Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Curtain has Dropped

It's finished, the program is over. I'll admit that I'm quite sad but at the same time, I couldn't have asked for a more amazing experience. I've seen, done and learned more over the past few weeks than I have on any trip prior. I've fallen in love with München and have developed a strong opinion on art and theatre. I discovered things I never knew about myself and wound up shedding some layers to reveal parts of me I used to have. It sounds extremely cheesy, stereotypical, canned, etc., but I have truly changed because of this trip and I'm getting back to me; as in the Zachary I want to be. Like previous things I've tried to explain through a blog, I simply can't put into words all that has happened or all that's going on in the little walnut of a brain I happen to have. Just know that it's a good thing. Thank you to Molly, Amy and Josiah, to the organizations who sponsored us, the teachers we had, and of course, the one and only, Janet.

Janet, thank you to the moon and back for planning such a lovely adventure. I already said this, but I have had a trip of a lifetime. I had no idea how much I would take away from my time in Germany, but it wouldn't have happened without you. You flawlessly executed everything (including running down a mountain in a way that I can only describe as "gut-wrenchingly comical"), even while being sick during the program. You're such a trooper and you have an infinite amount of passion and knowledge. You put your all into our time here and I can't thank you enough. I know for a fact that I will miss having classes with you next year. Thank you again, Janet. You're the best!!

Well, now that everyone is gone, I'm just trying to find places to eat here in Munich that aren't too awkward to eat alone at. Fingers crossed that I find a few places before the sun sets. Food today, food tomorrow, food forever.

Can't wait to be studying here next year!

Thanks everyone for an ever-lasting, happy thought,

P.s. Molly, you're trash <3

Sunday, May 17, 2015

      The past few days have been incredible here in München. We've had a lot of time to explore museums lately. At the lenbachaus I've become very fond of Gabrielle Münter, a blue rider artist. It's an amazing thing to see her beautiful artwork of the alps after visiting where she lived in Murnau and seeing how close she stayed to them. The Glyptothek is my favorite museum in München. It has Greek statues and great coffee. They currently have an extra antique exhibition of pottery and art of the twelve Olympic gods. Also yesterday I visited the Haus der Kunst. Hitler had it built to showcase proper "pure German" art that the nazi party supported. It now holds what he would have labeled "degenerate" art. The exhibits I saw were modern and expressive, definitely an experience I will not forget. 
      After seeing this wide range of art, we took some time to make our own. I painted a ballerina and tried to utilize technique from Münter. I was inspired by the ballet we all attended yesterday. Every dancer was incredible and they portrayed a love story. Each move was so impressive, I enjoyed every second of the show. Tonight we saw Die Zopfer at the Kammerspiele. Two of the actresses were also in the first show we saw here. I am truly stunned at how many shows the actors here and be in at once while still performing at that level. The costumes and music were great, there were only three actresses but their portrayal brought the play to life. 
      Even though the program is ending soon, I still can't believe I'm here. 
Today we just saw a play at the Kammerspiele called Die Zofen. It was a very interesting piece of theatre about escape and entrapment. It was one of those pieces that sits with you for a few hours after watching, making you think. Janet warned us that the theatre in Germany was different than in the US and she's never been more right. Theatre to me was a very concrete idea, one that had rules and specific terms it required to be deemed a good show. Theatre in Germany has obliterated that opinion. We have seen such a broad spectrum. Every night has been something completely different and with each difference one can learn so much about how to express an idea on stage. I am so thankful for this experience and opportunity to broaden my horizon in the world of theatre. 
With our program winding down and coming to an end it feels like I have been in Germany for months. I know the last few days are going to go by so quickly and I want to take in every second. This cultural submersion has been so fruitful and I cannot express my gratitude enough. I am so inspired to continue in my german studies, not just learning vocabulary and grammar but the culture. I can't wait to expand my learning of German theatre, music and so many other awesome things. 

On DT trips, from my own perspective.

This is the 15th trip I have organized and led students on. There were four students on the first two trips I led--both were over Michigan's Spring break. And this is the first time to travel with only 4 students again. It is delightful and a luxury to lead a small group. Automatically, it is less complicated than any trip with more students, though "big" trips have their sense of wonder, momentum, and group growth. Most trips that I have led have had between 11-17 students on them. There was another faculty member involved (usually someone local) on most of the trips with over 12 students.

