“You always meet twice in life” / Man sieht sich immer zweimal im Leben!

Time flies. My final week in Cologne is now in the books. Just like that, my summer abroad has come to an end. My last week abroad was just as exciting and full of adventure as any other week!

The week started on Sunday with a nice breakfast and conversation together with Klaus and his wife, Monica. After breakfast we hit the road and headed to Aachen, a German city right on the boarder of Belgium and just a short drive away from Cologne.

In Aachen we walked around the old town, where we visited two more beautiful churches. Later, we walked through a cemetery for American soldiers from World War II. We ended the outing with Kaffee und Kuchen, coffee and cake!

For my final class on Friday, we visited the Amtsgericht, the local courthouse for Cologne. It was cool to see how the justice system in Germany compared to America while also putting my improved language skills to work in the real world!

The final week was full of goodbyes. I’ve made a number of friends in Cologne – from in class and outside – and saying goodbye is never easy. A German phrase I recently learned made the goodbyes a bit easier and filled them with a sense of hope: Man sieht sich immer zweimal im Leben!

The phrase literally translates to something like “You always see each other twice in life” or “You always meet twice in life.” It can be taken to mean that you shouldn’t burn bridges, since chances are you’ll see your acquaintances at least once more in the course of your lifetime. I take it to mean something more: Even though I’m leaving Germany for now, there’s always a good chance that I’ll return and reconnect. It’s a small world, and I’m confident this won’t be the final “Auf Wiedersehen” as I leave Germany.

Cologne Part 5: Churches, Big and Small

A City of Churches

Cologne is a city of many churches. The iconic Kölner Dom is world-famous and the instantly-recognizable center of the city. The city is literally built around Der Dom, and for good reason. It’s utterly massive and absolutely impressive. Pictures don’t do it justice.

But Der Dom is hardly the only church in the city — it’s just the most famous one. There are twelve famous romanesque churches throughout the city. I’ve visited a few of them, and they are absolutely beautiful. There are also a number of more “ordinary” smaller churches and parishes throughout the city. Cologne boasts one of the highest percentages of church-goers in the country, both Catholic and Protestant. In exploring churches in Cologne, I made a point of visiting both the big and the small, the famous and the ordinary. And what better way to explore churches than by going to Mass?

It’s easy to feel small inside the massive Kölner Dom

I have found that there is a certain appeal to both types of churches, big and small. Mass in the massive (pun intended) Kölner Dom makes one feel miniscule and insignificant under the lofty roof and towering gothic pillars. It reminds me how small we humans are in comparison to God. At the same time, praying with the rest of the congregation in the large cathedral fills the empty space with something holy and unites us tiny humans to something bigger. Der Dom is an experience of big and small all at once.

The light through the stained-glass windows at Dreikönigen is gorgeous

Meanwhile, going to Mass at smaller churches where the locals tend to go has its appeal as well. They feel much more homey and comfortable. One of my favorite places to go has been Dreikönigen parish. There, I feel like I’m part of the community, united by faith to the native Kölsch. The variety of people, young and old, reminds me of the variety in the Church and brings the liturgical experience much closer to home.


One of the coolest parts about going to Mass in Germany: the music! St. Augustine once said singing is like praying twice. Singing in a foreign language might be like singing three times, in that case! German liturgical music tends to rely heavily on the organ, which fills up the space and echoes beautifully throughout the church no matter its size. The Gotteslob books, pictured below, are the hymnals used in almost every church.




When it can be quite a task to understand the priest or figure out the meaning of the readings, music is a much more relaxing, powerful way to praise God and is always much easier to translate than other parts of the Mass. As it has been said, music is the universal language, and it mediates both prayer and learning a few new German words!

The organ in Der Dom is located high above the congregation

The Best Part: People

In addition to being a great way to pray and connect with God, going to church has also been a great way to connect with new people! Mass is as much of a social event in Germany as in the U.S. or anywhere else. I have enjoyed a few nice conversations with people I’ve met at Mass, and the sign of peace offers a liturgical moment to meet people in the surrounding area. The Eucharist is a sacrament that brings all sorts of people together, and that has rung true during my time in Cologne.

