Note: All pictures on this week’s blog are from a hiking trip which I took with a friend to the top of a nearby mountain called Heiligenberg.
Well, this term truly flew by in the blink of an eye. It seems like just yesterday I was learning the ropes of the blog, juggling an intensive language class with this online course, dealing with a language barrier, and trying to fulfill my desire for travel and the gaining of new experiences. I found my stride somewhere along the way, and while never truly mastering the blog, I am extremely proud of the finished project. This was a work of passion for me, scratching my travel, writing, and photography itches all at once. I ended the last blog post with a Q&A and a massive thank you for coming along on this journey with me. Long story short, I could not have done it without your support, and am very pleased that you enjoyed coming along for the ride as much as I loved providing the ride itself.
I am very happy that we were able to connect briefly on Google Hangout, despite the technical glitches which plagued us. It was great to see and hear from you all, finally putting faces to the names. Frau Morgan has done an excellent job teaching you the fundamentals of the German language, and I highly encourage each of you to look into study abroad options. I know that several of you are making plans to travel to Germany soon. I will respond to you via email as soon as I get the chance, and let you know some of the many wonderful areas to visit in the regions of Baden-Württemmberg and Bavaria. You’re going to have a blast!
I made and uploaded several YouTube videos for your viewing pleasure:
I hope that these videos are entertaining and engaging! I did want to capture some timelapse footage while in Amsterdam, but was unfortunately unable to do so. These will have to suffice for now! I want wish you all the very best of summers after classes let out, and want to encourage you all to continue practicing your German! It will leave you quicker than you could imagine without repetition. I have a little under two months to continue studying here in Heidelberg, and then I will be coming back to the U.S. and hopefully finishing the search for a teaching job by landing one (I applied before leaving for Germany). Until the next time we meet (hopefully in person), I want to thank you again. You were all wonderful companions for a young traveler to carry along for the rides through Europe. Vielen dank, meine Fruende.
A few weeks ago, I signed up for an excursion through the Universität to the Bodensee (Lake Constance) in southern Baden-Württemberg. The trip was this last Saturday, and I had an excellent time. The bus ride was around three and a half hours each way, cutting inland and south through miles of thick forests toward the border of Switzerland. Cars constantly whizzed by at intense speeds as our bus entered the autobahn at around 06:00, leaving us in the dust and lightly shaking the frame of the bus. I managed to sleep for an hour and a half, waking up as the bus pulled into a gas station/ rest area for a break. We were given 40 minutes of free time before the bus would head out, so I made my way inside for some breakfast which I had missed earlier. German gas stations on the side of the autobahn are simply wonderful, and this one was no exception. They had a full selection of breakfast items, so I grabbed myself some scrambled eggs, bacon, and a croissant, poured myself a steaming cup of coffee, and took my tray to the counter. It cost altogether 5 euros, and woke me up a bit before the bulk of our trip would begin.
Our first stop was on the small island of Reichenau, which lies just west of the city of Konstanz. Reichenau sits in the Untersee, a smaller outcrop of the Obersee, which becomes the body of water known as the Bodensee (Lake Constance), and is connected to the mainalnd by a man-made causeway known now as Pirminstraße. The lake istelf is central Europe’s third largest, and is situated between Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. As a geographer, I found this region extremely interesting, especially when I was able to walk two normal city blocks in Konstanz and suddenly be in Switzerland. The city of Konstanz sits on the west end of the Bodensee, and is where our group traveled after leaving Reichenau. This was the main focus of our excursion, the largest city on the lake, and the one for which the Bodensee gets its english name. It was an extremely hot day (I will leave with a sunburn), perfect for visiting a city like Konstanz on a massive body of water. Countless sailboats dotted the lake, and the alps were clearly visible on the horizon. It was picturesque, and so was the altstadt of the city.
While in the city, I had some free time after being given a short walking tour of the area. I went to a cafe where I could sit and relax, enjoying the nice weather and view of the lake, and take some time to respond to your questions which Frau Morgan sent to me a little while ago. I took quite some time and burned through several cups of coffee, but I really enjoyed hearing the sorts of thoughts and questions you were throwing my way. I was having the most fun of anyone in the cafe! This whole term has been a great experience, and having you to come along for the ride has made it that much better.