I am enjoying reflecting on the nature of group travel and enjoying reflecting on where and how my own expectations match up with given groups. Each group establishes its own rhythm and dynamic, which is interesting to observe. For me, it is most rewarding to see what individuals bring to the table and what they take away from a trip. It is a successful trip if students grow in their appreciation of art and theater, learn to care less about whether they "like" something or not and to care more about what ideas are shared, what makes them worthwhile, etc. It is a successful learning experience if I see students finding their way into the culture, trying to blend in with local patterns of life, becoming less judgmental of every little thing that is different. My job is to open some doors for the students or to just point to them, provide a few tips on how locals do things and view things, and then let the students explore. At the beginning of each trip, we run around like crazy (it helps students not dwell on jet lag); in the final days, I give students much more free time to explore places and activities that interest them the most. My hope is that they will strike out more and more on their own, feel increasingly comfortable talking to Germans, and start to appreciate their own identity and growth, find some of their own retreats in Germany, places they hope to return to. I also hope that the additional time will allow them to reflect on where they've been and where they are now (physically, mentally, spiritually).

A German colleague in Germany pointed out to the group on this trip, there is a major difference between Germans and Americans. When Americans first learn of something or are invited to do something, there is often a quick and enthusiastic response of "yes" but as the activity ensues, the response turns more to "no", whereas Germans often respond "no" to things but gradually warm up to "yes."  I think that this observation is quite true in general.  As I reflect on my own responses to things I encounter in Germany, I am aware of a way that I relax here. Everything here (with the exception of cars) seems to take a little more time. Americans I've traveled with have often found it frustrating that they had to wait in line, wait at an intersection, wait for food, wait for a bill (often never even seeing a waiter again once food has been served), wait for internet connections. And waiting is probably a good lesson for Americans, in general. Yes, that statement was an over-generalization, and I believe yes, it is okay to make this type of generalization in my own reflection.  : )  We have so many luxuries and freedoms that lead to expectations. The patience I develop in Germany on each trip is one I hope to continue cultivating when I am back in the States.

One thing I am aware of (certainly somewhat about myself, though I observe it in the general population each year in the US), is that there is a sense of (false?) urgency that has become a way of doing things at home in the US. There is a sense that things must be changing quickly, an awareness during multi-tasking that one is already planning for the next event, eager for the present to pass. Getting back to the "no" vs. "yes" I wonder if I am sometimes disappointed in America that activities sometimes start out with lots of vim and vigor ("yes"), but that they tire out or don't realize their potential as enthusiasm fades. In Germany, the response to everything seems more tempered, more suitably paced, less urgent and more natural.

I notice here that when people are at the theater, they are really at the theater. No checking cell phones even during long shows, no eagerness to dash out of the theater to do the next activity. I'm thinking of an odd performance I went to in Berlin, with the audience seated at tables, witnessing and being part of a live recording of a radio show. The night had great potential, but with all that was going on, the show just didn't really work. I looked around, bored, thinking that I needed sleep, etc. and I was struck by the fact that I saw not one person looking at his/her cell phone even though the show was not very entertaining.

Audiences take their time to show appreciation for the artists, who have poured themselves into a show. I like that. And I dislike, how routine movements and actions can easily become in the US sometimes. There is a sincerity or honesty about my life and about presence when I am in Germany that I wish I could just instill into life in the US. There is less of a sense that each individual is trying to prove him- or herself or become the center of attention here. There is less of a sense in Germany that the day is filled with people telling "their" story. On trains, people are often quiet and look out the window, take in what is part of the present. Certainly, not everywhere is quiet, but often I can take a few steps and find quiet here. And often, when Americans (not my group) are around, they are the loudest. It seems people in Germany go about their lives in a sensible manner without making a big deal about everything.

I have lost count of how many times I've been to Germany, but it must be over 70 times. And I continue to be struck by how different Germany has become (for me) in the last 10-15 years. It is a comfortable place to be. And it is so different from how most Americans I have talked to about Germany think Germany is. I am so glad that the University of Michigan (RC, CGIS, the International Institute, RC Alumni) keep supporting our trips. The trips not only provide memories for my students (and me), but they also help us find ourselves, learn about ourselves, learn about other places and learn that there are other ways to live.

I don't like a day to go by without a post on our blog and I apologize if I have dominated the space here. I have no idea if anyone is following us or reading, but if so, I hope that you are enjoying our posts. It is always strange to write for an anonymous audience without getting any feedback. But we have committed to doing a blog here and maybe it will reach just one person and make a difference. With so much to do here and less regular internet use, I can't expect my four students to fill a blog with as many insights as my bigger groups do, but I hope that anyone reading this will still see the growth and experiences we are having here.  And I encourage anyone who is feeling comfortable with their life, to consider striking out on their own, going someplace where they feel challenged (by the language or ways of doing things) and to consider the value of growth and confidence outside of your own four walls and your routine. I ask my students to draw, paint, write, and see lots of theater and art. I ask them to stop only doing and thinking about things that they like. I do this because I think it ultimately lets us give up the notion that we are already very complete, perfect beings. I ask it because it doesn't hurt to do something that we need to improve at. Instead, it exposes us one more time to a new way of thinking.

