Modern Meets Medieval in Halle an der Saale, Germany

Germany holds a very special place in my heart. Not only can I understand what’s going on for once, thanks to years of German instruction and a semester in Austria, but the things that are going on usually make sense. There’s masterful public transportation. I have more than a few friends scattered all of the country. To top it all off, there’s little to no crime, so arriving in Germany is not just exciting (dark beer! curry wurst!) but, sigh, comfortable.

And now, my parents are moving there.

Yes, my expat-ness has officially rubbed off onto my poor, unsuspecting parents and my dad has accepted a job transfer to a plant in Germany. And he’s dragged his suitcases across the ocean and is squatting in a hotel at the moment in the small little town of Halle and der Saale, a short drive away from Leipzig, where I had a happy reunion with my Finnish friend Pinja less than a year ago. He’s begun work, my mom is wrapping up life in Pittsburgh, and then in April, she’ll complete her own leg of the journey to Halle an der Saale and they’ll set up house in a house. Coincidentally, I’ll also be headed to Germany at the same time… oh wait. That’s not a coincidence. It’s just my excellent planning, muahaha.

Anyhow, I am running away from the point of this post. I visited Halle for a few days before my flight to Barcelona, Spain, and was surprisingly quite… impressed. Not only was the city small, quaint and full of history, but it had done an excellent job of not just preserving that history, but giving it a new usefulness and function in the modern world. Now, I’ve not been to many small towns in Germany (maybe Lübeck counts?) so I can’t speak for all, though I wouldn’t be surprised in Halle an der Saale wasn’t the only little city to do such a phenomenal job of balancing history with today’s world. But I can only talk about what I know. These are my favorite ways Halle an der Saale brings its past into the present (and who knows what else I’ll discover, come April!).

Moritzburg Castle & Saxony-Anhalt’s Art Museum

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If you’ve ever been to Halle an der Saale, this is probably the building you knew I was going to bring up. Because it’s great. This castle was built in the fifteenth century and as most castle stories go, people were fighting over dumb things and actually important things got burned. Like beautiful, giant castles. Anyways, after years of deteriorating, finally the city of Halle was given rights to the property and after that whole DDR situation was dealt with, a gorgeous and modern art museum was created. Now, instead of recreating the castle walls, though, Halle an der Salle decided to stabilize what ruins there were, preserve them, and then built a sleek metal/glass building within the walls. It looks like this museum literally rises from the ashes, if you will.

Dramatic effect, indeed. Well played, Halle.

Market Church of Saint Mary (Marienkirche)

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This church sits right in the main plaza of the city and is pretty iconic, for good reason. Not only does Halle an der Saale incorporate their history into today, but they’ve even got a history of incorporating history, as seen with Marienkirche. Why do you think this church has 4 towers? Nope, it’s not because the architects were weird. (Though maybe they were, who can say?) It’s because some important Catholic Germans wanted to build a giant church to impress all of the townspeople and make sure they didn’t join the Reformation. But instead of tearing the two existing churches completely down, they left the towers in place and connected them with the new nave (fancy speak for the middle part of a church).

(Also, a bit of historical irony, it was within this partially-built church that some important German dude gave a speech and converted the congregation to Protestantism, the exact thing the construction of the fancy church was supposed to ward off. Ouch. See Wikipedia for more drama.)

But that’s not the only way the Market Church of Saint Mary has fought off being dated. These days, instead of closing off the tower stairs and declaring them unfit for traversing, the city of Halle installed new, metal, spiral staircases in both front towers, maintains the top bridge/platforms and leads tours up, across and back down, twice a day. How do I know that, you ask? Because out of sheer luck, I found myself in the right place at the right time and joined the tour group, stepped up those steep metal stairs, visited the indoor platforms and walked across the hanging bridge, hundreds of feet above ground. How often do you get to do that in towers dating from the 1500s? (On second thought, maybe that’s not on your to-do list…)

The Francke Foundation Homes

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In 1695, a German guy (Can you guess his last name?) decided to set up an orphanage and religious school for poor kids and anyone else who wanted to attend classes or live there. It was a huge success and expanded into an entire complex (teacher training, a pharmacy, library, etc.), all with matching white buildings in a row. Until the dumb WWII bombings and later DDR situation, things were going well and the place was huge. Nowadays, they’ve rebuilt and repaired the damage and started up all of the social programs again. Big-whoopty-do, right? But that’s not the entire reason I was so impressed with this old complex

No, the real kicker is that the library holds books that are hundreds of years old, in a building built completely out of the original materials: nails, floorboards, bookshelves and all. It’s fully functional, beautifully done and you’re allowed to walk into the first section of the room and touch a couple books. And then, they’ve digitally scanned a ton of the super old books so that you can look at the books online. Not only is that modern, but it contributes to the book’s preservation in the long run and it’s just super cool.

The Main Square

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Alright, so this one isn’t really so unique, but I still love how Halle’s modern transportation, street cars, go right through the historical center square. Berlin also has a trolley hub right in one of its historical centers, and I’m sure there are plenty of other cities that qualify on the same account. But there’s just something about seeing that bright red street car pull up in front of a 15th century clock tower (or in this picture’s case, a 16th century church) and let off a bunch of Germans, some of whom have their face in an iPhone. I adore it.

There are a couple more honorable mentions, here:

  • The Handel Museum is built inside of the house George Handel (a famous composer) was born in.
  • A square of apartments are being put into renovated 15th-18th century buildings with a courtyard.
  • The Giebichenstein Castle also houses a museum and University, though I’ve never seen it myself (parts of it are closed in winter so I didn’t make it up there).

I only had a few days in Halle an der Saale, but it was quite a lovely time. If you’re ever in the area, it would certainly not be a waste of time! And say hello to my parents, too, while you’re there.