Without further ado, I present our collaborative Q&A:
What are some of the biggest cultural differences between U.S. and Germany in entertainment? (sports, movies, tv, music)
In Germany (and many other places), Fußball is the most popular sport by a mile (or should I say kilometer?). It’s soccer in the U.S., but using that word here will just immediately ensure everyone that you are an American. Making the distinction of ‘Amerikanisch Fußball’ is extremely important. I’ve made that mistake when talking with a German friend about the Seahawks.
Is there as much poverty in the inner city areas of Germany as in similar places of the U.S. such as Seattle?
No, not at all. The German government places a high priority on providing work/ shelter for the impoverished, so it is very rare to see homelessness in the streets, especially in a smaller city like Heidelberg. Even in the larger cities which I have been to on this trip (Amsterdam, Frankfurt, etc.), there is significantly less homelessness than in my home University’s own Portland.
Does ‘American’ food in Germany actually taste like the food in America?
Unfortunately, no. A cheeseburger of ungodly proportions will be the first item that I grab upon landing in SeaTac.
What kind of foods do they serve in a FEBO automat?
FEBO is one of my favorite Amsterdam quirks, and a fantastic idea for a restaurant. Everything they ‘serve’ is deep-fried, unhealthy goodness, except for a few burgers and sandwiches. Perfect for late night cravings while out and about in the city, this sort of place should exist in Portland and Seattle. The kaassoufflé (cheese soufflé) was among my favorites, essentially a deep fried hot pocket full of melted dutch cheeses. Other popular items are the kalfskroket, satekroket, and rundvleeskroket (veal, saté, and beef croquettes, respectively), as well as the kipcorn (fried chicken stick), Frikadel (fried sausage), and dutch french fries. I kept my distance from the burgers, as was advised by two Dutch guys who I befriended during my stay. They served as a sort of late-night food guide for me.
Do they have a female equivalent of the urinal you took a picture of in Amsterdam?
Nope. There are public restrooms for women of course, but they are much less out-in-the-open.
What is the coffee like in Germany? Do you get it black or additives?
Coffee is outstanding here. Not only in Germany (where it is the highest selling drink in the country, over juice, mineral water, and even beer), but all throughout Europe. Becoming used to the quality of coffee here has made me feel as though I never truly had good coffee beforehand. Furthermore, the Dutch have truly mastered the art of coffee making, and it is absolutely delicious in The Netherlands. Personally, I usually order my coffee black, but I also enjoy it with steamed milk or creme. My absolute favorite is Koffie Verkeerd, a Dutch latte.
What was Cityhub Amsterdam like in comparison to hotels in the U.S?
Staying at CityHub was a bizarre experience. The room had LED lights and Bluetooth speakers which I could control with my phone through the CityHub app. It was a very tech-savvy hotel/ hostel, and they even provide a free portable wifi modem for me to carry around the city. Having internet everywhere that I went was really nice addition to the experience. Overall, it was one of the nicer places that I’ve stayed, although much different than typical hotels stateside.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve eaten in Europe?
I’ve started to enjoy tripe more than I did before coming to Germany, and eat that in stews here occasionally. I had some pig head and and bone marrow in a small town in Bavaria, and some of that stuff from FEBO was pretty strange, in a very good way. I think I would’ve done Anthony Bourdain at least a little proud on a few occasions.
How are German memes different from American memes? Examples?
I haven’t seen any German memes, and have to admit that I laughed pretty hard when reading this question! I’m sure they exist, but I couldn’t tell you anything about them. Sorry!
Is German ice cream different from American ice cream? If so, how and which one is better?
German ice cream is Gelato, like in Italy. I think that it’s much better than American ice cream in general (Salt & Straw in Portland is pretty darn good though). However, there is something to be said for a delicious soft-serve cone.
How did you not go into a full-on panic attack when you realized you were alone in a foreign country?
That’s a good question. As soon as you begin making friends and connections, it becomes much easier to forget any fears of living abroad. It’s great to have people who you can go out for dinner and have conversations with, or get together to watch a movie, or travel alongside. I’ve always loved every aspect of traveling, and have felt comfortable being in foreign environments. Additionally, the amount of travel opportunities within the E.U. excite me immensely, and constantly moving is an excellent way to keep yourself busy and excited, all while experiencing new things.
Are there a lot of roads through the town or just walking areas?
