I've been very fortunate to fulfill my passion for traveling in my life. Here's a map of all the places I can remember having visited. Most have been in the last couple of years. I only labeled the main places I've visited in Michigan, but I've pretty much been everywhere in the mitten!
Upon hearing I received an amazing opportunity to visit Indonesia, I started to think... wow, this is so different from my experience visiting Germany. While Germany I was able to list many relevant pieces of information pertaining to its rich culture and history, I'm left with an almost blank slate regarding visiting Indonesia. Coming in with very little information is actually a great benefit as no preconceived assumptions will have taken place. If I had to say three things that I know about Indonesia, they are very, very basic.
1. They have the highest Muslim population in the world (almost under the radar since most people don't think of Indonesia as having a high Muslim population, they often think of a place in the Middle East or South West Asia.
2. Indonesia is a country that is an archipelago. They have many, many islands in the South Eastern Hemisphere.
3. The country of Indonesia has the 4th largest population in the world. This too is surprising as it as well I feel is under the radar with this. Possibly it's because we don't hear about the country in the news as often as compared to other countries. This I must admit I cheated as I believe I found this out after the fellowship.
Here's a video from my TGC group regarding the importance of a global classroom.
The San Diego Zoo made this great video, highlighting our amazing experience.
I'm very excited to announce that I've been accepted to the Teachers for Global Classrooms (TGC)/IREX fellowship for the 2016/17 program on behalf of the United States Department of State. This program will provide a great wealth of knowledge regarding how to incorporate teaching about global education into the curriculum. Starting in the fall I have a 10 week course that will provide plentiful resources on global education. In the spring I will be attending the Global Education Symposium in Washington DC. The culminating activity will have me visiting another country in the summer of 2017. I'll find out where it is after the 10 week course.
During my time in New Orleans at the National Council for the Social Studies, I was able to meet several TOP alumns. They shared their thoughts on how the TOP program has helped their career.
Top asked me to join them and attend the National Council for the Social Studies Conference (NCSS) in New Orleans. It didn't take long for me to immediately say "Yes!". We were there to promote the TOP Germany program. Let's see how hard this sell is... amazing life changing experience provided in full by an amazing group of people, where you can learn about German culture and history, while bringing this back to your school and community? Seems like an easy job! :) I loved visiting New Orleans. It was an amazing city that definitely lived up to the hype.
The companion video to my 3 Thoughts about Germany.
Here is a posting about our visit from the Gemeinschaftsschule I'm Eicholz school we visited. Still I don't know what it's saying, but we had a great time.
With all the Cold War talk, here's a link to a Nuclear Detonation Timeline. It's pretty scary stuff. Great resource for the classroom.
It was only in November that I received an email from my assistant principal that set me off towards this great adventure. Fast forward to an application obsessive submission in February, to waiting a mere two weeks for TOP to tease a picture of the applications on their Facebook page. Coming home from conferences at Van Hoosen after my wife sent me a picture of the long awaited response letter made for one of the longest drives home. Celebrating an unreal opportunity to waiting and prepping for several months made this trip have an immense pressure to deliver upon unreal expectations of hype, which it most certainly did. Communicating ahead of time with the group made for a sense of familiarity with the group before meeting in person. The smile from my face could not be removed throughout the venture to Germany. To think someone had enough faith and confidence in me to provide me with an opportunity, was the lens I had throughout this trip. Now that this is over, the minimal tasks that TOP needs of me makes me feel like I owe them so much more for what they have provided me. I can't wait to share my experiences with my family, friends, and my school community.