Outside of the liturgy, parishes are often the site of extra-curricular social events as well. In Dünnwald, the local parish was the center of the Dünnwalder Frühling festival. After Mass last weekend at Dreikönigen, a marching band performed on the church grounds in the celebration of a local parish group much like the Knights of Columbus in the U.S. Der Dom, as a tourist attraction, brings people from around the world together to catch a glimpse of the architectural wonder. Churches bring people together and are a great way to connect with the local community.

The main stage at Dünnwalder Frühling
The band gets ready to perform after Mass at Dreikönigen

Cultural attitudes toward minorities

One day I visited a modern art gallery called the Lensbach house. It houses the world’s finest collection of art from the “Blue Rider” movement. Championed in Munich by Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, and Germans Franz Marc, August Macke, and Gabriele Münter, the movement focused more on the influence of pure color in eliciting human emotion rather than form itself – the first step toward the formless creations of the Moderns. It was a fantastic exhibition, but right when the museum was closing I had a very interesting conversation with an 63-year-old Armenian museum worker named Levo (Leo, in English). I always love staying at galleries close to closing time, because they are the least busy. This conversation started with Levo telling me I needed to scat because they were closing soon. I think I tried to inject some comedic relief to start a conversation and it went from there. I told him I speak some German and he immediately opened up, telling me about how he was very disappointed with his life in Armenia, and decided to follow his older children to Germany in search of a better life. His son and daughter moved to Germany to start a business, and he came with, living with them for awhile but eventually finding his own place. He said his wife passed 6 years ago, and since then he’s been quite lonely, saying that Germany is fun if you’re young. While his story seemed quite somber, this statement intrigued me. He said that if you’re an older immigrant in Germany, people don’t pay much attention to you. Being young in a new land, like his children were when they came, has loads of opportunities in store, even if small streaks of prejudice exist. But he mentioned principally his lack of job opportunities outside of service, as well as his regional disconnect from his own Armenian diaspora. He said it is hard to integrate, because most Armenian immigrants are much younger than him. Pockets of familiarity exist in Munich, he said, but the biggest road block for his ultimate prosperity was a profound isolation in a society that didn’t, I think, outwardly try to isolate people of his demographic. After a few minutes of conversation his colleague came over and passive-aggressively told us to part, so the conversation ended rather abruptly. But it stuck with me. Levo’s courage in leaving his home country over the age of 50 had seemed to bring him more distress than prosperity, but he persisted. I know on paper his story seems sad, but he presented his short narrative in a really matter-of-fact tone. I don’t think Levo is a sad man, I don’t think he has any regrets. He was at peace with his decision to leave Armenia, but was brutally honest with me about his current state of affairs. This really got me thinking about the nuances of immigration. Many factors played into his situation – the city he chose to settle down in (Munich is quite conservative for a large city), his age, and his particular ethnicity. It got me thinking about older immigrants and the particular struggle their age poses. These are questions I need to think about further, but Levo’s story really opened my eyes to the array of struggles immigrants face.

Attitudes toward the United States

While I didn’t formally interview three people of different ages, I have had an innumerable number of conversations about US culture and politics, especially as compared with Germany. My Guesthouse owner, a woman 60 years of age, expressed extreme discontent about the US pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement. She is generally fond of Americans and the United States, but this political news opened up a new can of worms of her views on the US’s actions to combat climate change. She complained about our lack of perspective as a nation with a threefold punch of unprecedented power, influence, and geographic isolation. She made the case that the US is far behind Europe in creating a society less based around consumption and more around minimalism. I think my main response to this is that the US, throughout it’s history, has been arguably the purest capitalist state ever produced. I would cut us a little bit of slack in the transition from rampant consumerism, a stereotype for which we are widely known, to a more frugal society. Nonetheless, I think we can learn a lot from the green way Germans live – for they are a much older nation with a distinctly different history than us. Another conversation about this topic that struck a tone with me was with some Russian kids I became friends with. They held more progressive views about the current state of the Russian federation and had really nothing negative to say about the United States, surprisingly. They all mentioned that Russia, and by extension Putin, runs under the false mask of democracy. They said that dissenters of Putin are silenced, and media is highly censored behind the scenes. This lead to a discussion about the volatility and intensity of the US media. My friends said they are amazed at what our media is allowed to and does say, on both sides of the aisle. They said they love consuming American news media because it is, in their view, a pure crusade to make every perspective available. Yes, sometimes, to disavow and tear down others, but they were awestruck about savagery with which our media functions. A hot topic was Colbert’s daily lambasting of Trump. The dichotomy between our countries’ respective media approaches definitely sparked interest from both sides – mine and theirs.

