Well, well, I guess I kind of missed a month and a half here… got a little busy with that whole school thing I guess! In any case, I have certainly managed to keep busy in the last little while. Lots of change, lots of new. Signing up for classes was an experience. As I mentioned before, a single online registration system does not actually exist here. There are a few different ways to sign up. For a select few, there is the opportunity to sign up online. Some, you are expected to e-mail/go visit the professor and ask for permission to take their class. And some, you just show up. Strangely enough, I hadn’t a clue which was the correct way for any of my classes and I decided to take a visit to the head of the history department to ask some questions. Luckily, he was very helpful and was able to steer me away from accidently taking a course load that would have killed me and give me some advice on what better to take. After the first week of scrambling to put a timetable together, I finally came up with something that works! I have it organized so that I only have class two days a week this semester, Tuesday and Thursday – given, I have a lot of class those two days! What is most important about that, however, is that it means that I have four day weekends every week! It is hugely idea to travelling!
As for the classes themselves, I am taking an undergraduate seminar on the Cold War until 1965, a lecture on Europe between the world wars, an “übung” (which is kind of like a seminar but with a little less work) on the German military (Reichswehr) between the world wars, a German course to do with studying in the German language, and beginner French. All of my classes are taught in German. This leads the question as to whether or not I am dying. Not quite. It can certainly be tough though. A few of the harder things are being able to listen for so long if you miss parts and don’t understand what is going on and not really being able to discuss because by the time you think of something, it has either a. been said or b. the topic has passed! I hope my German is getting better.
I had to give my first presentation last week in my military history class. It was one of the scarier things I have ever done. Luckily, my professor was fairly understanding, thanks muchly to his many experiences teaching and lecturing in English language universities all over the world, and didn’t make too much fun of my mistakes, although when I pronounced General Seekt General Sekt, it prompted a two minute intermission on the history of sekt (sparkling wine) in Germany. I don’t think I will ever mispronounce his name again.
As for travelling in the last month and a bit, I have managed to get out a fair bit. In mid-October I headed up to Bonn (the former capital of West Germany) for a conference with the DAAD scholars. It was an interesting experience to meet others that are studying all over Germany from all over North America.
After the Thurs/Fri conference, I headed to see a friend of mine in Altenseelbach, which is just outside of Siegen and only about an hour long train ride from Bonn. It was her brother’s birthday on the Sunday which means that everyone one spends the whole day eating and drinking, especially kaffee und kuchen (coffee and cake). I know my friend Katherina and her family because her grandparents and mine grew up in the same town and were very good friends and I was able to see her grandparents again at the birthday party which was really nice. Even better was that I was actually able to hold a conversation with them in German for the first time without the extensive use of someone bilingual. It was a pretty cool feeling. This party also introduced me to my first really intense immersion in dialect. Germany is very well known for having (sometimes very) different regional dialects that can differ in anything from accent to vocabulary to grammar from the “Hochdeutsch” that is used in official factions, media, and taught in schools. What this description is really leading to, is that I hadn’t a clue what was being said sometimes! It was a really odd, but cool experience, albeit a little frustrating and rough on the ego.
The end of October of course brought Halloween. Halloween in Germany is a little different than in Canada, mostly because up until a few years ago, it didn’t exist at all. It is one of those American-inspired holidays here. Of course for university students everywhere, it is just an excuse to party, so that is what we did.
I have taken two bigger trips this month, first November 13-16 I was in London visiting my oldest brother. I flew out of Basel (Switzerland) into London (Stanstead) where I was reminded that the Brits still take their homeland security pretty seriously. Unlike the relaxed continental European airports, Britain is still pretty hardcore on checking security and passports and whatnot. London proper is about an hour by bus from Stanstead and my brother met me at the stop. We grabbed some Vietnamese for dinner which was really good and then headed to a bar for a few Friday night drinks. I really enjoyed it, I have never had the opportunity to hang out with just my oldest brother before because a. he has lived in London my whole life and b. he is 21 years older than I am. Saturday morning we went to watch the Lord Mayor’s parade which has been going on for something like 8 or 900 years. After that we went for a wander, went to the Tate gallery for coffee but ended up wandering around a bit because, in typical London fashion, it decided to pour rain for a while. Modern art is, well, something. We walked over the Millennium Bridge, walked along the Thames, went to Trafalger Square, found the only pre-brewed Tim Horton’s probably in Europe, and sat down for some Sushi for lunch. I missed sushi so much! After some more wandering, we wandered back to my brother’s place for some pizza, wine, and tacky British TV. Sunday we hit up the rest of the sites including Spitalfields Market, Buckingham Palace, the Park, Big Ben, Downing Street, the Royal British Museum and some others in between before a nice Sunday night dinner of roast lamb. It was really an awesome weekend, except that on the way out the airport decided that crunchy peanut butter was a liquid and took it away, assholes. I might get over that though.