The relationships developed over the course of two weeks were also memorable. I know is the bond and experiences I've shared will not be forgotten. This trip should be on a reality television show. Take 15 teachers from different states, of different ages, races, political beliefs, and bladder control and put them together for 15 days and see who will survive. Luckily we didn't lose anyone. It definitely was an eclectic mix of people as there was a constituent from Georgia, the Midwest, California, and other parts of the good ol' USA. I can't stress enough how varied we were, yet somehow we were able to become a cohesive unit. I have been definitely humbled in the presence of so many teachers who share a similar passion for education and thirst for knowledge. Rarely am I in such company that continues to pursue understanding of culture and history. For as strong as the relationships are, I was definitely ready to go home by the end. I do miss my wife. This has set in with the last four days in Berlin or so as I long for her company. Summer has officially started back in Michigan and I would love to sit back and enjoy our time together. Thankfully, I'll be able to start it with a rich collection of exciting memories to share. I can't thank enough the TOP organization and the GOETHE Institute for this amazing opportunity.
3 words for Germany - After visiting Germany, I've come across these thoughts regarding what 3 thoughts come to mind when I think about Germany.
Remembrance - The World Wars wasn’t the beginning and the end of German history. Germany’s past is omnipresent in every city. Unlike the United States that has a definite beginning date, 1776 and the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Germany has no starting date. One could mention the Visigoths, to the start of the Prussian Empire, to the fall f the Berlin Wall, to any of the civilizations which have conquered Numerous cities are tied to the World Wars as many had to be rebuilt since the destruction of WWII. Germany preserves this rich history in the buildings, the culture, and the people who embrace all different sects of the government. Germany celebrates it’s rich history in the numerous castles which have been built, with strict ordinance codes to not alter the buildings far beyond their original state. Walking through any of the historical cities and you can see the pride Germans have in the cities like Heidelberg, Schwäbish, and Geisa. Beyond celebrating the past, the elephant in the room for all Germans is the dark age of World War II, the Holocaust, and the Cold War. Through the memorials, preservation of various landmarks which represent the location of the atrocities like Buchenwald Memorial and Pointe Alpha Memorial, and the outlawing of Nazi symbolism, Germany is making steps to not only move forward, but also acknowledge the past.
Rebirth - two different eras of modern Germany, before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. These dark days loom loud over the people and cities of Germany, yet aren’t the end of a story, rather the beginning of a new chapter. There now is a large portion of the German population born after the fall of the Berlin Wall. These dark times now only stories and words, not tangible memories. Germany has changed it’s policies and direction immensely in order to avoid the past. They have regulations on their ability to declare war, removed any Nazi ties, and have spent time and energy rebuilding the Eastern side of Germany. Germany now is a leading member of the European Union, a country far ahead of its time with environment protection, and the second leading country for immigration. Germany’s dark days are behind them as they continue to look towards the road ahead. They continue to not forget the road which they traveled to get them to where they are right now.
Beautiful buildings. - Every city and every building has some ties to the past whether the buildings are reflective of the Renaissance Era, the Prussian empire, or contemporary architecture, each building tells a story. A major period of time for all the buildings seems to be World War II. When visiting many buildings, one of the first facts I would come across was whether or not the building was destroyed during WWII or if it stayed in tact. Germany made a huge effort to restore many buildings to their original glory. Also, after the Cold War and Soviet Occupation, East Germany, From the small towns like Geisa, to the centuries old cities like Schwäbish and Heidelberg, to the bridging of historical Germany with the modern in cities like Leipzig and Berlin, Germany is home to a beautiful landscape.
