Why be a Volunteer?

One year ago, I got aware, that I should slowly decide, what I want to study next year. The decision was not easy to make, since I have many diffrent interests and passions. Therefore, I decided to postpone it and do a volunteer service with the familiar organization IJGD (http://www.ijgd.de/en). I expected to become more aware of my bigest passion is. Moreover, I have the point of view, that volunteer work is indispensable. In addition, I have the possibility to improve my English, I mean American, skills.

Zypern, Ukraine 2015 (137)

For one year I will work in a museum and teach kids and teenagers the art of circus.

How does the life of a circus teacher in the United States looks like? I have no clue!

We will figure it out!

P.S. By the way, a volunteer service costs a lot of money, for the flight, health insurance and the NGO, which has to organize everything has also expenses for their employees. Therefore, every volunteer needs to collect 2400 Euro.

To enable this possibility to be part of another culture for me and for the future volunteers I am very thankful for supporters. Any amount is welcome and appreciated!

Donation account:

Jan Elm

IBAN: DE59120300001031203258


INTENDE USE: „ Donation Volunteer Service“ + Your Name

If you want to see what I am doing, you are more than welcome to to gain a personal overview of my project and visit me in St. Louis. 😀

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28th of August 2016

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After a long struggle between studying Sociology in Constance or Social Work in Darmstadt, I decided to study social work. This was a tough decision for me. I did not only got one, but two offers of my favorite studies. I wish I could study both.

Keeping all this wonderful memories and people of America in my mind, I am looking forward to start studying in October 2016.


I hope to see you down the road!

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Last day of the trip – Copenhagen

20th of August 2016


Already at 4 o´clock I woke up. Since yesterday a stoned woman with her daughter had asked me, where the beach is, I decided to see the sunrise on the beach. I never thought that the beach would be so close to the city. After 40 minutes, I arrived right in time for the sunrise. Nobody else was there besides me.

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On the way back into the city, I met a lot of drunken and unpredictable people, which made me feel very uncomfortable. When I walked through the old downtown, I recognized, that I passed houses, which were much older than the U.S., but nobody payed any attention to this.

Since all shops and museums did not open before 10 o´clock, it was a way easier to walk through the streets compared with yesterday evening. I did not have to stop behind tourist groups.


After seeing the caste the royal stable, the Tivioli (a fun park, built in an old style), the city hall, the botanical garden and another castle, I stopped in front of the almost 200 years old synagogue, which did not had been burned down by the Nazis during World War 2. After the guards asked me several questions to make sure, that I am not a terrorist, I could enter the synagogue the see the Shabbat Service.

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In the USA it was a way easier. You would walk into any synagogue like into any Church, without any security check in question. But obviously it seems to be necessary to park two big police cars in front of the synagogue and hire several guards. Since we had started with around 20 people, after one hour already 200 had gathered. While women sat upstairs, men were seated downstairs. Older women who were not able to walk upstairs sat in the back. Kids could join their fathers too.

Most men were dressed with a white fine shirt and sometimes even with a tuxedo, much better than me. The synagogue has lots of golden decoration on the ceiling and a high altar with a big door, behind which the Torah is hidden.

People were constantly talking, what made me feel very nervous. It was not easy to recognize, when you were supposed to sit and to stand, since some people stand up with no obvious reason and some people were always seated. I heard several languages. English was a very dominant language. But the man in front of me was from France and also a lot of member of this congregation looked like they were from Northern Africa or Israel. After one hour, I was about leaving, but then they started to sing nice songs. After two hours I was on the verge of leaving, since there was so much more to see in this pretty city. Suddenly a hand was laying on my shoulder. It was the friendly man, which I had met at the entrance. “Still awake?” did he asked me and walked to the front row to talk to other people, before I could ask him how long the service usually takes. Everything was in Hebrew until a cute little girl read on behalf of her Bat Mitvah something in Danish. I was able to catch some phrases, but was so unsatisfied, since the sounds sounded so German to me and I was not able to understand it completely. After 3 hours the first people left the synagogue. A half hour later, the service was finished and I was invited by the French guy for wine and lunch. I did not have eaten anything since yesterday 7 o´clock. Since it was already afternoon, I felt very hungry. I was so hungry, that I went to a restaurant with a Danish buffet, where I ate much more. With a full stomach, I walked to the David house, in which a German migrant named David had started a big collection about Islamic arts. Since a tour was going to start in a little bit, I decided to wait for the tour. The tour was really interesting, but I did not waste any seconds after the tour and walked to the Design Museum, in which I could have spent probably several hours. But since I had little time, I continued to walk after half an hour through a pleasant old fortress to Copenhagen´s mermaid.

