Youth Exchange Reports
Visit of a youth group from Bethlehem in June 22 with us
From 18-25-6.22 a group of 15 students from Talitha Kumi School (including 2 teachers) visited us as part of an exchange program at Berufskolleg Opladen. The group stayed with host families in St. Augustin-Birlinghoven and -Ort. Airport transfer and transport from Birlinghoven to the locations of the respective program points was done with 2 rented Mercedes minibuses with extra large trunks for luggage, drinks, etc. and our employees Alex Strauß and Roland Gras as drivers, whereby the latter also took the following pictures.
Day 1: Saturday, June 18: St. Augustin-Birlinghoven – Düsseldorf
When the group arrived at Cologne airport, there were several delays because a young person’s large travel bag was not on the baggage carousel and a time-consuming loss report had to be filed first. (Only 3 weeks later the bag was found at Tel Aviv airport!). In addition, the flight of a student who was able to depart from Tel Aviv instead of Amman was also delayed. Therefore, our entire schedule got mixed up. In addition, tropical temperatures of over 37 degrees prevailed. In addition, there were misunderstandings because of the accommodation of individual girls who would have liked to stay together in a host family, but this was not so easy because of changes in our host families. At least the group was able to relax a bit in their host families from the long journey, which began on 17.6. began at 6 o’clock in Bethlehem and on 18.6. ended at around 10 a.m. at Cologne Airport.
Palestinians – with the exception of those with Jordanian or Israeli passports – are only allowed to fly abroad via Amman. In this case, that means they have to travel by minibus from Bethlehem to the Jordanian border crossing at Allanby Bridge, 80 km away, where there are often long waits and intensive checks. Afterwards we will take cabs to the airport of Amman and via Istanbul to Cologne.
At 6:15 p.m., we drove to the Roncalli Circus, which had just pitched its tent in Düsseldorf (instead of Cologne) during this exchange week. Because of the “picture-book” weather, there were major problems parking our buses at the completely overcrowded Rhine Park, so that the outward and return journeys were considerably delayed. The group did not return to their host families until after midnight. However, the fascinating circus program (a successful mixture of vaudeville, magic, acrobatics and performances by clowns between the individual acts of the artists) then fully compensated for the problems of this 1st day.
Circus Roncalli in the Düsseldorf Rhine Park
Day 2: Sunday, June 19: St. Augustin-Menden – Bonn
On Sunday the group could sleep a little longer, because we only had to drive from Birlinghoven to Sankt Augustin-Menden to participate in the Protestant service in the open air in front of the Emmaus Church at 10 am (including a baptism) followed by a community festival.
Community festival in Sankt Augustin-Menden
There, our guests happened to meet their German teacher, who teaches at the Talitha Kumi School and lives in Sankt Augustin during the Palestinian school vacations. At the subsequent community celebration with lunch, there were many opportunities to talk with German young people, but also other community members who had already been to Bethlehem and had also visited their school. At 4:30 p.m. we then drove to the GOP Varieté Theater in Bonn, where we again experienced a great show with breathtaking artistic interludes that also thrilled everyone. After dinner at Pizzeria Baaz, the group went to their host families because we had to be in Leverkusen at 8 a.m. the next day.
GOP Variety Theater in Bonn
Day 3: Monday, June 20: Leverkusen-Opladen – St. Augustin
This time we had to leave early in the morning from Birlinghoven, because we had to drive to the Berufskolleg Opladen (BKO), which is more than 50 km away. Due to the danger of traffic jams on the A3, we had to leave at shortly after 7 a.m. to be able to start our exchange program in time at the BKO. After various getting-to-know-you games including a varied “speed dating” under the proven and sovereign leadership of Marcus Nick and 3 other BKO teachers, the young people in their German-Palestinian groups brainstormed ideas on how they could design the planned walls in the entrance area at the BKO with symbols and words of peace, respect, happiness, love and tolerance as well as solidarity with Ukraine. It is true that the wall should be painted creatively, just like the one in Bethlehem. However, our guests understood very quickly that this wall – unlike the one in Bethlehem – should be a peace wall that connects rather than divides. Young people from the BKO interviewed the members of the workshops regarding the cooperation with the German students as well as the whole exchange program and made a short video film in the process.
