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German’s hometown makes Niagara Falls turbines

By Staff | Dec 21, 2009


Medieval castles, Steiff collectibles and technology are just a few things foreign exchange student Falko Grath associates with his hometown region.

Born in Heidenhein, Germany on June 4, 1993, Grath says his hometown, which is in the southwestern region of Germany, has a population of about 80,000 people. This makes it a medium-to-small town according to German standards. It is located between the larger cities of Stuttgart and Munich at the border of the German states of Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg. For size comparison, he says Munich has a population of between two and three million people.

Heidenhein, he says, is the home to Voit, one of the largest turbine producers in Germany. In fact, it makes and furnishes the turbines for Niagara Falls.

What is also remarkable about his small town is the fact it has its very own castle. Called ‘Hellenstein’, the castle was built in the Middle Ages.

“I think every little town in Germany built a castle at that time to protect their selves,” he says.

Falco with host mom Roxanne

Grath lives with his mother, Ofelia, in their four-bedroom home in Heidenhein. Complete with a full basement, he says the structure does have one common wall, which it shares with another home.

“My mom likes medieval things,” he says, “so a lot of our furniture is in this style.”

Not a native German, Grath’s mother and her family are originally from Romania. He says she came to Germany when she was in her twenties and is a family doctor and gynecologist who is divorced from his father, Martin.

“My father used to be a full-time baker and manager, but now he manages several bakeries,” explains Grath. “I see my father and cousins a lot, since they all live in Heidenhein too.”

Grath says his town has six elementary schools, four low, four medium and five high colleges (schools). They have these different levels because he says Germany wants the youth there to get the best possible education. Even though he says the lowest level is a general school, anyone in the German educational system can advance to a higher level if they desire.

He attends the Max-Planck Gymnasium where he is in his sixth year of studying English. In fact, all of his classes are taught in the English language. These courses include biology, chemistry, math, physics and history. In addition to these, he is also required to study English for an additional four hours per week.

His school day in Germany begins at 7:40 a.m. and ends by 12:50 p.m. One time per week, he says the students return to school at 2 p.m. to work in a science laboratory until 3:35 p.m.

A junior, Grath is taking primarily senior-level classes at BEA high school. This is due to the fact the classes he studied in Germany are a bit ahead of similar classes here. His favorite classes at BEA have been choir and communications. He enjoyed the latter, because he says he likes to give speeches.

Grath says any students wishing to pursue sports in Germany must go to private clubs. Also, anyone wishing to study music takes private lessons.

While he has been in Blue Earth, Grath participated in cross-country this past fall and is currently out for basketball. In the spring, he will join the baseball team. Currently, he is on the Math League and is part of the choir, Madrigals and 12 bucs plus change.

“I will also go out for all the theater productions,” he says.

His host mother, Roxanne Rajewsky, says it was rather ironic the first production he was involved in at BEA was the fall play, “The Diary of Anne Frank” in which he was cast in the roles as the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ German.

“Our country is ashamed of the past,” he says with downcast eyes. “We (German nation) have apologized and try to be a good nation now.”

Once he completes his studies here, Grath will have two years remaining in his education at the Max-Planck Gymnasium. The German educational system requires students to complete 13 years of schooling.

Immediately following the completion of his high school education, Grath says he will go into the army.

“Every German male has to go to the army for nine months,” he explains. “After this, I would be open to studying to become either a doctor or an engineer.”

He says he has even considered attending Minnesota State University-Mankato for one semester, but this would be very costly for him compared to going to a school in Germany where the government pays the tuition for anyone wanting an advanced education. This is due to the fact, Grath explains, Germany wants to give everyone a chance to get a degree.

Although the land area of Germany and Minnesota are about the same, he says Germany is a bit more crowded. It has a population of about 82 million compared to Minnesota’s 4 million.

“Only about two-percent of our land is used for agriculture,” he says. “Corn brings in dollars but not as much as a factory making computer chips. Germany tries to keep competitive in the global market through its industry.”

Grath says his mom likes to travel just about every holiday, so he has been to the U.S. three times prior to his current stay. He has also been to Italy, Austria, Canada, Cuba, Fuerteventura (part of the Canary Islands), Africa, Tunisia, South Africa, France, the Czech Republic, Poland and Denmark.

To read more of this story, see this week’s Register.