Cologne Part 4: Bonn?


On Sunday, my landlord and “host father” Norbert, Klaus’s brother, took me out for the day to explore Cologne and the surrounding area.

We started out on the right side of the Rhine in Cologne, visiting the Altenberger Cathedral, often called the “cousin” of Der Kölner Dom, the iconic cathedral in Cologne. There was no Mass or service going on, but we stopped to look around inside, pray, and listen to beautiful organ music echoing throughout the church. Norbert explained some of the history of the cathedral, and pointed out that it’s actually older than Der Dom. Afterwards, we stopped for a Kaffeestunde, or “coffee hour,” enjoying coffee, cake, and conversation on the scenic campus of the Church.

Afterwards, we headed to Petersberg, a tall hill (not quite a mountain) outside of Bonn, just a half-hour drive from Cologne. Atop the hill sits a hotel, known as Hotel Petersberg. The hotel is the official guest house of the German republic and has hosted esteemed guests including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Queen Elizabeth, and Nelson Mandela, among others. Perhaps even greater than its guest list, however, is its gorgeous panoramic view of Bonn over the Rhine.

After our visit to Hotel Petersberg, we traveled downriver and across the Rhine by ferry — after Bonn, there are no bridges over the Rhine for 80km! It was truly picturesque driving through the Rhine region.

Mundo Lingo and Kölsch

One of the most rewarding and fun experiences I’ve had in Cologne so far comes up every Wednesday evening: Mundo Lingo! Mundo Lingo is an event meant to encourage people to meet, talk, and practice languages! The event takes place at a hostel bar every Wednesday, and everyone wears flag stickers representing the languages they can speak — in my case, the American and German flags!

Next, you grab a Kölsch — the famed and beloved delicacy of Cologne. My host dad explained to me that “Kölsch” is the only thing in the world that refers to both a beverage and a dialect, and both are allegedly unbeatably smooth. Indeed, Cologne residents speak a smooth dialect of German which does away with the hard “ch” sound in “ich” and opts for a smoother “shhhh” sound, as in “isch” or “Kölsch.” The beer is brewed only in and around Cologne, and is usually served in a small, 20ml glass.

The small serving size makes it a great beer for conversations. The atmosphere at Mundo Lingo is friendly, laid-back, and of course full of conversation. I befriended a group which includes a German and Iranian. We talk about our experiences in Germany, opinions on our homelands, favorite foods, and whatever comes to mind, all in German, of course. It’s amazing to be part of the cultural exchange and friendship, all mediated by the beautiful German language, and topped off with a refreshingly smooth Kölsch!

Cologne Part 3: Frühstück and Übersetzen!

Last Sunday, Klaus invited me to his house for Frühstück —– breakfast. We had a great, typical German breakfast with toast, jam, slices of meat, salmon, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, and coffee, and of course a wonderful conversation over the meal!

After a nice, long meal and conversation, we sat down together in his living room. Our task: Übersetzten! We needed to work together to translate a text Klaus had written from Deutsch to English, and I couldn’t have been more excited for the challenge that awaited!

Klaus explained that his long-lost cousin (quite literally), whose grandparents had moved to America before World War II, came into contact with him over a year ago after digging through some of his grandma’s old documents and finding his contact information. The newfound correspondence eventually led to a visit a few months ago in May, and Klaus and his cousin were re-united.

