From March 3rd through March 12th, I took a trip to Germany to help out in the building of a center for missionaries there. The place will be used for training and hosting many people who go to minister to Germans in this beautiful country.
I am so thankful for the opportunity and for the people who supported it and prayed so much as it was coming up and as I was there. It was a crazy-amazing experience, and I will remember it FOREVER.
In the next two weeks, I’ll be sharing stories from my time in Germany. This is the first post, sharing about days one and two.
Day 1: Friday
We head off from the church towards the airport. Here is a timelapse of our scenery from the outskirts of Chicago to the terminal.
Things were pretty chill when we got there; we were totally on time and the airport wasn’t busy at all. Once we checked in and made our way through security (which was actually a lot more simple and less stressful than I thought it would be) we sat down at a couple sunny tables and ate some lunch. Everyone else had Mexican food, I think, but I had pizza. It was good pizza.
Then we boarded the plane. That first one went from Midway to Atlanta, so it was only a two-hour flight. I watched most of The Giver on that flight, a movie based off the book by Lois Lowry, which I haven’t read, but don’t make me feel more guilty about it. It was a good movie. We also got pretzels and cookies, and the little cookies said Delta on them, which I thought was funny.
OH! And TAKEOFF! It was my first time flying in a plane, and… yeah. I just went nuts, it was so crazy. Before I knew it, we had left the ground, and it was getting smaller, and I could see everything because the sky was clear.
Day 2: Saturday
We time-travelled. I’m telling you, that’s what it felt like. Germany is six hours ahead of our time zone, so it was definitely something to get used to. I didn’t sleep a wink on the plane, and there I was in Germany, 9 am, and I had the energy level of 3 am. The nice thing was my mind adjusted to the schedule fairly well. 9 am really felt like 9 am, and the only thing that felt odd was eating lunch and feeling like it should have been supper for some reason.
After we were picked up from the airport, we went to a store called Globus. Here’s a photo I took by complete chance on the way there:
It’s basically what Walmart is here, but because this is Europe, it has a cooler name and no one wears their pajamas. I loved to hear people speaking in German and I tried to say hallo and danke to the cashier. It was neat to be in Germany and know just enough German and look just enough German to pass as a German. Several cashiers and people at various stores and places spoke to me in German, and I either would pretend I understood and accidentally eat soap, or admit I spoke English. Because they’re so neat, they could just switch to English and talk to me. That was heplful. I bought gummy bears at Globus, or “gummy bearchen.” They were really good, and not the last gummy bears I bought over there.
We took a walk to help us adjust. The scenery was amazing, we could look down and see the whole village, the little white houses and red roofs all smushed together in a river-like formation. Below is a photo I took. I don’t remember why I took it. But I like it.
That was another thing I noticed. On our side of the ocean, everything was in grids. Ponds, baseball fields, corn fields, houses, even the rivers were overcome by the grid. Then, after hours of starry darkness, as we arrived in Germany, everything went to grooves and valleys and rivers and everything was built around water and farms instead of paperwork and skyscrapers. I like Europe for that. You can tell it’s older than the USA, because while they made villages, we made civilizations. By the time we built our country, we had figured out how to do all those geeky geographical things.
When we got to the place we were staying, I was honestly quite surprised as to how cozy and beautiful it was. I had expected… A place more “mission tripy”? Simple concrete walls, cold floors, minimal furniture, a half-completed bathroom. But this place was somebody’s home, and a really nice on at that. I could have moved there and loved it.
We ate schnitzel and drank apfel shorle for lunch. The former is breaded pork, the latter is carbonated apple juice. I loved it, which was lucky for me because it was either that or carbonated water at many meals, and that stuff is nasty. Ever since their economy became more stable many years after the war, drinking normal water has been associated with being poor. Specifically, being poor because of a war that killed 3% of the world and was started by your not-too-distant ancestors.
For supper, I just had a sandwich because I decided to go with the assistant to the pastor we were staying with to a youth group meeting half an hour away. I definitely feel asleep on the drive. There were only about three teens there, but it was really neat to sing with them and listen to an all-German presentation about the armor of God and gangsters. And get this: some of the songs we sang were in English! They all sang them really well. Granted, they take much more English in school than we take German, but it was still cool to hear them sing familiar songs.
Then I went back to the house, stayed up one more grueling hour, and fell asleep in a hammock hanging from the beams of the attic.
Day 3: Sunday
A German church service is longer than an American one. Or it just feels that way because it was all in German and I didn’t understand a word of it.
Then came the part when our group got to sing In Christ Alone and How Deep the Father’s Love for Us. It went really well, and I think they liked it. An elderly lady told me I looked exactly like her grandson.