On the plane and heading home. How refreshing right now it is to say this. I've loved Germany and the memories I've gained, but I'm ready to go home. It's been an unforgettable experience. Only now as I sit on the plane heading home do I have a my first few moments to try and digest what I've experienced over the past two weeks. It's been an incredible journey. A country that has always been associated with a dark past has shed a refreshing, forward thinking glaze over my eyes. Germany stands at the forefront of conservation and economic advancement. They celebrate their rich history while recognizing the brutal mistakes of the past. They aren't stuck in the atrocities as they've turned the page since the World Wars and the Cold War, yet take these dark times to remember the past and learn from the mistakes. Yesterday, I asked our guide Jörge about what the German dream is (as the American Dream is to have a family, nice house, car, etc). His answer was meant as a joke, but I honestly believe their is a sense of honesty hidden. “The German dream is to not mess up, get anyone mad, or do something wrong like we did in the past… and the dual system”. Funny last remark, but I do believe Germans can't hide the past, but in order to move forward they continue to acknowledge the atrocities. When we met with Dennis from our home visit two days ago in Berlin, he was very forward and upfront with bringing up the Holocaust and the stupidity of Neo-Nazism. I could never question the integrity of my grandparents as we are brought up to believe they are “The Greatest Generation” (though I somewhat question this, but I digress). To even question the morals of my elders is unfathomable. Without reservation, Dennis said his Grandparents most likely were involved in some fashion in the horrors of WWII, just no one would ever admit or discuss what happened. Germany has also laid memorials which we saw along the trip regarding these events, like Buchenwald, several in Berlin like the East Side Gallery, the random pieces of the wall, the WWII memorials, and Pointe Alpha Memorial. Learning about Germany's rich history was my most anticipated part of this trip, but since I only teach from 3500 BCE to 600 CE and 1900 to present, their has been a whole gap in time in German and European history I never knew much about. I saw the castles I never knew Germany had. When we arrived at the beginning of the trip in Heidelberg, I couldn't believe the buildings. For someone like myself who cares more about nature's beauty, architecture has never been something I would take much notice of when traveling. When our tour guide told us that Heidelberg was a rather new city at being 500 years old, I was aghast at the rich culture and tradition inherent in seemingly every building. We would constantly hear of some seemingly random building actually has a rich story. Perhaps the buildings, much to my surprise were the real highlight throughout the trip. The buildings varied throughout each city we visited, seemingly getting more modern the closer we headed to Berlin. Heidelberg felt like another world, from years and years ago, while Berlin seemed like it was ruled by a bunch of hipsters in an old city.
“Freeeeedoooommmm!!!” are the eternal words of William Wallace, courtesy of Braveheart. While a Scot has absolutely nothing to with Germany, the sentiment is universal. After living with a strict (though necessary schedule), the autonomy presented was refreshing. Although, it was planned by Jörge, Lauren, and I to essentially run and act like any other busy day with TOP. The main curveball would be the weather as gloomy skies and a less than favorable forecast were in the mix. Being from Michigan, Lauren and I were ready to brace the rain in an effort to see the self-hyped Potsdam yellow palace. While I knew nothing historically about the palace, from the few pictures I saw, I knew coming home and not seeing this would feel like a waste. When we set the time to leave for 10, this was a much needed day of sleeping in. When it came time to game plan in the lobby of the Motel One, everyone was ready to go, when Brett popped up and said he was still thinking of going. He made our jaws drop when he told us that he had never ridden a bike since he was a kid. This would be the last place I’d want to learn to bike, with the presumed winding roads and biking next to traffic, but he was up for the challenge. We were off to the train station to pick up a few last Euros before riding the train. I’m so grateful that Jörge was willing to go with us, even with a 75% chance of rain, he was game to join us. Along the train ride, we took in the views of Berlin, which juxtaposed beauty and modern architecture with gritty, graffiti and youthful expression. Arriving in Potsdam, we immediately walked to the nearby bike rental shop and hopped on our cruiser bikes. It had been a year since I last rode one, but I was excited to tour Potsdam on two wheels. Watching Brett fumble with his bike made me worry for how he was going to make it. Continually he was last behind us and the look on Jörge’s face, constantly checking on him, told that he was worried about how this would end. Biking down the streets of what looked like Grosse Pointe with the older, remodeled houses felt reminiscent of home. It was a stark departure from all the other places and modes of transportation we had used previously. Looking at the sky frequently, we were worried as to whether