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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