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It’s crunch time here at the University of Tübingen, as assignments come due and exam deadlines come up. I turned in a ten-page paper (1.5-spaced) on Monday and had my first exam yesterday. It was a written test about text analysis and historical sources, for my East German History seminar. It went better than I thought, but I definitely could have used more time. I think I can read German about half as fast as English (but with less endurance) but can only write German about one-fourth as fast. In any case, I was nervous while taking the test, but a bit relieved to find out afterwards that even the German students (mostly first-years) were more nervous than I was. And nobody else could name three biographical reference works in the field of German history, either. Now I just need to wait for the grade!

I have another exam tonight and one written and one oral next week. The written test I took yesterday was short-answer and pretty similar to the ones at Albion. For the oral exam, I will need to learn all about a single lecture topic for the class (European history 1870-1914) and be ready to answer questions about it, talking for about 15 minutes total. When I had to do this in an Albion scholarship competition I really nailed it, albeit in English, so my hopes are high.

I’m fairly confident in it but won’t really be able to relax until next Thursday, at which point I will have about two days before flying back. Not long now.

Last Wednesday was July 4th and I decided to grill for any Americans (or Germans) who wanted to celebrate Independence Day. I and some friends made cherry Kool-Aid, ranch dressing, potato salad, and red-white-and-blue fruit salad. Even though it was last minute, there was a good crowd! The Germans at least were surprised by how many people showed up; they don’t have any comparable national holiday. The one thing that was missing was fireworks (illegal in Germany except at New Years’ Eve), but we did get to see some pretty cool lightning and eat good food.

Then I visited Munich and met up with my family (minus my sister), who I will see again on Thursday. We saw lots of cool things: Nymphenburg, the castle of the Wittelsbach rulers of Bavaria; awesome cars (and a Trabant); the kings’ Treasure Chamber; the birthplace of Ludwig II of Bavaria (he built Castle Neuschwanstein), as well as his coffin containing his body but not his heart, which is in Altötting; and the German Museum, which displays very cool machines, boats, planes, musical instruments, and lots of other kinds of technology. Munich was greener than I remember from four years ago and has a lot of influence from ancient Greece. Ludwig I was a big fan of classical Greek style and one of the Wittelsbachs, Otto I, even became the first king of Greece after its independence in 1830. This is why the Greek and Bavarian flags are both blue and white.

Pictures from Munich are here!

I have less than three weeks left in Germany and I’ve had one emotional experience thinking about it. I am ready to be back at home and see my family and friends in America… but I will also have a hard time leaving. Wish me luck!

After working in blue wool at Fort Mackinac last summer, I thought I was immune to being hot, but today definitely felt like the first of the dog days. Everything is sweaty and sticky and there’s not a lot of air conditioning, or, for that matter, antiperspirant deodorant, here, so I’ll be glad if the heat breaks soon.

Well, the German team’s European Championship hopes came to an abrupt end tonight, as Italy handed them a frankly well-deserved 2:1 semifinal defeat. In overtime Germany managed to score their single goal but couldn’t tie the game up. Needless to say, the crowds in the streets were a lot more subdued after this game; there were only a few brave Italians honking horns and waving Italian flags. I had really been hoping to see Germany advance into the finals, and I’m not sure how much enthusiasm there will be for the Italy-Spain game here. It was fun while it lasted!

Last night I got back from a two-day trip to Bonn and Cologne with my German as a Foreign Language course. It was an optional trip and 20€ for the bus ride, hostel, and tours was too good to pass up. Both of those cities are on the Rhine River in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). Bonn was the capital of West Germany from 1949 to 1991 (they picked it largely because it was free of the huge weight of symbolism that Berlin or Nuremberg had). In Bonn we saw the history museum of the Federal Republic of Germany, which covers the history of West and East Germany from 1949 to the present, and is probably my favorite museum yet in Germany. I was geeked to see General Montgomery’s actual beret and the spacesuit worn by Sigmund Jähn, the first East German cosmonaut.

Then we went to Cologne (Köln in German), which with a million inhabitants is Germany’s fourth-biggest city and has a long history as a Roman settlement (Colonia Agrippensis), Frankish city, cosmopolitan trading center, and center of Catholic political power. The world’s oldest perfumery is located there, making the original Eau de Cologne, and the Carnival celebrations are the biggest in Germany. Cologne is also known for its cross-Rhine rivalry with the city of Düsseldorf, giving rise to zingers like this:

Neanderthal man was discovered in Düsseldorf. It took so long to find him because he fit right in!

or, from the other side:

Why do people in Cologne call their church the “Dom”? Because they can’t spell “Cathedral.”