In Heidelberg, the Altstadt is primarily comprised of pedestrian streets. Cars are allowed on these streets at certain hours (mostly at night, for businesses to resupply), and there are conventional streets more suited for cars as well. However, the vast majority of people travel on foot or with the trams/ busses, and streets such as Hauptstraße are almost entirely trafficked by pedestrians.
Are there any weird laws there that aren’t in America
There is a dog tax of about 15€ (per dog) annually. This is exactly what is sounds like: If you own a dog, you must pay this tax. There is also the German beer purity act, or Reinheitsgebot, which is a specific set of guidelines for the brewing of beer. Breweries are not allowed to experiment outside of these guidelines, in order to keep Germanic beers up to a certain standard.
What American stereotypes have you been accused of or heard?
Americans are stereotyped as being loud, occasionally obnoxious, proud, and culturally unaware. I haven’t been accused of any of these stereotypes, and I think I do a decent job of not sticking out like a sore thumb.
What was the hardest thing to adjust to?
The most difficult adjustment I had to make (and am still making) is with the operating hours of businesses. A lot of government buildings are only open for a few hours a day, usually from about 9 am to 11 am or noon, and grocery stores are closed all day Sunday.
What’s it like drinking room-temperature soda/water/etc?
I have not had any room temperature drinks here, other than a Coke that I left out of the fridge overnight. Germans like their coffee hot and everything else ice cold, which works well for me! Even the sodas which you can purchase in fast food restaurants like McDonald are served without ice, and yet still very cold. This means you get more of the actual soda without the possibility of ice melting inside. It’s a win-win.
How much has your German improved since you’ve moved there?
My German has improved quite a lot. When I first arrived, I could barely string together a coherent sentence with confidence, even after 5 years of studying it throughout High School and University. Immersion is the best possible way to learn a language: When it’s all that you hear every day, you pick it up rather quickly. I’ve also taken to watching Netflix shows and films dubbed in German with English subtitles. This is an excellent way to take in the language while being entertained, and I’ve gained a lot of conversational knowledge through this method alone. I am by no means fluent, but I can now communicate well enough with relative ease.
What are some of the biggest cultural differences you’ve come across?
Professors are more like friends than back in the states. My favorite professor, Herr Rainer Kaschau, has taken myself and other students out for beer and hand-snacks on several lunch breaks. Outdoor dining during lunch hours is a huge cultural priority, especially with the warm weather which we’ve been experiencing as of late. You’ll notice cafes and restaurants filling their outdoor seating areas immediately on nice days.
What has been most difficult that you didn’t expect?
The most difficult aspect of living here has been the language barrier. As a writer who prides myself on effective communication, it was terribly frustrating to suddenly have the vocabulary of a child and not be able to express what I was thinking. One of my classmates from South Korea burned me pretty hard when I told her “Ich spreche Deutsch wie ein Kind” and she responded “Nein, Deutsche Kinder sprechen besser als du.”
Have you come across new technology things that aren’t popular in the US?
I went to a McDonalds in Amsterdam and found that you order entirely on massive touchscreen monitors. There were 4 of these screens in the walls, and you approach whichever has the shortest line at the time. You select the desired language (Dutch, English, German, or French), then scroll through the menu and create your order. When you’re done, it prints a receipt with a number on it and they automatically start making your order. After a few minutes, the person at the register will call your number, and you go up to pay, then take your food and scram. Pretty futuristic stuff right there!
What are your classes like and what are you taking? How are the teachers different?
I’m taking my capstone class online through PSU, which you all have been a massive part of. Maintaining the blog and completing other weekly assignments online. Additionally, I’m taking a German language course through Universität Heidelberg which runs from 9:00 am to 12:30 pm Monday through Friday. It’s taught entirely in German, which was daunting at first, but I now enjoy. The class is very small and diverse. There are 11 of us, and we come from all over the world: The U.S. (yours truly), Brazil, Syria, Iran, South Korea, Japan, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Thailand, and the Netherlands. We have three professors, one who teaches Monday and Tuesday (Frau Althaus), one who only teaches Wednesday (Herr Kaschau), and a final professor who tops off the week on Thursday and Friday (Frau Noki).
How do the differences between European cities differ or compare to the differences between US cities?
European cities are more centered around foot traffic and public transit, meaning that it’s much easier to get around without a car. The majority of people do not drive for that specific reason. There is also always a historical center of the city, usually the Marktplatz in German cities.
