Last night we celebrated our farewell party in the small village of Netzen. Our home stay families had prepared a delicious barbecue buffet. After we had given our emotional thank you speeches we spent the last few hours dancing to German and New Zealand music. Tomorrow we are going to spend our last full day with our hosts but we are excited to start our journey home.
Today, we went to see "Unterwelten", the large bunkers under the U-Bahn stations of Gesundbrunnen and Plankstraβe. Our guide Andrew from Chicago gave us a tour of how these were used for multiple reasons like how they were bomb shelters where the walls were thick but the roofs would not have protected the people inside. We learnt that all the supply water was stored in big bags instead of tanks. We were shown a machine that could ventilate any unbreathable air and which could also be operated by hand in case there was a power cut.
We also saw a luxurious bunker which could have been used as a nuclear bomb shelter during the Cold War. I thought that the place was very interesting although others thought it would be an amazing place for laser tag with all the dark and empty corridors ...well I have to agree, it would be.
For our final activity as a full group together, we went to Gedächtniskirche, an old church with a damaged roof top as a stark reminder of the war. Inside we admired beautiful mosaics and we could also buy Christian music CDs. Then we were told to have 2 hours of free time, which we spent shopping along the famous Kurfürstendamm.
Finally, our group said their farewells and went back to Werder to spend the afternoon with their host families. Some of us went to the Festival of Lights in Berlin. It was magnificent to see the Brandenburger Tor illuminated showing the history of Berlin.
Well, that's it for the last Friday in Germany. Now everyone is looking forward to our official farewell party on Saturday night. (by Sean)
This morning we awoke to clear skies and sunshine. Thanks to a late 10:30 start, many of us enjoyed a sleep-in before setting off on a brief train ride to Potsdam Park Sanssouci. There, following a short visit to the souvenir shop, we met up with our tour guide for the day, who proceeded to show us around the beautiful Neues Palais situated within Sanssouci Park. During our tour we learned a great deal about the history not only of the palace itself, but also that of the artwork, furniture and decorations, as well as interesting information about the lives of the inhabitants. Once our tour had ended, we were able to wander through the gardens, admiring the fountains, statues and flower beds along the way, until we reached Schloss Sanssouci. After a few pictures, we met up with our host partners, ending our time in the Park. Following a fantastic lunch at Peter Pane - a lovely burger restaurant - we all went our separate ways to enjoy the rest of our day with our host families. (by Faye)
This morning, Leander and I were welcomed by yet another wonderful German breakfast, which included many varieties of hams, cheeses, bread, and cereal. Following our typical commute of two trains, was the first stop on our list: Madame Tussauds Berlin, a wax sculpture museum. Although we arrived a few minutes before opening, the street was already packed with visitors and tourists eagerly waiting to get inside. Once inside we were met with a completely different atmosphere. Incredibly realistic wax figures of many German and American politicians including Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Erich Honecker. I can now proudly say I met and took selfies with some of the biggest names in history, such as Marilyn Monroe, David Bowie, and Darth Vader himself.
After lunch we had the tour of the Holocaust Memorial. This was an incredibly educational, yet depressing experience. Our tour guide informed us of the history of the memorial, for example, the stones used in the memorial were originally planned to be twice as tall. After our guided tour came the underground section of the memorial. There we learnt of the development and escalation of anti-Semitic persecution. Also present were excerpts of diaries and letters written by victims, directed at loved ones, often moments before death. There were also histories of families on display for visitors to learn about. Many of whom who did not survive until the liberation of the concentration camps.
