Sunday, May 26, 2013


Well the weather was definitely not ideal for exploring the beautiful city of Dresden. But being the great Minnesotans we are we didn't let a little cold wind stop us (and later rain). So we started off the tour seeing the beautiful church of our lady Mary.  A wedding was being held there that morning so the church wasn't open to visitors. It would be absolutely incredible to be married in the church. After that we walked to another church and on the way saw a huge mosaic on the side of a building that illustrated many royal figures from Dresden.

 The church we finally got to was another incredible sight with many statues of saints adorning the roof. It is a Catholic Church that had to be kept secret during construction since Dresden is primarily Protestant. After that we took a walk through a kind of courtyard that used to have orange trees growing. (Maybe they still do grow but we didn't see any). The courtyard was beautiful with Greek mythological statues all over and incredible views of the city. After pretending to be royal and promenade around we headed to a museum that had tons of art from the royals of Germany. So many intricate statues, boxes, plates, and figurines that were incredible. It seemed that everything was made of ivory, gold, silver, or had jewels all over. Needless to say I left feeling quite poor. 
We also got to see a Turkish display of old weapons and armor as well as a display of Medieval armor. The more I see medieval armor the more I am amazed that people could even move in it. After the art museum we went back to the church of our lady and got to walk around inside. It's really cool to see how great of a job they did restoring the church after it was essentially bombed to bits during World War Two. So after the long day in Dresden we headed home. I would love to go back someday when the weather is nicer. It's a very cool city. I can't believe the exchange is almost over. It feels like we just got here and I don't know what I will do without doner!! I've become addicted to the cheapness and deliciousness of them. I'll end with a cool quote that Anja told us about Dresden.  It is said that people go to Chemnitz (a town in Saxony) to work, they go to Leipzig to trade, and they go to Dresden to live and experience culture.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hospital Visit

Today we went to the University Hospital in Leipzig, which is where the students at the Berufsfachschule go for their clinicals. We were fortunate to run into a nurse named Clemens who went on the exchange several years ago and he showed us to the orthopedic unit. The unit was more open than ours with a  sunroof right in the center. They still use paper charts in the hospitals and the nurses here are more like LPN because the doctors do most of the work, but Clemens said that was in the process of changing. 
We then headed up to the Reverse Isolation/Transplant unit. We were met by the Head of the Ward and he explained the rundown of the unit. The unit is funded by the International Leukemia Foundation established by the great tenor Jose Carreras, (one of the Three Tenors) who became ill with leukemia but recovered from the disease years ago. In Germany they do bone marrow as well as stem cell transplants. Note: this is not stem cell research. Our bodies actually make stem cells in our bones and that is where they are harvested. These patients have severe illnesses that require treatments that completely wipe out the immune system. Since there is no way for their body to fight off even the mildest of colds, they are put into reverse isolation. This means that instead of protecting the rest of the world from this one patient we protect the patient from the entire world. Even as visitors who had no contact with any patients, we had to take off our shoes and clothes, and put on different shoes and sterile packaged scrubs. 
Each single room looks like something out of a fancy magazine, but with a plastic bubble wall on one side. The patients remain in this one room for about a month while their immune system rebuilds itself after the stem cell or bone marrow transplant. Basically no physical contact if possible--even the nurses and doctors who come to get blood or check vitals stay outside the room and do it using long gloves attached to the plastic wall. Once the patient's white blood cell count reaches about 1000 then they are free to go. If they bring anything from the outside like books or computers, (or for one little girl, a giant stuffed animal horse)  it all has to be sterilized up the wazoo, and they have to keep a really careful personal hygiene regimen too. On this ward there are two separate parts; one side is for patients ages 8 - 65 and the other for 65+. Each treatment protocol is very strict and the patients are monitored extremely closely because even though this is one of the very best transplant units in the entire world, the five-year mortality rate is still 50%. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Saxon Switzerland Part II

