Summer 2009 SST Unit in Germany

Follow along on our journey! You can click on any square picture to see a larger image.

Tue, 21 Apr 2009

Anfänge/Beginnings in Jena

Joe arrived in Jena April 15 and is anxiously awaiting the arrival of Jo-Ann at the end of this week and the students the following week. Conversations with individuals, seeing what is the same and what is different in the city, memories of earlier SST Jena experiences--all contribute to the anticipation of what the 2009 unit will learn and experience while in Germany.

Jena's monocular tower continues to dominate most views of the center city. Spring has arrived and the hills that surround us are alive with fresh green leaves and flowering trees and bushes. The banks of the Saale river welcome young and old alike. Local media are buzzing with news that the recently-completed Autobahn tunnel at the city's edge has sunk six centimeters. Tram drivers still seem willing to wait patiently when they see passengers like Joe running to jump on board.

Wolfgang B. of jenakolleg (, together with colleague Kerstin P. and office manager Kerstin M., have once again worked out myriad details for our language instruction and excursions. Ruth R. and husband Klaus have again juggled the details and contacts necessary to find host families for our students to live while in Jena. Joe is busily contacting various church and social service agencies to line up service placements for the second half of the term. All are a bit sad to realize this is the last SST group scheduled for Jena.

Included here are pictures of some of the homes students will find themselves living this year. New homes, older homes, homes high on the hill, and down in the valley. Public transportation rides to the Christliches Gymnasium (Christian high school), where we will again hold our language classes, will range from 3 minutes to 45 minutes. One lucky student will climb down more than 100 steps each time s/he wants to take the bus.

There will probably not be another blog update until after the students arrive.

Check back around May 1!

Thu, 30 Apr 2009

Safe arrival in Jena

Our group, minus one who will arrive Saturday, arrived safely in Frankfurt, Germany almost an hour ahead of schedule this morning, excited but tired. Midway through the 4-hour bus trip from the airport to Jena, most had drifted off for a brief nap. A second wind came when we arrived and unloaded our luggage at the Christliches Gymnasium, the private school where our language instruction will take place.

After a brief blessing and a short orientation with Jo-Ann, we started to learn our way around Jena's public transport system. The reward was getting to the center of Jena where students, leaders, and jenakolleg friends enjoyed a first German meal at the venerable Zur Noll restaurant. Kerstin P. from jenakolleg took us on a short orientation tour. We then returned to the school, where our host families came to claim us. This evening we are beginning to learn to know the families who are welcoming us into their homes for the next six weeks.

Tomorrow, May 1, is a holiday here, but we'll get together briefly in the morning to share first impressions with each other and begin to think more about the weeks ahead.

Wed, 6 May 2009

First week

We spent our first weekend with our host families--beginning the mutual acquaintances that are essential parts of our SST experiences. On Monday, most of us were out the door by 7:30 a.m. to head for our first morning of language instruction. Our first teacher, Christel B. soon had us working collaboratively on our German. At noon, Joe & Jo-Ann introduced us to the student Mensa (cafeteria), after which we returned to the school for Wolfgang B.'s introduction to Germany in 2009.

On Tuesday we climbed into the same bus that had brought us from the airport to Jena last Thursday and headed for the town of Eisenach on the western edge of Thuringia. Perched above the town is the Wartburg Castle, founded almost a millenium ago. Its walls sheltered Martin Luther in 1521-22, and we were able to see some of Luther's own handwritten translations of portions of the Bible into German. Three centuries before Luther, the castle was home to St. Elisabeth of Hungary, renowned for acts of Christian charity. Three centuries after Luther, the castle served as a symbol of a growing German nationalist sentiment, and UNESCO recognizes it as a "World Heritage" site of unusual cultural significance. In the Middle Ages it overlooked significant trade routes and from 1949 to 1990 sat above the border dividing East and West Germany.

In the afternoon we took up the trail of Eisenach's most famous native, Johann Sebastian Bach. The historic Bach House museum has displays ranging from antique instruments--demonstrated for us by a museum staff member--to forensic reconstructions of Bach based on a 19th-century bronze cast of his skull. Alas, the museum does not yet comment on GC alumnus' Bradley Lehman's Bach tuning.

