Although February is the shortest month of the year, I think it's been my busiest month so far! In the first weekend of February, my host family and I drove up to Essen to visit my host aunt and uncle and their two daughters. Upon arrival, I noticed how even though Essen is only about an hour from where we live, the housing style varies drastically.
After a full night of watching Club der Roten Bänder, we woke up to a traditional German breakfast of bread and various toppings.
The following Sunday afternoon, I got invited to a pre-Superbowl party in Düsseldorf. Because of the time difference, the Superbowl didn't start here until 12:30 in the morning. However, Will and I made the best of it and celebrated with pizza in the Düsseldorf Altstadt.
Right before Will got on his train, we took this last minute picture. Unfortunately, because the train connections between Düsseldorf and Bedburg after 8 pm are far and few between, I ended up once again confusing my trains. Luckily, this time I was able to find a train that went to Grevenbroich, which is much closer to home than Mönchengladbach, the town where I ended up last time!
On the 8th, my German teacher Cornelia invited me to go out to eat with her and two other former students, Barbara and Chloe. We all met up in Köln at Die Fette Kuh for burgers. However, the Germans take a different approach to eating burgers than Americans. They eat them with a fork and a knife!
After our meal, we headed to The Schildergasse to do a bit of shopping. We had little luck, so we walked down to Starbucks to pick up some warm hot coco. Over our hot chocolates, the girls and I talked about the biggest differences between Germany and our countries (USA and Indonesia) and life in general. Getting to talk to other girls who are also far away from their home towns was really fun!
The 12th of February was the day of Magic of the Dance, the dance concert that all four of us girls received tickets to for Christmas from Oma and Opa. After a quick stop at Oma and Opa's house for waffles, we drove together to the small town center where the production was being held.
I didn't really know what to expect before entering the building, I had never seen Irish dancing in real life. Despite this, I truly did enjoy the show. The show was made up of many different scenes that involved traditional Irish dancing. The scenes were set in both Ireland and the U.S. (yes, part of the story was told in English) and told the story of Irish immigrants coming to America to escape poverty and the evil spirits trying to hold them back. All in all, a new and unique experience that I really enjoyed!
Me, Marit, Svenja, Gesa, and Oma before the show started.
This month we had no school on one of the Mondays, so my two host sisters and I decided to take the train to Köln to do a little bit of clothes shopping. Unfortunately it was raining, but we made the best of it and got about four hours of shopping in before I had to go to German lessons. We picked up a German fast food favorite, Pommes Frites, and then I spotted an "English Shop" down the street and wanted to go check it out.
Fun fact: condiments cost extra here!
Walking inside this store, I found so many different items that weren't only English, but American also. They even had a "U.S. Foods" section that had foods like maple syrup, oatmeal, mac & cheese, baking mixes, Kool-Aid, Pop-Tarts, and Twinkies. Everything was two times as expensive here as it is in the U.S., so I didn't end up actually purchasing anything.
Between shopping and lessons, I stopped into the Kölner Dom once more to look around. Every single time I walk into or even just past this beautiful ancient church, I'm amazed that so many tourists from all over the world come to Germany to see this building just once in their life and I have the opportunity to hop on a train any day I want and spend as long as I want inside.
Towards the end of February, there is a very important week of festivities celebrated by cities along the Rhine in Germany. It's called Karneval. Since September, my host sisters have been explaining to me bits and pieces of what Karneval is. My Karneval celebration week started off on Thursday at school. We all sat in the community room in our costumes and watched four hours of Karneval dancing and other acts.
Costumes are mandatory!
My school gives us Friday, Monday, and Tuesday off for Karneval, so I was able to go out and celebrate on Weiberfastnacht (Fat Thursday) with Will in Düsseldorf. My host family calls Düsseldorf "die verbotene Stadt" because although we don't actually live in Köln, their "allegiance" is to Köln. Apparently there are a few differences between how both cities celebrate Karneval. One big difference is Alaaf vs. Helau. Köln says Alaaf, Düsseldorf says Helau. Saying the wrong word in the wrong city could mean trouble. Anyways, back to celebrating in Düsseldorf. The Altstadt was packed with hundreds of people wearing every costume imaginable. Even at four in the afternoon, we had to push our way through huge crowds to get to the S-Bahn. Will was unlucky and got pinned between the ticket machine and a very tall man wearing a lion onesie.
It started raining not long after we arrived, so we ended up taking shelter underneath the overhang of a jewelry store and eating chips and talking. Sometimes it's more fun to just sit back and watch the Germans celebrate the way they do. While we were standing underneath the overhang, we saw the police arrest a man wearing a prisoner costume. Irony at its finest.
Saturday afternoon we took a break from the Karneval festivities and went to an escape room in Düsseldorf. If you don't know what an escape room is, basically you're locked into a nearly empty room and you have to try and figure out how to get out. This particular room was called the "Mind-Boggling" room and involved unlocking a ton of drawers and finding pieces of a puzzle and cracking codes in a particular series in order to figure out the code that unlocked the door.
We had 60 minutes to start with and ended the challenge with 12:38 to spare. Not too bad for a bunch of beginners!
An essential part of Karneval is the Karneval Zoch (parade in Kölsch). Every major town that celebrates Karneval has one and lots of villages and normal sized towns also do. Everyone in the parade wears costumes and walks with a float, big or small. The people in the parade throw not only candy, but also chips, kleenex, popcorn, confetti, and even give alcohol to parents. To get people to throw candy at you, you're supposed to throw your hands in the air and yell "Kamelle!" Pretty different than any U.S. parade I've ever been too! The first parade I went to was on Saturday in Kirchtroisdorf, my village. Although small, it was my first taste of a real Karneval Zoch.
Saturday evening we were "im Zelt" (in the tent). Going im Zelt is also another common way to celebrate Karneval in Germany. Basically, Germans just go im Zelt to dance, listen to Karneval music, and drink. This particular time, there was a costume contest. We spent half of the time walking around collecting votes for the contest and the other half waiting for the band to play songs we could dance to. We were also one of the youngest groups of people there. I thought it wasn't too bad, but my host sisters told me that it wasn't a good representation of what celebrating Karneval is actually like.
No Zoch is a success without getting hit in the face by airborne candy at least once. I learned this the hard way. The second Zoch was in Bedburg, a town of 30,000 people about five minutes away from my village. I think this one was my favorite.
Clowns are a huge symbol of Karneval. Many of the houses in my village have clown decorations taped in their windows starting at the end of January.
My final Karneval Zoch was in Kirchherten on Rosenmontag. Before setting off, we watched a little bit of the big Rosenmontag Zoch in Köln on TV. Many of the floats in Köln have a political theme, often criticizing/satirizing world leaders. Kirchherten had a few floats that featured America. One of them had a wild west theme and another had a biker/Harley Davidson theme. I found it interesting to see what stereotypes Germans have about Americans.
February is over, which means that I have officially passed the halfway point. Although this is not the end, it feels like the beginning of the end. I'm still working my way through my exchange bucket list and I'm determined to cross all the remaining items off it in my last four and a half months in Germany.