The second big trip that I took was this past weekend to Salzburg, the Sound of Music and Mozart city. First of all, what an amazingly gorgeous city. It was absolutely stunning. We went with 7 of us, 4 Canadians, 2 Americans and an Irish which made for a great travel group, although not without a few hiccups! My roommate and I missed our tram to the train station at 520am on Friday and ended up running about 2km and catching the train with seconds to spare and Alli (the Irish) missed it completely! Then the six of us missed our connecting train, because we read the wrong schedule and were stuck in a tiny little town from 630-830am, BUT it meant we called Alli, got her out of bed and she got there just in time. Eleven hours of travel time and all of the day light later… we made it! We didn’t have a reservation at the hostel, but luckily they had place for all of us. We started the evening off in the hostel bar where they had a demonstration of the Austrian “Krampus” runs. They are odd… they consist of demons running around and beating on people with whips, I have bruises to prove it. They are then chased away by St. Nikolaus (Santa) who brings presents. It was certainly a sight though! Saturday we made sure to make full use of our only full day there. We bought the “Salzburg Card” which got us free entrance into a bunch of things and used it to go up to the fortress which had stunning views of the whole area and a guided audio-tour with a history of it. We followed that by an afternoon trip to the Stiegl Brauerei and Exhibition which was too much fun and included a few beers which was nice. After that we headed to Mozart’s birth house which is now a (rather boring) museum, but now I can say I stepped foot in the room that he was born in! Then we hit up another view point to see the whole city at night all lit up. It is as gorgeous at night as in the day. On the way back to the hostel we stopped in at one of the Christmas markets for some Glühwein. Sunday morning was a little slow of a start after enjoying the Salzburg nightlife, but we did all manage to get up, eat, checkout, and get to the zoo by 10am with 7 minutes to spare for free entrance with our 24hour Salzburg card! It was a really cool zoo, set on the side of a mountain with the Alps as a backdrop. After two hours of monkeys, goats, big kitties, and rhinos, we headed back to the train station and hopped the train back to Freiburg! In all, a super fun weekend!
On to some other little thoughts and things that I have noticed, experienced here! One thing here that is pretty different than at home, is just how sizeable the bike culture is! I have noticed it also in other German and European cities, namely Amsterdam, and it is certainly something to make mention of! Here in Freiburg, almost everyone has a Fahhrad (bike), myself included, because they are just so handy. If you include any time that you have to wait for a bus or Strassenbahn, it is pretty well just as quick to get to and from town by bike as by public transportation! The sidewalks and streets have all been designed to accommodate this bike culture and there are almost always bike lanes on one of the other. This being said, there is a lot that you just have to know! Pay attention to the signs for starters! Sometimes the bike lanes move onto the street or back on a sidewalk and are almost always divided between pedestrians and bikes but sometimes you hit pedestrian only zones where you are expected to get off and walk your bike. If you are riding a bike, even on a sidewalk, you should probably still be on the right side of the road, for danger of an accident with another bike/person. Next are traffic lights, people on bikes – and on foot for that matter – don’t jaywalk! The laws involved with cycling are different as well. For starters, it is not a law that you have to wear a helmet, and most don’t, whereas that is at least a by-law in most Canadian jurisdictions. What is in statute, however, is that you are not allowed to ride a bike intoxicated and it is possible to lose your driver’s license if you are caught. You also must have lights on your bike after dark, which actually makes a lot of sense. In all though, I think that the bike culture here is fantastic, better for the environment and better for people’s health. As long as you don’t fall off… which unfortunately has happened to a few friends of mine and in one case is very serious.
Well I suppose those are the highlights from the last month and a half! Less than a month until Christmas! I am going to be heading to Berlin for Christmas to spend it with a friend of mine and will stay there through New Years, I hear it is quite spectacular! I am also hoping to get up to a mountain at some point and see what the area has for skiing and boarding. Weihnachtsmarkts are also on the itinerary for the next little while, all sorts of Christmas trinkets and crafts and food and drink.