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They're young. They're smart. They're German.

And they're trying to come to grips with the re-election victory of President Bush, who has not been riding a wave of popularity in their homeland.

"Bush does what he wants to do and doesn't care how his decisions affect others," Anna Kautza said. "(President Bill) Clinton took the time to see how other nations saw things and considered all the facts and consequences before he did things, instead of acting unilaterally."

Gregor Ogiermann agreed.

"Bush has no talent for diplomacy," he said, "and never fought in a war."

Kautza and Ogiermann are among eight German exchange students visiting Niagara Falls High School for 10 days. All are 12th-graders at the Heisenberg Gymnasium, a top-flight school in Dortmund that has partnered with Niagara Falls High as a way to promote international understanding.

The students, who have many good things to say about this country, spoke of the contrasts between life in the United States and in Germany, which offers free medical care and college education.

"We don't like Bush in Germany," Kautza said. "That's because before he invaded Iraq he told everyone there were weapons of mass destruction there, and they never found anything. I don't think he has any concern for other people."

The students also underscored differences between the schools of the two nations.

U.S. schools are more homogenized and standardized, the Germans have learned.

Franca Boesch said that in Germany, students are funneled into four different types of schools after fourth grade. Those showing the most promise attend high school at the top level, like Heisenberg Gymnasium, and then go to college. Two of the lower levels are for students who most likely will get a job or an apprenticeship when they leave school.

In Germany, good students who qualify for college go free, and do not go into debt to pay for it.

American schools also have pluses, the German students said.

"We don't have swimming pools and lockers and so many gyms in German high schools," Nils Bickenbach said. "(Niagara Falls High) is much more modern than our schools. We have computer labs, and that's it."

"Here, everyone has a laptop," Boesch said.

Ogiermann said schools in Germany are not the center of a student's life.

"We wake up in the morning, go to school at 8 a.m. and go home at 2 or 3," he said. ". . . This school is open until 8 p.m. We take our free time at home and go out with friends."

Corina Feldhaus said she was surprised that there are so many American flags displayed, that every morning students say the Pledge of Allegiance and that "God Bless America" signs are in front of some homes.

"We don't have this in Germany," Bickenbach said. "We are not allowed to be proud of our country because of what the Nazis did. . . . I think that's ridiculous because that was in the past and this is the present."

Bickenbach said he was surprised that "most kids here don't seem to know where Germany is. They don't seem to know anything about European countries."

Next year, several Niagara Falls students will visit Dortmund.


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