After touring the museum we headed to Arnstadt, one of Thuringia's oldest cities, and the place where at age 18, J.S. Bach was first employed as an organist. The current organist of the Bach Church there provided details of the restoration of the 1703 organ, brand-new at the time of Bach's employment. He then played several pieces composed by Bach at Arnstadt before moving to a demonstration of a 1913 organ housed beneath the 1703 organ. We joined him at the newer organ for a closer look at how organs operate. Some of us even tried the 1913 organ for ourselves. We returned home tired, but grateful for the expert guidance of jenakolleg's Bernd Z. on this day of learning. (Bernd joined us again Wednesday afternoon to share his perceptions of growing up in the German Democratic Republic.)

Sat, 9 May 2009

Jena tour

On Thursday afternoon--jenakolleg's Kerstin P. took us on a thorough tour of Jena's historic center. A full week here in Germany and the first twelve hours of on-site language instruction helped us understand more than we did during the brief tour when we first arrived.

After traipsing through the garden of German scholar-poet Friedrich Schiller, the market square, the old university courtyard and points in between, we headed for the observation deck of Jena's landmark tower, almost 120 meters above the ground. This vantage point helped us make better sense of Jena's hills and valleys.

Finally on Friday afternoon, at the close of what seemed like a very full week of learning, we gathered at Jo-Ann & Joe's apartment. Jo-Ann led us in discussion of our week's experiences. We included a few quieter moments of reflection around the small candleholders we had made during our first gathering on May 1.

Thu, 14 May 2009

Botanical garden

Sprinkled throughout Jena are many sites well-suited to help us consider scientific themes. On Tuesday afternoon, most of us visited the botanical garden with Jo-Ann. Begun in 1586 as a small medicinal garden, it later became a pleasure garden for the local duke. In 1794 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe turned the garden into a research center for the university, a role it continues to play today. We tried to observe how today's garden reflects its history--earlier preoccupations with morphology (the study of the structure and form of plants) and newer interests in plant ecology and human use of plants. On Thursday afternoon a smaller group visited the Phyletisches Museum, a small natural history museum that focuses upon the contributions of Jena's scientists to knowledge of various species and their development.

Photos from our botanical garden visit are courtesy of Matt.

Naumburg excursion

On Wednesday afternoon we caught the train for Naumburg, a town about 40 km northeast of Jena. In 1028, Naumburg became the seat of a bishopric and its most important landmark is the cathedral, built in the 13th-15th centuries. Throughout the Middle Ages Naumburg was a market town, profiting especially from trade in the blue dye derived from the flowering plant woad. Though indigo supplanted woad in the 17th century, the former wealth of Naumburg remains visible in the many historical structures still standing. Climbing up into one of the surviving city gate towers helped us understand some of how the medieval city functioned. Early parts of the cathedral were built in Romanesque style, but later parts, following changing architectural tastes, were completed in Gothic style. The cathedral is noted especially for sculpted figures that are among the earliest realistic depictions of human expression in post-classical western art. Before traveling home, we visited several other points of interest in Naumburg, including philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s home, an ice cream shop (to celebrate Rosemary’s birthday), and Naumburg’s Peace Pole—like the one on the GC campus but with the addition of colorful streamers.

Thu, 21 May 2009

Off to Kindergarten

After language instruction and lunch on Monday, we gathered at Engelplatz in the city center to catch the tram out to one of Jena's ten municipal kindergartens. Upon arrival, Frau G. and her colleague treated us to fruit, cookies, and coffee. They told us about some of the goals and challenges of providing quality childcare in Jena. This year 130 children from ages 1 to 6 are enrolled at this location. The youngest children are cared for in age groups, but the 3 to 6-year olds are in mixed-age groups. Following the introduction we toured the kindergarten building. Resourceful staff members have managed to transform a conventional structure into a creative learning environment. Children can move freely among rooms designed to permit a wide variety of activities, as well as enjoy the outdoor playground. The first Kindergarten ("garden for children") was opened in 1840, in a town just about 20 miles from Jena. We left with a sense that Jena is willing to conceive of kindergarten quite literally as a place to nurture the growth of children.