Klaus enjoys writing portraits in his freetime – short, descriptive biographies with more of a personal touch, about any- and everyone he finds the least bit interesting. In memory of the visit, he composed a portrait of his cousin, in German, of course. The problem was that he wanted to share it with his cousin, who only speaks English. The solution: eine Übersetzung!

A preview of Klaus’s original text

For the next three hours, that’s exactly what Klaus and I worked on together. Sentence by sentence, I came up with a rough translation, and then we worked and re-worked it until we were both satisfied with how it sounded. Klaus writes beautiful German. Some sentences were particularly challenging to translate — there are some things that sound better in German, and many German sentence constructions don’t have an English equivalent that matches up perfectly. Each time we finally settled on a good translation for a sentence, we experienced a feeling of relief and accomplishment — we understood each other and created something that would allow others to understand as well!

Eventually we made it through the document and quit for the day, but there was still room for the translation to be improved. We’re meeting tomorrow for another Frühstück followed by some Übersetzen!

Klaus picks some weeds in his Garten

The whole experience was great, and I am really looking forward to tomorrow as well. I got a better appreciation for the difficulties in translating – it wasn’t easy. In many ways, translating is its own art form, like composing a whole new portrait, and it requires both a firm understanding of the language and the intentions of the original composer; luckily for me, I had the author in front of me the whole time and working with me, which helped greatly. Beyond the intense language practice, it was also an exercise in cultural understanding and a neat glimpse into the life of Klaus’s family – a portrait of German-American relations. I see myself as another piece in the mosaic of German-American cultural exchange, both representing American culture myself and stepping back to appreciate the big picture.



Immer in Bewegung

The title of this post “Immer in Bewegung” roughly means “always on the move” and it sums up pretty well my activities over the past week. On Tuesday I hopped on a train and headed 45 minutes out to the nearby city of Augsburg. Augsburg is a great city filled with history and offers a bit more of a relaxed pace than Munich. It played an important role in the past as a meeting place of the Imperial Diet and was also the home of Bertolt Brecht. My chief interest in going there was to visit its incredible medieval cathedral, which contains the oldest stained glass windows in all of Europe. Although badly damaged by Allied bombs during the war, the windows and much of the artwork survived. The attached Diocesan museum had incredible artifacts, including the cathedral’s original 11th century wooden doors. While wandering around the city, I haphazardly entered an evangelical church and encountered a group of American Lutheran pilgrims from Indiana and Illinois. It turned out the church and convent was where Martin Luther had been imprisoned for a short while in 1518. There’s history at every turn in Germany!

On Thursday, I took the S-Bahn out to the town of Tutzing to hike the Ilkahöhe. One of the benefits of staying in one place for an extended period of time (as opposed to standard on-the-move tourism) is that I’ve been able to see many places not commonly visited by regular tourists on a schedule. The Ilkahöhe is one such example. The trail is about 7 miles roundtrip and leads up to a mountain overlooking the Starnberger See and a chain of the Alps. It’s an extremely peaceful place with cows grazing, families biking, and older couples taking a stroll. There was a small pretty parish church and a convenient beer garden there as well. I sat on the lookout vista of the Ilkahöhe and spent several hours reading.

On Friday afternoon, I grabbed a Flixbus down to Innsbruck. Although it was pretty rainy, I spent the evening exploring around the old town and the nearby University district. I stayed the night at a great local hostel that also serves as a work training center for disabled individuals. The next morning, on the recommendation of the Rick Steves tour book, I took the bus about a half hour to a small town called Hall in Tirol. It was very pretty and had an interesting coin minting museum and a beautiful basilica. I enjoyed eating a delicious Wurst at the ongoing farmer’s market and watching daily life in a regular Austrian village. I went back to Innsbruck and spent a few more hours exploring, visiting the Golden Roof museum and the St. Jakob Dom before going to an English Mass at the Jesuitkirche. After three weeks of only attending German liturgies, it felt a bit weird hearing it in English again.

