his wife are having built nearby, and he showed me where everything was going to be in the house. It takes a lot of work to build a house anywhere, but it looks like it's going to be a great place to live in a nice area!
We made it into the city of Hannover and parked in a lot near the Machsee. It was dug out in the 1930s when many people were out of work. A pillar credits the people that dug it, but the plaque on the side used to have a swastika as well. (They removed it after World War II.)

We traveled through parkland to the town hall, passing several Kindergarten groups as they played. Kindergarten children do the same things that American preschoolers do - lots of playtime with a little bit of learning. Parents also have to pay for Kindergarten, compared to the rest of the public schooling in Germany, which is free. (All the way through University!)

The town hall looks like it's older than it actually is - it was built about 100 years ago. Inside the main area is beautiful, with a dome at the center. In the main area are four models of Hannover thoughout the years, starting in the 1600s when it had a city wall and an annex-like area. In 1939 it had grown significantly, with many more church spires dotting the landscape. They also showed a synagogue, but had a note that said it had been burned down in 1938 by the Nazi regime. 

The biggest change was in 1945, only 6 years later. That model showed the entire city in ruins after heavy bombing basically destroyed it. the town hall had damage but wasn't completely destroyed, but entire blocks of buildings were gone and churches were hollowed out thanks to the blasts. It was heartbreaking. 

The final model showed Hannover in its current state. Many of the churches were rebuilt, except one that decided to keep the roof off as a memorial to its history. Sections of industrial area are now stores, and many buildings were rebuilt to resemble the buildings of the past. 

When we were done looking at the models, we took a crazy-leaning elevator from one side of the building to its center. They have glass on the bottom and top so you can see how the elevator has to arch its way to the center of the building. It's much easier than if you had to take the stairs, and I was kind of done taking the stairs for a while!

The view showed me how Hannover looks now. Thanks to Ben's guiding me through the models, I could point out buildings and places and know exactly what I was looking at. Like I've said before - I love seeing things from heights!

The elevator was very small and could only fit about five people at a time, so there was a line to take it back down. Luckily the group in front of us was big, so they let us go in front of them with another couple. It saved us a lot of waiting time.

After the town hall we walked around to a marketplace by the regional parliament (where Ben says most of the work actually gets done, as opposed to the regional parliament building itself!). The marketplace is covered but full of food and drink. After looking at everything we decided to have sushi for lunch! It had a crunchy outer coating and was perfect for the middle of the day. 

We walked around the middle section of Hannover, including the old section. I got to see my uncle's former church in the city, and we also were able to see the Market Church. It is just as large as any big church I've seen, but the thing that set it apart is that the entire interior is done in brick! This makes it look very different, and incredibly beautiful. 

The addition of its organ is actually quite a contrast; it is a very contemporary-looking instrument, with wavy curves that seems to have been inserted in an odd place in the rear right corner. I still think the organ by itself is absolutely beautiful. 

We had ice cream at a very popular dessert shop, and I had mint chocolate chip in a waffle cone. I didn't get as much as in America, but it still filled me up! We ate our cones as we walked back to the car. 

Ben stopped at a supermarket to get items for the salad he was making. Tonight was the Schmidt get-together, and I was going to see all of my German family. 

We went to his apartment and I got to see his wife, Judith. She teaches at an international school in Hannover, so we talked a lot about students and school life and politics and pretty much everything under the sun! It's great to be able to talk so comfortably with both Ben and Judith. Just last year they stopped by my house in Michigan, and it was at that time I had said I was considering a trip out to Germany. Now here I am!

The three of us drove back to my aunt and uncle's house for our barbeque. My other cousin, Rebekah, along with her husband and two boys, arrived not long after us. I hadn't seen Bekah in many years, and it was great to see her with her family! Her oldest son is very smart, but was shy around me with my American English. I tried my best to say a couple of German phrases, but he never bit. Oh well. 

The one thing that I did do with him was play catch! In the basement of the house we discovered two baseball mits and baseballs that used to be my cousins'. Judith took them upstairs to my little cousin and they started to play catch with each other. He is more into soccer, but eventually he was doing a nice throw to her. Then we switched and he and I got to play catch a little bit! Eventually he yelled, "kein baseball!" ("No baseball!") and got out the soccer ball again. 

The dinner we had was all varieties of meat on the grill as well as bread and two salads. I had bratwurst, but it wasn't on a bun - I just dipped it into mustard and ate it that way. Ben had bought me dark beer since I said that I preferred that, so I drank that, too. 

There was English spoken, but sometimes the family would be having conversations with each other in German. I treated it as an opportunity to train my ear to listen for familiar words. For example, Bekah asked for the ketchup, and I gave her the red bottle. But I also gave her the barbeque sauce because I didn't know which one she really wanted! I picked out a few, especially when my baby cousin was falling asleep: "müde" means tired, and "schlaf" means sleep (if you aren't aware of the German verse of "Silent Night,").

I haven't seen some of this family in years, and I don't know the next time I'll see them again. So many people live just a few miles from the rest of their family, while mine is spread out all over the world! I consider myself very fortunate that I was able to hang out with everyone while I was here, and finally fulfill a promise to come out in the first place. 

But wait! There's four more days in Germany to go! Tomorrow we get to tour a little bit of Luther land. Any guesses where we'll be going? Until then - tschüss!

Read about my trip to a Luther site HERE!

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