Ascension Day hike

Ascension Day (May 21) is a holiday in this region, so Jo-Ann and Joe led a small group of students on a nature hike through Jena’s Pennicken valley. We left early to avoid the more boisterous holiday hikers who dominate midday and later hours. The beginning of our hike was accompanied by the sound of the waters that for centuries have patiently formed travertine and other limestone here. We stopped at the Fuerstenbrunnen (prince’s fountain), the best known of ten springs in the valley. We then hiked up through the woods observing flora (from strawberries to wild orchids) and fauna (mostly confined to the ubiquitous German snails and slugs, and the more delightful songbird choruses). Parts of our 10-kilometer route took us along more barren limestone outcroppings. A fitting end to any German hike is a ruined castle, today the 12th-century Lobdeburg, which by the end of the 16th century had began forfeiting its stones to the construction of bridges and other structures in the region.

(Other students in the unit will be doing this or a similar hike on Monday or Tuesday afternoon.)

Sun, 31 May 2009

Schott Museum

[] -- On Wednesday afternoon, we visited the Schott Glass Museum, beginning with a stop at the Schott Villa. Beginning in the 1880s chemist Otto Schott developed new formulas for glass, improving its quality for use in optics. Later advances made it possible to produce stable, heat-resistant glass for household and industry. He moved to Jena to collaborate with Carl Zeiss and Ernst Abbé, contributing to the growth and importance of Jena’s local optics and pharmaceutical industries. The trio provided Jena industries with an unusual balance of scientific, commercial and social interests. We learned about the hasty evacuation of the glass company’s intellectual capital to the American sector at the end of World War II and the subsequent establishment of a new firm in West Germany. After German reunification in 1990 the daughter company in Mainz took over the parent company in Jena. The museum presents the history of glass and highlights the technological successes of the Schott Glass Company.


[] -- On Thursday we spent most of the morning at Buchenwald, the former Nazi concentration camp—just about a week before President Obama’s planned visit to the same site. Between 1937 and 1945 about one-quarter of a million people were imprisoned at Buchenwald, with more than one in five of those prisoners meeting their deaths here. We prepared ourselves for this visit by reading Elie Wiesel’s Night. Wiesel, then 15 years old, spent the last few weeks of the war at Buchenwald. Thursday was overcast, and as we got off the local bus, the wind blowing across the hill was cold. Kerstin P. led us in a prayer before we entered the camp. On Friday, we shared some of our reflections with each other—shock, anger, disbelief. What, we wonder, would our own actions have been as prisoners, oppressors, or bystanders?

We choose to represent this visit by a single photo: the camp's main gate with its cyncial motto "To each according to his merits."


On Thursday afternoon, we traveled on to Erfurt, Thuringia’s capital, and home of Germany’s largest intact medieval city center. Rising above the rest of the city is the impressive Gothic cathedral where Martin Luther was ordained. Not far away is the university where he studied and the Augustinian monastery where he took monastic orders. During our visit to Naumburg earlier, we had encountered the economic importance of the woad plant (used to produce blue dye)—this time we got to actually see such a plant. We visited one of the fords along the Gera River, perhaps the one to which Erfurt owes its name, and a medieval bridge that still have over 30 buildings on it. We returned to Jena for another day of language class, a long Pentecost weekend. On Tuesday we head to Germany’s capital Berlin.

Fri, 5 Jun 2009

Berlin, Day 1

Tuesday morning found all of us in the right place and on time as we left Jena to head to Berlin. The train arrived 10 minutes late in Jena, but delivered us 10 minutes early to Germany’s capital. We took public transport to our youth hostel and then headed back to the center of what had been West Berlin. There we got on a double-decker bus to get our first orientation to this large city. Many of the places we saw from the top of the bus, we got to revisit in more detail later on foot with jenakolleg’s Wolfgang B. After the bus tour, we walked up West Berlin’s famous shopping street Kurfürstendamm to the remains of a large church destroyed in a bombing raid near the end of World War II. Those ruins stand as a reminder of the effects of war. A modern chapel built next the ruins offers a peaceful refuge for meditation and worship next to the hustle and bustle of the commercial activity outside. Before supper we visited one of Berlin’s early 20th-century transportation hubs and the KaDeWe—continental Europe’s largest department store. After supper, we clambered onto a bus that took us through Berlin’s embassy quarter to Potsdamer Platz. During the Cold War, this was a desolate no-man’s land where Soviet, American and British sectors of Berlin met. After the opening of the Berlin Wall in late 1989, major architects repopulated the square with numerous new buildings. From here we walked along the route once divided by the Berlin Wall to the mute stones of Berlin’s Holocaust memorial and then to the Brandenburg Gate, whose location on the border between East and West allowed it to serve as an important symbol for both sides. We ended the day by visiting the dome of the Reichstag (the German parliament building). Symbolizing the goal of transparency in government, the dome offers visitors a view into the legislative chamber, as well as one of the best vantage points to look out on the city of Berlin.

