After a whirlwind first day, I couldn’t wait to see what lied ahead. After setting my alarm at 6:30 in order to not be late for the 8:00am meet up in the morning, I was still feeling the lingering effects of jet lag combined with a long day prior. I would always arrive at breakfast with no shame by being the only one to show up in gym shorts and a random shirt. Everyone else waiting until they were changed and dressed before heading down didn't work with my routine of eating as soon as I woke up. I headed to the basement breakfast area and saw a nice line of food to put on my plate. I grabbed what would become my breakfast for the next 4 days; a roll, butter or jelly, some salami, eggs, and juice. The only atypical item for Germans for breakfast seems to be the abundance of cold cuts and yogurt. Hurrying up once I finished breakfast, I got all of my camera equipment ready to lug around the country for the day. It definitely wasn’t light, but would prove invaluable at documenting my time in Germany. The day’s agenda had us visiting a unique German school, which was 2 hours away in the city of Sindelfingen. From the outside, it looked like your typical USA school, built in the 1960s. Walking on the damp day to the entrance, I noticed the random graffiti strewn across the school walls at Gemeinschaftsschule im Eichholz. As I walked with the group to our destination, we were able to see students of seemingly all ages. We arrived in a large room, suitable for presentations. The principal welcomed us with a German coffee cake, chocolates, and fizzing water. In Germany, their educational system is very different from ours. While the dream for most in the United States is to complete high school and to attend a university, in Germany there are different tracks students can follow. After sixth grade they can head towards a vocational career path or they can head towards a university track. We were inundated with talk once we arrived regarding how companies partner with the school system in an effort to help students who are in the vocational path to have a sort of internship. 2/3 of everything they learn in school is regarding the vocation and the rest is about general knowledge. Many Germans it was also apparent were taught several languages and were able to hold their own when we would talk to them. Another big difference is that all schools teach religion. Religion is funded through taxes and you can elect to pay for a religion tax or not. If you don’t have a religion to be taught, you can be taught an ethics course. There was also, much to my surprise, a partnership mentioned between the unions and the public officials. A partnership between unions and unions being seen in a positive light is unheard of in the USA. My goal for the day was to shoot the German version of 3 Thoughts about the USA. I had received pre-approval to do so and I was able to meet several somewhat shy Germans who did a great job answering the questions. I was surprised by what they said about USA. Many people brought up New York and fast food. ‘Merica. When we finished visiting the classes, we were introduced to the mayor, who seemed like an affable man with poor English language abilities. After his brief welcome speech, we had a forum conversation with several students from earlier in the day. Their questions for us were comical, asking about uniforms, sports, and homework. Our last part of the day at the school had us dinning on the school’s cafeteria food. The first thing I noticed was we were served bottled fizzy water. Next, we were served on glass plates with silverware. This continued to reinforce Germany’s insistency of being a green environment. We ate lasagna-esque spätzel, dumplings that were as good as cafeteria dumplings could be, less than desirable to my liking sour potato salad, and topped off for dessert, a goopy mess of yogurt with peaches. I was definitely still hungry after the school visit. Along the way, charmingly, Jenny had mentioned she had a surprise for us. She said we have a chocolate factory tour we could attend. The look on her face expecting reciprocating jubilation only to see exhausted adults was comical. Without speaking, we said to just go back to the hotel. Once at the hotel, we were able to have some free time to do our own thing for the night and that dinner was on us. I stayed behind to get caught up on pictures, sleeping, and simply catching my breath by about an hour. I also wanted to get some walking in so I walked alone to the downtown area, hoping to be able to find it on my own. Luckily, all I had to do was look towards the sky and I could see the castle overlooking the city. Upon arriving in the city’s downtown area, it was so peaceful to be able to break free from the group and have some alone exploring time. I headed down the main stretch where there were countless stores, which if I had more time, money, and room to carry, I would look into shopping at. I eventually ran into Kris and Christina, who told me that everyone was meeting at the bar down the corner block. I headed to the location and inside the dimly lit and packed bar were half of the familiar TOP member’s faces. I sat with Jenny, Tom, Michelle, Lou, and Amy. Michelle and I had agreed to split a meal and I was so thankful that she had wanted to try schnitzel cordon-bleu. It would be the single best meal I ate on the trip and I definitely wished I didn’t have to share it’s amazing flavors. The taste was out of this world with the fried veal and crust, infused with bleu cheese and ham in the center. After finishing dinner, I offered anyone who wanted to do a nighttime picture walk. I assumed Amy would join, but she was still hurting from an accident she suffered days ago. She offered me her camera and told me in about 45 minutes the sun will set perfectly behind the castle. I assumed no one else would be interested, yet to my surprise, Lou was willing to go. Lou was game to join me and we walked through the now familiar streets, through side streets, having a wonderfully surprising conversation. She definitely was open minded to a lot of new ideas and I appreciated her effort to enjoy the world. We eventually made our way to set up the tripod on the Heidelberg bridge. The shot was going to be amazing. I figured I could still get a cool looking time lapse. The sunset time was off, as I kept having to tell Lou we’d be done in 5 more minutes over the course of an hour. This is due to being told the sun would set an hour earlier than when it eventually did. I was able to get some spectacular pictures, showcasing my new investment in the camera. We headed back, continuing our conversation. Along the way, we got lost for two blocks in the wrong direction and some German hospitality arrived right on time. Looking like fish out of water, a kind stranger got us back on the right path and Lou couldn’t have been more laid-back regarding my ill fated directions back to the hotel. Arriving back at the hotel at about 11:30 didn’t help me catchup on the lost sleep from two days ago. Hopefully the next day would help out a little more.
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.