The last stop on our list for the day was the Mall of Berlin, a four-story shopping centre with around 300 stores. Many of us used this opportunity to purchase gifts, but the observant members of our group also used this opportunity to experience the indoor three-story-tall slide on the east side of the mall. With our mall visit over, this marked the end of our planned day. Three trains later we were reunited with our host families, and I’m sure everyone was already thinking about the delicious dinner awaiting us. (by Louis)
Today, we woke up early to a beautiful sunny day despite the freezing temperatures. I was officially welcomed into my new host family with an array of meats, cheese and breads (the usual here). It was a later start today, meeting at 9.45 to catch the train (and then 2 more trains) until finally reaching our destination; the Berlin Olympic Stadium. We were welcomed by two columns towering over us, completed by the Olympic rings strung between them, followed by the stadium. The stadium had its original historical architecture preserved, with modern finishing on the inside, catering to the world class events occurring at this very famous stadium. A rather misleading sight from the outside, as the view from the outside was nowhere near an accurate representation of how big the actual stadium was. Our tour guide escorted us into the building, and everyone was pleasantly surprised by the insane size of the stadium and about half of it being underground. With a capacity of 74,000, Berlin Olympic stadium is one of the biggest stadiums in Europe, accommodating some of the most famous athletes known to man. At this stadium Jesse Owens won 4 Gold Medals during the Olympic Games in 1936, and appropriately has a whole floor named after him in the VIP Lounge. The stadium is also home to Hertha BSC, Berlins home football team. Another impressive part to the stadium was the chapel, with walls lined in real gold foil topped with bible extract in several languages from around the world, an incredible sight. Despite Hertha’s lack of success we were told that some of their die-hard fans are married in the chapel and are often dressed in Hertha BSC garb. If you live in Germany (or even if you don’t) and are looking for a fancy way to enjoy the season, a season pass to the VIP area and lounge is available for between €80,000-€100,00. If the VIP lounge isn’t for you but you’d like to enjoy one of the best seats in the house you can rent a seat for the season starting at €15,000. What a steal! After the tour we made our way to the train station where we then caught two trains bringing us to our final destination; Rittersport Schokowelt!! (chocolate world). We were overwhelmed by the choices available to us as we made our way inside; Frau Zimmer explaining the process of creating our own chocolate. After creating our (hopefully) delicious chocolates, we were given free time to explore the shop while our chocolate was prepared. It was filled with assortments and merchandise beyond your wildest dreams including things like pop up advent calendars, MANY different gift boxes, a metre box filled with chocolates, and more. I was personally happy with my purchase; €10 worth of chocolate and I thought i’d bought a lot until i’d seen how much the others had bought... let’s just say a LOT. We finally received our own creations and soon after, we caught 3 trains home bringing us to the end of our gorgeous day.
I don’t know about everyone else, but on Saturday morning I woke up bright and early, ready for another day full of activities in the long weekend. After enjoying an impressive spread of breads, meats, and cheeses for breakfast, my host family, Sameera and I set off for Leipzig, the most populous city in Saxony, a neighbouring federal state of Brandenburg. Since Leipzig is about 150km away from Werder, I expected a long journey, but travelling on the Autobahn, my host father got us there in record time. Our time in Leipzig included a balanced mix of history and shopping. Once we arrived, my host family provided a mini historical tour of Leipzig, identifying important buildings and attractions. We visited the Völkerschlachtdenkmal, or Monument to the Battle of Nations, which towered over us at 91 metres tall and had over 500 steps to the top. I learnt that the monument was built in 1913 for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Leipzig, where Napoleon and the French army were defeated by Russia and its allies. We then visited Nikolaikirche, or St. Nicholas Church, one of the largest churches in Saxony which became known in 1989 as the centre of peaceful revolt against the communist rule at the time. The neoclassical interior of the church, which dates to the late 18th century, was stunning, but unfortunately, we couldn’t take any photos inside. We continued our journey walking through Leipzig, where we saw the old town hall and also visited the marketplace, which was really beautiful and offered lots of different things, including jewellery, regional foods, decorations, and more. Finally, we spent a fair amount of time shopping. My host father, not such a fan of shopping, often waited outside as the ladies of the group visited shops like TK Maxx, Müller, and Primark, which I have come to learn holds a special place in the hearts of Germans. After a long day of shopping and sightseeing, we headed home, all having enjoyed our trip to Leipzig. At home, we watched the popular German comedy film “Fack ju Göhte”, which is an interesting look at the German school system!