Berlin, Days 2 & 3

After a good night’s rest at our youth hostel, we woke up Wednesday to a typically-filling German breakfast buffet, Wolfgang started us out on the second phase of our pedestrian exploration of Berlin. We headed back to Potsdamer Platz, but followed the path of the former Berlin Wall in the opposite direction of our walk on Tuesday evening. This soon brought us to what had been the center of Nazi security, including the former site of Adolph Hitler’s bunker complex. Markers along the way reminded us of the variety of victims of 20th-century totalitarianisms, and we passed one of the longest remaining stretches of the Berlin Wall. Not far beyond Checkpoint Charlie, a former East-West border crossing for military and diplomatic personnel, we stepped into an exclusive store for a quick review of major Berlin monuments done in chocolate. That interlude behind us, we began to explore other facets of Berlin’s history. First, the 18th-century Gendarmenmarkt with its pair of churches and 19th-century concert house. One of the churches, known as the “French cathedral” was built to serve the Huguenots, French Protestant refugees who boosted Berlin’s population (and its skilled labor force) at the end of the 17th century. We traipsed through several late 20th-century monuments to consumerism—transparent like yesterday’s Reichstag dome, but apparently different in underlying symbolism. Emerging from the perfume of consumerism, we crossed a square that in the 1930s had been tainted by the smell of burning books. On the other side was St. Hedwig’s Cathedral, built in the late 18th century to serve Silesian immigrants to the Prussian capital. From there, on to Berlin’s memorial to the victims of war and tyranny—a former guard house now housing sculptor Käthe Kollwitz’s statue of an anguished mother with her dead son. We finished our morning tour in the early 20th-century Berlin Cathedral. A simple midday worship service contrasted with symbols of Prussian imperial power decorating the building. In the afternoon we split up to visit in several of Berlin’s museums—the Pergamon (with an amazing collection of Middle Eastern antiquities), the Jewish Museum, and the German Technical Museum. We finished our day with a sampler of Berlin entertainments: a traditional German puppet show, a rock concert, or a State Ballet performance of Tschaikowsky’s Sleeping Beauty.

Thursday morning found us back on the sidewalks of Berlin: a visit toGerman playwright Bertolt Brecht’s home and then a tour of the Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof next door where Brecht and numerous other famous Berlin residents are buried. We wandered through a neighborhood that once housed many of Berlin’s Jews, looked at late 19th-century residential-industrial structures, and passed through the Nikolai quarter—Berlin’s birthplace. To finish off the morning we explored public spaces near Berlin’s “Red Town Hall”—nicknamed for its brick exterior—and ended at Alexanderplatz, a main center in eastern Berlin. During the afternoon, we again headed in smaller groups to different museums, including the German Historical Museum. At 7 p.m. we climbed on the train to return to Jena, filled with the experiences of our 3-day sojourn in this amazing city.

Thu, 11 Jun 2009


Having survived, we hope, the final language test on Wednesday morning, we took off Thursday morning for nearby Weimar. The weather has been “variable”—which today meant that we moved between sunshine and downpours with considerable frequency. (This affected the number and quality of pictures we have to illustrate today’s journey.)

Weimar has been a center of significant German cultural and political activity over the centuries. Within a short walk of the railroad station, we encountered a Socialist-era monument to Ernst Thälmann, a leader of Germany’s Communist Party who was executed at nearby Buchenwald in 1944. Then the 19th-century Neues Museum, a Nazi-era bureaucratic complex, and not much farther, the 18th-century Baroque St. Jakob’s Church. Charlotte Vulpius, wife of the poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was buried there among the original resting places of other famous residents such as the 16th-century artist Lucas Cranach the Elder and 18th-century poet Friedrich Schiller. Much of our day was spent tracking places significant to these and other well-known Weimar residents such as the composer Franz Liszt. 2009 is the 90th anniversary of both the Weimar Republic and the Bauhaus school. Although local museums included exhibitions related to both anniversaries, we focused on Bauhaus, whose theories influence the design of much that we consider “modern.” We visited the building in which the Bauhaus school was housed 1919-1925, saw an introductory film, and visited an exhibition that showed objects—textiles, furniture, toys, ceramics, and more—produced by Bauhaus artist-craftspeople. At the end of the afternoon (and in-between downpours) we took a moment to celebrate with two students the birthdays they will have while we are at our service locations.

