June 16, 2014: Bitter Sweet Tübingen

I can’t really think of anything I’ve done last week of consequence, so I will go ahead and jump into what I did that weekend, i.e. my last VDAC trip to Tübingen.  We left on Friday at about noon, and I say we because there were seven of us leaving from Nürnberg.  There was of course Frau Arneth, who graciously drove us in her big red van, her two granddaughters visiting from the states, and three students from FAU who are going to the states next year.  They all seemed pretty excited about going and the ride there was filled with questions about life/studying in the US as well as the general “getting to know you” questions that always accompany meeting new people.

 

Once we had arrived and got into our rooms, it was time for some coffee and cake which was provided by the hostel, and was probably the tastiest thing they served all weekend.  This meant we mingled with one another for awhile which meant that I sort of awkwardly stood around and listened to what people were talking about, but not making any real effort to contribute to the conversation.  After everyone had pretty much become acquainted with one another, we made our way to the German American Institute nearby for a short talk, mostly concerning what the institution does.  I think the most interesting part of the talk was looking at all the photographs they had on exhibit of people from the Broncs on a nearby beach.  I don’t know why, but there was something so beautiful about them.  There were two really memorable photographs for me.  One was a black and white of a young African American woman grinning at the camera, one hand placed on her hip jutting out with such sass, with her vibrant orange swimsuit being the only splash of color in the image.  The other was also in black and white and was of a somewhat overweight Hispanic man in maybe his thirties or forties with a small child who I can only assume was his daughter clinging to his back.  Both photos just sort of struck me at that moment and made me really appreciate how diverse the U.S. really is.

 

Anyway, that aside we listened to the lady in charge give her spiel and then we were assigned a rather interesting and fun task.  Instead of going on our usual city tour, the program decided to make us take a more active part in learning about the city.  So we were assigned into groups based on our U.S. universities (or those in close proximity) and given a list of five riddles to figure out.  And no, we couldn’t just cheat and use google either.  They had already thought of that.  So Team U. Alabama’s solution: go to the tourist office, get maps, and ask questions.  For the most part the people there were pretty helpful, giving us at least a starting point for most of the questions.  They only led us astray once, but I think they were rather unsure of their responses themselves.  Maps in hand we set out to solve these riddles.  The first two or three went pretty smoothly and quickly, but then we got a bit hung up looking for a small bone at the entrance of an old monastery (I think) which was now a dorm.  But with the help of a few nice strangers, we soon had our sheet filled out and ready to go.  This accomplishment couldn’t very well go unrewarded.  This called for some ice cream by the river as we parsed through our information and made a poem/performance with it for a later presentation that evening.  And even though all the performances were supposed to be judged, it ended up not mattering and every group got a nice little thing of gummy bears for our work.

 

Team U. Alabama, well most of us

Team U. Alabama, well most of us.  Selfie courtesy of Byron

 

After that we broke up into our groups and were assigned a specific theme to discuss concerning cultural differences between the U.S. and Germany.  And most of our topics, while pretty mundane, eventually boiled down into some sort of political debate.  And while most people were giving answers as they know them to be true, no one could actually agree on those answers.  So eventually every debate boiled down to: it depends on where you are in the U.S.  It would have probably been more helpful to students if we had discussed these topics in more regional based groups as opposed to trying to for example, parse out the climate of the entire United States in under 5 minutes.  But hopefully it was at least somewhat helpful and not terribly overwhelming.

 

And that was about it for day one.  Everyone else decided to go out after we had finished, but I was a bit too tired so I went to bed at around 11 or so.  I was still extremely tired the next morning though.  Sleeping in hostels is just not as comfortable as your own bed.  But the next morning was really nice and thankfully, a bit cooler as well.  We woke up early, breakfasted, and then took a bus to a nearby castle, which we took a tour of, but only after a pretty steep climb to the top.  The American in me was gasping and wheezing the entire climb.  You would think one day I would get used to all the walking I do over here, but nope.  The castle was worth the climb though and we learned a lot about it as well.  It was built originally in the 11th century but was later destroyed and eventually fell into complete disrepair.  But in the 19th century they decided to rebuild it in the Medieval style as a sort of museum to their empire.  Which also makes it important to note, the family that once lived there eventually became emperors of Prussia.  And what a monument it is!  It was absolutely beautiful, and not only the castle but also the view!  The valleys below stretched for miles.