What pop culture have you come across? German pop music?
Funny enough, almost everyone in Europe listens to American pop music. I’m struggling to remember so much as one time that I’ve heard a German song outside of pubs wherein traditional German bands were playing. I did go briefly to a strange club in Mannheim, looking for a friend of mine who was playing a DJ set. I had come at the wrong time, however, and the band that was playing was a bizarre German rave/rock group. I didn’t stay for too long.
What is it like seeing such old cultural buildings right next to things like Burger King etc?
This is one of the funniest juxtapositions to note while traveling through Europe. It just goes to show that modern culture always catches up in one way or another.
Do you ever cook for yourself? If so, what and how does that go?
I cook for myself at least one time nearly every day. I am by no means a professional chef, but living alone is a great way to realize that basic culinary skills are imperative (I learned this in my Freshman year of college back in Portland). I love going out to eat, and do so often, but you cannot do that for every meal. I usually stick to dishes which I know I can make well: Spaghetti Bolognese, grilled salmon, bacon & eggs, omelets, salads, grilled meats, etc. My roommates from Kazakhstan and China often make delicious traditional dishes which they are more than happy to share wth me, so between all of us, there is a lot of cooking happening in the kitchen.
What’s the weirdest slang you’ve heard?
That’s a good question. The weirdest/ funniest slang language that I’ve heard is German uses of American slang. I met a German/French guy on the bus to Amsterdam (the DJ I mentioned earlier) who used the word ‘krank’, as in ‘sick’, to describe my solo trip to the Netherlands. This made me laugh, as Germans are usually much more literal and it took me a moment to realize what he meant.
When do most of the local shops open?
Most stores and shops open right around 8 am, give or take an hour.
Were there street stalls for girls? Or just the odd urinals?
There are only urinals for men on the streets of Amsterdam. Sorry ladies!
What is the biggest take-away from staying in such beautiful cities with such rich culture?
The notion of which structures are considered ‘old’ is very different in Europe than it is in America. While a building from the 1910’s would be considered old in the U.S. (especially on the west coast), a building from the 1600’s is relatively new by German standards. That’s nearly 200 years before the United States became a country.
Did any local dogs try to make friends with you?
Not so much in Germany, but in Iceland, the dogs were incredibly friendly! They were never kept on leashes and were allowed to roam free. When my father and I would pull into a campsite, the family dogs would almost always be the first to greet us.
Have you gone to any sporting matches?
Yes. I’ve been to several Fußball and Tennis matches as I live near a sports complex in Heidelberg. Pretty fun stuff!
What is the most common type of car in Germany?
Hatchbacks are the king of Germany. The vast majority of cars are compact and fuel efficient, although there are certainly a lot of sedans and wagons as well. Pick-up trucks and SUV’s are a more rare sight. As far as manufacturers go, there are a lot of Mercedes Benz, BMW, Opel, and Alfa-Romeo vehicles on the road. VW and Ford are slightly less popular, but still have a presence.
I am a food lover (mainly french fries), if you could, would you bring me back some German french fries? If not, can you tell me the flavor difference (if there is one)?
I will try, although they will most likely be cold by the time I get there! Pommes frites are wonderfully delicious. Both Germany and The Netherlands pride themselves on their fantastic fries, and it’s not difficult to see why. They are always crispy and warm, never soggy, and often served with ketchup and mayonnaise.
What is the best cheese in Germany?
I really enjoy butterkäse and brie.
What do you think of Strassbourg?
I loved what little time I had in Straßburg. It was a beautiful city, and I hope to return before heading home in August.
END OF Q&A
I want to thank you all for writing your questions to me and giving me something fun to occupy my time with for a while. I really liked hearing from you, and coming up with answers for your questions. Hopefully I answered them all to your satisfaction!
After finishing my responses for the Q&A, I had time to briefly meet with a friend from Oregon who is studying in Konstanz (we met at a study abroad meeting in Corvallis, OR, at OSU). We didn’t get to catch up for long, as I had to backtrack some ways to the bus so that we could head to our third and final destination of the trip, Meersburg. The bus took us onto a ferry, where a quick twenty minute crossing of the Bodensee landed us on the northern bank. There were so many ships out on the lake, and the sun was beating down on us, the alps still prominent to the southeast. When we pulled into Meersburg, I had no idea what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful and charming nature of this seaside town. Divided into two parts of town, the Oberstadt and the Unterstadt, each offering a different vibe than the other. The Oberstadt was inside an old lakeside castle, whereas the Unterstadt was comprised of pubs, hotels, seafood restaurants, ice cream shops and cafes along a lakefront promenade. It was truly a gorgeous town.
