Germany

a bike and some small strawberries

Fahrrad am Main. Yesterday I took the train into Frankfurt to attempt to find and purchase a bike at a huge flea market that takes place alongside the Main River ever second Saturday. I succeeded! I’m no good at haggling, so I’m sure I was ripped off in paying €73 for the thing. But it’s a fully functional set of wheels with the required lights, decent brakes, and all. I was pleased. Barge am Main

I was surprised by how beautiful the Main and downtown Frankfurt looked, with its contrasting medieval-looking old town buildings dwarfed by skyscrapers looming just to the left. A barge full of shipping containers made it all even odder.

According to Google Maps, it should have taken me 30 minutes to bike home from Frankfurt. I think I spent closer to two hours winding my way down dozens of forests paths and side roads. Eventually, with a lot of dead reckoning and some luck, I did find my little town again. It was an unexpected adventure!

As a favor (which was really all fun for me!) to one of my coworkers last week, I edited an English write-up her sister needed for an application. She gave me some impressively well-flavored apricot gummy bears as a thank-you. How German. And delicious! alcohol at checkout Cultural Awareness Moment: Instead of (or sometimes in addition to) lining the checkout aisles with packages of gum, chocolate, and chapstick, German grocery stores have mini bottles of alcoholic beverages. 9pm The sun doesn’t set until 9:30 or 10:00, but when it does, my neighborhood looks extra lovely. We’re also directly in the flight path for the Frankfurt airport, so I get to see all sorts of planes up close. wpid-20150528_193813.jpg I do so adore colorful German houses. squirrels in new york city A “squirrels in Central Park” picture, just for Mom.

I went down to Freiburg to visit my friends last weekend. It was wonderful to play boardgames and cook with them again. I underestimated how comfortable, easy, and enjoyable it would be to return to place I came to know so well last summer.

small strawberries

While Mom and I were in Wilmington for a few days after school ended, we went strawberry picking and were under-impressed with the flavor – or rather, the lack there of – of the golfball-sized berries we picked. It’s strawberry season now in Germany, and the berries are tiny, but their flavor is much more intense and sweet!

2015 plans, in brief

"Come further up, come further in!" - The Last BattleThere has been a freedom in letting my blog lie dormant. It happened not unconsciously, as I was perfectly aware of the general guilt of unfinished blog posts weighing on the back of my brain, but I’m glad I let go. I stopped posting here, stopped travel journaling, and even eschewed my other, small-scale writing and picture outlet, Instagram. And in May, June, and July of last summer, I enjoyed Freiburg. I spent countless hours swimming in the lake an playing frisbee in the park with my friends. I made a solo, 10-day circuit of Berlin, Prague, Budapest, and Vienna. I baked dozens of as many varieties of cookies as I could think of. Living life rather than documenting it while being abroad was a refreshingly novel experience for me, and I have no regrets. I would apologize to my extended family and friends, who were certainly less clued-in about my whereabouts and actives because of my sudden indifference to my blog, but I think I won’t. I can show you pictures and tell you stories the next time I see you, if you would like. I’ll always be around to see you at some point or another. As for my other random readers, the obvious remains perennially true: I’m no famous blogger; I’m just a fickle college student, who is (apparently) apt to set down even her beloved blogging hobby at a moment’s notice when she realizes that she’s missing out on interesting conversation, good food, and wonderful people. What did you expect?

My months in Freiburg danced by like so many happy butterflies. The same thing happened to 72 hours at home in Texas, three and a half days in Tennessee for the end of 20th year of Cousins’ Camp, and a week in Wilmington after eight long months away. The fall semester of my junior year was a blur of the most fascinating linguistics and language classes I ever could have dreamed up, and the spring has thus far been less interesting but more relational. If I find the perfect schoolwork-socialization balance before I graduate, it’ll be a miracle.

School will be over for me on May 1st, and I’ll leave the marvelous brick sidewalks, wide-branching oaks, and brilliant professors of Chapel Hill for the last time as an undergraduate. On May 17th I’ll depart for Germany again, and this time I will spend the summer as an intern in the communications department of an American chemicals company near Frankfurt. In September I’ll pack up my suitcase again and head over to Bilbao, Spain, where I will finish my final semester of college as a student at the Universidad de Deusto. And then, God willing, I will be finished with my undergraduate degree. There are a lot of variables, but that’s the plan.

Afterwards? Who knows. Christmas in the US, that’s for sure. And beyond that, I’m scheming up a year of teaching English somewhere else in the world, hopefully. Maybe graduate school after that? We shall see. I’m not too worried, but let me tell you: I’m excited.

