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A visit to Wesel

August 01, 2006|by SUSAN KELLY

It was one of the luckiest oh-it-just-happened-to-turn-out-that-way instances of my life. This summer, 20 students from North Hagerstown and Williamsport high schools were at the center of the biggest, most important soccer tournament in the world.

In June, I traveled with the Hagerstown-Wesel Sister City Affiliation. Traveling to Germany as a girl who loves soccer, I was exactly where I wanted to be in the summer of '06: staying in the host country of the World Cup soccer tournament!

Getting into the program, I knew I would never forget the experience of hosting a German girl at my house and then living with her family. But I came away with so many incredible memories and pictures, and made a lifelong friend.

I also really understand now what we are lacking here in America: soccer fanatics.

While in Germany, I saw a whole country that stood behind the German national team. On every game day, there were singing mobs and a whole lot of "pre-gaming" - (aka, drinking a whole lot of alcohol before the game). When a goal was scored, the whole country jumped up and down, waved their flags and celebrated. When they won a game, car horns honked for hours, and the celebrations went late into the night. You would have thought they had won the tournament! It was great!

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The World Cup was amazing, but I don't want to lead you to believe that that was the only highlight of the trip. The Willichs, my host family, were so nice. Alina Willich, who is my age, 16, had stayed with my family last year for about three weeks. I found out then what a great match we were.

It was the same when I lived with her. We laughed together as if we had been friends for years. Between my German and Alina's English, I could communicate fairly easily. There was not much of a language barrier, even with Mr. Willich, who spoke almost no English.

Mrs. Willich really spoiled me (I didn't mind that much). She insisted that we go to the grocery store and I pick out what I want to eat for breakfast or any other time, even after I told her I wasn't picky and I would eat anything.

They even got me bottles of noncarbonated water, because they drink carbonated water. It was sometimes difficult to find what we started to call "real water" (still water) because they drink sodas a lot, and their bottled water is carbonated, and it wasn't always safe for a visitor to drink the tap water.

Mrs. Willich cooked for lunch and dinner - both were really nice and what I would call gourmet meals. The first day I came home from Alina's school and I asked for an apple for lunch I got a funny look from Mrs. Willich.

"I cook for you," she told me.

She had cooked alright. We had potatoes and spinach and sausage for lunch.

One afternoon, I told her that I wanted to cook lunch. So she made me pancake batter. Germans eat pancakes for lunch and thought it was strange that we eat them for breakfast. I cooked them strawberry pancakes and banana pancakes, and Alina wanted ham and cheese in her pancakes, so I made her some of those.

I was glad to help after all that the Willichs did for me.

I promised Alina I would take her to California, and I don't intend on breaking my promise, so we will see each other again. I think pretty much all of the exchange students and their hosts matched up really well, which made the experience that much better.

I saw many interesting aspects of German everyday life, and I noticed their different ideas and attitudes toward things as well.

Here are my 4 favorite elements of everyday life in Wesel:

1. They ride their bicycles a whole lot more than we do. It makes so much sense. They don't have to buy gas nearly as much, there's less air pollution, and they get a lot of good exercise.

One day, all of the Americans and their hosts took an hour-long bike ride to Xanten, an old city near Wesel. The trip saved us valuable money and it hardly felt like an hour, because on the way we were talking and having a good time. Alina and I rode to her grandmother's house a couple times, too. On those trips I got to see more of the little town Alina lives in, right outside of Wesel (like Maugansville is to Hagerstown) - and a lot of beautiful German countryside.

2. The Germans have beautiful gardens. Almost every house takes pride in growing pretty flowers and many times their own fruits and vegetables. At the Willichs' house, we ate dinner every night on their back patio looking out at their garden, complete with a pond inhabited by frogs. Germans enjoy gardening and making their yards beautiful.

3. You will find almost no litter in public places. German cities seem to be just about trash-free. Also, besides trash cans, there were recycling bins everywhere. The recycling bins had sections for the different recyclable materials like glass or plastic. Germans really want to take good care of their public places.

4. German bakeries. Mmm mmm It tastes good just thinking about the fresh, warm bread or the delicious, homemade pastries and sweets I found in bakeries. And bakeries were not a scarce commodity. It seemed to me one could be found on every block. Alina's mother bought fresh rolls from the bakery every other day.

The trip was a great experience. My immersion into German life really taught me more than any class could. I couldn't thank the Willichs enough for such a great stay. Alina and I had so much fun, I made a lot of new German friends, and I became better friends with many of the other American exchange students.

And it wasn't terrible that we were in the middle of the World Cup either.

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