It was around lunch time when we reached the top, so after taking 99,000 photos, 

we sat down to munch on some fresh rolls, goat cheese, strawberries and grapes. Yum! We continued on our loop hike through a complex network of paths. Because of the surrounding sandstone, the paths are covered with a layer of fine white sand. Reaching the next overlook involved a very long descent and, since what goes down must come up, an equally long ascent where hands were definitely needed to keep from sliding off the rock face. 
The group felt that they needed some assistance, so they found some great walking sticks. Umm... Dawn? Are you sure that stick is the right size? Always trying to outdo everyone, eh?
When we got to the top, we drank the rest of our water and then admired the view. Again, a spectacular panorama was stretched out at our feet, and we took full advantage of the possibilities of digital photography. 

To prepare for the next leg of the trip, a nap was felt to be in order, and as it turns out, eroded sandstone makes the perfect place to snooze. 
We were sorry to leave this spectacular spot, but there were rain clouds looming on the horizon, so we made tracks for the parking lot. In this case, tracks meant long staircases! The rain luckily held off long enough for us to buy a variety of cake from the wood-fired oven in Schmilka. In fact, while we were devouring a large piece of "Bee's Sting" (Bienenstich) cake, the sun came back out. Kaffeetrinken (afternoon coffee-break with cake) is mandatory in Germany. After wishing that we had bought more Bienenstich, we took a short jaunt into the Czech Republic. It was a really odd sensation to drive right past the old border with its gigantic passport control buildings.
Now, you can just drive right across, and the only thing that changes is the language the road signs are written in!We had a really great time in Saxon Switzerland, and the rain even  held off until we finally hit the road again.

Saxon Switzerland Part I

At the crack of dawn (well, 8am) we met Anja Gipp, the English teacher at the technical school, to go to a national park called Saxon Switzerland about two hours northeast of Leipzig. Anja owns a minivan, which is pretty rare for Germany, so we all fit inside. We headed for the Autobahn and were soon zooming northeast. Anja is a conservative driver, so we only went about 110mph, and there were cars flying past us in the fast lane. Time went by quickly admiring German cars and the surrounding landscape, a patchwork of yellow blossoming fields and forests, sprinkled with small villages, church spires and farmhouses. We arrived in Schmilka, a town right on the border with the Czech Republic, got into our hiking shoes and headed straight up the mountain. First we hiked through the village of Schmilka, which has an operating flour mill and a wood-fired oven that bakes amazing cakes.
The national park encompasses a large area of sandstone cliffs and outcroppings etched out of the terrain by the Elbe River over thousands of years. The climb up to the top of the mountain involves a lot of steep ascents up ladders, stone steps, and along massive cliffs, caves and boulders. Everyone in the group was enthusiastic despite some lingering sore muscles from our long bike ride yesterday. And, as it turns out, the view from the top was well worth it! Far in the distance, you could see the looming outcrop of Königstein, a mountaintop fortress where all the treasures of Dresden were taken for safekeeping during World War II. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Fahrradtour/Bike Tour zum Cospudener See

Today we went on a bike ride to the nearby lake. My day started a little rough. Because of the lack of communication to the outside world (my host was home for the holiday) I couldn't let anyone know my bike was locked up, and I didn't have the key. So I went to my sister, Dawn's apartment to meet Karen with the news. Karen's host had an extra bike at home, so I rode on the back of Karen's bike (all metal rack, feet up) all the way there. Eventually we got on our way with the rest of the group.
The bike ride was very nice. For a city with half a million people, they have a lot of woods and trails to ride through that are also well kept. We passed a big area where Bärlauch, or wild garlic, was blooming. The woods actually smelled like garlic. On the way we were tricked by Surab, one of the students, who told us to run across a structure that sprayed water at us.... very cool though. There was also an awesome little park that had mini rope climbing and jungle gym made all of wooden branches.
We arrived at the lake but it was very windy, so we sheltered behind some trees for our picnic. We had delicious salads, meatballs, felafel and desserts. To work it off, we played Fußball, or soccer, in the sand. After two rounds we were all worn out and sandy; some of us even took naps on the beach. Then we headed out again going around the lake to a lookout tower which you could climb all the way up and see a fantastic view of the lake, Leipzig, and the surrounding towns. Since it was a holiday, the lake was full of people practicing windsurfing and parasailing. We saw a lot more woods, some bison and people canoeing on the way back. Again, for a big city, it sure has a small town feel.
We were invited to have dinner at the home of one of the teachers from the Berufsfachschule (school). Anja had a barbecue for us with again some delicious salads. The food here has been great so far, and also especially healthy. The people we have met have also been very welcoming and hospitable. --Ashley