Sat, 13 Jun 2009

Family farewell event

On Friday afternoon, we gathered at Lutherhaus, a local congregation that has been extremely supportive of our program over the years, to prepare to become hosts for those who have hosted us during the first half of our SST experience. Following the lead of the 2007 group, we began slicing, dicing, grating and crushing the ingredients for a Northern Indiana haystack supper. After setting and decorating tables, we rehearsed our program. Shortly before 7 p.m. our guests started arriving for several hours of pleasant fellowship together. Included in the nearly 40 guests were representatives from each host family, as well as Ruth R. who helped recruit the host families, Kerstin M. from jenakolleg, and Beate L., representing our language teachers. Unit photographer Joe proved delinquent both when it came to documenting our preparatory labor and even the finished spread. By the time he thought to take a picture of the serving table it was too late. Guests enjoyed the meal so much that many returned for seconds. The once heavy-laden serving table was nearly bare. While the guests enjoyed après-haystack treats of fresh fruit and chocolates, we presented our program. Warming up the crowd was our special guest star, Beate’s young son, with several numbers on the Blockflöte (recorder). We then introduced ourselves, sang several hymns, and recited a German alphabet in rhyme that included things, places and people that have become familiar to us here in Jena. Our guests especially appreciated our German-language numbers. We presented flowers to each of our families. Our visiting continued, interrupted by the occasional encore number demanded by host families who had come to know some of our hidden talents.

As the guests departed, the clean up began. The last dishes did not get put away until 11:30 p.m. Still, we had to get up Saturday morning for a final group meeting prior to our departure for service. All of us will depart Monday morning, singly or in pairs, for seven different locations. Our service locations will all be very different from Jena even though they are only 35 to 130 km from here.

This blog will probably not be updated until the beginning of July when Joe and Jo-Ann begin filing reports of their visits to service locations.

Thu, 2 Jul 2009


[] -- Jo-Ann and Joe started the round of service visits with David in Ilmenau. Ilmenau has a population about the the same size as Goshen and a university that was founded in 1894. (Though with 6,200 students enrolled in various engineering fields, Ilmenau and Goshen are not identical twins.) David works at the CJD or Christliches Jugenddorf (Christian Youth Village) situated near the university campus. For over 3 decades, CJD has provided residential and vocational training facilities in Ilmenau. Their focus is particularly on young people who have experienced difficulty entering working life. They currently offer training in glass-blowing, cooking, woodworking, welding, and several other fields.

David lives in one of CJD’s two residential buildings—both interior and exterior still typical of the pre-1989 designs of East Germany. This week the building was bit noisier than usual, filled as it was with a lively crowd of young math campers. David has been helping as needed with diverse tasks, including landscape work, translating the Hausordnung (house rules) and webpages into English, and tending Bratwurst at the occasional Grillparty. Next week he will begin some interior repainting.

David’s supervisor, Herr E., joined David in showing us around four main buildings at CJD and an introductory tour of Ilmenau. Herr E. then hijacked all of us for an extended driving tour of the Thuringian Forest under whose ridges Ilmenau is nestled. Among other places, we stopped at Oberhof’s ski jumps and nearby winter sports training facilities. We also visited the Schneekopf,. At 978 meters just 5 meters shy of being Thuringia’s highest peak—though its observation tower elevated us to 1000 meters.

A visit to David’s favorite peak, the Kickelhahn that stands above Ilmenau will have to await another day.

Sun, 5 Jul 2009

Chemnitz – Josh & Aaron

[] -- On Saturday, Joe & Jo-Ann headed to Chemnitz to visit Aaron & Josh at the Heilsarmee (Salvation Army). Over the years, German SSTers have had service placements at several different Heilsarmee locations in eastern Germany—all of which have proven to be interesting and challenging. In Chemnitz, Josh & Aaron are helping out with several social work programs operating out of a building that two Goshen SSTers helped fix up back in 1999. There are different programs for families, for young children, and for youth. The Heilsarmee tries to provide a welcoming and safe place for informal encounters in a neighborhood of mixed socioeconomic classes. At Chemnitz the Salvation Army works together with the Jesus Freaks congregation. Aaron & Josh reside in the same facility in which they work and together with a team of German young people who are spending a year in voluntary or alternate service. Their service supervisor, Heidi N., reports that both are pitching right in and making good contributions in the team.