Sunday morning brought another lovely breakfast. After spending Saturday with my host family, my host sister and I joined some of the other students in the group on a trip to Berlin Zoological Garden. We caught the train in the morning with the others and arrived at Berlin Zoo around midday. It is the oldest and best-known zoo in Germany and was opened in 1844. It is the most visited zoo in Europe. I can see why it is so popular, as it is massive, covering 35 acres, and has about 1,380 different species, and we spent about 3 hours in the zoo. Everyone really enjoyed seeing all the different exhibits and animals, including elephants, baby pandas, seals, monkeys, and even a petting zoo. Seeing the small children feeding goats and other animals in the petting zoo was simply adorable, and we had fun as well being so close to the animals. What surprised some of us about the zoo was how close we could be to the animals — you can see from some of the photos that we are separated only by a small rail and a short distance, allowing you to really appreciate the animals. Not only did we appreciate the animals, but we had a mini celebration for Isaac and Andre, as we sang them “Happy Birthday” at 2pm, or 1am New Zealand time, where it is already technically their birthday. New Zealand daylight saving time had their German partners a bit confused, as they had intended to wish the twins happy birthday when the clock struck 12 in New Zealand, but I’m sure that they appreciated the gesture nonetheless. After our visit, we hoped to visit the Germans’ beloved Primark, but unfortunately it was closed, so instead we grabbed something to eat and headed to our separate homes, where I’m sure everyone relaxed after a long weekend packed with fun activities. We all feel grateful that our host families are creating opportunities for us to see so much of Germany during our time here, and that our group of German and New Zealand students is getting along well and having fun outings together. I am sad that our journey will come to an end soon, but am looking forward to a week full of activities where we can hopefully all make some great memories. (by Rachel)
On Thursday, my host partner and I met up with other host partners at Werder train station. Our large group consisted of at least 20 people. We caught the train to our first destination - Jump House. We spent an hour and a half jumping on trampolines, zip lining across the massive room and doing a difficult but fun obstacle course 7 metres above the ground. We also got to play a couple of games of dodge ball. The time spent there was overall fun.
Then, the group made its way to the Brandenburg Gate to celebrate German Unity Day. Upon arrival, I noticed the large swarms of people in front of the gate - taking pictures, chatting, eating. The crowded space behind the gate held many stalls of various food- Currywurst, Lebkuchenherz, rides, and a stage. All the stalls were arranged along the sides, leaving the middle for the public to move about. We all moved in a cluster, ensuring no one was lost in the wild crowd. After spotting a stage, we all gathered around it and everyone danced together, singing the lyrics simultaneously. After all the dancing, we caught a train to Potsdam to visit the Potsdam Oktoberfest. The crowd at Oktoberfest was less than what we just had experienced earlier. Me and some other people wanted to go on the massive spinning ride, at the entrance. Fortunately, the line was really short, and we didn’t have to wait for long. The ride started and our seats started spinning, faster and faster. As the ride became faster, the screams and shouts became louder. We all then proceeded to the next ride and walked past various food stalls. The night consisted of eating ice cream, churros and other snacks and more rides. We returned home late at night.
On Friday, we started the day in the afternoon in a well-known Italian restaurant- Vapiano. After consuming our large pizzas, we walked to a tall brick building. In the building, we bought the tickets and got on an elevator. We went up 24 levels in less than 30 seconds where e were greeted with strong winds blowing when we left the elevator. The city of Berlin was spread in front of us, brick buildings stood tall, cluster of green trees which was the Tiergarten and the historic Brandenburg Gate was also in sight. The Fernsehturm towered above tiny buildings and small cars rushed along the streets. The view of Berlin was breath-taking. We then headed to McDonald's to eat and stayed there until it was time for the football game. We caught a train to Olympic stadium. It was raining when we arrived at the Olympic Stadium, so it was hard to get good photos to capture the stadium’s beauty. When I entered the stadium, I noticed all the Hertha (Berlin Team) fans wearing blue scarves and waving huge blue and white flags in the air. Excitement and anticipation was in the air as hundreds of fans chanted and sang for their team. When the players came out, the crowd got up from their seats and started screaming and cheering. The amount of energy in the stadium was unbelievable. When the game against Hertha and Düsseldorf started, everyone's eyes were glued to the field. The crowd cheered and chanted for every goal. Hertha was winning, 3-1. Unfortunately, we left the stadium of few minutes before the game finished, to catch the train back to Werder. Although we all knew Hertha had the win for this game. (by Kavya)
Today we spent most of the day at our partner school. After making our way to the school via two buses, my exchange partner dropped me off in a Year 9 class English lesson while she and many other Germans sat their maths exam. The English lesson was quite interesting as by the end of the period, we were supposed to be teaching the German students New Zealand slang except it was much more difficult than anticipated providing us with an interesting challenge.