Some pictures from yesterday.
Points. 1) When you toast someone, look them in the eyes and mean it!
2) When you go to the theater or look at art, stop trying to find what you already know. Enjoy what the artists are doing and stop feeling like you need to understand everything.
3) If you go to the Nationaltheater, even sitting in the Gallerie at the top you will enjoy an amazing performance with live music and the most impressive retractable chandelier on the planet. I tried to feature that chandelier in a couple of shots here. Also, there is a magical quality of ballet performed at the Nationaltheater.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Little Energie but Big Experiences

Since being in the Alps, my body has been extremely, and I mean completely, relaxed. I feel as though I'm melting into the floors and there is nothing I can do to avoid the inevitable, sleep.  It's an act of god that I'm not already asleep on my keyboard. Whether it was the fresh air, delicious Frühstück, or hiking everywhere, my energy levels have hit rock bottom. Oddly enough, the lull I'm finding myself in has lead to great pictures (if I do say so myself) and great reflection time.

This morning we went to a memorial site at the concentration camp in Dachau. I won't write a whole lot here because most of what I experienced wasn't words or facts, it was the place itself and the feelings attached with it. That may sound somewhat "meta," but there's so much that pictures and videos don't show that the actual grounds do. The camp is so close to the city itself. I think people who haven't been to a memorial site like this one often forget how integrated into the community a lot of the concentration camps were. They weren't a mysterious place in the mountains. These atrocities happened behind people's houses, places of worship, restaurants, etc. You'll notice none of the pictures I'm posting are from Dachau. In fact, I didn't take a single picture there. I have nothing against taking pictures at Dachau, but I felt it was better to walk through the grounds without distracting myself with what to take pictures of. In addition, for me, it seemed more appropriate to listen and reflect, rather than be a tourist walking from building to building. Even though I'm not sharing much right now, I'm completely willing to talk about my experience with anyone who wants to listen.

In the evening, the group and I saw a Theatrestück titled "Buch." For an american like myself, the three hour length was quite long. Regardless, I thought it was a wonderful show and the actors were simply amazing. It wasn't a typical show because the first 30 minutes involved standing and being incorporated into the performance. Afterwards, they pulled out benches for us but then took them away and brought in different benches after a period of time. Clearly we were jumping out of our seats for this show. Overall, I loved how different it was from anything I've ever seen in the States. Even though some of it didn't make sense to me, the artistry was great in my opinion. I especially loved the use of sound and music throughout the performance. They had so many unique sounds: from banging on the ribcage of a constructed elephant to slapping coats on the ground. I won't pretend that I didn't walk out of that theatre exhausted, but it was worth it.

To end the night, I ate a Croissant with a Wurst inside. Whoever thought it was a good idea to shove a piece of Wurst in a Croissant had humanity's best interest in mind.

With that, I'm going to doodling in my sketchbook and hit the hay.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Yesterday was a Feiertag (holiday)--one of many in Germany. On holidays in Bavaria, one tends to see more Lederhosen. Despite not having Lederhosen like the guys in the first picture, we made it back to Munich safely by train. In Murnau, we went to the Münter Haus and to the Schlossmuseum where there was a Klee exhibition and also the regular collection, featuring Münter, Kandinsky, Campendonk, and Beckmann. The small sketches by Münter and also the history of Hinterglasmalerei (painting on glass) are my personal favorites. But I also love the setting. It is stunning to see the art works in rooms that look out over the same mountains and countryside where the Blue Rider painted. From the Schlossmuseum we went to visit the countryside studio of Ugo Dossi, who walked us through his incredible Atelier (studio) and talked with us about his works and series with physicists. We'd love to learn more about his automatic drawing, but we'll need to have at least three days free to do a workshop. Maybe next time. Murnau is a sweet place and we try to visit there on every trip.

The rest of the trip promises to be pretty low-key: daily theater or ballet, museums, a visit to Dachau Memorial site/museum, a diction lesson, some reflections, and a nice farewell dinner.

Oh, I always post a few selfies with the group because how else would anyone know that I am on this trip since I'm usually behind the camera?