Posts Tagged ‘tales from abroad’

So in five days I’ll be getting on a plane and heading home (cue the patriotic Neil Diamond music). Since my time in Germany is running out, I figured that I’d go over the highlights of my trip, the things I’ll remember and talk about for years to come.

And that will make their way into a story or two, because that’s what happens when you’re me. Everything is fodder for my dark, twisted imagination.

So here they are, the highlights of my time in Germany:

Working for the US Army

Me at the office.

Me at the office.

Obviously this has to come first. It’s the whole reason that I’m here in the first place. I got to work for three months in the US Army Civilian Corps, working in the Equal Employment Opportunity office on a variety of projects, including a few articles and newsletters. I gained a lot of experience that will no doubt help me with future jobs (can’t confirm anything on that front yet, but I do think good news is on its way). I also made a few friends while on base, and I got to experience firsthand what it’s like to live and work for the US Army. Sure it was only three months, but what a period of three months! You can definitely expect a story or several coming out of this experience.

Living in Germany

Not everyone is lucky enough to live in a foreign country beyond a vacation of a couple of weeks. I got to do it for four months! And you know, it’s a lot of fun, as well as very educational. Sure, my German still sucks (though I find a lot of people here speak enough English for me to get by), but that didn’t get in the way too much. From trying the train and bus systems, to learning that bakeries here have a weird tolerance for letting flies or bees crawl over their food in the summer (yeah, I found it a little gross too), to even getting lost and learning to rely on the natives for directions, every week seemed to have some new adventure for me, and I can’t wait to tell everyone about some of those adventures I couldn’t talk about here in more detail, either in person or through stories.

My Trip to Munich

German silver mark from 1937. Cool, right?

German silver mark from 1937. Cool, right?

That was my first big trip in Germany. Before that I’d explored parts of Wiesbaden and made trips to Frankfurt and been to nearby Mainz once or twice, but this was really going out to see the country. And it’s definitely one of my favorite parts of being here in Germany, especially since visiting Munich was top of my list of things to do while in Germany. I was given a personal tour of Munich by a WWII scholar who showed me how Munich was such an essential part of the rise of Nazism and some of Nazi Germany’s most formative event. I had such a great time that day, and I would gladly do it again given the chance and maybe someone to share the experience with. In any case, I will have to look up my Holocaust Studies professor once I get back to Columbus and talk to her about my trip. I bet she’d be very interested in seeing some of my photos and souvenirs, including an actual German silver mark from 1937! Now having that is scholarly street cred right there.

For a fuller account of my trip to Munich, read my post here.

Seeing BABYMETAL in concert

BABYMETAL rocking it out in Frankfurt.

BABYMETAL rocking it out in Frankfurt.

If you have no idea who or what BABYMETAL is, they’re a Japanese pop-metal fusion band fronted by three teenage girls. Yes, it is kind of weird, but it is really awesome and they’re making tons of waves in the metal world (if you want to sample them and see what the big deal is, I highly recommend their Road of Resistance video). To say the least, I am a gigantic fan, and this was my second time seeing them in concert. The first time was at the Rock on the Range music festival in Columbus this past May, but they were on a smaller stage and allotted a shorter performance time, so it wasn’t as fun as I’d hoped. When I heard they were going to be in Germany while I was there, and that they’d be doing a full concert, I immediately got tickets to go.

And you know what? I had a blast! They did their whole repertoire (easily enough when you only have one album and a digital single) before a crowd of about a hundred and fifty people, and I just had the best time. I got really close to the stage by the end of the concert, which was good because in addition to tall fans seeing the show from several yards back is no fun, and I got to see a ton of the action up close. Honestly, when they played my favorite song, “Doki Doki Morning”, I nearly died from happiness. At the end of the concert, I felt drunk despite having not had a drop of alcohol all day, and couldn’t help but sing the tune to some of their songs for quite a while after the concert was over. It was just a magical night for me.

Me and my new friend Itamar.

Me and my new friend Itamar.