On Sunday I needed to relax a bit, so I stuck around Munich and visited the Egyptian Art Museum and the Deutsches Museum. After a nice Currywurst lunch, I headed down to the Isar and spent the rest of the day lounging, reading, and swimming at the river.

Classes are going great! I’m getting a lot more comfortable with my vocabulary and speaking abilities.


Cologne Part 2: Good Conversations

Last week was an exciting one! Being immersed in the language has helped my German speaking skills and confidence improve, and the language classes are going great. After class last Thursday, a group took a trip to the famous Schokolade Museum, or Chocolate Museum, right in the middle of Cologne! Not only did we learn about the history of chocolate cultivation and consumption, but they also displayed a chocolate packaging machine in which the chocolate is poured, hardened, separated, and bundled up for delivery! Pope Francis even made an appearance as a chocolate mold on display!

Of course, there was also a giant chocolate fountain, and I did get to sample some as well!

Perhaps one of the best memories of last week, even better than chocolate, was a conversation I had with Sugras, a 23-year-old Mongolian native who has been living in Germany for over a year. He lives in the same house as me, two doors down, but we actually ran into each other by chance at the Straßenbahn stop down the street on Saturday evening.

We went back to the house and Sugras offered to make dinner. He prepared Chinese beef dumplings — who would have thought I would get the chance to enjoy Chinese cuisine in Germany?! As he made dinner, we had a good, long conversation which covered many topics. He talked about his experience as a minority in Germany — that is, a non-native German.

To him, many Germans appear cold at first, especially in public places like the Straßenbahn or on the street. People don’t smile at him, and it would feel out of line for anyone to talk to a stranger. In my experience in the U.S. and especially the Midwest, by contrast, it’s not completely out of the ordinary for someone to have a conversation with a total stranger as if they’re good friends. He wishes people would be a bit more friendly. Interestingly, he has found that when he speaks English – and not German – people pay more attention to him and are more willing to talk to him.

We also talked about politics and religion; Donald Trump is always an interesting topic of conversation for people who get a chance to talk to an American about it! Sugras, like many Mongolians, practices Shamanism, a spiritual religion which pays special respect to ancestors and forefathers. Interestingly, Sugras had only a vague idea of what Christianity was, and offered some views of religious conflict after I gave him a brief overview of Jesus’s story.

I’ve also had some conversations with Niyyat, another tenant in our house and my next-door neighbor, who comes from Azerbaijan. He speaks primarily English as he’s studying IT networking at a local university. He commented on his experience telling Germans where he’s from — most people can’t locate his country on a map, he says. He finds this issue extends beyond just Azerbaijan, and notes that Germans struggle with other countries’ geographical location in his experience as well. If people were more educated about where countries are located and what’s going on in the world, he thinks xenophobia would be much less prevalent. For instance, German UN forces are in Syria; if people realized this, they might be more welcoming toward Syrian refugees.

It’s always fascinating to learn about how people from other countries view the world, and Germany is a country full of migrants today, offering a unique opportunity for cultural exchange. Food, ideas, and conversations are always great, and Germany is a great place for all of those things!

Cologne Part 1: My Home in Germany

Now that I have been in Cologne for a couple of weeks, I wanted to reflect on one of my favorite aspects of my experience so far: my “home” in Cologne. Though my educational experience is centered in the classroom, home life has been important to both my learning of the German language and my engagement in the local culture.

The Rhine River runs right through the middle of Cologne, North to South, and divides the city into two halves: the “Rechte Seite des Rheins” and the “Linke Seite des Rheins.” Though it’s all one city, some residents like to argue that there’s a slightly different feel to each side, and there’s a friendly sort of rivalry between the two halves of the city.

For the first two weeks in Cologne, I stayed with a host family on the right side of the Rhine. They were great in so many ways! We had breakfast and dinner together every day, and not only was my host dad’s home cooking delicious and authentically German, but our mealtime conversations were informative, entertaining, and auf Deutschnatürlich! This extra, constant immersion in the language has improved my conversation abilities and confidence. I also learned about the history of Cologne through their eyes, and got tips on cool places and events to check out in the city.