Then we had lunch. I don’t really remember what it was… Maybe lasagna? I know we had lasagna a once while we were there and it was wonderful.
After this, we went back to the house. Much of that day is a fog because I was extremely tired.
Day 4: Monday
This was one of the tourism days, and it was super neat. We went to some German cathedrals and then to some Luxembourg places and then to some French places. I was still tired and continued to fall asleep in the van, but it was super neat and we got to see a lot of places. Here are some things I did:
- Had lunch at a really good German restaurant.
- Accidentally donated 15 cents to the Catholic Church. (It was for a postcard. The moment I heard my money ring in the coffer, I regretted it, knowing I had just let one of my relatives escape purgatory.)
- Got a Coke at a McDonalds.
- Greeted a German using what little German I knew who said she was good and asked how I was.
- Saw an ancient roman wall underground.
- Got chocolate at a Lindt store and didn’t have to use English to buy it.
- Walked into a Levi’s Store and turned red as I heard a rap song in English with words you’d hopefully never hear in an American store.
- Saw a person pretending to be a statue. (It was super convincing.)
- And took photos…
Somewhere in that tired day, we went to Luxembourg. I didn’t know it was a country until I was literally in the country. Yeah. (Here is a fun thing I discovered Googling this place: they speak French, German, and LUXEMBOURGISH. I am serious.) It was pretty beautiful, and I actually took the photo that’s the header for this post there. It’s a big bank or something.
The first place we went to see there was an American WWII Cemetery. It was surreal. All those graves were Americans who fought in the war, and here it was, being taken care of by people of a country I’d never heard of. General Patton had a special grave there that I got to see. The whole place was beautiful.
For supper, we went to a place in France called Flunch. I liked it. The servers and manager were the only nice French people I saw. Everyone else was rude. Which is sad, because I’m French.
Day 5-8, Tuesday through Friday
These were the work days. We worked on a building that will someday be a meeting center for missionaries in Germany. My job was mostly cleaning and organizing, but that first day, I did a fair amount of heavy lifting up and down stairs. That was not a cup of tea.
There was a retired gentleman working there with us who only knew German. One day, I heard whistling. Specifically, someone whistling the song “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady. AND IT WAS HIM! So I started whistling with him, and soon he realized that I was and it was a super neat language-barrier-crossing thing.
One of the days, I got to help in a kids club and talk to little German kids. I played Connect 4 and had a minimal conversation with one girl using Google Translate, but as more kids poured in, the only English I heard was “I love you,” because that’s about all the English they know at that age.
One of the last days, we had to clear out a collection of shoes on the top floor of the building. (I think there were four floors to the place.) Two of us started chucking them out the window to retrieve later. Once we went downstairs to gather them all in a pile and put them in a bag, we realized we needed something to tie up the bag. Our fatigued brains immediately went to one shoestring we had noticed… On the top floor. I cheerfully skipped up the stairs and found the string, but when I brought it down, it had apparently struck their minds that we might just use ONE OF THE SHOESTRINGS IN THE BAG OF SHOES WE WERE THROWING AWAY! Needless to say, the shoestring I walked up for was, well, needless.
The very last day, a few of us guys on the team decided to take a walk on the trail behind the building. We soon realized it ran along a rather numerous series of bridges, and we stopped at each one to take a few pictures. Here’s a picture that I took on that walk.
The dog in the picture was walking leashless with its owner. As we passed, it stopped and watched me. It acted as if it may stay there forever, but as we turned a corner in the trail, it finally pranced away.
Day 9, Saturday
We completed the major projects that the missionary had for us a bit early, so on Saturday, we went out for another day of sightseeing. We went to Heidelberg and ate lunch there (I think – we may have had lunch at the house, I can’t quite remember.) and then walked the streets and bought treats and souvenirs and ice cream. (I also bought some macaroons that were AMAZING. They weren’t dry and tasteless like others I’ve had. They were cold and moist and just wonderful.)
We ordered some ice cream (I got vanilla and chocolate in a bowl) that tasted really good. When we had finished, we walked up that street. A friend and I walked into a really hipster-looking bookstore with a winding staircase that went four floors up, but all the books were in German. My friend found some neat music books and suggested I try to find a book I like in English and get it in German as a souvenir, but all we could find was Artemis Fowl and I haven’t read that yet.
We then went to a candy store and I bought some more gummy bears. As I was waiting for the rest of the group to buy their things, I noticed a woman trying to give away samples of something. No one talked to her (Germans aren’t nice like Americans are) and so I thought I would walk over and talk to her, assuming she could speak English as most Germans around her age could. As I crossed the street, though, someone else from the store replaced her, a guy who seemed less talkative. So I decided to awkwardly stand nearby and keep an eye on the candy store for my group. The guy soon asked me if I wanted what was on the plate, but this was all in German, so I didn’t know what it was. I took one to be polite, even though they didn’t look very appetizing. I just held it in my hand, until the man said something more about it. He made the mistake of using the word “essen,” which I knew was German for food. So, I took this to mean that he wanted me to eat it. Well, apparently he was saying “it’s not something you eat,” because as soon as it neared my mouth, he went nuts. He switched to English and told me it was soap. Yup. This story embarrasses me a lot so this is the end.