That concert was also special because, besides a T-shirt I got as a souvenir, I made a new friend at the concert, an Israeli named Itamar who had recently been discharged from the IDF and was traveling around Europe and going to BABYMETAL concerts whenever he could. To him, those concerts were fun and relaxing (considering my own experience and the studies that show heavy metal is a mood lifter for fans, plus the fact that plenty of the band’s songs feature positive messages, I didn’t find that too surprising). We started talking before the show started, realized we had a lot in common, including a thing for horror stories, and hit it off. After the show we found each other and promised to stay in contact, and he said he’d check out my books. The very next day we became Facebook friends. Isn’t that nice?

I also had a great idea for a novel while I was at the concert, but I think I’ll wrap up this entry in the list and say this was a big event for me and I had a ton of fun. And if I get the chance, I hope I can see BABYMETAL in concert again someday.

And I’m jamming out to them while I write this post, but does that surprise you in any way?

Wewelsburg Castle

Wewelsburg castle.

Wewelsburg castle.

A trip to Europe is not complete without a castle or two, in my opinion. Last year on my study abroad trip it was the Tower of London, and this year it was Wewelsburg Castle, a three-sided German castle in Paderborn that was once the seat of the local Prince-Bishop. During WWII, the SS used the castle as a training center, and some say it was also where they did mystical rituals meant to empower themselves as Aryan men (there’s both evidence to support and oppose this theory, but I wouldn’t discount it). Ever since last year when I did a paper on the connections between National Socialism and mysticism and I discovered the castle in my studies, I’ve wanted to check it out, and being able to do so on this trip was a very big deal for me. I learned a lot while I was there, and I even got a story idea while I was there. Wewelsburg is definitely a place I’d recommend anyone visiting Germany visit if they’re in the mood for seeing a castle with an interesting and dark history.

For a fuller account of my trip to the castle, you can read my post here.

German food and drink

Love that German beer!

Love that German beer!

Now, because I keep kosher and because I can’t read German, my access to German food was limited. Still, when I could have it, I found that it was pretty good. They definitely know how to make some tasty baked fish dishes, the Germans do. They use plenty of spices to give it flavor, I think.

And German beer and wine is definitely some of the best I’ve ever tasted. I know Germany is known for its beers, but the wine is pretty extraordinary too. In fact, Frankfurt and plenty of other German cities and provinces make a lot of money off wine, and there’s even a university in Frankfurt where they teach wine and beer making. If I wasn’t such a writer, I might consider applying to that school and started a winery or something.

Definitely don’t miss out on eating actual authentic German cuisine while you’re here. You’ll miss out on a central part of the country if you do.

And finally…

All the story ideas!

Last year when I was in Europe, I kept track of how many ideas I had while I was abroad and came up with 40 ideas. This year I did the same, and after four months and so many experiences, the amount of ideas I had was staggering. 81 ideas as of this past Saturday. Yeah, that’s a lot of ideas. Novels, short stories, articles, even a video game or two, inspired by anything from dreams to stories I read and shows or movies I watched, to all these experiences and several more experiences I had while in Germany. Yeah, it’s definitely been a good time for me creatively while I’ve been here. I just wonder when I’m going to write all these stories! Hopefully not never.

 

Well, that’s all I’ve got. I have to say, I’m going to miss Germany terribly. It’s been quite an experience while I was here, and I hope that maybe someday I can visit again, maybe see a few things I didn’t get the chance to see during my four months here (I probably would’ve seen more if I could, but time and money are always a factor in these sort of things). And who knows? Maybe in the future I’ll get that chance after all.

One can always hope. Right my Followers of Fear?

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Me standing on a stone walkway on Omaha Beach, looking into the distance and trying to imagine what the seas looked like on June 6, 1944.

Me standing on a stone walkway on Omaha Beach, looking into the distance and trying to imagine what the seas looked like on June 6, 1944.