The zeppelins which had loomed over the lake all day finally made sense, as their inventor was from Konstanz. After a long day on the Bodensee, I was mildly sunburned and ready to make the trip back to Heidelberg. I clambered back onto the bus and was able to fall asleep for a little while before waking up at another gas station. When the bus finally pulled into Heidelberg, there was a thunderstorm booming and heavy rain, which I couldn’t have been happier about. The air smelled wonderful, and the rain felt great on my burning red skin. I can safely say, it feels great to be back!
This blog post is the last of my formal works here, and I would like to say a few words for those of you who have followed me on my journey. Thank you for following me on my adventures throughout Germany and Europe as a whole. The knowledge that Frau Morgan’s wonderful German classes (the very same classes that I was part of some six years ago) would be with me in spirit as I traveled, took photographs, and thought of the best ways to record these experiences with words, allowed me to place myself in situations which I otherwise may have been too worried to try. I was constantly attempting to gather juicy information for my blog posts, wanting to make them informative and entertaining. I also want to thank my fellow classmates who have given their time to read through my various experiences, as I have with theirs. We all went through transformative experiences while living abroad, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know each of you through your writing styles and unique stories. Additionally, thank you to my close friends and family, who have read each of my posts and offered feedback with kind words. This course has been a project of passion for me, and is currently one of my proudest bodies of work, and I have you all to thank for the help along the way. So once and for all, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. It’s been an amazing ride.
This week I had the pleasure of interviewing the younger sister of a classmate who I have become friends with since beginning my language course here in Heidelberg. It took a considerable amount of time to find someone who would be suitable for the interview, but her older brother Thomas (Tom) agreed to introduce me and serve as a translator if needed (which he was). Her name is Karolin Weber, and she is a 19 year old at the tail end of her studies at Gymnasium, preparing for the extremely important Abitur exam which is just over the horizon. She speaks english quite well, but I insisted that she let me conduct the interview in German for the sake of authenticity.
The english translation of our interview is as follows:
Which school do you attend?
I study at the Kurfürst-Friedrich-Gymnasium. We call it KFG for short.
Is that close by?
Yes it’s here in Heidelberg near Bismarckplatz.
How long have you been studying there?
8 years. I entered the school when I was 11 years old, and now I now I am nearly finished.
So you’re 19 years old?
Yes. I turn 20 in November.
How long is your average day at school?
My classes start at 08:00 (8:00 am) and end between 16:00 and 17:00 (4:00 pm – 5:00 pm)
Is it hard to believe that you are almost finished with Gymnasium?
No, not really. It has gone very fast, but very slow too. I am definitely ready to move on to University.
What are you studying now, and what would you like to study in University?
I’m studying engineering, and will do the same in University. I want to be a mechanical engineer.
It has always fascinated me, and my father was an engineer. It seems like a good profession which will be useful and practical in the future.
Are you nervous for the Abitur?
I used to be very nervous about it, but now I am just ready to get it over with so I can move on.
What are the teachers like in your school?
Most of my teachers are nice people, but some are very intense. I used to be scared of a male teacher who would yell at students when they goofed around.
Outside of school, how do you like to spend your time? Do you have any hobbies?
I really like to travel in Europe. I have friends in many of the countries around Germany, and I like to visit them when I have time. I like to make music with my friends a lot.
You play music? Any specific instrument or genre?
Yes I play the acoustic guitar and some keyboard. I like to play folk-style music and also electronic.
Are those the genres that you like to listen to as well? What are some of your favorite bands or musicians?
I like to listen to many different genres. Some of my favorite musicians are Ed Sheeran, Bob Dylan, Tiësto, Radiohead, and Drake.
Wow, that’s quite the variety of music taste. No German bands or musicians?
No not really. Most of my favorite artists are from the U.S. and Canada.
I’ve noticed that many Germans listen to music from North America. Why do you think that is?
I don’t know. I don’t think there are a lot of great modern German musicians for some reason. If you like classical music, we have a lot to offer, but that’s not really what I enjoy.