I’m unsure if I will blog while I’m in Germany and Spain. I want to remember to live life – to participate and not just observe. Beyond travel, recipes and other food-focused posts don’t fit so well into the cheap and single living lifestyle. Blogging takes hours, and I may not make the time. But perhaps I will. Or maybe it’ll just be a few hastily-captioned pictures here and there. No promises. I am slightly more likely to post on Instagram, however. (Grandparents and other great-relatives: that’s a version of social media in which you share photos and captions.) You can find me here: https://instagram.com/justrclaire/

Until the next time!

namely

namelyGermany is a confusing place; talking with or corresponding with new people can be daunting. Of course, the language barrier caused by my halting German is an issue, but often a more immediate problem presents itself: namely, what to call people. This particular quandary occurs when I’m sending an email to someone I’ve never met in person. He? She? Frau? Herr? Here, I’ll illustrate for you.

Let’s play “Guess the Gender of This German Name:”

Andreas?

Wrong. Male.

Luca?

Yup, male.

Frieda?

Doesn’t follow the pattern. Female.

Flo?

Nope. That’s short for Florian. Despite its reminiscent-of-flowers sound, it’s a guy’s name.

Usually I do a quick Google search before I email someone with the first name “Uwe,” for example, to ask him – that’s a masculine name, apparently – a question about housing or classes.

As if the names themselves weren’t ambiguous and befuddling enough, then there are the spellings. You can’t just hear someone’s name and then know how to spell it. Oh, no.

Lorenz  = Lawrence with the accent on the second syllable.

Marija = Maria, but my immediate reaction is, “What on earth is that J doing next to that I?!”

Niklas = Nicholas; I guess they just toss out the middle vowel.

Sure, they’re all logical, given how the letters of the alphabet are pronounced in German. But it still catches me off-guard.

It was particularly bothersome in Portuguese class on Monday when we were learning how to tell people how to spell our names. When I did the same exercise in German and Spanish in the past, it was easy, because I could guess. As my American classmates spelled “J-E-S-S-” I could anticipate “Jessica” or “Jesse.” Alternatively, if I knew that my neighbor’s name was “Andrea,” I could wait for the familiar letters with unfamiliar sounds.

But not in Germany. Nope. When Lorenz spelled his name, I naively expected “L-A-W-” et cetera. I should’ve known better. Instead, my face probably betrayed my confusion as I struggled against my intuitions and attempted to decipher the German spelling of a familiar English name recited using the Portuguese alphabet as spoken by a German.

What. have. I. done?

chocolate chip cookie baking in Germany

Yesterday, after two days of collecting ingredients from various grocery stores, I baked some chocolate chip cookies. It was quite an adventure.

Member of the millennial generation that I am, I documented the experience with my social media accounts. So, dear parents, grandparents, and friends who do not participate in Twitter and Instagram, here is what happened:


Chocolate chip cookie baking in Germany. | Step one: let the block of butter soften on a sunny windowsill.


Compare and sample the two barbaric alternatives to impossible-to-find chocolate chips. Decide they’re passable.


Throw the rest of the ingredients on the counter before you have the chance to wonder any longer if all those German words mean what you think they do.


Spend 20 minutes hacking at baking chocolate with a dull knife and muttering about chocolate chips.

At first I thought the butter was rancid. But then I looked at my innocent, little bag of sugar.


Taste the butter and sugar mixture and discover the loud, citrusy overtones of gelatin sugar for canning. Employ tablespoons of vanillin sugar as an antidote.

A bag of sugar shouldn’t have an ingredients list. This one did:
“Zucker, Geliermittel Pektine, Säuerungsmittel Citronensäure, Konservierungsstoff Sorbinsäure”


Taste the mutant, citrusy dough you’ve created. Add vanillin sugar. Repeat. Again. Don’t let the flatmates see you grimace.

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE BAKING IN GERMANY

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE BAKING IN GERMANY

The equivalent of several tablespoons of vanilla extract, an oven tutorial from one of the flatmates, some Celsius-to-Fahrenheit calculations, a temperature adjustment or two, and three rounds of baking later: speckled chocolate chunk cookies.


Against all odds, place a plate piled high with sweet success – baked at 185° Celsius – on the kitchen table and watch them disappear.

 

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE BAKING IN GERMANY

They were chewy; there was not even the slightest hint of citrus tang; and they were gone in 18 hours. The end.