While my study abroad trip was in Normandy, we visited Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, and Pont-du-Hoc. It was quite an experience. For one thing, except for the memorials at Utah Beach to fallen soldiers and the museum next to the memorials, each beach looked like an ordinary beach. You had to really look for vestiges of the war that had raged on the sands nearly 70 years ago. Whether it was the structure in the water meant to obstruct the D-Day boats, or the preserved (I assume preserved) anti-aircraft gun standing on a pedestal, or the set of stairs leading up to a bunker in the mountain, there were hints at what had happened there.

It was really weird. You stand there, and you’d think it was just an ordinary beach. It’s hard to believe that the things that happened there really happened. I wonder how it was for the veterans who were still alive and able to make the trip to the commemoration ceremonies (like this badass Ohio former paratrooper), to come back to the beaches all these years later and seeing bare vestiges of the war left. Must have been disorientating, to say the least.

At Pont-du-Hoc though, you could totally hear the echoes of the past. Pont-du-Hoc, if I remember correctly, is not too far from Omaha Beach. Scattered all throughout the area are rubble, the remains of German bunkers and weapons, and dozens of craters, varying in size from six feet across to twenty feet across or more. Don’t even get me started on how deep those things went! I was scared to go down into the deeper ones lest I be unable to get out again without assistance.

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My friend David Corrigan in one of the deeper pits. This one was maybe twenty feet deep and twenty-five across. It was quite the shock to see it for the first time.

It was easier there to get an idea of what the war was like. You could see evidence in the craters, from the huge blocks of concrete, and from the gun pits and passageways, that war had been waged in this area. And what an area it was! You get the impression from movies and TV shows that a battle, no matter the size of the army, is maybe contained to a place the size of a football field. Pont-du-Hoc was probably several football fields long and wide. It really redefined my belief on what a battle was like.

And when I closed my eyes, I could almost hear the sounds of the battle, echoing across the stream of time from seventy years ago. And I was awed by it all, by the magnitude of what had happened and the horrors the soldiers must’ve witnessed in the spots I stood on. It was so hard to fathom. Thank God I have a writer’s imagination, which made it a little easier, but what I saw in my mind’s eye was probably nothing like it really was back then.

Now, veterans, their families, and world dignitaries such as Obama and Putin and so many others are there to remember the fallen and the battles waged just as I did a few weeks before. It’s right that they should, because it was D-Day and Operation Overlord which began the destruction of the Nazi regime and helped to free so many people from the horrors of fascism and racism. And while technically it was the Soviets who really ended Nazi Germany’s reign of terror, D-Day had a large role in ending it as well. D-Day and everything after.

Me in an anti-aircraft gun pit. Trust me, I had to struggle to get in there.

Me in an anti-aircraft gun pit. Trust me, I had to struggle to get in there.

And I’m so glad I’m at least able to contribute something, even if it’s only some musings and a couple of memories and photos, to the celebrations and commemorations. I’m so happy to say that I was there and that I have more knowledge than I did of the invasion on this auspicious day. And I’m happy that I was able to reach back across time like that and get some sense, even if it was just a small one, of what happened on those beaches and in the surrounding countryside.

Thanks to all those who served in the war, who helped to liberate Europe from Nazi tyranny, and who still today serve to protect the ideals of freedom and peace. It’s all because of you that I’m able to write this. And I and so many others will never forget it.

Jones, Jones, let me borrow your bones

Jones, Jones, let me borrow your bones

 

Oh, I’m so excited to tell everyone about my trip down into the catacombs! As you may well know, the catacombs occupy the prime spot on my list of haunted places to visit before I become a ghost myself. And I got in this morning! It’ll make a great beginning to a new sub-category of posts, “Tales from Abroad” (I figure with all the stories I have to tell, a category was needed for it).

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Well, this morning I woke up early. I’d heard that the lines for the catacombs were insanely long, and I decided to get there early. So I got dressed, ate breakfast, and headed to the Metro. Right across from the exit from my stop, was the entrance to the catacombs, with a small line already forming. I rushed to it and got in before anyone else could. It was about fifty minutes before the catacombs opened at that point, and it was also the time when I made new friends: Andrew and Maria, an engineer and sketch artist from Florida whom I talked to while waiting in line. Subjects ranged from WWII history to our travels to the history of the catacombs themselves to our individual aspirations and dreams. During the tour I often saw them and we took photos of each other at various points along the tour.