After that English lesson, our exchange partners came and collected us, to take us with them to their next class. However, most of them had pedagogy where their teacher was not at school. As a result, the class was given exercises to do and left to their own devices as they don’t have substitute teachers here in Germany. Since I have a special interest in maths, I requested and was taken to a senior level (Level 3 equivalent) maths lesson, where I was dropped off in and welcomed by the maths teacher. Fortunately, two German students came and sat with me helping to translate and teach and learn with me the theory that was being taught at the time. It was quite cool having that moment of semi independence where I understood what was happening in class and was also learning new maths, with only the assistance of my new found friends, allowing me to be better experience the German schooling experience as if I was a new student at the school. After that, I had Chemistry with my exchange partner and many other exchange pairs. The teacher instructed the class to do many different experiments while I stood confused about what to do like many of the other kiwis there. After Chemistry we had a small break and then we participated in sports sessions with everyone involved in the exchange. I believe most people enjoyed the sports regardless of ability or interest, myself included, and it allowed for the Germans and Kiwis to interact in more ways. After sport, my partner, a few other pairs and me, walked to the Döner Haus where I ate my first Döner. I can confirm that they are indeed extremely large, delicious and good value. I will definitely be wanting more. This was the last official school day at our partner school and we are now looking forward to the celebrations of the German Unity Day on the 3rd of October followed by two weeks of school holidays. (by Sam)
Today started off with taking two trains to get to Berlin to see the Reichstag and get a tour of Berlin. Upon arrival in Berlin we were all greeted with a train station you wouldn't ever see in New Zealand. We continued our journey over to the Brandenburg Gate and waited in awe at the Pariser Platz. George, our guide for the day, greeted us all with a welcoming smile and a friendly manner of speech, with him guiding and the rest of us waiting in anticipation for every bit of information he could provide us with about Berlin, sliding in some witty jokes and some thought provoking comments about how we should potentially view the history. We were informed about the Berlin Wall, Brandenburger Tor, Checkpoint Charlie, Memorials in Berlin and the Trabi cars of East Berlin.
Once our informative tour of Berlin came to an end, we made more space in our minds for The Reichstag tour we had waiting for us. After a short walk and a security check we were finally IN The Reichstag. The building, although modernised, still had remnants of history as walls and ornaments that remained original and preserved from World War II were left on display for public view. The debating room where parliament held main sessions was empty but nonetheless the room still had a view that was unique. We walked up the glass dome on top of the Reichstag which the architect Norman Foster had designed. It was stunning to see the 300 mirrors on a cone shape that allows for natural daylight to be used inside the parliament building alongside artificial light for a lit up room and to save energy. The dome symbolises how the building is for the people with its transparent view and availability even during parliament sessions being a symbol of the people being able to see over their government, hence the words on the front of the building "dem Deutschen Volk" which translates to "for the people". On a lower floor of the building lay another piece of interesting art which was 5000 tin boxes stacked to create a corridor type structure and labelled with the names of politicians who have ever worked in the Reichstag. When the tour ended, our minds were filled with the knowledge of centuries. We got on our trains back to our little home called Werder ready to greet our Host family partners with open arms and tell them about our day. (by Andre)
The bus was quiet as we started our journey to Werder, our host town. The journey was long, but it gave us the perfect opportunity to brush up on our German or get the last of our English out. After 3 stops the destination we so eagerly waited for was in front of us. German children or rather friendly faces greeted us with tremendous welcome signs. "Welcome to Germany" colourfully written in the colours of the German flag. Our hosts made sure to give us the warmest of welcomes. Not only could we see our exchange partner, we were kindly greeted by the entirety of their families. Every student was left to further experience the warm welcome back at the house of their new German family. Many students had felt nervous about the first whole day with their new families. However, to their delight the what was thought to be a long time passed in the blink of an eye. Different area, but it still feels home. Some students spent the weekend shopping, others such as myself went on an extraordinary adventure to an event or place of interest. I spent the day with my partner and their friend at a pumpkin fair. Never can I say I have seen a pumpkin that weighed over 600 kilos. However, I can now. The bright colours of the pumpkins lit up the day. Not only did the pumpkins weigh astronomical amounts, they were also creatively used to design figures of forest animals. It was so intriguing to see these masterpieces created out of a single food.