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When I got there, I was surprised, how many tourists were taking pictures from themselves in front of the mermaid. I thought that concerning art, it was a pretty disappointing work. There were lots of better sculptures in Copenhagen. But somehow the city decided to make this one far outside to a tourist attraction. As soon as I saw the ferry I ran to the jetty, where already 30 people were waiting. The captain let only a father with his child inside. Then he said something like one more in Danish. Most of the Asian tourists did not understand him and were not by themselves. Hesitating, I raced my hand and the captain pointed at me.

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The yellow bus, as the public ferry is named, drives through downtown and passes a lot of wonderful building.



When I got off at the Royal Library, a very fancy and modern building), I saw a sign, which said next ferry in 38 minutes. On one hand I felt very bad for the other people, who had waited longer than me. On the other hand, I felt lucky, because, I did not had so much time to wait for the next ferry, without being sure, that the captain would take me in his boat. The third time today I passed a market hall, where now thousands of people were celebrating the Pride Parade with crazy costumes and a huge loud concert. I had never seen such a wild pride parade like this. People were in a good mood, kissing each other and dancing. Unfortunately, I had to leave after a couple of minutes to go back to the hotel to get my luggage.


Although, Copenhagen´s public transport had made to me the impression of one of the best organized public transports, the trains to my hotel and to the airport were one hour late.


A train driver recommended me another connection. A lot of other tourist also knew about this connection and squeezed themselves into the train. Since I had a little bit time pressure and know, that the train will be late and was not sure, if there still would be space for me and my three big backs. I decide to take a taxi for the few kilometers to the airport. Another Italian guy was also in a hurry and we agreed on sharing a taxi. In the vehicle I figured out, that he is the organizer of one of the biggest circus festivals. When I told him, that I just worked in a circus, he asked me, if I would like to see his festival or even perform on it. He gave me his business card, we wished each other a save trip and walked to our terminals.

Since I could not find the baggage drop of for the economy class, I walked to the business class baggage drop off. After a few minutes all business class passengers were gone and the friendly women on the desk, said I could come to her. Actually I had planned to visit another famous modern building close to the airport after I had dropped off my bags. But the women of SAS told me, that lots of passengers had missed their flights yesterday, due to long lines on the security check. I decide, that it is not worth to risk it and walked to the security check lines. A women employed by the airport, waved me without any question to the business class security call, since only little people were waiting in line, compared to the big line on the other side.

As it is common in modern airports you have to walk through lots of stores before you arrive on your gate. One store had some whisky samples. I did not have any whiskey since one year and figured out it was literally worth a shot.

Since the timetable did not told me to which gate I had to go, I waited standing 30 minutes until it told me, that my flight was 15 minutes late. After this, it still did not tell me the gate, I asked the guy at the airport information. He told me, that they will tell me in one hour, how many minutes my flight will be late. Disappointed by arriving late at home, I decided to sit down on the stairs and enjoy the free wifi.

Finally my gate was visible. Furthermore, after half an hour it was already boarding time. The plane was so small, that it was not accessible from the gate over a bridge and that I could not stand straight in it.