Do you like to watch or play any sports?
I like to watch people play tennis sometimes, but I think football (soccer) is my favorite. I go to a lot of matches in Stuttgart with my friends.
What is your family history?
My father moved to Germany from Brazil when he was 24 years old, and met my mother a few years later. She was born and raised in Mannheim. My dad speaks fluent Spanish and German, and my mom can speak English very well.
So you’re half Brazilian, half German? Have you ever had the chance to visit Brazil or anywhere in South America?
Yes and yes. When I was 12, we took a family vacation to Rio de Janeiro. It was amazing there. I remember it was very hot and the food was amazing. The beaches there were beautiful.
How many languages do you speak?
I can speak German, French and Spanish fluently, and my English is getting pretty good.
I’ve noticed that Europeans tend to speak several languages, especially in The Netherlands where many people spoke Dutch, English, German, and French. Americans tend to stick with English. Why do you think that is?
I think there are many reasons. Here in Germany, we are so close to other countries which often speak different languages, so it is important to understand how to communicate when not in your home country. Americans don’t really need to know more than English, except maybe Spanish.
Do you think that it’s valuable to learn other languages?
Yes of course. Every new language that you learn opens up a new way of seeing the world. Being able to communicate with people from other countries in their language is really helpful. I wouldn’t enjoy traveling to France as much if my French wasn’t so good.
Switching topics, what are some of your favorite German foods?
I really like käsespätzle even though it’s not very good for you. I’ve liked it since I was a kid. I like bratwurst too, although not as much as the rest of my family.
Do you like sauerkraut?
No! I don’t understand the love behind sauerkraut! It is rather sacrilegious to say this as a German, but I don’t care. I don’t like the flavor.
What about pretzels?
Pretzels are delicious. I could eat them every day, but I shouldn’t.
Do you have any favorite films or television shows?
I really like T.V. shows, but I’m not very into film. Some of my favorite shows are Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, Family Guy, and Hannibal. I like to watch them in English with German or Spanish subtitles to help learn the language.
Does that strategy work?
Yes! You learn without really having to think.
I notice a lot of tourists from all over the world in the Altstadt. What are some stereotypes of Americans?
I think that Americans tend to be loud and outspoken. They aren’t afraid to say exactly what they want, and like to ask things like “how are you doing?” to complete strangers.
Have you ever been to the United States?
I was in the New York once when I was young. I don’t really remember it though.
Would you like to go back some day?
Yes absolutely. I really want to see Los Angeles and the Grand Canyon. I want to try American Barbecue.
Anything you want to say to the German class who will be reading this?
Come to Germany if you get the chance! We’re quite nice here, despite the stereotypes about Germans. I hope you enjoy learning the language and can put it to use in the future.
Talking to Karolin was an absolute blast, and it was very interesting to learn the perspective of a younger student who has lived here her whole life. I was very glad to have Tom with us, as he helped clear things up when Karolin and I got stuck. The translation in this transcript was done with the help of Tom and Karolin to ensure that I wrote exactly what she meant to say.
I’ve always loved Amsterdam. The city has long since been one of my favorites within Europe, holding a special place in my heart throughout my life. Since it had been at least four years since my last visit, I decided rather quickly after moving to Heidelberg that I would book an overnight trip and let myself experience the city with a fresh perspective. The last time that I was here, it was during the summer of my Sophomore year at Hanford High School, and I’m now nearing graduation from University. It’s simply unbelievable how quickly time flies.
Amsterdam is a city that is truly unlike any others in the world, guaranteeing a unique experience with every visit. There is a palpable energy to be felt throughout the city, especially within the Dutch citizens who live here. Most are at the very least bilingual, fluent in both English and Dutch, but it is not uncommon to meet people who are competent in German and French as well. They are a friendly and open people, perfectly willing to strike up a conversation with a random traveler and share stories/ give advice. Being here as I am now, nearly 23 years old and with a much different outlook on life than my 17 year old self, I have immensely enjoyed my short period of exploration, relaxation, excellent meals, and wonderful discoveries.