The Band from Dünnwalder Frühling

One such event was Dünnwalder Frühling, or “Dünnwald Spring,” a street festival-like event just a few blocks from the house! The event was attended by the surrounding neighborhoods and included a live band, games for kids, food, and tents featuring local businesses. I went with my family for the afternoon and enjoyed the taste of local culture!

For the past few days, I have been living on the left side of the Rhine in a different house. This time, I’m renting a room on the second floor, with three other students living on the floor as well, from Mongolia, Armenia, and Germany. It’s a new and unique experience to be able to interact with young people of different backgrounds beyond just Germans. Though we all speak different languages, we primarily communicate in German, again providing constant opportunity to improve even outside of the classroom.

The owner of the house and his brother, both native Kölners, are both extremely hospitable and interact with me on a regular basis as well. After moving in here over the weekend, Klaus invited me to go to an open-air museum with his wife and some friends for the day. The museum was acres large and depicted life as it would have been here centuries ago, complete with real farm animals (that’s a goat with me!) and oven-baked bread from freshly horse-mill grinded wheat! Moreover, it was great to spend the entire day communicating in German and getting to know Klaus and his friends. It’s an experience I won’t forget.

Klaus & I at the open-air museum

Exploring Salzburg and Bayern

I’ve had a very full couple of days in the past week. It’s awesome to have my afternoons and weekends free to explore Munich and the surrounding countryside. Last Thursday, acting on a recommendation from another student at the CDC, I rented a bike and rode several miles in both directions along the Isar River. It was a very hot day out, so hundreds of families were out relaxing and swimming in the river. I took a little swim myself to cool off and join in the fun. It’s very interesting to see the various social differences between Germany and the United States. For example, many people (both young and old) sunbathing along the river were naked and probably half the swimmers were skinny dipping – there just doesn’t seem to a comparable social stigma about the body here in Germany.  Having a bike allowed me to see a lot of new areas of the city and it was great fun.

On Friday afternoon, I caught a bus to Salzburg after class. I explored the town throughout the evening and visited most of the main tourist sites. I enjoyed having a whole conversation with another man in German as I hiked up to the Fortress. I’m getting a lot better at using the language conversationally. I stayed the night at a youth hostel – where they were conveniently playing “The Sound of Music.” The next morning, I got up really early and went for a run around the Kapuzinerberg and stopped in one of the churches I passed and was fortunate enough to hear the cloistered Franciscan monks singing their morning Lauds. It was a cool reminder that there is still a part of Salzburg removed from the tourist shops and sightseeing tours. I caught a bus to Berchtesgaden to visit the Kehlsteinhaus (in English known as the Eagle’s Next), Hitler’s former mountaintop retreat. It was quite crowded but the skies were fairly clear, making for incredible views. I had a nice conversation with an Alabama fan who saw my ND shirt and jokingly gave me grief about our historically bad season this year. I caught an evening bus back to Salzburg and got in pretty late.

Early on Sunday morning I trekked back to the bus station and headed out to Garmisch. It’s a fairly small vacation town about an hour south of Munich famous as the site of the 1936 Winter Olympics and as a major site for Ski Jumpers. I attended Mass at the big local parish and was able to understand a fair amount of the homily, but I was more interested to see how everyone there was dressed. Most all of the men were wearing Lederhosen and the women were wearing beautiful traditional Dirndl dresses. It was cool to see that Bavarians really wear these cultural outfits as dress clothes, as most of the men in Munich I had seen in Lederhosen were either waiters or employed in the tourism industry. I trekked up to the old Olympic Stadium and hiked through a geographical wonder called the Partnachklamm Gorge and explored the surrounding trails. There were many German couples and families out hiking as well on that beautiful Sunday.

I’m now in my third week of classes – time is flying by way to fast. I’m so incredibly thankful for this opportunity and I’m trying to make the most of everyday.