The team meets at least once a week to reflect on recent encounters in the various programs and plan activities for the days ahead. Mornings for our SSTers here usually involve lots of cleaning—sweeping and washing floors, cleaning the kitchen, doing dishes, etc. Then come afternoon or evening shifts (sometimes double-shifts) in one of three main programs. Familien-Café provides a place for parents and children to drop by to talk and play. McTurtle is a time just for young children, often with singing and playing. Aaron recently guest-starred with his guitar at McTurtle--the children were delighted to have an American rock-star like him present! Josh and Aaron are most often involved with the Jugendclub Heilse (Salvation Army Youth Club). When working with Jugendclub, the guys prepare and serve snacks and drinks, as well as play board games inside or other games outside, based on what the youth who come are interested in doing. Weather forced cancellation of a recently-planned sandlot volleyball tourney, but Josh has helped increase the interest around the basketball hoop. The building where the guys live also provides venues for regular worship services, small (usually very loud) concerts, and other activities including the occasional used-clothing flea market, a small soundproof studio for bands to use to practice.

After Heidi, Aaron & Josh gave us a thorough tour of the building, the fellows folded their long legs into the tiny SST rental car and we headed over to Dresden for an afternoon of conversation and sightseeing. There, on this 4th of July, we still saw signs that had been posted to welcome President Obama the month before. Most of the buildings of Saxony’s capital were in ruins 60 years ago. Regional pride prompted elaborate reconstruction of notable palaces and public buildings, reestablishing a sense of Dresden’s cultural past. As you look at the pictures from Dresden, remember that most of the buildings in downtown Goshen have been standing longer than the current versions of the buildings in Dresden! Reconstructed arches proved to have practical as well as aesthetic value for us during a torrential afternoon downpour. Among other things, we visited part of the Saxon royal treasure collection to marvel at such wonders as 185 detailed faces carved into a single cherry pit. Life back at the Heilsarmee seems a bit more real to us than that of the Saxon dukes, and we were glad to return to Chemnitz that evening.

Thu, 9 Jul 2009

Aue – Rosemary

[] -- On Monday we visited Rosemary in Aue. She is helping care for aged residents in Abendfrieden (“Evening Peace”), a health care facility run by a community of Protestant deaconesses in Saxony. The facility is one part of the community’s central location, “Zion,” which is the main residence of the deaconesses and provides retreat and worship programs. Rosemary and Herr L., the facility manager, gave us an enthusiastic tour of Zion. We learned about the changes and challenges Zion has faced from its founding just after World War I, through the Nazi and Socialist eras into its current form. For about half of its history, governmental interests dictated the use of much of the facility and deaconesses had little opportunity to develop independent programs and uses. Fortunately, this did not stop them from thinking about what they would do once they had the chance. Thus, at the time of German reunification when they finally regained full control of their facility, they had good ideas of how to renovate it and how to use it to carry out programming suitable to their mission. Jo-Ann and Joe were impressed with the care given to making the building and grounds attractive and the emphasis throughout the institution on the dignity and value of all human life. Rosemary lives with other young volunteers in an apartment on the grounds.

After visiting Zion, we headed out to explore some of points of interest in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) region surrounding Aue. Virtually all the region’s once flourishing mining industry has ceased. Production of handcrafted wooden toys and other objects continues to be economically important. One weekend, a co-worker had taken Rosemary to a local fair at Annaberg-Buchholz about 30 km from Aue. From the top of the ferris wheel Rosemary spotted an interesting looking church and so we chose that as our destination for the day. Enroute we stopped off at the Scheibenberg to look at a basalt cliff. Admittedly, we have seen a lot of old churches while in Germany, but the St. Annenkirche in Annaberg turned out to be unusually interesting both inside and out. Sitting at one of the highest points in town, the façade of this massive late Gothic church (foundation stone laid 1499) is made up of uncut rocks—most churches we have seen either have plastered exteriors or make use of cut stone blocks. Inside, a balcony surrounds three sides of the main nave and a series of 100 colored stone reliefs depict biblical and other religious scenes. There are also several beautiful altars in stone and wood. Heading back to Aue, we took a meandering route along the Czech border and through some more of the mountains, though heavy rain kept us from undertaking any additional short hikes.

