So I left Berlin on 3rd of January and got back on the 4th, thank you Deutsch Bahn, I may never forgive you for that one. I got back into school work pretty quickly. My uncle came to visit me on the 11th which was really nice, I got some homebaked cookies from my mum and a new jar of peanut butter to replace my sadly emptied one. It was also really nice to see at least some family close to Christmas. Most of January was fairly uneventful, trying to concentrate on school work as I realized how close the end of semester was. Although I did manage to get up snowboarding a few times which was cool. The highest mountain in the Schwarzwald happens to only be about 45 minutes from here and it is a pretty nice place to board, but I had awful luck with the weather. An Australian friend of mine decided that because she was coming to a country with copious amounts of snow for the first time, she was going to learn to snowboard! She bought a season’s pass and a new snowboard and I give her real props because she is pretty good now! We have invited her to be an honorary Canadian and now she wears her Vancouver 2010 Olympic red mittens with pride!
On the 21st my brother came to visit me which was really cool. He had had a job interview in London that he flew over for then flew down here. He has been to Germany many times before and really enjoyed it here again, although I was pretty happy that my German is finally better than his- but that might just come from the competitive little sister point of view. The first weekend we took the advantage to go and see some family in Siegen together and it was really nice to visit there again. We stayed with my mum’s second cousin who we have managed to keep pretty strong contact with, as well as being able to visit some friends of ours and my parents and grandparents. It is pretty cool to be able to have the opportunity to not only know the distant relatives, but to be able to visit them and converse with them in their tongue as opposed to always resorting back to English. Unfortunately I was not able to stay long, really only about 24 hours this time because I had to make it back to Freiburg in time to give a big presentation in one of my classes.
Speaking of presentations, I will use this experience to explain what I understand – so far – from the Germany university system, especially in regards to grading. At Queen’s grading is fairly straight forward, well at least in the way that you know what you are being graded on, when, and how much each part is worth in regards to your final grade for a class. It is almost without exception that we receive this information on the first day of class. I have learned quickly that that is not the case here. There are no marking syllabuses, or none that I ever received, and the marking scale is very flexible, as in it can change from person to person. On top of that, there are people in all of my classes that are not there for a mark at all, just purely for interest. In almost all of my classes, I was expected to do at least on presentation, which I found out after, may not even be marked, but is a requirement anyways! Next point on that topic, getting the marks. There are no online transcripts, but rather for each class, one has to fill out a paper “Schine” and the professor signs it, fills in your graded information, and then you keep it with your other ones. I think I have to applaud my university here for this system that I think I might liken to organized chaos. I don’t mean it to sound negative though. I mean more to draw the conclusion that the systems are very different and having to readjust can be really tough, well, is really tough. There is a lot more emphasis placed on students here to take a responsibility for themselves and their education, they have to actively ask how things are supposed to be done and if something needs to be done differently, it is their responsibility to contact the person in charge and fix it.
My brother spent a few extra days with the family before coming back here for the last few days of his trip. We took a day trip to Strasbourg, which is only about an hour and a half away. We wandered around a bit before deciding on cordon bleu for lunch at a cute little restaurant. My brother seemed have it concreted in his mind that cordon bleu is the only good French food, but I have to admit, it was very tasty. After lunch we meandered back to Freiburg so that I could show him the excitement that is StuSie bar which has its famous Shot Night on Saturday nights and you can get shots for as cheap as 50cents and also happens to be conveniently right next door to my building.
The next big event was Karnival aka Fasnet aka Fastnacht aka Fasching (depending on what region you happen to be in… here it is Fasnet!). From what I understand, it is a quasi-religious festival that has been happening for hundreds of years that marks the entering into of the fasting time before Easter. What is really seems to be is an excellent excuse to drink a lot of beer and dress up! Kind of similar to Halloween, but the candy is thrown from parades instead of going door to door. The traditions vary widely depending on region, and for the Thursday I (Schmuzige Donnerstag/Dirty Thursday) I went to Waldkirsch which is a town about 20 minute from Freiburg where they have a big celebration on the streets and in the pubs. We wore Hemdenglonckers, the traditional costume that looks more like pyjamas than anything else and spent the majority of the night wandering the streets with thousands of others and drinking and partying the night away!
Unfortunately I missed the rest of the festivities in Freiburg because I decided to head back to Berlin and surprise John for his birthday. It was a pretty brilliant surprise, and thanks to his friend Andreas for helping me organize it. I stayed for the better part of a week and was able to visit the Haus der Wansee Konferenz which is now a museum charting Jewish history up to, during, and after the Konferenz. It was a very well done museum and I definitely recommend it. I just warn anyone going by foot from the Wansee S-Bahn Station to pay attention to the signs so that you don’t accidently walk 2km out of the way as my friend Mark and I did! We also went to the Neue Museum on Museum Island which is a pretty magnificent collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts as well as the famed bust of Nefertiti.
This trip was also my first real trip using “Mitfahrgelegenheit” or ride sharing. I had used it last time to find people to take the train with, but this time I went with people that posted offers on the website. Sounds a little weird, but it very convenient and definitely cheaper than taking trains and on both the way there and back I was with really nice people and the time went by quickly. I would definitely recommend it to people traveling within Germany if you are flexible with your dates.
Upon my return to Freiburg I had every intention of buckling down and studying hard for my last exam and starting work on my Hausarbeiten or term papers. I managed to spend one day in the library! Very proud of myself. But then the weekend came again and I found far more interesting things to do that study! On Saturday night StuSie bar decided that they were going to try their hand at the infamous North American drinking game: Beer Pong. It made for an exciting night of flying ping pong balls and beer chugging, it is kind of a wonder they didn’t catch on to this earlier! It was actually such a success that they are doing it again next weekend! Unfortunately for my study plan however, it made Sunday morning a bit of a write-off. Sunday afternoon was Football time! SC Freiburg playing Hertha Berlin, coincidently two of the worst teams in the Erste Budesliga, in front of the home town crowd of 21000 people. Unfortunately Berlin showed us who was boss and we lost 3-0. German’s and their soccer pride is certainly something to be admired though. After relaxing at home after the game, I decided to meet up with my friend as she was stuck working at her empty bar on Sunday night. Somewhere along the line we had heard about the Fastnacht festivities in Basel that were to occur that night and decided that instead of going home at 12:30am when she was off, we headed to the train station and jumped on the 1:50am train heading to Basel. It was worth it. The celebrations in Basel were something else, there must have been hundreds of thousands of people in the streets at 3am when we got there. All of the locals were dressed in elaborate costumes with even more elaborate masks. At 4am all of the city lights went out and right in front of us a parade started up. All of the people had lights on their head and instead of big multi-instrument bands there were groups of piccolos and groups of drums. Then there were just people walking and there were people carrying big, lit up, politically based art – or I think that art would be the best name for it. They paraded through the streets for the better part of two hours. We were dead tired and it was raining and it was cold but it was so worth it.
Well that has finally caught me up to today, 23 February 2010. My classes and exams are all done, I just have a few essays to finish writing. I am leaving for Stockholm, Sweden in the morning for the first of a few trips that I plan on taking before I start back at school in April!