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The captain announced hesitating with lots of breaks: “Due to some… technical problems… we had to change our plane… Before we leave… we have to refuel the plane. The tank car…is on… the way. Please do not use your seat belts while we are refuling the plane.“

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After another hour we took off. 23:39 the plane touched the runway of Stuttgart Airport. As soon as we landed my excitement was beyond limit. I could not wait much longer to see my parents again. My baggage arrived very fast. The only problem was, that the euro coin, did not really fit into the slot of the luggage trolley. I asked a worker in English, if he could help me. His English did not seem to be in the best shape. Then I recognized, that I could have also asked in German. A few minutes after midnight, I finally met my parents again.


We walked to our car, which still looked the same, but the airport looked different and more modern. After arriving at home, I started to cook Maultaschen with onions, a dish which I did not have eaten since over one year. After telling stories from the last year, I fell very tired into my old bed.



The first day, I felt like a stranger in this former country. New buildings had changed the cites. When I took the train, I was not sure, if the people had changed and I did not recognize them or if I had changed and they did not recognize me. Finally, I bumped into 15 people of my school on one day. It is very nice to see old faces and friend. About the question, “how was the last year in the USA”, I barely find an answer to describe all wonderful experiences. I do not really know, what to tell at first place.


Exactly one year ago, I started to my trip to America.

Now it is time to say thank you.

I really appreciate, what my host families and Circus Harmony and Circus Harmony did for me. This is something, what is unique and should not be taken for granted. Moreover, a big thank to my family, my sponsors, IJGD (International Youth Services) and the German government.

Thank you all!

Without your valuable work, this wonderful year would not have been possible for me.


I hope you enjoyed reading this blog.

Please feel free to ask me questions.

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Iceland in two hours

19th of August 2016


At twilight, we arrived at the airport of Iceland´s capital Reykjavik.

The new airport is built with lots of natural material and really fits to Iceland. After buying to drink and to eat, I wrote some post cards, which I had bought in cute store. Moreover, I was happy to see the European power plugs again.


I was happy, that I had such a wonderful year in the USA and everything worked out so well, although my flight got cancelled. After two hours I already took off by sunset and saw the mysterious wonderful landscape of Iceland from above.


As far I can tell, Iceland made a very sympathetic impression to me. Not only because the 300.000 inhabitants of Iceland were very successful in the European Soccer Cup. People seem to be simply nice and relaxed. Since I had not slept yet and it was already 2 a.m. (ECT), I slept the full flight until the plane descended over Copenhagen. After 3 hours of sleep, I received my luggage very quickly at the baggage claim and took the train two stations from the airport. The architecture around the hotel looked fantastic and very modern.


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It looked like none of this building is older than 5 years. Since I could not checkin before 3 p.m. I googled in the hotel lounge the highlights of Copenhagen. After 20 minutes I new, what I wanted to see and left the hotel with a map. First of all I visited some amazing new buildings with fascinating architecture. Later on I took the self-driving train, which comes every three minutes to Christianshavn.

Kopenhagen 2016 (18).JPGThis is such a huge contrast here. Everything is so fast, so clean. But on the other hand also it is very boring, compared to public transport of St. Louis. I missed the extroverted people.

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Christianshavn is a city district, which tries to become independent. It looks like the hippies moved from San Francisco to Copenhagen and established a new home here. Lots of trees, cute coffees, colorful houses and a weed marked are the highlights of this district.

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At the drug marked you are not allowed to take pictures. Moreover, if a tourist dares to take a picture, scary people walk towards them and tell them the rules of this city. It really feels like an independent city. Around 30 small shops offer weed with different tastes. They look a little bit like tiny candy stores on a fare. 50% of the vendors wore masks and looked really scary.


Most clients are tourists. When one vendor told, that the police was yesterday here and he showed them, how he could make his weed disappear in one second in his big bag. I also dared to ask a question. Immediately he asked me, if I want to buy something. When I told him no, he said, that he has to take care for his potential clients and will not answer my questions. I guess that the drug marked is Christianshavn`s biggest business and financial support of the community.

In every corner people made it themselves comfortable and were smoking weed.

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After hushing through the exhibition of Architectural Museum of Denmark about city development, I walked into a festival. Next to the modern Opera house are lots of small food shops with very different and experimental food.

Downtown was totally crowded and I got tired. I drove back to my hotel and fall asleep already before 8 o´clock.