Kloster Volkenroda – Sarah & Mark

[] -- On Wednesday, Jo-Ann and Joe drove to visit Mark and Sarah at Kloster Volkenroda. Kloster Volkenroda is operated by a Christian community known as the Jesus-Bruderschaft (Jesus Brotherhood). In the 1990s, the group came to the ruins of an abandoned monastery in Volkenroda and began the slow process of transforming it into a retreat and training center with a small agricultural operation. Mark, working mainly in the kitchen, and Sarah who does everything from shoveling manure to helping with children’s activities during retreats, have joined a team of other longer-term younger volunteers in helping keep the operation running. Everybody was so busy the morning we arrived that it took a while to track them down. We met with Frau K. who played an important role in keeping alive the idea of what Kloster Volkenroda could become and continues to help direct the organization. She is among the German people with whom we have been working who is disappointed that GC will not be continuing to send SSTers here. She expressed appreciation for the ways in which Sarah and Mark (and earlier GC students) have entered into the life and work of the community.

At noon, we joined Mark & Sarah for the regular mid-day worship service in the Christus-Pavillion followed by lunch with other staff members. The weather forecast called, once again, for afternoon rain, so we had been thinking of visiting a cave not to far away. Alas, Sarah’s host family in Jena had already taken her there, so we risked a trip to Sangerhausen, a town with a well-preserved 16th-century center. The rain indeed poured down, but stopped just as we arrived at Sangerhausen, permitting a leisurely stroll through the old city, including (of course) stops at the town’s three main churches. After that, we visited the Europa Rosarium on the edge of town—with more than 8,000 species and types of roses, the most varied rose garden in the world. After inspecting the beauty and fragrance of that garden, we headed back to Volkenroda. When we got back we discovered, to our disappointment that we had missed a visit from Nick who had come to Volkenroda that afternoon with a group from Siloah’s children’s camp. Oh well … with just three weeks of SST left, we’ll soon see each other again.

Mon, 13 Jul 2009

Allmenhausen – Gary & Patrick

[] -- On Friday, Joe & Jo-Ann headed to Allmenhausen, a small village near the geographical center of Germany. Gary and Patrick are living and working at CHUBA, a retreat center operated by the German YMCA. One of their tasks here is to help clean up an ancient schoolhouse across the street from the CHUBA house. Later this summer CHUBA is hosting a larger camp to begin major renovation work on the structure. “Bulldoze and start over” was Patrick & Gary’s first thought. They soon learned that several years ago the CHUBA house itself used to be in much the same dilapidated condition as the schoolhouse. YMCA’s Matthias K.’s enthusiastic optimism for the future of such structures in this economically-depressed region helps gives others in the 875-year-old village a sense that they have a future as well as a past. In between digging through dirt, debris, and decay, Gary & Patrick provide a welcome glimpse of a larger world to neighborhood children who stop in for games, crafts, and rides in CHUBA’s “land canoe.” Young adults in the village have also adopted the Goshen pair, giving our students good insights about the lives of German peers. Patrick & Gary were happy to spend the afternoon knocking about the small city of Gotha, 40 km. away. From 1640 to the end of World War I, Gotha was capital of a small, progressive duchy which, among other things, gave rise in the early 19th century to Germany’s insurance system. Returning to the village in late afternoon, Gary & Patrick await a consulting architect’s guidance before they begin to sledge-hammer floors in the old schoolhouse.

Tue, 14 Jul 2009

Neufrankenroda – Leah, Matt, Nick

[] -- Tuesday, Jo-Ann & Joe headed for Neufrankenroda to visit Matt, Nick, & Leah at Siloah Hof. Siloah is an eclectic and enjoyable spot that combines Christian community, organic agricultural enterprise, camping, and retreat facilities. Leah has found a niche in Siloah’s kitchen, Matt in helping with numerous practical and repair tasks, and Nick pitches in particularly with children’s activities. All three get pulled into other tasks during big events like last week’s major children’s camp and next week’s Zeltstadt (“Tent City”), an annual event that promises to bring over 1,100 tents to Siloah’s fields. Talking with one of Siloah’s founders, Hubert L., and others here, we again heard expressions of appreciation for the contributions of GC SSTers here over the years and regret that this year’s trio will be the last. Goshen is one of the 15 or so international destinations shown on directional signs in Siloah’s central courtyard.