 

Picture on my ticket stub via google

Picture on my ticket stub via google

 

We ended up eating lunch at a restaurant at the castle before heading back down.  Then we took a bus ride which dropped us off in this random road by some fields which we walked to another cafe.  We drank a bit of cider/coffee there before heading on a “hike”.  It was much more of a walk in general, but was fun.  We did some more mingling and chatting, and some games were involved before we made it back to Tübingen.  Then we walked around the downtown area for a bit before our free time.  This is when I found a juggling store just randomly placed in a shop lined street.  The excitement completely overwhelmed me as I pressed my nose against the storefront glass and drooled over their wares, the most notable being a fire hoop.  But before I could get my fill I realized the group had already wandered off and I decided to catch back up with them.  This probably wasn’t my best idea.  I did find them, but they had already disbanded so I could have very well stayed at the store.  So I decided to go back and see when it was open.  To my dismay it had just shut for the weekend, so there was no geeky juggling store to be had.  But it was still pretty cool.

 

This is about the time I got lost.  Now Tübingen is not a terribly large place, but we had done so much circling about I was completely confused.  This meant I wandered around for about 20 minutes to no avail.  I was starting to panic a bit and I decided to call Donald since my phone is much to junky to do anything like internet.  He ended up looking up my location and giving me step by step directions back to our hostel.  Potato.  But I made it back and even had time for a nap before dinner!

 

After that we were divided into two groups: the German students and the American students, for a brief talk on the differences between German and American universities and how to go about applying to Master’s programs in Germany respectively.  And while I found the talk interesting, I didn’t think it was extremely helpful for my situation since I am almost finished with my Masters back in the states and am planning on actually finding a job if/when I come back over here as opposed to more school.  Not to rule out a Doctorate just yet, but I want some “real world” experience first.  I need a break from school and a break from being a poor student.  Then the German group joined ours for a break down of all the U.S. universities involved in the program.  There were pictures and each American student told a little bit about their universities before moving on.  Luckily for us the lady giving the presentation had done her exchange at UA, so I really didn’t have to say anything at all.  I ended up just nodding along and smiling and that was good enough for me.

 

It was pretty cool to see all the universities and hear some of the students talk about them (undergrads being a lot more positive than grads, surprise).  After that we went out to a beer garden nearby to celebrate one of the guy’s birthday.  It was fun to sit around, drink a beer, and talk.  Then we were going to go to another bar for awhile, but a handful of us decided to go somewhere less crowded and smoky.  This was when I realized that my initial entry into said group of people, based on the fact that I have seen the movie Primer before (thanks Doug!) was likely a mistake as they dissected different rap songs, artists, and other obscure movies.  My only other in into the conversation was Haruki Murakami, which was merely a brief topic.  It was still pretty interesting though.  I also learned about a new Swedish show that I’m going to have to watch about androids.  Eventually I had to call it a night and managed to get only 4 hours or so of sleep, which was admittedly more than some other people managed to get.

 

The next day was pretty relaxing, even though everyone was exhausted.  We got up and ate breakfast and then went for a gondola ride on the Neckar.  It was absolutely gorgeous.  I don’t think we could have asked for better weather.  It was neither too hot nor too cold and the sunny blue sky smiled down upon us.  Some people even got to try captaining the boat themselves, some with much better luck than others.  It was nice getting to sit back on the river with some pretty cool people to keep you company, sharing stories ranging from a dissection of Vanilla Ice to work stories from the movie theater days.  And with that and lunch we were forced to say goodbye for what could potentially be forever for some.  I’d like to think I’ve gotten good at goodbyes over the years, I sure have had a lot of experience with them.  And I would like to say that I have even accepted the fact that most people you only get the pleasure of knowing for a short time, but then the other part of me really does think I’ll see at least some far away friends again.  It is, after all, a small world.  But even if I don’t see some friends from the program again, I can take solace in the fact that my life has been forever influenced by them and the program itself.