The 1st day at the BKO
At noon, due to time constraints, the workshop participants had a buffet lunch at the Chinese restaurant. Afterwards, we drove with our group to the Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences in Sankt Augustin, where we learned in detail about the study programs and conditions there. Fahed, who like some others at the Talitha Kumi School has a German Abitur, is now hoping to get a place at university there. Mohammad and Marwan have also applied to many German universities and definitely want to study in Germany. Afterwards there was the opportunity to store in the HUMA center as well as to buy German sim cards and have them activated before we were warmly welcomed by the mayor Prof. Leittersdorf. He reported in excellent English about the tasks and the daily work of a mayor, his motivation for this job, his visions for the future and also answered the many questions of our group. After a group photo, we said goodbye and left quite early for dinner at Pizzeria Baaz in Birlinghoven, as our guests were already quite tired and wanted to go to bed earlier this time.
Group picture with mayor Prof. Leittersdorf (3rd from left)
Day 4: Tuesday, June 21: Leverkusen-Opladen – Bonn
Again we started at 7 o’clock in the morning towards Leverkusen, where under professional guidance of a teacher with the subject “design” the work in the groups on the design of the walls at the BKO was continued. After the workshop, all students again enjoyed the buffet lunch at the Chinese restaurant. Afterwards, we drove with our group to the Haribo factory outlet in Bad Godesberg, where our guests stocked up on a wide variety of Haribo products (halal, of course) and gift items. Afterwards, we participated in a very informative English-language guided tour of the House of History, where the construction and fall of the Berlin Wall inspired our guests to engage in intense discussions about their wall in Palestine. The exhibited Soviet tank from 1945 as well as the suppression of uprisings in East Berlin and in Prague suddenly took on a frightening topicality in view of the Ukraine war. Some young people also showed great interest in the 68er Revolution and the RAF, as they had covered these topics in their German history classes in Bethlehem.
House of History: Soviet tank (1945) and Trabbi after the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989)
One student could not participate in the tour because she had circulation problems. When her condition worsened at the House of History, she was taken by ambulance to the Waldkrankenhaus in Bad Godesberg for examination, accompanied by her teacher Sanaa. Since we were told by the emergency room that we would be informed immediately about the results of the examination, we first drove on with the group to the Rheinauenpark, where the young people played soccer, badminton, etc.
Bonn Rheinauenpark with Japanese garden
I then drove to the hospital with my wife and we took the exhausted but healthy student and her teacher to dinner at Baaz Pizzeria, where we met our group.
Day 5: Wednesday, June 22: Leverkusen-Opladen – Brühl
By now, our guests had gotten used to the early morning departure, so we were able to resume the creative workshop promptly at 8 am.
The 3rd day of the workshop at BKO
All the students were in a hurry with their work because they wanted to go to Phantasialand in Brühl as early as possible. Especially for our guests, this visit to the largest theme park in Europe was an unforgettable experience. In the Pizzeria Baaz we had dinner again and exchanged the many unique experiences of the day.
The Phantasialand in Brühl
Day 6: Thursday, June 23: Leverkusen-Opladen – Düsseldorf
For the last time, we drove from Birlinghoven to the BKO in Opladen at 7 a.m., where the German and Palestinian students finished the murals and made the final preparations for presenting the results of the workshop to the local press. At the beginning, 2 Palestinian youths each reported on the cooperation in their groups as well as on the exchange and explained the design of the peace wall. They were just as enthusiastic about the entire exchange as the deputy BKO principal Matthias Momberg and the German principal of the Talitha Kumi School Matthias Wolf, who had traveled from near Gießen.