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Flight canceled

18th of August 2016


The new flight would have cost a delay of 1-2 days more travel plus a night in London. But since I already have spent there lots of time, I rather wanted to stay in Copenhagen, where I had booked a hotel next to the airport. Therefore, I did not have to carry my three luggage pieces. Spending a night on the airport and missing my flights, did not sound very promising to me. After trying to reach my Airline Norwegian Air for two hours and calling numbers, who only existed in the internet, I had success and the woman from Norwegian Air promised to call me back in 15-20 minutes A little bit after midnight, I found a flight for just around 500 dollars with a short 2 hour stop in Iceland’s capital Reykjavik. Since the women did not call me back, I started to book the flight in the hope they would pay for the extra costs. The only information, that I got from Norwegian Air was, that I had to pay my flight first and then they will decide, if they will pay for it or not. At 2:15 the women of Norwegian Air called me. I did not have expected her call. She offered me another connection, which still would have caused to miss my flight and stay the whole day in Lisbon. Unfortunately, I had already decided. After saying good bye to Mariya and Ajit, my luggage and I made it all the way to the Harbour of Boston. I was right in time to catch the next whale watching ship. After one hour on the high speed catamaran and a few vomiting and sea sick people, we arrived at the whale spot. Most whales stay here, because the water is not very deep here, which are good conditions to grow plankton. Whales eat lots of plankton. It took a while until we spotted our first whale. Moreover it looked like he was asleep, since he did not really swim actively. He just came up to the water surface to catch some air. When whales sleep, only one part of the brain really sleeps. The other part regulates all functions, which are necessary to survive, like breathing air.




It took us only five minutes to find the next whale, which is the second biggest animal of the world and barely to see. Whales can hold their breath for 15-45 minutes. The marine biologist, can recognize every whale by its caudal fin. Since the caudal fin is unique like a human finger print.

As our trip went on, we saw three whales together, who came really close. So close, that the fountain, which they make, when they breath made the people in the front row wet. This water smells really bad, since it contains lots of bacteria.

Out of the blue whale appeared every few minutes on different sites of the boat. The tourists were almost running over each other, just to get the best pictures. Suddenly a smaller whale from another whale family appeared. After an hour, the ship drove back to Boston.

I enjoyed my last American lunch at the harbour, before I drove to the airport. I arrived so early at the airport, that the luggage  drop off was not open yet.

My last American dinner at the airport was some fruits with a fresh and greasy hamburger with french fries from Burger King.

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After sending the last messages, I recognized, that boarding time had started early. So I was one of the last passengers. At 7:12 our plane took off by sunset and I saw the historic Boston from above. Surprisingly WOW airlines did not serve its passengers any free drinks during a 5 hour flight. My seat neighbours from the UK and the Netherlands were very nice and entertaining.

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The Freedom Trail

17th of August 2016

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Today I started my sightseeing tour at the oldest college sport stadium and Business school of Harvard. At Massachusetts Institute of Technology, short MIT, I discovered Gehry`s reflecting curvy buildings, which reminded me of the buildings “Zollhof” at the harbour of Düsseldorf.


Around noon, I finally arrived at the Freedom trail. Boston`s most touristic attraction. Especially for Americans is this very need. Since Boston offers a lot of historic spots and is for American circumstances an old city. The trail leads through a lot of nice parks along a lot of nice old and small buildings. Nevertheless, I had the impression, that every trifle was exaggerated and promoted in a heroic way. The top was the USS Constitution Museum.


But first and foremost, I passed a three hundred years normal looking church, Franklin`s graveyard and more “old” nice but not outstanding churches. After dozen people were asking me for the way, but I was unable to help them, I saw an old street musician in front of the beautiful statehouse. He played an instrument, which I have never seen before. He looked like a German, but sounded like a bagpipes.