 

View on the river. Picture coutesey of Taylor

View on the river. Picture courtesy of Taylor

 

On the gondola.  Picture courtsey of Taylor

On the gondola. Picture courtesy of Taylor

 

So before I get any more gushy and sentimental I think I’m going to call this post done.  Of course there was the ride back, much like the ride there and the coincidental meeting of a friend from my Vienna study abroad in 2011 on a random train platform in Nürnberg, but those things don’t really need much explaining anyway.  And hopefully I can manage to write a bit more regularly again until I get back to the states.  So until my next adventure!

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June 8, 2014: Bergkirchweih > Oktoberfest

More highlights from my stay in Germany:

 

My good friend Tom’s birthday was on June 2nd and so we decided to celebrate it the weekend before.  If you know Tom at all you know he is not a fan of the usual 20 something birthday scene involving a ton of alcohol and dancing in a club or bar.  Instead we decided to take a bike trip from Erlangen to Bamberg, which is more than double the distance to Forchheim.  I think to total for our trip there was something like 51 miles.  Anyway, we started off decently early around 10:30 and cycled along the canal.  We took it kind of easy and stopped fairly often for water, snacks, pictures, and the occasional swallowed bug.  The weather was absolutely perfect and the sky was blue with these nice fluffy clouds watching over us most of the trip.  For those of you who don’t know anything about this part of Franconia, the landscape is pretty awesome to cycle through.  The trip goes through the Frankische Schweiz, which are these low rolling hills covered in trees and greenery, with wide flat valleys of various fields and a patchwork of wild flowers on either side of the canal.  From about Forchheim on the trip seemed never ending.  It was nice and I have no complaints other than my legs and bum were really starting to feel the burn.  But in the company of good friends one tends to forget these things.  At one point we stopped cycling long enough to watch a rowing race in which we then proceeded to cycle along side (which was pretty neat).  We also met an older group of bikers (most with silvery white hair) who helped us along our journey.  I don’t think I could have asked for a nicer cycling trip to be honest.

 

By the canal

By the canal

 

Pictures near Forchheim

Pictures near Forchheim

 

bambergbike12

The rowing race

 

Once in Bamberg we found the brewery which sells this smoked beer special to the town and had lunch there.  And oh what a feast we had.  There is nothing like eating nice food and drink after such a long bike ride.  We even chatted with some of the people we were sharing a table with, who were all rather surprised that we were from different countries (France, Scotland, US, Poland, and Spain).  Then we walked around for a bit and managed to find some ice cream before heading back.  The plan was originally to cycle back the way we came and hopefully making it in under three hours this time.  And considering how long we had ridden and how loudly my legs were aching at this point, Donald and I decided to head back via train while the others cycled back, debating when we likely overtook the others.

 

Lunch in Bamberg

Lunch in Bamberg

 

We continued the birthday celebration that Monday and Tuesday by going to an Indian buffet nearby and feasting on some lemon meringue pie.  Some Game of Thrones was involved as well.  And later on that Tuesday we went out to celebrate another friend’s birthday at the student bar in Erlangen.  I managed to meet some more American people here as well and we just chatted and sat around until the old lady in me decided I should go home and get some well deserved sleep.  Celebrating birthdays is, after all, hard work.

 

Another important event to note this week was the opening of the Erlangen beer festival, Bergkirchweih.  Now there are a couple of very important reasons why I like this festival much more than I liked Oktoberfest.  The main reason is that the atmosphere is so much nicer at the Bergkirchweih.  The beer gardens are on top of the small hill overlooking Erlangen, surrounded by trees and nature.  The tents are quite close to one another, with the seating stretching up the hill.  And it just feels more cozy and authentic overall to be honest.  Someone told me that Oktoberfest is where to tourists go and the Bergkirchweih is where the Germans go.  I’m not sure how true that is, but it makes at least a bit of sense to me.  It also wasn’t completely impossible to find a place to sit as opposed to Oktoberfest, where you have to arrive early and drink the entire day so you can sit comfortably in a tent.  And just in case you were wondering, yes I have managed to go to the Bergkirchweih several times since I am so close to it.  It is really nice to be able to ride my bike to and from the fest instead of sitting on top of a luggage rack in a train crowded with drunk people trying to untie my shoe laces for 2 hours.