 

 

that freshman feeling

People kept staring at my massive, black umbrella as I walked from the tram stop to the central plaza of the university in the grey drizzle. Maybe they were awed by its span. Maybe they wished both the tops of their backpacks and the tops of their heads were dry like mine. It’s a struggle to maintain both when you have a diminutive umbrella. But all my belongings were free of moisture.

However, the downside to a venti, triple-shot, extra-special, super-sized, double-the-fun umbrella is that it holds extra water when folded up. Mine drip, drip, dripped a trail of darkened rain on four floors’ worth of average stairs, across a wide breezeway, and around and around a deep-summer-strawberry-red circular staircase to the fifth floor. The two other people there in the tower-like corridor slouched against the radiator by the window. I wandered to the end of the short hall and peeked around the corner, hoping to appear nonchalantly curious rather than lost or clueless. Then I joined them and swiped at the screen of my phone, feigning a deep interest in its display.

Between serious-looking phone-staring sessions, I alternated my furtive, upward glances between door 3501 and the spiral staircase and my watch. The time displayed on my phone didn’t register in my mind. Three minutes til class time, and still none of the three professors, who had raised my hopes with their footfalls on the staircase, had entered the appointed room. One minute more and I would have to try the door myself; I would be forced to contend with its lack of a rotating door handle; I would be required to figure out what the light switch-like button to its left meant. I would surely be foiled in my attempts to enter – as I had been with previous German doors of that nature – and would turn back to hunch over my phone in embarrassment. But, wait. Hallelujah! A fourth person emerged from the stairs! She headed straight for the terrifying door, buzzed the doorbell with all the confidence of a German accustomed to dealing with a wide variety of confusingly closed entryways, and slipped into the room – a library? – when the lock clicked open to admit her.

I quickly followed her example, and inside the – sure enough – library, we exchanged whispered inquiries:

‘You looking for Byzantine–‘

‘Yeah, Byzantine Archeology. Is there a classroom in here?’

‘Not a clue.’

Our mutual confusion was reassuring, and we padded down the faded industrial carpet side by side. An older man appeared from an office beyond the end of the bookshelves, a half-dozen yards in front of us. He cheerily beckoned us to the end of the little departmental library with the glad tidings, ‘The classroom is down here.’ Success!

My fellow loiterers from out in the hall were just seconds behind us. And soon I found myself seated in a cushy chair, surrounded by nine classmates, listening with bated breath to the professor explain Introduction to Byzantine (Art History) Archeology, waiting for the axe of daunting assignments to fall, and wishing I knew the definition of every other word he uttered. I’ve never felt so much like a freshman in my life.

Schwarzwald: St. Peter, Titisee, Neustadt

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When I was in Peru, one of my Spanish teachers observed that it would be an absurdity to say that I had “seen Peru,” as if the entire country could be checked off a list with the swoop of a checkmark and a satisfied, self-congratulatory pat on the back. That’s what my brother and I tend to do in our ceaseless and increasingly cut-throat contest to visit the most countries. But there’s so much more to a country than its largest cities; there are so many histories and fables to be told about the smallest of towns. You can live in a country for months without even scratching the cultural surface. For that matter, you can live your entire life that way. Every country is just so big – even if it’s one twenty-seventh the size of the US, as Germany is. And I know that. In my mind I know that so far I’ve only seen the tiniest of tiny pieces of Germany, but two weekends ago I took a day trip into the Schwarzwald, and it started to properly sink in.

The language institute (SLI) through which I’m taking my intensive language course this month organizes various trips and outings for us students. The weekend of March 8th – yes, I know, I’m way behind – the trip for Saturday was into the Black Forest to see various churches in various towns, a popular lake, and a ski museum. Since travel would be provided by means of a private bus – and, I presume, a tour guide – it cost €35 or so. Disinclined to spend so much money on a trip that sounded rather uninteresting, I planned not to go. And then, some people I met on the hike up to the top of Schlossberg hill the previous weekend, invited me along on their own little excursion on Saturday. I love it when that happens: other people make the plans, and I just come along. Coincidentally – or not so coincidentally – we ended up going to most of the places on the SLI trip. Indeed, we ran into that group two or three times. But! Our trip was free. Ha!

The handy-dandy “Regiokarte” train, tram, and bus ticket we students purchased for this month of language classes allows for free transportation to a large swath of the Black Forest outside of Freiburg. So, at 9:15am, we met at the main train station, and off we went!