Sunday, May 19, 2013

I am a Berliner!

Hello all! Well, today we went to Berlin. On the way there we took local trains because we had what's called a Wochenendticket--a group of five people can get a really cheap ticket to travel together on the weekend, but you can't ride the high-speed rail. We were in the same train car as a group of Fußball fans headed to a regional soccer game. They were all wearing team colors in blue and white and were already pretty excited for early in the morning.
Berlin was amazing! So many cool monuments and history. It's just so amazing that I finally get to see all the monuments and historical places I have read about in my history books. 
Checkpoint Charlie
We saw the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial, the Reichstag, and the monument to the Sinti, Roma, and other victims of the Holocaust. We walked what is left of the Berlin Wall, which is now called the East Side Gallery and is decorated with lots of pictures by artists from around the world, and visited Alexander Platz, which used to be on the East German side and has the famous World Clock. Then we visited Checkpoint Charlie, the main point where you could cross back and forth through the Berlin Wall from East to West Berlin. The wall was really cool. It's crazy to think that only 24 years ago Berlin was still divided. Seeing video of people crossing the wall and tearing it down gives me chills. It's such an amazing victory. (The even cooler part is that the first peaceful protests that led to the wall's downfall started in Leipzig! We got to see the church where the first meetings were held and went through a museum in Leipzig about the first protests and how it finally led to Peaceful Revolution and the wall being torn down. There is a fountain in Leipzig that symbolizes how one drop of water can cause a basin to overflow--that drop was the Leipzig demonstrations.) The history is amazing and it makes me never want to leave! (But I will... don't worry mom!) After Checkpoint Charlie we headed down to a festival that was happening called the carnival of customs. Tons of people everywhere--it was so crazy. Lots of interesting people from all over the world. 

Berlin Cathedral
It was really cold when we got up in the morning but we kept shedding layers of clothes and by afternoon it was really hot and we ended up with tan lines on our feet!
Berlin highlights the contrast between buildings that have been around for centuries and very contemporary designs that you see everywhere in German architecture. You never know what is going to be around the next corner, and exploring the city is a lot of fun. 
Before we finally headed home to Leipzig we grabbed some food at the Hauptbahnhof (Central Train Station) and then hopped on the train back. --Mariah

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Wave Gothic Festival

Every year over the holiday weekend at Pentecost, the city of Leipzig floods with Goths from all over the world who come to Leipzig to see and mostly to be seen. The streets are filled with throngs in black and red, long leather jackets, metal studs, multiple body piercings, varying amounts of underwear worn as outerwear, crinoline dresses, shaved heads, colored contact lenses, black lace umbrellas and black and white makeup. If you close your eyes, the overpowering scent of patchouli in all the streetcars makes it impossible to forget it's arrived: the Wave Gothic Festival!