 

Overlooking one of the booths

Overlooking one of the booths

 

Enjoying a liter on opening night

Enjoying a liter on opening night

 

I also took another bike trip with my good friend Ela from Erlangen to Nuremberg.  Considering how far our last bike trip was, we thought this one would be a piece of cake.  And for the most part it was.  The only issue was that it was incredibly hot (in the upper 80s to lower  90s) and the sun was blazing down on us.  It felt a bit like Alabama, minus the extreme humidity.  And the scenery was just not as nice as it was on our Bamberg trip.  This is mostly due to the fact that we followed the road instead of finding another route.  Once in Nuremberg we parked our bikes and found some ice cream.  Then we made our way over to the river and ate our fare in the shade of a nice big tree.  We walked around for a bit and then eventually decided to beat the heat by sitting in a cafe near the castle.  While sipping on some black currant juice we lazily chatted and people watched before finally calling it an afternoon and heading back home.  The ride back was pretty uneventful with the exception of my near death experience as a driver parked halfway in the bike lane decided to open his door right as I went by him, coming less than an inch from hitting me.  The weather was also a bit cooler and shadier as we rode back, and mostly downhill as well.  And to top off such a nice weekend we decided to beat the heat on Sunday by going to the swimming pool next to my dorm the next evening.

 

And since this post is already getting a bit long, I think I am going to make a new post for Tübingen and all of the fun I had there with my fellow American and German exchange students.

May 25, 2014: Learning the Ropes

Okay, I have been super lazy lately concerning my blog.  It’s time to play catch up again.  This is just going to be a brief overview of the past month or so (well, broken up into two parts and hopefully becoming more detailed.)  Things have picked back up lately seeing as I have been traveling more and doing more things with friends.  But the first week I am addressing in this post was a bit different.  I was not feeling particularly well that week, so I decided to be the courageous person I am typically not and go to the doctor.  As exciting as that seems (*sarcasm*) I am mainly bringing this up to talk about the differences between GP’s in the US and here in Germany.

 

Before going I consulted many people on the topic of going to the doctor here in Germany.  Most mind blowing of all was just how easy everything was.  You call and make an appointment, go and see the doctor, and leave after discussing the issue at hand.  And no, I’m not leaving anything out.  There is no co-pay when you get done.  There is no paperwork you have to fill out beforehand.  You don’t talk to a nurse and tell her everything on said paperwork again.  You just tell the doctor what is wrong and any relevant information, he asks you questions and does any sort of test necessary, and then you simply leave.  Now, I know that there will be some sort of charge eventually (sent by mail and usually around the 5 euro mark), but compared to a doctors visit in America, I found everything very stream-lined, thorough, and cheap.  It’s also work noting that the doctors don’t have several rooms filled with awaiting patients, but rather they are called into his/her office with everything necessary already there.  This is also pretty nice because you aren’t sitting there just waiting for the doctor.  So my overall experience with the German health care system thus far has been extremely positive.  This also concerns the health insurance aspect of it as well.  It really sucks that I have to go back to the American health care system for at least a year, but such is life.

 

So that leads me to my VDAC weekend trip to the beautiful Siegen, or more accurately, this little village about 20 minutes from Siegen.  The trip there, while long and a bit taxing, was fairly uneventful.  I had to change trains a least a dozen times and occasionally I had a bit of a wait at certain stops, but nothing too bad considering it was about 5 hours to get there.  I ended up meeting a friend there and we slowly made our way to the hotel.  This was much more challenging than it sounds considering there were hardly any signs pointing us in the right direction.  After walking around the grounds of some school for at least 10 minutes, we were approached by a man, who happened to be one of the guys in charge.  He then directed us to our corresponding rooms and we went on our way.

 

That night we went to Siegen and took one of those night tours you can see in most cities.  This involves a tour guide with a lantern and a sort of Mideval esque costume telling us about the town, but in a more historical context.  These tours tend to be pretty fun and interesting, but this guide was a bit weird.  His favorite thing was insulting and teasing everyone in the group and just sort of laughing it off as well all smiled awkwardly along.  I don’t think he had any ill intent, but it was a bit off putting at times.  As far as the city itself goes, it is a really nice town.  I really like the different architecture compared with all of the typical Bavarian/Franconian style buildings I am constantly surrounded by.  But the city was a bit sketch.  There were so many people sitting around and drinking beer.  The worst was on the church steps where we were harassed by some guys for about 10 minutes while the tour guide mostly ignored them.