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While I was listening to his melodies, he asked me, which language I speak. When I told him, that I speak German, he started to speak German too. While playing his instrument, he sang, that he is from Brooklyn and sat next to one of the senators of New York in school. Moreover, Bernie Sanders went to his school. He sang a whole ballad about his career in a romantic style. Later on he showed me how his instrument called hurdy gurdy looks from the inside and sang a song about me. He seemed to be a very interesting person. To experience more about his background I asked him some questions. He told me, that he is a happy guy, who travelled in 68 from Europe to India. He learned one Indian language and how to play a traditional Indian instrument. Later on he and his Hungarian wife moved to Germany for a few years, where his son was born. His son got his education at Berkeley College, one the best or perhaps even the best school for performing arts.

On Yom Kippur (a funny Jewish Holiday on which it is a Mitzvah, a good deed to get drunk) he smoked weed the first time. It happened with an old friend on a rock in Forrest Park. But besides this occasion, he does not follow very much the Jewish tradition. For him the holy books are stories, which bring humans spiritual further.

After he talked about Indian music I asked him, if he also plays some Klezmer music. Immediately he started to play Tumbalalaika, one of my all time favourites songs. Although the lyrics he sang, was a little bit different.

When he stopped he said:” I knew a man, who moved from a Cello to a Tumbalalaika. It was a little bit small. But he could live in it.”

Suddenly his attention focused on something behind me. “What a wonderful guy. He must have been on the road for many years. He is probably from Scandinavia or Switzerland”. When I turned around, I saw a man with two plastic bags in his hand, strolling along the freedom trail. I asked him, how he can be so sure about that he is homeless for so long, but also from Scandinavia?

With a smile on his face, he said, that he just has a good feeling about it, since he plays since over 35 years on the street. A few seconds later, 3 young guys walked around the corner. He asked them in German, if they speak German. They turned to our side a little bit puzzled. For a second I thought he was wrong and had just too much fantasy. To my surprise on of the guys started stammering talking German and asked how he recognized it. “In time of the globalization it gets harder, but you looked so German to me” answered here. For me, they could belong to every western population besides the Mediterranean countries.


After talking half an hour, I bought a cd of his son, his wife and himself playing French songs. Then I continued my walk on the Freedom Trail. While I was waiting on a traffic light to look up the directions, two guys passed me. One came a few steps back and said: “If you do it, do it with a Marine!” I did not want to let him down and took a selfy with him.


Around the next corner I saw lots of street performers, who successfully attracted lots of people. As soon as a few persons stopped, mostly one minute later the street performer was surrounded by the big crowd. Their tricks were really amazing. The only boring thing was, they tried to make an half an hour show with only one trick, like contortion or one dance.

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After I saw the pretty North End with it´s old (at least for Americans) houses, I made it all the way to the USS Constitution museum. Having not much time left, I asked right on the front desk, where I can see the US Constitution. She pointed to the door, to which I entered and said: ”Go out and immediately to your left in the dry dock. assuming, that the US Constitution would be a way to holy to explored outside. I asked again and got the same answer.

But first and foremost I walked through an exhibition about a US War ship and how great the US is. Patriotic videos with the national anthem were exhibited and you could scratch your name in copper blades, which will be attached to the USS Constitution, in order to protect the old, legendary warship from the salty water.

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I went outside and looked to my left and saw a sign on which was written USS Constitution and pointed to the ship. As soon as I recognized, that I messed up one of the most famous and old war ships with the constitution of independence, I started to laugh. On the ship you could buy an American flag and pull the star sprangled banner up for 25 Dollars. Lots of people used this offer. The marines on board were very friendly, easygoing and playful as you might never have expected, when you are facing a soldier. After seeing Bunker Hill, a cute British looking neighbourhood, with a huge monument, I took the ferry to go to Boston harbour.

After an hour of relaxing and postcard writing, I went home, to take a swim in the private pool. When I wanted to check in very late in the night, I recognized, that my flight got cancelled, although I did never received any mails or texts about it.

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Shopping with three girls

16th of August 2016

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Today I met with Danne, whom I met in St. Louis. Coincidentally, she was also in St. Louis. I did know only little about her. She brought two friends, who loved shopping.