This international gathering of Goth fans has been happening in Leipzig since 1988, when it was broken up by the police in what was then the former East Germany. This year, over 20,000 devotees of steampunk, Victorian Goths, rivetheads and vampires (and quite a few Goth-in-training babies) descended on the city wearing elaborate costumes to listen to a huge lineup of bands including Koffin Kats, Nachtgeschrei,  Lux Interna, and The Cassandra Complex. Like many others in Leipzig, we headed downtown to see what was going on. We argued about the best styles and took lots of notes on wardrobe dos and don'ts for class next fall.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mörderballaden/Murder Ballads

After a full morning of classes on Thursday, during which Kate and Mariah demonstrated to the German students how to administer an enema, we prepared to go to the Leipzig Opera House to see "Mörderballaden", a modern dance performance based on the album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds called Murder Ballads. We all dressed up, as did most of the audience. However, some of the people from the Wave Gothic Festival were also there, which helped to set the macabre mood! 
The interior of the opera house was astonishing. A spiral staircase brought us to the top floor, where there was a gigantic and beautiful chandelier. We were in the 37th and 38th row, near the back, but we had a great view of the stage, which featured a large pond. As we waited there were pond noises which made us feel right at home. As the ballet began, a girl walked and then ran through a forest created with three clear curtains with trees printed on them. It looked magical. It didn't really have a sad tone despite how dark it was. The dancers were dressed in modern costume until the end, when they wore more traditional poofy tutus, but went skidding through the artificial pond and came out sopping wet. There were some really interesting effects with lighting from below and through different materials, like a transparent screen with a projection of a girl's face on it. My favorite scene was at the end when they were in tutus, when it returned to the forest backdrop and it was snowing. It was mystic. When the show was over , the dancers bowed. They bowed about ten times! We thought they would never stop. Our overall conclusion was that Mörderballaden was an interesting combination of dark murder and beautiful dance scenes. We had a great time and loved having the opportunity to dress up! --Dawn

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wilkommen in Leipzig

Leipzig...what a place! When I thought of Germany before coming here I thought it was only men with bushy beards drinking beer...but it is more than that.
Today we took a walking tour of the city and it was so interesting to see the mix of architecture. You have the classic castles, churches, the communist apartment buildings, and the new (modern) skyscrapers.
Old City Hall, Leipzig
Wunderbar!!! They get off most on the same music we do (think Maclamore, Rhianna, Justin Bieber), they have most of the same brands we do, and they enjoy carbs!!!
We walk or take the tram (think Lightrail) everywhere we go to get daily exercise because most people in Leipzig walk, bike, or take public transportation. There are bike lanes everywhere and you had better stay out of them because people go flying by you at 25 mph. Definitely a healthier lifestyle.
So far we have already attended classes (we even got to teach a little bit), toured the city and played ultimate Frisbee with the students. This weekend we are going to go to the Zeitgeschichtliches Forum, a museum all about the Peaceful Revolution that started here in Leipzig and ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany; see the Gothic festival, tour old churches, swim, visit Berlin, and experience student life in Germany!
We are very well taken care of by everyone we meet. I don't feel excluded because most students speak English well enough to communicate. The cafeteria people are extremely hospitable, and our host families are the greatest!
Have I mentioned food yet? Because you can't put into words how good the food and drinks are! Katelyn

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Leipzig 2013 Los geht's!

On Tuesday, after a long Lufthansa flight to Leipzig, Germany via Toronto and Düsseldorf, the group of students from the CSS Leipzig Exchange 2013, Dawn and Ashley Schwantke, Katelyn Wegerson and Mariah Sis, and Dr. Karen Rosenflanz arrived in Germany. We went straight to the Berufsfachschule (Medical Training School) of the University of Leipzig near downtown Leipzig , where we'll be visiting classes and getting to know nursing students and faculty.

Frau Roswitha Grötsch greets Leipzig Exchange students at the Berufsfachschule

After a quick briefing on our jam-packed schedule of events we headed downtown on the streetcar to see the sights and dive into German culture. Already conquered: the words for "Excuse me": Entschuldigung and "Nonsense!": Quatsch!! 
The students will be blogging about their exciting adventures in Leipzig over the next two weeks.