 

 

City tour: this is how squabbling washing women were punished apparently

City tour: this is how squabbling washing women were punished apparently

 

And example of the architechture

And example of the architecture

 

The next day we did some team building exercises, consisting mostly of a high ropes course.  So back in the wooded area behind our hotel there were several ropes strung high in the trees, which we had to cross either by ourself but with the moral support of everyone, or with their physical help (this one in particular consisted of several small and moving platforms which had to be held steady by a person holding a rope on each side.)  Being on the ground was pretty fun and the one course I did manage was pretty fun.  What was not fun was having to jump down from such a height.  While there was no chance we would fall, our brains didn’t tend to think we would be slowly lowered down to safety, but rather we would crash into the ground of death with a splat.  This would be the primary reason I did not chance the other two courses.  But after a lot of convincing I finally went on the last course.  Everyone said it was really easy.  You had to walk across a rope but you had another rope parallel to it which you could hold on to.  As my friends gracefully glided across, I thought, “yeah, I can do that!”  Nope! Chuck Testa. After several minutes of struggling and almost falling, I finally figured out the trick and shakily made my way across and then down.

 

Holding the platforms steady

Holding the platforms steady

 

Proof of my climbing misadventure

Proof of my climbing misadventure

 

Then we went to another station in which we climbed up a tree using several pegs tied to it.  It was a pretty far climb, but everyone, again, made it look manageable, and some even easy.  So I waited and watched and when it came my turn, I was full of enthusiasm.  I made it up about three pegs before “falling”, or rather taking a large step down.  Feeling like I wasn’t giving it a fair shot, I tried again only to make it about as far up before stepping down again.  Oh well, it seems climbing is really not my cup of tea.  But on the plus side I did manage to do the zip line with no issues!  Sure all I had to do was sit back and enjoy the ride, but it was my only success on the ropes course all day.  And before I move on I want to talk about how cool this zip line was.  Essentially it worked like a pulley.  There was one person attached to the line on the end who would then be pulled up by four colleagues who ran the opposite direction pulling on the end of a rope.  I have to say, the trip us was actually faster and more fun than the trip down.

 

The climbing tree

The climbing tree

 

After that we took a 5k hike around a large lake and up a small hill.  It was a really good chance to talk to everyone and to see some of the nature surrounding the small village, but I was super tired by the end as I lagged behind most everyone else blazing the trail in front of us.  My legs ended up being fairly sore most of the evening, but not having any real lasting aches.  We then all got dressed up and headed back to Siegen for the club’s election dinner, where all the Americans were presented with their program completion certificates.  It was a really nice banquet with what had to be some of the best chocolate mousse I have ever had the pleasure of eating.  And the view from the dining hall was absolutely beautiful.  We were perched atop a large hill with a nice view of the town as the sun set over it.  I could have gazed out that window for hours.

 

UA picture at the VDAC Dinner

UA picture at the VDAC Dinner

 

The next day was mostly filled with travel.  But before we left Siegen we went to the city museum and poked around for awhile.  It was pretty cool, especially seeing the mines beneath the building and getting to actually go through some of them.  The view from the garden was also rather nice.  The museum itself was on top of another hill which overlooked the city below.  If you haven’t figured it out, Siegen is located in a pretty hilly part of Germany.  Then a group of us went to the town center and wasted a bit of time waiting for our trains to come by eating a bit of ice cream.  Considering many of us had to go through Frankfurt, we all rode together, making the time pass more quickly and having some great conversations.  Then we decided that since our wait in Frankfurt was nearly 50 minutes, we had time to give the only Chipotle in Germany a visit.  While it was not a far trip and we got everything To-Go, we didn’t manage to make our original trains.  This was very disappointing, especially considering the fact that we watched our train pull away as we attempted to chase it down, gasping and wheezing as it ignored our feeble attempt.  But it was overall worth it.  I only got into Erlangen an hour later than I would have sans Chipotle.  And Chipotle is just awesome.

 

Beautiful Siegen as seen from the museum

Beautiful Siegen as seen from the museum

 

And that is about everything I have to say about the first two weeks of my month long break from writing.  I will hopefully get around to writing about the last two weeks, which were much more action packed than the previous two.