by Sarbjeet Kaur
It was a strange sight: 30 high school students from Wisconsin trying to blend in with the typical hustle and bustle of Chicago. I recall a group of freshmen betting who could shout the word bubbler the most. It was chilly enough to see pom-poms on the tops of hats, adorning busy business ladies juggling their phones and coffees. A tiny courtyard was crammed full of Oak Creek students and Chicagoans alike, pushing through the line to be the first to taste German hot chocolate.
Every year on the first Saturday of December, German Club visits Chicago and spends the entire day exploring the authentic German Christkindlmarket. Herr Engebretson, one of the German teachers at Oak Creek High School, leads the trip and manages the blend of upper and lowerclassmen, making sure no one gets lost along the way. The day begins when students meet up at the Kenosha Metra station for a shaky train ride to the Windy city. From there, students visit the market, eat lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe (which was surprisingly busy), take pictures with the famous Chicago Bean, and finish off the night by shopping and exploring the area of the Christkindlmarkt.
“I mean, the Christkindlmarket was really German and the food tasted like Germany,” German exchange student Jorina Holzapfel laughed when I asked her about the German influence on the trip. “So, yeah, it was really good.” She smiled after finishing her sentence and looked to Jackson Rees, who sat next to her on the train.
“As much as my feet hurt, it was really cool to go and be like, just able to hang out without worrying about my parents and just being able to go shopping and do things on my own,” Jackson recalled after showing me the things he’d bought from the trip. His haul included a candle holder, potato pancakes, and chocolate— an item everyone seemed to have bought.
The train was cold and mostly quiet on the way back. Becca Zelten sat across from me, half asleep as we joked about how we spent way too much money on expensive drinks that were definitely not worth the price. When I asked her if she would recommend the trip to others, she reached for her bag and began showing me items she bought. “I would definitely go again because you get the freedom to do what you want, like sightseeing and learning about the German culture.” She was surprised she could understand the German signs around the German Market, since practicing German outside of class wasn’t something we did often.
The Water Town Place Mall looked like a castle which is how we remembered it was our meet-up spot. As we waited for a couple of students to go buy popcorn, I asked Herr Engebretson about his thoughts on the trip, since he has been organizing it for years. He sat down on one of the couches beside the decorative Christmas tree and laced his fingers together to take a second to collect his thoughts. “It’s a learning experience in that sense, being away from home. You’re also with your friends, which adds to the comfort level when you’re away from home and it creates a memorable experience, and a chance to test your German skills when you’re in a German environment. Most of all, it builds memories, and that’s the main reason why I like to bring students here.”
He paused with a smile on his face. Once he found the right words he began to speak again. “It’s something that happens just once a year and not everybody gets this opportunity, either, so I’m glad to take you guys to experience this because you might never get to experience this. So, yeah, I’m glad to be a part of that.”