2002-Sep: Markus & Tobias
2003-Dec: Christmas Letter
2001-Mar: Travel to Europe
2001-Jun: Steam Train
2001-Aug: Novas at Indy
2001-Dec: Birthday Party
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I made it to Europe!
22 March - 11 April 2001
I had such a good time traveling around Germany, Czech Republic and the Netherlands for three weeks that I wished I could have stayed longer. There was so much more I wanted to see and experience.

Of course, I didn't think I'd feel that way when I left...I have never been to Europe before. The thought of going over there was a bit scary. Completely by chance at the airport in Chicago, I ran into a person standing in the check-in line that I had met earlier in the week. He had been here visiting from Germany and was returning home. We happened to be taking the same flight! This unexpected experience was the first of many to come. After the eight hour ride on which we helped out an older woman who passed out, we arrived in Frankfurt, Germany. We made our way over to the train station where we then parted. I was now on my own to get a train ticket and board the train to Heidelberg.

I was sooooo tired after being up for more than 24 hours. Then came my first real German speaking experience, which was with the train conductor who punched my train ticket. She tried to explain how I needed to switch trains in Mannheim in order to get to Heidelberg. I had no idea what she said! All I heard was a couple of numbers in her voice, so I just nodded my head in agreement. Somehow I switched trains okay.

my train to Heidelberg Then came my second German speaking experience. I needed to use the toilet in the Heidelberg train station, but there was a Turkish man who guarded the entrance. I didn't understand a word he said either, but I gathered that I needed to pay to get through the gate. When I asked if he could speak English, he dramatically said "nein!". No chance of communicating here. It also seemed that he didn't want me taking my luggage into the bathroom, but I wasn't going to leave it behind. He yelled at me anyway as I took my luggage through the gate.

After taking care of business, I had to call my brother so he could come meet me at the train station. Next came my experience using the Deutsch Telekom payphone. Once I figured out how to use it AND dial the phone number, I got Jeff on his 'handy'. My third German speaking experience came as I waited. This guy asked me what time it was...this was the first thing I understood! I looked at my watch and answered him the time in German. The bad part was my watch was still set to Chicago time which is 7 hours behind. You should have seen the surprised look this guy gave me. I didn't realize why he looked at me funny until several minutes later. You can be sure that I was very happy to see my brother when he arrived. I realized that the little bit of German I learned was not going to be enough. Welcome to Deutschland!

Jeff and I hopped on the street train outside the train station, and we arrived at Jeff's dormitory complex several minutes later. I looked so tired that I was like a walking dead person. I felt much better after eating and taking a nap. One more day would pass before I adjusted to the time difference.

The famous Heidelberg castle.  Jeff & Jason It was really cool to see the places my brother talked about on the phone. I met his friends, saw the student center, and toured different places around Heidelberg including the famous Heidelberg Castle. Occasionally at night, we toured the pubs. It was so strange to see teenage girls and guys inside a bar drinking! No one gets asked for the ID. It was also really nice to drink and be able to take a bus or street train to get home.

During my so called 'vacation', I had to take care of my web site business. Living and working in different places for next three weeks overall went pretty good. I could connect my laptop computer into the Internet, work, and answer email. I would answer my voice mail and call up customers in the States on the phone just as if I were in Chicago. One major problem did occur with my business. The web site was not working for one week because the web site hosting company switching computers and did not re-connect them properly. This problem was nothing I could have prevented where ever I was located. Although if I was in Chicago at the time, I probably would have visited the location and expressed my frustrations in person. In a way, it is good for them that I was so far away.

InterCityExpress train Always being adventurous, I left Jeff in Heidelberg two days after I arrived and set out on my own to visit a friend 6 hours north by train. I really, really like the Deutsche Bahn train system. I even became comfortable getting my own ticket and switching trains by myself. I even took a fast ICE train on the way back that reached 200 kmph (125 mph)!

For my second mini-trip, Jeff and I went 2 hours south to Ulm to visit our distant relative, Markus Hilsenbeck. You might recall the story how I went to buy the web site address, hilsenbeck.com, and found this guy Markus already had it.Hilsenbeck Brewery/Brauerei.  Markus & Jeff It was from this discovery that we have been able to dig back through the family history and learn how our families share a common person back in the 1700's. It was awesome to meet him and the area where the Hilsenbeck family is from. Naturally, we stopped by the Hilsenbeck brewery in Gruibingen to get lots of Hilsenbeck beer. Then we drove to the next town of Laichigen where Markus' side of the family is from. After by chance meeting Gerd Hilsenbeck there at the Getranke Markt Hilsenbeck, we returned to Ulm. Jeff and I had an eerie feeling as we passed through Wippigen where our great, great grandfather, David Hilsenbeck, left the village in the 1850's to come to the United States. In Ulm, we did a touristy thing and climbed up 768 steps inside the world's largest church cathedral tower. Built in 1377, it is 161 meters (528ft) tall. Later that night, we met up with Markus' cousin, Hartmun Hilsenbeck, and the four of us Hilsenbecks went out together and did a non-touristy thing by going to many bars until the sun came up. What a great time.