The following day was an early start for everyone because all the students, German or kiwi, were going to school. We were further welcomed by the pleasant faces of teachers from our exchange school Ernst-Haeckel-Gymnasium as we traversed the multi-floored school. The students again diverging with their exchange partners to experience different German classes. Hard as it was to understand certain things, all students can tell you it was a great opportunity to learn how German students work. Lunchtime had finally arrived, and all parties of the exchange got together for a cheerful event full of food, singing and decorations. Stomachs full and the messy room cleaned, we all ventured off for a tour of Werder, historic locations described to us in German and English. Lots of preparation was put into making sure we understood and enjoyed the quaint city of Werder. The tour finished with the last important figure of the exchange, the deputy mayor. Any and all queries about the City were described and explained to us. For the last time of the day the students had a sweet departure from the group to the warmth of their friendly new family. Related or not, everyone can already say that it feels like they are part of a family. (by Isaac)
Our final full day in Bavaria was truly incredible. After another awesome breakfast at the hostel and the earliest start of our stay, we set off on the bus to Garmisch- Partenkirchen - the first stop on our journey up to the highest point in Germany, Zugspitze. We all packed into a Gondola that took us a bit higher up than the ones at Rotorua and Queenstown, to the 2962m high summit in the Alps. Some of us were even lucky enough to stand on the glass pane during the ascent and watch the trees shrink below us. We were all completely awe-struck by the view from the top. The mountain range was seemingly endless and covered in a dusting of early snow. Our scarves, gloves and thickest jackets definitely came in handy in the 3-degree temperature, though the cold was well worth the opportunity to experience the summit.
Something that was super exciting was our brief excursion to Austria! Since Zugspitze is situated on Germany’s border, we were able to just walk to the next viewing platform and be in another country. From Austria, because we were lucky enough to be visiting on a clear day, we were able to see all the way over to Italy which was a truly surreal experience.
After a bit of time enjoying the scenery up top and getting photos we took the train down through the mountain back to town. Turns out Zugspitze is also a popular destination for dogs, as there were a fair few very well behaved and very cute dogs accompanying their owners on the train. For an hour we got to explore Garmisch-Partenkirchen town and take in the traditional Bavarian buildings and the atmosphere. It was definitely a day we’ll ever forget, and further cemented the love we’ve found for Bavaria after spending the most wonderful week here. (by Amelia)
The morning started off yet again with a delicious 8:30 am breakfast. We suited up for the day, dreading the rain waiting for us outside. We persevered and made our way to the bus station. A short bus ride led us to a dinky bus shelter and only a small walk away from Linderhof Castle. The small but incredible Palace and large garden created an intriguing atmosphere. Our guided tour inside Linderhof showed many hidden beauties such as the King’s bedroom and infinite mirror room. We finished our time at Linderhof with a short visit to the souvenir shop and a break for lunch. Another bus ride led us to the Ettal Monastery, a seemingly simple exterior lowered our expectations for the amazing and detailed design inside. Frau Zimmer was by far the best tour guide of them all. After spending too much money at the Monastery shop we headed home for the day. A yummy vegetarian dinner filled us up for another night In Oberammergau. (by Rebecca)
On day 3 in Germany we started the day slightly earlier to catch the train from Oberammergau to Murnau, and then from Murnau to München Hauptbahnhof (main train station). We began our visit to München with a stroll through a small shop and market tent lined shopping street. As we continued to make our way along the street, it opened up into the people-packed Marienplatz. Here our group waited at the bottom of the old looking new town hall watching some chimes accompanied by a set of dancing figurines. After the honestly anticlimactic performance considering the crowd watching, we met our tour guide called Harald who began by telling us about the history of the Marienplatz. From there on we visited areas around München such as the central