After a brief train journey – say, less than 25 minutes – we disembarked in a small town where we caught a bus a few minutes later. In about 20 minutes this had brought us through several other little towns and up further into the hills of the Schwarzwald to the village of Sankt Peter, and, more importantly, its cathedral. We hopped off the bus into the chilly shadow of the church and made our way up the hill to its ornate door. I say ornate, but all church doors I’ve come across in Europe are beautiful and ornate to some degree or another. Really, this was just another church door. And inside was just another downright gorgeous, stained glass-windowed, towering stone columned, ancient church with the massive paintings of biblical scenes winging their way across the walls and ceiling, as usual. Confession: I’m a cathedral snob. I’m way past the point of saturation when it comes to churches and lofty architecture and awe-inspiring art. It’s a tragic reality.

We breezed our way through the cathedral, and then returned outside to look for the historic library that the SLI group was also going to visit. We circumnavigated the church ground – it used to be a monastery or convent – not once but twice before asking for directions in a little souvenir shop off the plaza in front of the church. She confirmed what I had suspected after seeing some signs inside the cathedral: no public tours of the library on Saturdays. The SLI group had gotten a private tour. I think my traveling companions were rather more disappointed than I was, even though we soon ran into people from the SLI group who informed us that the library was, and I quote, “really cold.” They showed us some pictures of – big surprise – more arched rooms and paintings on walls, along with some old books. Yup, no big loss.

Of course, now we had a bit of a problem. Our bus out of town wasn’t going to come for another hour and a half, we had no library to visit, and it was cold and blustery outside. So, we found a sunny bench overlooking the nearby hillside and pastures, and I started at my map of the Schwarzwald while other two girls consulted (sort of argued?) over the bus schedule and the guy just sat there. I suppose this would be an opportune time to inform you that I was on the trip with two girls – an American exchange student from up north and a Swiss girl from Geneva – and a guy, who’s an American from the northeast. They’re all in the same level of German, which is about two times higher than mine. And we spoke only German.

Eventually, when we had about 45 minutes left before our bus would come, we made a painfully hesitant move to a cafe down the street. Our group ambivalence was becoming slightly maddening. But, inside the cafe, the other three warmed themselves with hot chocolate, and I finally thawed against the warm pane of the sunny window behind our table. We discussed the foods particular to each of our home towns, the upcoming semester, and so on. And then we headed back to the bus stop.

The long-awaited bus took us to another small train station, where we caught a 6-minute ride to the Titisee stop. A 10 minute walk down a road lined with wide sidewalks clearly constructed to accommodate large groups of ambling tourists and the racks of kitschy souvenirs that spilled out from the shops along the way. The lake itself, once we arrived at its breezy shores, was smooth and clear and surrounded by forests and the rising foothills of the Schwarzwald – quite picturesque, and, I’m sure, excellent for swimming in the summer. We found a bench in the sun and ate our lunches: in my case, a giant roll of oddly pungent and sharp smelling but delicious and crusty potato bread, some brie, and an apple.

Our leisurely lunch completed, we concluded that there wasn’t much to be seen in the town, so we wandered back up to the train station. On the way we poked our heads into a touristy shop or two. In one which sold chocolates, all three of my friends insisted that I try a Mozartkugel chocolate, which they claimed were a very traditional sweet made of a chocolate-filled and chocolate-covered marzipan ball. I consented, of course, and felt a bit silly as I purchased my single piece of chocolate from the store. It wasn’t a very impressive sweet. Mostly just sweet, as if someone had compressed a tiny sugar cookie into a ball and then coated it with chocolate. The most notable detail was the foil wrapper, which showed Mozart’s face. Hence the name, “Mozart ball.”

Before we arrived back at the train station, the other two girls had another session of bench sitting and schedule discussing, which concluded with the decision to go to the nearby town of Neustadt – because, why not? So we did. The town was quiet and nearly empty. I suppose everyone was enjoying their Saturday afternoon by staying home. After passing an amusing pair of sculptures of an ear and a mouth – you could speak into one and hear out of the other, like those playground speakers – we ascended a hill up to the town’s church. Though still just another beautiful church, this one’s architecture was unique. Its smooth, curved lines and two-toned stone color scheme seemed modern, but on the ceiling were faded remnants of ancient paintings. It was an odd combination.

After visiting the church, we were essentially finished with Neustadt. We listlessly strolled partway down a street in hopes of finding something of interest but soon turned back and returned to the train station. Our train arrived soon enough for our 40-minute ride back to Freiburg, where we arrived sometime around 5:00pm, tired but content with our day of haphazard exploring one little corner of the Schwarzwald.

That, ladies and gentlemen, was my first little adventure of this grand adventure of being an exchange student.

Next up: Paris, where I went last weekend.