And, it kept getting better.

Our friend, Niklas, drove down from Dortmund to Heidelberg to pick up Jeff and I. On our way to Munich on the autobahn, his mom's car developed a terrible knocking sound from the engine. Mom's car is kaputt.  Niklas & JeffI knew this wasn't good. This Audi was only three years old. Where does the car break down? Only 5 minutes from Laichigen where Jeff and I were a couple days ago. Jeff remembered when had we bought groceries in this town that there was a Audi car dealer. So, Niklas calls the dealer, a few minutes later we're getting towed to Laichigen. I ask the tow truck driver if he knows Gerd Hilsenbeck...and he smiles real big. How small is this world?? I couldn't believe this. I went on this trip to experience the culture. It was bad that Niklas' car blew the engine, but what a story to tell my grandchildren some day. The car dealer loaned us a car and we drove off to Munich. Our misadventure took only a couple hours and we made it to the BauMa truck and trailer show in Munich in time.

In Munich that night, we went to the Hofbrau Haus and sat at a long table with many crazy people drinking lots of beer from huge glasses. We ended up going out with two guys from Budapest who knew the city. I don't know what we where thinking! We went out to so many places and drank much beer, and then we had no idea how to get back to where we were staying We eventually made it and stayed one more night to do it all over again on our own.

Looking over Prague from the castle.  Zdenek, Jeff & Niklas Then we drove to Prague to meet our friend Zdenek. Cool city. Good looking girls, great beer, and everything is cheap...girls included. We were approached by several prostitutes. We asked how much, and she said 1000 kroner which like $27. Now of course we did not accept, we were simply curious about the price. Bottles of beer where the equivalent of 75 cents. Prague is very extreme with it's beautiful old city section with the castle and the struggling surrounding areas where Zdenek's brother lives. You can be having a cup of coffee at an outside cafe and have people smoking marijuana a few meters away. Our second night in the Czech Republic, we stayed 1.5 hours south with Zdenek's family in Tábor. That was a true Czech experience with great food and the Czech Budweiser beer, which not related to the Bud here in the states. It was awesome going out together. Zdenek said it best by saying that never in a million years would he imagine that Niklas, Jeff and I would be sitting on his parent's sofa.

Guess that goes to show you never can tell where life takes you.

Karl Marx kopf in Chemnitz and me hanging out with the break dancing kids We left the Czech Republic through a very interesting border town of Dubi and crossed into Germany on our way to Dresden. It was a very long drive going back to Niklas house in Dortmund...more than 8 hours long. We stopped in Chemnitz for break, and so I could see the gigantic Karl Marx head. We finally made it to Niklas' home. The following day we went to his friend's place in the Netherlands called Enschede. This area is being affected by foot and mouth disease. Control is very tight, but we managed to smuggle out two butchered chickens under the car seat for Niklas' mom for dinner.

It was amazing to go from wide rolling landscape of the Czech Republic, through the many terrains of Germany, and into the flatlands of The Netherlands. Each country of course has a different language. I didn't understand any of them. My other major impression was how each of the areas within Germany are unique with their own dialects and landscape. Pretty cool stuff.

Throughout my visit, I would compare where I was at to the U.S. It seems to me that the basic things happen all over no matter the place...people eat, sleep, work, and have relationships with other people. It's the attitudes that are different. It was good for me to be over there and have the perspective of looking towards the United States.

Made it home to Heidelberg Our trip started to wind down when we left Dortmund. Niklas drove Jeff and I to Heidelberg on his way to back to the Audi dealer in Laichigen to get his repaired car and leave the loaned car we tortured for 1500 kilometers. Can you believe we drove this car with advertising on the side for over a week? Every where we went, people looked and stared like we were some part of an Audi promotion.

Leaving for the US outside Jeff's dormitory The following day, I left for the airport. What a difference I felt riding the train to the airport compared to riding it from the airport three weeks ago. I felt so confident, like I had seen and accomplished many things, but there was so much more I wanted to do. I didn't want to go!

Well, here I am back in Naperville. I now have a better understanding of the world, and it seems a bit smaller. I am more sympathetic to those people who come to the U.S. not speaking English. I know now what it's like not being able to communicate. It's tough! It's like being lost without anywhere to go. I can appreciate those that find their way and make a life away from their native home. I wanted to experience Germany for a long time...and I am happy that I did. I hope everyone goes out to explore their world someday.


Saying good-bye to my brother at the train stationps: thank you Jeff for such a wonder experience!