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What do you think of Halle an der Salle, Germany? Which modern/medieval mash up was your favorite?

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The Characters of Sambong

In a small town, it’s a given that you’ll see some people more than a few times and learn their face, even if you don’t know their name. In a teeny tiny rural Korean town with three roads, it’s even worse (or better?). There are some people that I see every single day, doing the same things, while I do the same things. Sometimes they talk to me, sometimes we just pass each other by with a head-nod of acknowledgement and sometimes it’s a new face, doing the same things the other old, similar face was doing. It’s kind of a weird way of life, but the people that live in my town are the pillars of my existence, in a sense. They make Sambong, my little town, what it is. They color my experience with entertainment and wonderment, causing me to simultaneously scratch my head and laugh hysterically in public.

So without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to the characters, the faces, the Korean people of Sambong.

The Exercising Ajumma

Every morning I wake up earlier than the crack of dawn to run with my puppy. I walk to the school track and in the dark morning, through the darkness I always look for the moving shadow. The exercising ajumma is often the same woman, but sometimes a new face appears to do the exact same thing. She does a brisk walk for about 30 minutes, sometimes 45 minutes, and then does strange stretches for another five minutes before disappearing into the new daylight. Her signature stretch is arms raised in a V-shape above her head, holding a scarf taught between them, and twisting to either side. Another favorite is what I like to call the almost-falling-backward-onto-the-bed stretch, where she leans backwards, arms stretched out, as far as she can without falling over and holds the position. Do these stretches actually stretch? I’m not sure. But I would never question her.

The Avid Golfer

About ten minutes into my morning exercise routine, the avid golfer usually arrives. In his mid forties, he comes to the track in his running gear and with a golf club in hand. (I’m totally serious, this guy is real.) He does the same series of exercises: alternating between a brisk walk with the golf club, a (very) short jog with the golf club, some stretching with the golf club and then actually using the golf club for its intended purposes, by doing swinging practice in the nearby sand pit. His reasons for exercising at all are crystal clear.

This is what you've been missing in your exercise routine.
This is what you’ve been missing in your exercise routine.

The Gung-ho Crossing Guard

On one of the three roads in town sits my school and while there is some traffic in the morning, I’m not entirely convinced of the need for a crossing guard. Regardless, he is there every morning, bright and early, in his neon vest and military-style hat. He takes his job extremely seriously, swinging his stiff arms in quick succession; signifying to cars that yes, they may pass, even if no students are in sight, let along trying to cross the road. He reminds me of a robot, on occasion. As I walk closer to him on my way to work each morning, he swings his arm sharply up to his forehead into a salute, and yells “Good morning!”

The Farming Neighbor

This elderly man was clearly hot stuff back in the day, based on his charming smile and confident swag. I don’t see him everyday, but on the stretch of road between home and school, he sometimes walks around his fields or checks on piles of garlic (or potatoes or cabbage) that need to be sorted out for selling. When I see him, he smiles that devious old man smile, waves hello, asks about a random work in English (“pumpkin!”) or just gives up the facade and makes arm hearts at me.

The Sober Laborer

Korea has a bit of a social epidemic on their hands: all the women move to the city and all the men working menial jobs are left in the country, wife-less and bored. I live in a building of one-room apartments, which I’m sure you can imagine attracts exactly this kind of 40-year-old man. The sober laborer is many people who all do the same thing; they smoke, they wear their construction vest, and they stand outside between 6:10-6:25am waiting for the bus to work. All of them say hello to me, as if we’ve talked, because hey… there’s only one foreign girl with a dog in the area. They adore Mary, and frequently use her as an in to ask me weird questions that I don’t understand.

The laborers in the morning club, as seen from the roof.
The laborers in the morning club, as seen from the roof.

The Drunk Laborer

The drunk laborer usually appears outside of restaurants on Saturday and Sunday mornings, though occasionally he appears outside my apartment having a Saturday/Sunday picnic on the rolling table. He says things like “beautiful!” “pretty!” or the classic, “foreigner!” He adores my dog even more than usual. Last week the drunk laborer even gave me arm hearts, although usually he just slurs his words or stumbles down the road, going nowhere with a lit cigarette in hand. By evening, he’s ironically nowhere to be seen.

The Student Terrified of Dogs

Some students like puppies, but other students have this deep seeded, unexplainable terror for animals in general. As I approach, the student terrified of dogs will give Mary a wary eye, and as I get closer they’ll shy a little behind their friend, towards the street, away from me. When I get close and I let Mary sniff their feet (because I’m a jerk!), the student terrified of dogs inevitably lets out a high pitched scream, runs sideways or backwards off the sidewalk and never takes (usually) her eyes off of the scary, biting and drooling, flesh ripping thing that is my ten month old, ten pound puppy.

TERRIFYING.
TERRIFYING.

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happiness is tiny

I have a demanding schedule, but thanks to the little moments, I get by with a smile.

  • bright pink, painted, long fingernails (I bit my nails for years)
  • a clean apartment
  • cooking broccoli for the first time in Korea, yum
  • finding two pairs of socks in the sock package, not just one like I’d thought
  • wearing earrings I really like
  • folk music playing while I get ready for an evening
  • a night-time walk on the beach

and hey, the nice weather hasn’t hurt either.

livin’ in the sticks

about a year ago, around this time, I was just settling into life abroad: but in Argentina. I’d moved to the big city, Buenos Aires, and was beginning to see what it meant to learn a language and start over, all from scratch. now, a year later, I’m at it again but with a twist: Korea, small town.

that’s right: one year ago I was living in a city of well over a million residents. I now live and teach in a town of just over 2,000. talk about change! Continue reading livin’ in the sticks