 

hallo, Freiburg

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It finally happened. I went to Germany. I came to Germany. I’m in Germany.

What?!

I’ve been here for a full six days now, so lots has happened – enough to keep me busy enough not to blog, anyway. In the interest of being as succinct and organized as possible, I shall answer some questions I have posed for myself.

How was the trip to Freiburg?
I flew Luftansa straight from Houston to Frankfurt, Germany. Mom dropped me off at the airport around 2:15pm, and after waiting for an hour in an impossibly slow security line – during which time I wondered if the US is the only country in the world allowed to have blue passports or if everyone just likes red better – and another 30 minutes or so in the terminal, I boarded the double-decker plane. That is, we lowly cattle boarded after the  first- and business-class passengers boarded through a separate gate. I shouldn’t have been surprised by such a stringent segregation of the classes, but I was, especially when I discovered to my amusement that both gates lead to the same gangway and door. Anyway, the flight was mostly empty, and as our 4:30 departure approached, I held tightly onto the hope that I would have my row of three seats all to myself. Alas, no. A Hungarian mother and daughter took their places next to me just before the door was closed, sealing my fate: there was no hope of sleep. So, I spent the next 8 hours and 45 minutes mostly watching movies and tv shows, and occasionally attempting to sleep. Sure enough, that never happened. But I finally got to watch Frozen, so I felt that my flight was well-spent, if not restful. By 9:00am, I was walking off the plane and into the enormous Frankfurt airport. And then, by 9:53, I had exchanged money, emailed my parents, picked up my trusty suitcase, bought a train ticket from a kiosk, found the train station, gotten directions to my train platform, and smashed my suitcase on the floor next to me inside the train car. Two hours later I was in Freiburg.

What happened once I got to Freiburg?
From my platform at the train station in Freiburg, I followed the directions given to me by the Sprachlehrinstitut (SLI) and bought a Straßenbahn (streetcar/tram) ticket. I got off two stops later and pulled my giant suitcase across the cobblestone streets and sidewalks in the wrong direction a couple of times before I found the SLI building. Inside, I sat at one of several tables of students while a staff member reviewed the large packet of information she’d handed out: class, dorm, optional activities, regional tram ticket, food, et cetera. After purchasing my month-long tram ticket, I got on the tram to my dorm. 10 minutes later, there I was.

Where am I living?
My dorm is one of 22 of varying sizes that are situated along a small lake, 10 minutes outside of the older part of the city, where the university is located. Our floor has two hallways; each hallway has four single-person rooms, one half bath, and one full bath; and the two hallways both have access to the large kitchen and dining area. I’m allowed to use any of the pots and pans and such in the well-stocked kitchen, though I’ll most likely subsist quite happily on sandwiches alone for the next five months. My room itself has a large window, comfy bed, perfect-size desk, hanger-less closet, bookshelf, pathetic radiator, and sink. All of my flatmates are German, and they seem quite nice and eager to include me in their outings and such.

What are my classes like?
The Sprachkurs that I am taking is split up in to 12 or so levels/classes, and there are 180-odd students from 30 or so countries here to take it. I am in class 5 with a couple of other Americans, at least seven Japanese students, a Brazilian, a Greek, an Italian, a Brit, and a girl from Hong Kong. We have class from 9:15 to 12:45, with a generous 30-minute break thrown in. During class we generally work out of our textbooks, doing fill-in-the-blank exercises, answering reading or listening comprehension questions, or following prompts to have a short discussion with our neighbor about a particular topic. It is frustratingly boring at times, but I hope that it will get better. Our teacher is a nice middle-aged lady who, though unable to explain new words with much success, is patient, enthusiastic, and as engaging as possible, considering the curriculum.

What have I done besides class?
In more or less chronological order:

  • taken a mini tour of the city with a bunch of other students
  • eaten at the Mensa (the student eatery with a single-item menu) with some classmates
  • stumbled across a consignment shop and bought a pair of boots
  • gone grocery shopping every couple of days for fresh bread and fruit
  • been shown important eating spots by our German teacher
  • eaten a proper German bratwurst
  • hung out with my flatmates in the dining area while they spoke German, catching about 45% of what they were saying
  • successfully avoided spending time with students who want to speak English
  •  walked up the hill outside of Freiburg with at least 50 other students to see the town from above
  • met more Japanese students than I can count
  • gone on an excursion to some towns outside of Freiburg with four other students (separate blog post forthcoming)
  • attended a German-English service at a Calvary Chapel
  • wandered here and there in the city without getting lost
  • been generally cold

So, what did I miss, guys? Any burning questions?