When ten o’clock hit, the doors opened and we went in. By that point the line had snaked around the block and out of sight (average wait time is around two hours apparently. So remember kids, if you’re in Paris and plan to tour the catacombs, arrive as early as I did so you can get in quickly). The tour was self-guided (audio guides cost extra, and tour guides are only available to groups), so you basically walked down a circling staircase to a first room that dealt with the history of the catacombs (originally mines and underground quarries, later the home of six million of Paris’s dead as corpses were moved from cemeteries to underground for health reasons) and the geological history of the catacombs. Later you moved into the catacombs proper, a series of passageways and tunnels (only a section available to the public; anything else, you’d have to find a cataphile, a catacomb enthusiast who can access illegal entry points and go down to explore).

Andrew and Maria in the Kingdom of the Dead.

Andrew and Maria in the Kingdom of the Dead.

It was very interesting, being down there. You could see niches where rocks were carved out or where things could be stored, as well as metal gates blocking the way to passageways not open to the public. In two places there were these amazing sculptures of beautiful building that a worker from the original catacomb project in the 18th century had carved from memory, recreating his home in the Balkans. There was a deep well that went even deeper into the ground, and a series of archways and niches set along an incline, as if to let us now we were entering sacred ground.

Can you say new author bio pic?

Can you say new author bio pic?

And then came the best part of all. Over a doorway, written in French and carved with precision was the warning, “Beware, for you are about to enter the Kingdom of the Dead”. And what a kingdom it was! The walls were lined with the bones and skulls of so many dead. And even though we were told by signs not to use flash or touch the bones, many did anyway. I won’t say whether or not I did, but I will admit that I am aware of what bones feel like when you hold them (bones from 300 years ago feel like light, brittle rocks in your hands). Some of the bones were arranged in interesting shapes, such as representations of crosses, men, or churches. Others had been arranged to help support different structures, such as around this column. Or this well, which strangely made me think of a portal to Hell rather than a catch for water. And plenty of coffins, crypts, and tombstones.

The bones went on for ages and ages. Every moment I was in a sort of heaven (so to speak). As you can guess, I am quite the lover of the macabre, so this definitely got me excited. If you look at each of the photos carefully, you’ll see me with such glee and excitement on my face.

But sadly it had to end. And end it did, with the doorway to the land of the living coming all too soon. There were a few more sights to see, including some lovely vaulted ceilings, and then we had to resurface, taking another winding staircase up. All told, I spent about an hour and a half down in the catacombs, twice the normal amount estimated for a tour, and I covered two kilometers and over 200 steps going up and down. And I would do it again if given the opportunity, because it is just a wonderful place to be. At least, for me it is.

Afterwards, I went to the gift shop (yes, they have a gift shop) and got a couple of souvenirs to remember the trip below by (there’s only so much photos can do, and for obvious reasons I couldn’t take the bones with me, even if I was the kind of guy to try to take bones with me). I got a small booklet about the catacombs for easy reference in case of a story (of which I have one or two ideas for), a sticker for my laptop, and a skull ring, something I’ve always wanted for myself as a horror author.

How you like the sticker and the bling-bling?

How you like the sticker and the bling-bling?

I’m not sure if I actually witnessed any ghosts. I certainly don’t remember seeing anything out of the ordinary, except possibly some evidence of cataphiles in a restricted section. But I certainly had a great time down there, and I’ll definitely treasure those memories of that hour and a half for as long as my memory works (though I’m not sure sometimes that it does now). It certainly has become my favorite part of Paris.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ll try to upload the rest of the photos of that night when I get the chance. In the meantime, I’ll send Andrew and Maria the photo I took of them as well as the link to this post. Have a good night, my Followers of Fear. I know I will.

BOO!