Our first location was H&M. This store has five times more women, than man clothes. This was proven, by the result, that I did not find anything and Danee´s friends left with big bags. In the afternoon, we found a kitchy restaurant, where I enjoyed my last American burger. Finally in the third store, I also found some good bargains. It is astonishing, how much cheaper brands can be here in the states. I bought a shirt, which official price was 32 dollars for 6 bugs.

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Finally we visited the Harvard Campus, where Danee and I had to say good bye. The campus is pretty need. Nevertheless, I think, that Washington University in St. Louis is much nicer.

In the evening, we had an Indian-Hungarian dinner, with the other Indian-Hungarian couple and a friend of Ajit. Surprisingly, it turned out, that he has Iranian roots, but was born in Germany and also speaks German perfectly. After the perfect dinner, I was full and tired.

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Rainy Aufwiedersehen (Good Bye)

15th of August 2016


Less than three hours later Cheryl and Jon brought me to the airport. It was so rainy, that while running from the house to the car all my clothes got wet.

Saying good bye was hard. Going each step through the security control, knowing, that every step brings you further away from the Maayans, Circus Harmony, other great people and St. Louis was the hardest part.

It started to rain again as soon as the air plane was ready to take off. I was not ready. But the plane was already in the air. After some layers of clouds the sun broke through for a few moments.

The weather in Boston was a way better.


In the afternoon I arrived at the apartment of my couchsurfer host. Ajit and Mariya were not at home, but the advanced technology, Ajit could open the door for me and my two big duffel bags with his smartphone. After a short nap, I walked to the Bank of America, which I had seen by passing with the bus. When Ii closed my bank account, I still had surprisingly so many dollars on it, that I was not sure, how to spend them in the next three days.

As soon Ajit came home, he told me about his 21 month long world trip with Mariya and made some spicy Indian tea for me.

While Mariya is from Bulgaria, he is from India. Moreover, they met in college in the USA, a very uncommon marriage. Moreover, Ajit told me, that they expect a couple tomorrow, who have the same nationality like they have.

Furthermore, he showed me the swimming pool, gym, yoga and work out room of the apartment building. They were pretty need.

Later on, he took me to the oldest badminton club of Boston, which is with over 100 years pretty old, taking into consideration, that the popularity of badminton increased never ever so significantly, like the last decade. Moreover, he is the third best badminton player, what I was really able to understand, after he chased me over the whole field. I have never seen people, who play so good like him and the people in his club.

After four hours of badminton we arrived hungry at home.

Mariya was already at home and served us with homemade humus and a cold soup, made up with cucumbers, garlic, walnuts and milk.

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Good Bye Party with Family

14th of August 2016

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After saying good bye to my WashU friends it started to rain.

Luckily Cheryl could pick me up. We went together to the local international grocery store, to which Cheryl introduced me, when I moved to the Delmar Loop over a half year ago.

Later on Gabe and I played bowling. Since he is pretty good, I could learn a lot from him and immediately improved my technic. He managed almost to his three strikes in a row, what is also called turkey.

In the evening the whole family and a few circus members came together for the good bye dinner. After a Germany quiz, we exchanged good bye presents, what was moving. Cheryl, Marti, Jon and I had cooked delicious mountains of food.

Although Yahel and I started a stupid competition in eating the most, we could not nearly finish the many pies.

After watching a movie, Yahel and I started conditioning at one o´clock in the morning. Until I had packed my last things together and fall asleep, it was already 3 a.m.


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Visit at the end, what most people do first

13th of August 2016



This morning Circus Galilee, the St. Louis Arches and I went to the St. Louis Arch. Although I have lived here already since one year have not yet visited the top of St. Louis most important sight. Two days before leaving, I go up the St. Louis Arch, where most tourists go first. The elevator construction is pretty fascinating and was the first one of its kind. The view from the arch is ok. It looks much more impressive from beneath.





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The last week in St. Louis

11th of August 2016

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I sleep very long in those days, writing blog, answering mails, playing music, meet final preparations for my travel back to Germany and spend the evening with the people of Circus Galilee and the St. Louis Arches.


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