After having made plans for the trip long in advance, the FlixBus threw a last minute curveball at me. On the night of my departure from Heidelberg, the bus was supposed to leave the Hauptbahnhof at 5 p.m., getting me into Amsterdam by midnight. I received notice early in the day that the bus was delayed on its way to Heidelberg and wouldn’t be leaving until 9 p.m., meaning that the trip would be an over-nighter, and I would arrive in Amsterdam at dawn. This was enough for my travel buddy to back out of his plans for coming along, but I was no so easily discouraged. I knew that I could meet people once I arrived and had some time to explore, and I challenged myself to make the trip solo. It would be a great experience, and although I only knew the basics of the city layout/ transit systems, etc., I knew I could figure it out in the end. I find that adaptivity and flexibility are among the most critical skills to have while traveling abroad. Being able to go with the flow and change plans at the last minute without racking stress on yourself will make for the best possible use of your time abroad. You’ll thank yourself later.
I finally arrived in Sloterdijk on the west end of Amsterdam just as the sun had fully revealed itself for the day. I made my way through the quiet, empty morning streets and to my hotel where I would check in for a few more hours of sleep (I managed to sleep quite a bit on the bus, although it was not the most comfortable situation). I had booked a stay at CityHub Amsterdam, a hostel/hotel for the tech-savvy traveller. This place was more interesting than I could have imagined, but I was too tired at the moment to soak it all in, so I climbed up into the bed and went back to sleep until 8 a.m.
I felt a joy when my alarm went off (possibly the first time that sentence has been written), as it meant I was ready to begin my day in this amazing city. I got ready and packed my backpack for the trip, then left the hotel and jumped on a tram to Amsterdam Centraal.
I was finally back in the heart of the city. This famous square outside of Amsterdam Centraal is called Stationsplein, and has been featured in countless films and television shows. It was also the first time on the trip that I knew exactly where I was. My ‘sense of place’ was forming rapidly, and I became even more excited to see all that I could see during my day here. There seemed no better way to head than south on Damrak Straat (toward Dam Square, the historical center of the city). Amsterdam is a lot like the Las Vegas of Europe, although with a much richer history, more inspiring architecture, better food, and cooler climate. Essentially, it’s my kind of town.
This area which I explored first is known as the Centrum, which is the center of a spiderweb-like series of streets which form the inner city. This district is among the most well known of all within the city, and is home to some of the most famous attractions in Amsterdam, such as the Anne Frank house. The buildings and streets here are off-kilter, giving the district an extremely unique and bizarre feel.
By this point, I had been walking for some time, and was growing hungrier by the moment. I knew that I needed to find something to eat, and the famous Amsterdam pancakes seemed like a good place to begin the search. I stumbled across The Pancake Bakery in the centrum, which had a line forming out the door for brunch, which I took to be a good sign. I chatted with a few of the locals while waiting in the queue, asking if this was a good place to have breakfast. They simply laughed and said that I had stumbled upon one of the best breakfasts in the city, which I would go on to confirm by ordering far too much food and watching as the lobby filled to the brim with people waiting to be seated.
After I had sufficiently stuffed myself to the point of near-immobility, I decided it would be a good time to take a long, draining walk to the south side of town, toward the famous museums and parks. The weather was starting to warm up, and I had to shed my jacket. The locals were outside, taking full advantage of the beautiful day.
Amsterdam is nicknamed The Venice of the North, and with its maze-like system of canals and narrow corridors, its not difficult to see why.
When taking this picture, an older Dutch couple walked behind me. The woman asked me something in Dutch, to which I replied with an “I’m sorry?”
She switched to English, “Did you just take a picture of that urinal?”
She laughed. “Why?”
I then realized how absurd it must look to see tourists snapping pictures of such things, when you’ve grown up with them and they are commonplace in Amsterdam.
FEBO is amazing for when you don’t want any human interaction whatsoever, but have an appetite for something savory. The food options are perfect for late night snacking. You simply decide which item you want, put in the exact amount of coins, and press the button to the right of the window. It pops the cover open, and you can remove your delicious, warm treat from inside. There is a counter where you can purchase fries and drinks, but most of the main courses are found in the automats. I’m going to miss FEBO in Germany and the U.S.
At this point, I entered one of the most amazing places in all of Amsterdam. It’s called Vondelpark, and its essentially its own city within the city itself. You could spend an entire day exploring the park, finding new hidden gems throughout. I took a few hours and allowed myself to wander, which turned out to be an excellent way to experience the park. It seemed as though every five minutes I would come across a new, interesting cafe, restaurant, venue, lake, or market. I cannot recommend this park enough.
