As part of my Magellan experience I included some time to explore my family's heritage in Germany. My Grandfather was born in Mönchengladbach and emigrated to America when he was very young. The family I am staying with are actually distant relatives of mine. Max's great grandmother and my great grandfather were brother and sister. In fact, the house where my grandfather was born is still standing in Mönchengladbach today! So for my second day in Germany I had the opportunity to explore the city with my relative, Carsten. Carsten took me on a tour for the day through the city to highlight some of the history of Mönchengladbach. One thing I found interesting about cities in Germany are how compact they are, including the residential sectors. The house I was staying in was packed tightly together with many others on the street. Most were not very wide but instead extended vertically. Even the backyards were not very wide but extended far back in the neighborhood.
Throuhgout the trip I also spoke with Carsten of the industrial history of the city as well as how it has transitioned through the war. These observations are included in the Magellan Project section as well as below. Many of the royal houses and palaces which once held royal families throughout the years has been converted into public parks, restaurants, and exhibits.
Two of the most interesting sights we stopped at was a royal palace and a water castle. The Royal Palace is now home to a magnificent public park complete with streams, ponds, fields, and fields. The Water Castle had been converted to a historical museum, hotel, and restaurant. Both places were so beautiful I could not believe they were open parks to the public. I was so used to having to pay to enter into historical sights like this in America. Also, another thing which I knew would take some getting used to is the just how old everything in Germany is. Many parts of Germany are still home to Roman ruins after the empire expanded into the region during as long ago as the first century. At home in Philadelphia, people (including myself) were amazed by buildings built in the time of Colonial America in the 1700s. Yet here I was staring at an arch still standing that was built in 50 AD. To top the day off I had the chance to meet my Grandfather's cousin Helga, who is the oldest living relative of their family, and see the house my Grandfather grew up in. It was an amazing experience, and an even better start to my project.
|Above is the house my Grandfather grew up in|
Later in the week I also met with Carsten's brother Arnd. Arnd brought me to his home town a little outside of Mönchengladbach to show me a traditional parade in Germany. He said the only way to describe it to an American is as "mini Oktober Fest" which I thought was hilarious. The festival was a long standing tradition in the town that originates from the town gathering to pay homage to the royal family of the town. Today, it is a festival to celebrate the history of the town and gather as a community. It was complete with traditional soldier costumes, men dressed as royalties riding horses, a carnival, and plenty of German music. Below are a few pictures from the event.
Impressions from Monchengladbach.
For the first week of my project in Germany I am staying with my relatives in the city of Mönchengladbach. Mönchengladbach is in the northwestern part of Germany. It has a long history (as most German cities do) of early settlements, regional disputes/changes in ownership, and involvement in the war. Mönchengladbach was subject to some degree of destruction during the war, but not to the degree of Cologne. The main industry of Mönchengladbach had been textile. Today, the majority of this industry has moved out of the city and into other countries where labor is cheaper. A portion of the textile industry still remains, but it mostly involves the weaving of plastics as opposed to fabric. This has had a noticeable impact on the city. It is by no means run down, but the decrease in manufacturing within the cities limits has decreased the beauty of the outer parts of Mönchengladbach. Our host-mother works outside of the city limits and my cousin travels to Dusseldorf to take classes. It seems a once thriving city is now home to residents who seek work elsewhere in Germany. This again mostly applies to the outer part of the city because this is where the people I interacted with lived.
Downtown Mönchengladbach has been impacted in a slightly different way. It is still a beautiful and popular city, but it does not expand as much as before. The main square of the town was filled with excitement, energy, and business. However it did not extend much beyond the focal point. I walked down streets with a only a few open bars and night clubs that had all the potential to be a bustling night life. My host family described to me how this had once been the place to go for a night out with friends but now it exists only as a reminder of what once was. The simple answer to why this happened is there is not as much money flowing into and out of the city as there used to be. Here is where a connection is drawn between these observations and my research. The history of Mönchengladbach as a textile industry and declining in economic importance shows the transition of the area in innovation. The industrial textile industry has phased out to other countries with less expensive labor because the need for these occupations has become obsolete in Germany. Even the house I stayed in used to house workers of the textile industry, but is now it is home to my host mother who works with commerce and good exchanges with farmers and my host father who works as a hydro mechanic. My cousin is also studying to earn a degree in Chemical Engineering, which shows the progression of younger generations moving towards modern fields of study. (I had originally set up plans to sit through a lab in his school but unfortunately there was a miscommunication with the professor that I needed to pass a security clearance I was not aware of and needed to complete it a month in advance).
Despite the ups and downs of the industrial economy within the city, it maintains its identity within Germany. One of the main attractions and engineering feats of cities around the globe are their sport arenas. As part of my trip through Mönchengladbach I visited the home of their Bungesliga team at Borussia Park. The stadium was marvelous and beautifully built. The complex is
under continued expansion as well. While
on a tour of the stadium there was ongoing construction outside the entrance
for a new fan club (I am pretty sure that is what they said. I had a hard time
understanding the all “German” tour). Soccer clubs have held a long history in Europe of bringing people together as well as
representing hope in harsh times. The continual expansion and presence of the
German soccer clubs as well as their structures evinces the range of
engineering capabilities the nation has in the industrial markets as well as
the recreational. Mönchengladbach
is a microcosm of the transition and constant development of Germany
towards future technologies.