or not mother nature was going to cooperate. I took out my phone and decided to try and get some video for my eventual movie I was to make. The scenery was spectacular as we whizzed by homes that looked like it would take several lifetimes to try and afford. Jörge pointed out the places of stay for Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I was under the misconception that the famous Potsdam conference was held at the yellow palace, so when we finally arrived 3 miles later to see the actual location Cecilienhof Palace, a building which reminded me of Meadow Brooke Mansion, I was quite surprised. It’s amazing to me that simply the place of this conference has turned this building into a historical monument. When we finally arrived at the palace, Jörge asked us if we wanted to take a tour, but since this wasn’t the actual location I thought it was and nothing stood out, I voted to forgo the tour and see the yellow palace instead. Rain finally started to show, but I secured my camera in my rain coat, all the while sneaking pictures and video with my camera. Cruising further down the roads, we eventually made our way to the yellow palace, Sans Souci. Locking up our bikes, we headed past the large windmill and saw the entrance to the building. Being so accustomed to having either one of our guides or Jenny accompany us on tours, we let out sad and confused puppy dog faces unintentionally when Jörge told us he was going to wait outside for us on the tour. It felt like he was abandoning us, but he smirked and reassured us we’d be alright without him. While waiting in line we saw the back of the palace, the recreated ruin site, and we ventured into the front of the palace. I couldn’t help but associated the look with where I was married, Boulder Pointe, for it also had a similar yellow theme. The palace overlooked a wondrous courtyard and foundtain, with rows and rows of carefully sculpted boxwood plants. Unfortunately due to time, we weren’t able to venture for a closer look. Jörge gave us insights into who Frederick the Great was; an iconoclast, great leader, who had a flair and passion for the arts. Walking in to the palace, instantly we were besieged with large, gaudy, glittering gold and bronze adornments. Frederick the great led a tragic life due to the poor relationship with his father. After watching his father have his best friend killed, this led Frederick to want to have the capital of the Prussian empire in the new location in Potsdam. We used headsets to explain to us throughout the self guided tour. Entering the first main room, it radiated with gold accents on the walls and crystal chandeliers hung over our heads as we walked past the statues and paintings. While the entire tour lasted only 45 minutes and took us in to about 6 rooms, each room clearly showed a meticulous attention to detail. Upon exiting, the group seemed content to head back and finish the bike tour, but I made sure to spend several minutes and take pictures outside of the palace. The ride back was so peaceful and serene. After making our way back to drop off our bikes, we rode the train back to Alexanderplatz. Jörge presented us with the opportunity to purchase souvenirs at a mall he recommended. The mall was typical of Lakeside Mall, with 3 levels of stores. In typical Berlin fashion, the original Berlin wall must have run through the mall as their were large historical markers and pieces of the wall on display. Using the restroom, I again had to pay a Euro to use it. The first thing I did was get a Döner kebab with Jörge, though this one was nowhere near the level of taste as the one found two days prior. After perusing the mall, it was evident that this store had no ideal place to buy souvenirs, which worried me slightly as I hoped to finish my shopping for my wife here. I did take Jörge’s recommendation for the best Gelato and simply ordered what the lady in front of me had, a vanilla and chocolate scoop and a raspberry vanilla scoop. It was creamy and delicious. Afterwards, we headed straight to the Egyptian restaurant for the final group meeting. We were in a conference room and the lady facilitating the meeting was there to greet us as we waited for the rest of the group. They offered me a mint lemonade, which was truly unique. It tasted earthy, like fresh grass clippings, with a hint of sour, and full of mint. Not my ideal drink by any means, so I decided to gorge on still water, drinking over a liter on my own. Working through 3 reflective activities, we finished the night with a dinner together. When it came time to closing, I was asked to present Jörge with the group gift. When I got everyone’s attention, I briefly said thank you to Jörge and Katarina, their hospitatlity, and out of nowhere he gave me a hug and followed it up with a much better and longer speech. He praised our group and Americans for their hospitality. He also said that it’s great when you find people with similar interests and humor. Later, Katarina and Jenny received their gifts and we headed back to the hotel. It was a wonderful opportunity to close out our last meeting and dinner as a group. Later on at the hotel, I said my final goodbyes to Christina, Kristin, Tom, and Amy. We listened to Kristin’s one liner notebook and guessed who said what. I had made the book at least perhaps too many times. Finally, we all said good night and I went back and packed up one last time, gearing up for making my way back home.