Far left: the principal of the Talitha Kumi School Matthias Wolf
Final presentation with dance performance of the Palestinian youths
The goal of the project was to get to know each other and overcome barriers. The Peace Wall is intended to be a permanently visible sign of this. It was presented to the guests with the legendary film music of “Pirates of the Caribbean” by composer Klaus Badelt. On the one hand, you can see an orange sun with the words respect, happiness, love and a dove of peace in its center. On the other hand, some symbols can be seen, such as the Peace sign and hearts, which are meant to emphasize support and solidarity with Ukrainians. In front of the wall, our guests showed several dance performances, in which also German students and teachers participated. The film about the workshop created by the young people rounded off this presentation. Afterwards, there was the opportunity to review the highlights of this exchange over barbecue and various salads in the schoolyard of the BKO.
Barbecue together after the end of the workshop
Afterwards we drove with our group to Cologne and took part in an English-speaking guided tour of the Cologne Cathedral. In view of the high temperatures, we conducted the agreed interview with individual young people about our exchange in a shady spot below the cathedral with an editor from the General-Anzeiger.
Group picture with an editor of the General-Anzeiger (7th from left)
From there we drove to the Apollo Varieté Theater in Düsseldorf for the last event, where we were again treated to a great show with a 3-course meal.
Apollo Variety Theater to Düsseldorf
Some of us only found the comedy performance of the permanently joking Steve Eleky somewhat superfluous, who laughed most at his own “jokes”, but could only animate a part of the audience to laugh along. As a result of the more than one-hour drive back, we arrived at the host families only after 11 pm.
Day 7: Friday, June 24: Königswinter (boat trip etc.), Siegburg
This time our guests were able to sleep longer, as we did not leave for Königwinter until 9:30 a.m. to participate in the 2-hour boat tour up the Rhine – a very special experience for the group, as there is no river in Palestine and for them – like so many things during the exchange – it was the 1st boat tour. Although it rained on the way to the ship. After that, however, the weather god showed his sunny side.
2-hour boat trip on the Rhine
We had lunch at the Hotel Maritim and took the cogwheel train to Drachenfels. Some also climbed up to the ruins, from where you have an even more beautiful view of the Rhine.
On the Drachenfels with a view of the Rhine
On the way back, we stopped at Drachenburg Castle and visited the castle, which is well worth seeing, as well as the beautifully designed gardens.
Drachenburg Castle with gardens
Then we went to the restaurant Laredo in Siegburg (Wahnbachtalstr. 23, directly at the small river Sieg) for the farewell dinner, which was attended by the group and the host parents as well as some German young people of the exchange. All guests, host families and some German young people or participants in the October trip were very enthusiastic about this exchange.
Day 8: Saturday, June 25: Bonn – Cologne
On the last day it was time to say goodbye to the host families. From Birlinghoven we drove together with the luggage of the group to Bonn, where we took part in the great and also for the German participants very informative 2-hour city tour in the convertible bus (HopOn-HopOff) in bright sunshine. Afterwards, we had lunch at the Köln Arcaden and gave the group another opportunity to store and buy gifts for friends and family. Due to the chaos at Cologne airport during check-in and security check, we brought our guests to the airport 3.5 hours before departure. We managed to place them in the right queue in front of the Turkish Airlines counter. 15 minutes before departure, they passed through security, so our group was able to board just in time.
All in all, apart from a few mishaps on the first day, this was a very successful exchange, and my special thanks go to all the young people involved, the teachers especially from the BKO, our staff or drivers Roland Gras and Alex Strauß, and our host families. The trips to Leverkusen to the BKO and the 2 trips to Düsseldorf were very far, so we will try to find a suitable school in Sankt Augustin or the surrounding area next year. This is not easy, however, as most schools under consideration already have enough school partnerships of their own. In addition, we will endeavor to offer suitable events mainly in the Bonn-Cologne area. We are very much looking forward to seeing the group again in October in Bethlehem.