market place and Beer garden, a street lined with butcheries, a very impressive church, a beer hall and many more places with impressive historical stories. After the tour Paige said a lovely ‘thank you’ to Harald, and we made our way to the Oktoberfest. Upon passing through the glorious welcome arches into the Oktoberfest, we were set free by Frau Zimmer to experience the Oktoberfest atmosphere in small groups. I spent most of my time there trying out the different food and drinks and pillaging the souvenir shops. However, other groups also spent time on the many roller coasters and spinning rides. There were also a lot of little stalls around the place selling Lebkuchenherzen (love heart cookies) that displayed lovely, thoughtful messages, unless you were Sean and were given the power to write your own message onto the cookie. From there we made our way back to the train station and boarded the train, accompanied by a flying Peppa Pig balloon. We ended the day having dinner at an Italian restaurant where the pizzas were enormous. Overall it was an absolute cracker of a day full of a whole bunch of fun and we all learnt a fair bit about München. (by William)
Today, the day greeted us with beautiful sunshine. We had breakfast at 8.30am, a few of us really feeling the jet lag overnight. For breakfast there was a range of breads, cereals, spreads and fruit. We then all chilled out, absorbing all the wifi and updating our friends and family on our exciting past few days. Around 10am we walked to the bus stop to catch a bus to Neuschwanstein Castle. The bus ride was around an hour and a half. The scenery was so beautiful looking out of the bus. It’s a very different sight to see cars driving on the other side of the road compared to New Zealand. When we arrived at the castle, we spent around half an hour sampling all the different foods like Currywurst and Schnitzel. After that we walked up a steep hill to Neuschwanstein and took heaps of photos. Then we continued to look around until our tour of the inside of the castle took place. We learnt about the history of Neuschwanstein and saw all the different rooms King Ludwig II lived in. At the end of the tour we walked another 15 minutes to the Marien Bridge where you can take an amazing photo of Neuschwanstein from a little bit of a distance but still close. So we did get some great photos! We then walked down to catch our bus back to our hostel in Oberammergau. Arriving there at 6pm, the group had dinner which was chicken and you could choose to have it with cream sauce or not. It came with rice and a range of different vegetables. Now we are all just chilling out getting ready to wake up early to go to Munich tomorrow. (by N.)
I woke early to the ringing of a thousand church bells that never seemed to stop. The first breakfast was an interesting one. Cereal, yoghurt, bread rolls, fruit, sliced cheese and ham, coffee and tea. Frau Zimmer had to remind us how to use a knife as we were having trouble cutting the bread rolls open.
We went for a guided tour around Oberammergau, learning about the history of the passion play they hold every decade and the history of the old classic European buildings. We entered a massive 400-year-old church. The inside was absolutely stunning. The artwork and golden finishes were amazing. We walked around town for an hour, getting lunch. I had a €5 Döner that was so big it could have fed half of year 9. Good purchase! We visited a German supermarket and the food was incredibly cheap. Less than a euro for a drink and about €3 for a big jar of Nutella.
Next, most of us went and climbed a hill for an hour. Pure steep uphill gravel walk. It was worth it though, because along with an amazing view, we got to ride The Alpine Coaster. The Alpine Coaster is like a roller coaster and the luge mixed together. You can’t steer as you’re on a rail that sticks close to the ground, but you control your speed. Zooming down a hill for approximately 5 minutes at speeds of up to 40km/h +. It was so exhilarating and fun that almost all of us went a second time. The need for speed was so strong that I got pestered for going too slow (as I was at the front). Meanies!
Walking back to the youth hostel we had a dinner of spaghetti bolognaise and relaxed.
After 35 hours, two flights and one long bus ride we have finally arrived in Oberammergau.
This is our hostel where we'll be staying until Saturday. We are excited to explore the town tomorrow morning.
Here is the first official group photo taken after our last pre-departure meeting. Our group will meet again at Auckland International Airport on Saturday at 5:30pm. Two more sleeps to go.
- Rebecca Montgomerie