After Nick, Matt, & Leah showed us some of their favorite spots around Siloah, Joe took Jo-Ann and Leah to a nearby train station, and came back to pick up Matt & Nick in our no-more-than-four-person rental car. Leah had really enjoyed an earlier visit to Erfurt so that is where she and Jo-Ann spent the afternoon (without camera). Joe drove with Nick & Matt to a German national park located in the Hainich Forest—Germany’s largest deciduous mixed forest. There we walked along the Baumkronenpfad (tree top path), a path built through the trees at elevations ranging from 21 to 44 meters above ground.

We all reconvened at the end of the afternoon in Matt & Nick’s spacious room under the eaves. There we shared a bit of cake in honor of Nick’s birthday tomorrow and talked about the way the service portion of SST is flying by. Students are working on their final projects, and will come back to Jena on July 24 or 25. Hard to believe that in two weeks, the students will have arrived back in the United States!

Sun, 26 Jul 2009

Safely back in Jena

Trains (and one car) brought eight of our group back from service locations to Jena on Friday. On Saturday morning, the three who had been working at Siloah also returned. (They stayed a bit longer to help Siloah put itself back together after the 1,100-tent retreat that ended there on Friday.) In the afternoon we got together to begin processing some of our experiences with each other. After a bit of singing, we began talking about challenges and triumphs, surprises and moments for which we were thankful. Each student shared about his or her project. Several wrote in-depth histories of their service institutions. Other topics included the German tax system, trends in popular and religious music, secondary education, a look at the future of an economically-depressed village, meaning of worship, and the heritage of the Trabant, the East German automobile. The projects provided a springboard for more general discussion about what we have learned about German culture and our places in relation to German and American cultures.

After several hours of talking, and getting our SST badges of honor, we hiked up to the Wilhelmshöhe. That elevation provides a splendid overlook of the Jenzig (one of Jena’s best-known hills) and the town itself. About a month ago, Goshen College paid for the renovation of two park benches at this overlook, adding small plaques thanking host families and local coworkers who have assisted GC since the first Jena SST unit in 1985. Although there were just 11 students in this unit—the last scheduled to come to Jena—a total of more than 350 GC students have come here in 18 units. We are glad that Jena now has a spot where GC’s gratitude for this collaboration is visible.

After visiting Jena’s lofty heights, we descended again to where the Saale River flows for a bit of ice cream. (Parents and friends can consult the next blog entry to guess which treat was ordered by which student.) Sunday we are spending with families and revisiting favorite spots in Jena. On Monday we meet again as a group—looking ahead to our return home and for a final group meal. Monday evening we climb on a bus that we hope will lull us into a few hours of rest before our flight home from Frankfurt on Tuesday morning. We will miss those we have learned to know here, but are also already anticipating reunions with family and friends back home.

The Ice Cream Quiz

Family and friends of returning SSTers can (and should) find that the person returning from SST may have changed somewhat during the experience. New insights, new interests, new tastes, perhaps greater maturity are common. The changes Jo-Ann and Joe have noted since the beginning of May are things we think build on and strengthen the identities our students brought with them as they embarked on this journey. We are uncertain, however, whether individual tastes in ice cream have changed during these weeks. Those of you familiar with the “pre-SST” identities of those here in Germany will have to judge for yourselves. Here are pictures of eight different ice cream treats and one other dessert, ordered by the group on Saturday in Jena. What did the student best known to you order? Visit the blog again in a day or two for revelation of the identities. A few tips: Two of the items shown were ordered by Jo-Ann and Joe (and no students). One of the items was ordered by three different students, another of the items by two different students, and a third (with variation) by two different students. One item depicted is deceptively modest. The person who ordered that item supplemented the dish with liberal bites from most other items depicted.

Mon, 27 Jul 2009

Ice Cream Quiz (Answer Key)

If you have not read the previous entry, "The Ice Cream Quiz," stop!

Go to the previous entry to test your knowledge of your favorite German SSTer’s dessert tastes.

The bus carrying our students to the Frankfurt leaves in about an hour from Jena.

Goshen College
International Education Office
Kevin Koch
+1 (574) 535-7346