After leaving Vondelpark, I headed toward Museumplein, where some of the most famous museums in the city are located. This is another excellent place to relax and have a picnic or possibly a nap.
Before I knew it, my time in the city had come and gone, and it was time for me to head to Sloterdijk to get on the FlixBus and head back to Heidelberg. Amsterdam is such a wonderful city, and it pained me to leave, but I know that I will be back one day. It’s a difficult place not to love, and I am very happy that I took a day to have fun in the city.
Living in Germany has taught me countless lessons, more so as I continue to become a more involved global citizen. Over the course of my capstone assignments, I have been challenged to remain objective and inquisitive, allowing myself to understand the culture as a German citizen does. This week, I stayed within the city limits of Heidelberg (I have more travels planned in the future), further familiarizing myself with the day-to-day lives of the people here. Between my classes, outings with friends, and a viewing party of the Eurovision Song Contest 2017, I experienced a week full of intense language study and hilarious, enlightening moments with friends. As with any standard week, however, Monday comes all too soon, and attending class comes first.
By the time I am out of class at 12:30 pm, I have normally worked up quite an appetite, and begin to seek out lunch in the Altstadt. In this old part of the city, there are countless options for quenching one’s hunger (and thirst). Germany is truly an amalgamation of food types, and one can easily spend countless hours hopping from restaurant to restaurant, gorging delicious foods from cultures around the world. Some days, I find myself in the mood for a typical German meal, and make my way to one of many establishments where Wienerschnitzel and Bratwurst are bountiful. Other days, I am hungry for Vietnamese Pho, Korean BBQ, or spicy Indian curry. Nearly every type of food which I had grown accustomed to enjoying in the United States is available here, and usually tastes a bit higher quality and/or more authentic.
After finding some food for Mittagessen (sometimes before), I enjoy meeting with friends for a cup of coffee at a local café. There are seemingly endless choices for this activity, a favorite of the German people, and choosing a favorite is near impossible. Kaffee is the highest selling drink in all of Germany, placing it above German bier (something which I had a hard time believing at first)! Café Extrablatt has become one of my favorites due to the consistent high quality coffee, location on Hauptstraße, which is perfect for relaxation and people-watching, and its proximity to accessible, reliable wireless internet (something of a rarity here). German culture truly appreciates the opportunity for gathering with friends and enjoying a relaxing cup of coffee while sitting outside in the beautiful weather. As summer comes closer and closer, more people are outside every day taking advantage of the outdoors. I usually find the time to sit among them and enjoy the day-to-day life at a slower pace.
As summer becomes more of a reality with each passing day, the climate in Heidelberg reflects the coming heat. I did some research into the city’s climate, and learned several interesting facts which help explain the seemingly bizarre weather patterns and vegetation here. Primarily, I found that Heidelberg is among the warmest regions in all of Germany. Because of this, plants which are atypical of the central European climate flourish here. Among them are fig and almond trees, as well as the more rare olive trees. Along the Philosophenweg (Philosophers’ Way), opposite the Altstadt across the Neckar, wine-growing was restarted in 2000, in part because of the area’s unusually warm climate. I walk past these wineries every day on the way to class, and can smell the grapes from some distance away. In addition to vegetation, the warm climate allows for a wild population of African rose-ringed parakeets, as well as Siberian swan-geese, which can primarily be seen on the islands of the Neckar near the Bergheim district. Since I live in such close proximity to this area, I see both types of creatures around my dorm on a daily basis.
All in all, living here has taught me so much about experiencing another culture firsthand. I can safely say that each passing day is a gift which opens my eyes to the world from an entirely new perspective. While I was nervous and worried at first, those feelings have been entirely replaced with a newfound admiration for the differences between our culture in the United States and that of Germany. Living abroad has given me the confidence to settle down anywhere and find a place in the culture. Experiencing a place (Heidelberg in my case) not as a tourist, but as a resident, has allowed for me to view the United States from the outside, and reflect on much of what I have grown to believe about Europe. The experience has made me desire to live elsewhere, spend time listening to new languages, meeting the local people, and doing as they do. I believe that this is critical in the process of expanding one’s horizons, and I will never forget the lessons which I learn on a daily basis while living abroad.
I posted a video of a typical walk on Hauptstraße to YouTube, and you can view it here.