After that, we went into a neat store called Butler that had lots of home things and some books. I found some knobs for my roll-top desk and decided to buy those, then I found a German colouring book and decided to get that too, even though all the pictures were in German and I have to translate the flowers and leaves through something to be able to colour them.
We also went into a huge bookstore that looked like a Barnes and Noble-type place, and I found a book by our President, Donald Trump! It was super neat; the title was in English but the words in the book were in German.
That evening, we went to a really neat but odd restaurant and got “doners” for our last meal in Germany. They’re like huge beef tacos with an interesting sauce. I (surprisingly) LOVED it. It was huge, but I ate the whole thing fairly quickly.
That night, we did some talking and played some games, then everyone slowly went to bed. It was bittersweet, but mostly bitter, at least for me. Going home to the USA would be nice, but I loved Germany and I was not ready to leave yet. I could have stayed there a few more weeks and probably still not felt homesick.
I finally walked up the three flights of stairs to the attic bedroom and started packing all my things. Quite surprisingly, I didn’t forget anything, on the way there or coming back! I half-wish I’d forgotten my passport and had to stay there a few more days, but that would have made it stressful on everyone else, so it wasn’t a valid option.
After all of my gummy bears and chocolate and my colouring book and my leftover euros were packed up, I went to bed at around 2 am.
Day 10, Sunday
We had to leave at 5 am. I woke up at 4:55 am. Thankfully, I had been very detailed in my planning and had everything ready to go, so I just had to throw on clothes, grab my things, and run out in my bear feet! It was cold.
After a fairly long road trip (maybe an hour and a half), we got to the train station and rushed in with our bags. By the time we were on the platform, the train was still not in sight. We said goodbye to the missionary and talked for a bit, then I boarded my very first train ride. I think most of the group fell asleep, but I couldn’t. It was too exciting to be on a train and see German scenery flying by. We stopped four or five times, but not many people got on. Here is a picture I took, looking out of the train at sunrise. (Random side note: I was listening to a podcast called 99% Invisible for part of the train ride, then switched to an audiobook by Ann Coulter.)
When we got to the airport, we went to a McDonalds for breakfast. This is a conversation I had while buying my breakfast.
Me: I would like an Egg McMuffin.
Me: OH! And a hashbrown.
Cashier: No hashbrown in germany.
You will never understand how depressing those four words were. So, I ate my Egg McMuffin and drank my bottled water, then we went on a million escalators up, over to another side of the airport on some kind of tram thing, then went down a million escalators. Just as I was getting used to jumping off the escalator at just the right moment, we went through security. They asked us questions and looked through our luggage and things, then we went to the almost last ticket check. When I came up to the lady who was doing the final passport check, I said “Hallo, guten Morgen,” and after looking down at my passport and seeing that it was clearly one from the US, she complimented me on my German accent, and I was so proud of myself.
We waited for around thirty minutes to board the plane, and two in our group who had not given devotionals yet took the opportunity there. A short time after getting on the plane, I noticed a young woman near me who seemed to be distraught over something. I felt like I should do something; I couldn’t just let her sit there and not say something to make sure she was okay. So after a few minutes of agonizing over a decision, I wrote a note that simply said, “are you ok?” This began a little conversation of notes that went on and off until we landed in the US. I am really glad I said something. Sometimes people are nasty, and sometimes the response you get won’t be all rainbows and flowers; sometimes hurting people are bitter towards the whole world. But it never hurts just to ask, and often, it ends up meaning a lot.
The meals on the way back were much better than the meals on the way there, so that was nice. When we landed and walked out into the airport, I was overjoyed to be on American soil again. As much as I missed Germany (and would have stayed there a few more months if possible,) I was sort of glad to be home.
I was surprised by a lot in Germany. I was surprised by how much – and how little – it was different. But mostly, I think I was just surprised by how little changed about me after going to a foreign country. I think we feel that when we leave the country and hear other languages and see a different culture, it will change our foundations of thought and our heart will never be the same. But I’m still me. I still have all the same religious and political beliefs; I still feel much the same about everything. I’ve discovered that the rest of the world isn’t much different.
Someday, I would like to go again. But even if I can’t go in the next few years, I’ll always have that desire to go and see other places and ways of life and hear other languages. Maybe someday, I will see my friends in Germany again.