This was an exhaustive trip, though I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. We started our last official day together as a group by taking the tram to the Auswärtiges Amt Besucherzentrum. The lecture was done by a passionate, intelligent, easy to understand professor, Wolf Wagner. He captured my attention throughout the 4 hour long presentation. I took notes furiously on my computer, trying to keep up with his mind-blowing, humorous, over-arching analysis of German and American relations, customs, and ideas. What he did was take everything we learned and saw on our trip and made it digestible and understandable. The best portion being when he ended with his America vs. Germany differences and they were laughable, but so true. Germans don’t use air conditioning, ice, don’t share their emotions as much, etc. One thing that flipped the TOP script is when he lambasted the dual system and praised the American educational system, contrary to the several other presentations which we had seen prior. Leaving this meeting, I was definitely revved back up to start the rest of the day, which was an exciting visit to the Berlin Wall. While random blocks of the wall would pop up sporadically throughout Berlin, there was really only one part where the wall still stood, untouched from graffiti. After taking another tram to this location, you could see the difference between East and West Germany by the cubical like housing apartments juxtaposed to the peaked roofed, intricately designed West Berlin apartments. The unique part was seeing a rust colored wall with about 150 black and white faces of the people who lost their lives trying to cross the border. Each was a sad tale, as there were some stories of very young children who fell into a river, but for fear of jumping in to save them due to the East German police, were left to drown. Most of the people who lost their lives were men. She did bring up the gentleman on my shirt I recently purchased, who was an East German military officer who risked everything to cross the border to West Germany, all the while dropping his gun in East Germany somewhat symbolically. Hans Conrad Schumann later killed himself as soon as the wall came down. We finished our tour at a 100 yard long stretch of the wall, where we were able to peer in and see no mans land as it appeared 25 years ago. It was a sparse, desolate wasteland, void of any life. To think this stretched the entire countryside and was continually guarded. It’s unfathomable to think this could happen in this day and age, then I simply think of North Korea. Afterwards, we split into three groups to visit three different homes from people who experienced the Berlin Wall firsthand. I went with Christina, Lou, Kris, and Michelle, along with Katarina who would simply drop us off. While waiting, we climbed an observation tower to overlook where we had just visited. After departing for the home visit, Katarina showed us the nearby city where affluent young German couples would strive to raise their families in the densely populated, trendy urban area. When we arrived at our home visit, I was shocked to see the front door covered in perhaps the most sinister graffiti I’ve witnessed. Inside reminded me of the abandon buildings in Detroit, but now we were to venture in and go without our guide as she was just dropping us off. Inside, we headed through the court yard where we saw bullet holes plastered along the towering side of the building. These holes were from WWII, still unpatched. Arriving at the apartment, we climbed three stairs and were greeted by a friendly German aspiring filmmaker. Inside, his apartment was covered with American movie memorabilia, in the confined spaces. It looked like a mini-college dorm, with his decorating style of lava lamps and movie posters. His kitchen was very quant, followed by his bathroom which was a renovated closet with a toilet plopped in the center. We stayed in his bedroom, adorned with various cultural knickknacks and movie equipment. He prepared us a strudel before we started. He explained his German film career, where he is working on developing a movie with filmmakers in many continents. What stood out for me from what he said was when he questioned the integrity and actions of his grandparents. He suggested that there is a good chance they did horrible things during WWII. I could never question my grandparents with these serious offenses. When finishing up with him, we made our way to Gaststätte, a German trendy bar. Before leaving Germany, I had to have one more schnitzel, unfortunately, this was lacking in quality compared to Heidelberg. Before leaving, I discussed with Jörge and Lauren our plans for tomorrow.
About Matthew Cottone
Experience the World! This is my creed I bring to my classroom and my life. I'm a World Studies teacher at Van Hoosen Middle School and I have a passion for learning and experiencing the world.