We were told to order Kölsch beer, and by no means Düsseldorfer Altbier, while watching Germany play Greece in the European quarter-finals. We saw it in a restaurant/bar that promised “the spiciest currywurst in Germany.” Now currywurst is more or less what it sounds like: sausage with curry sauce. It’s a classic street food but I had never eaten very good currywurst. It was supposed to be good in NRW, though, so I tried the “super spicy” kind. I didn’t know what to expect because frankly, food in Germany is not very spicy. This one was supposed to be approaching 500,000 Scoville units, and my eyes did tear up a little, but it was definitely survivable.

After Germany won, we wandered the streets and were amazed at how many people were celebrating, and how loud, just for the quarterfinals. It was an amazing atmosphere and I can’t imagine what it will be like if Germany wins the whole championship. Crossing my fingers! Or, rather, “pressing my thumbs,” which is how they wish luck here.

The highlight of Saturday was climbing the cathedral (Kölner Dom), which is the second-tallest church tower in Europe and the third-highest in the world. (I had climbed the world’s highest, in Ulm, back in March; that one is not technically a cathedral, since it isn’t the seat of a bishop.) Construction was begun in the 1200s and it didn’t reach its full height for 600 years; really is amazing how huge they could build with 19th-century technology.

All in all it was a great trip and a great weekend! Looking forward to having my family visit before too long!

There comes a time, every four years, when the German people put aside their fear of flag-waving nationalism. They crowd the streets in unruly mobs. They honk wildly and aren’t afraid of looking ridiculous in face paint, wigs, and German-flag capes. This is the time of the European Championship! In German it is known as the EM, short for Europameisterschaft.

Imagine, if you will, that every four years all the athletes in the NFL joined teams determined by their home states rather than the teams they were signed to, and that the sixteen best teams were chosen to compete in a championship. This is essentially the idea of the EM. The European soccer players are normally signed to local clubs (regardless of their home country) like Manchester United, Real Madrid, or Bayern München, which compete in national leagues and in the Champions League every year (a few weeks ago, Bayern München lost the Champions League finale to Chelsea). But for the European Championship (and for the World Cup, in the even-numbered years without a European Championship), the best players from each country form a national team. Sixteen teams are chosen by a complicated qualification process and placed in four groups of four teams each, where each team is paired off against each other team in the same group; the two teams from each group which win the most games move into the quarterfinals, and those that keep winning advance to the semifinals and finale.

The last time I was in Germany, with the Dow High French and German classes in 2008, we watched the televised final game of the Championship, in which Germany went down to Spain. Back then, on the street in Munich, the fans were almost scary (to a seventeen-year-old me) and there were police with riot shields; the whole city was really worked up. This year the Championship is happening in Poland and Ukraine. The latter has caused a minor stir since the Ukrainian government is accused of violating human rights, including imprisoning former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (in my opinion, the world’s most beautiful head of government). In any case, Germany is looking likely to advance to the quarterfinals, having won both group “B” games so far, against Portugal and tonight against the Netherlands; only Denmark remains.

Of course, soccer is by far the most popular spectator sport in Europe, and all this means it’s an exciting time in Tübingen; the streets aren’t quite as full as for the gondola races, but they are filled with German flags, face paint, and other fan paraphernalia. Teachers let afternoon classes out early (if they’re nice) and everybody yells and honks for each goal. I hope to catch a train to Berlin to visit friends and watch the finale, which is on July 1.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to plug a band I hear on the stereo at a party. They are called The Baseballs and are from around Germany, including one member from Reutlingen, about half an hour from Tübingen. They cover modern pop songs in an Elvis-esque rock’n’roll style and are really catchy! This is the first song I heard and still my favorite; you’ll appreciate it more if you’ve heard the original “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol:

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Well, that’s about it from over here. Exciting things (soccer, family visits, and projects) coming up!

This past week was Pentecost break and I visited Zadar, in Croatia! It was an amazing trip, and a great way to take a break from the semester in Tübingen.

We flew out of Karlsruhe with Ryanair, an Irish airline that provides cheap flights around Europe, and had a small problem right from the start: one of the kids I was traveling with is a dual German-American citizen, and even though he registered his nationality as German (I have no idea why; he has lived in the US since he was young), he brought his American rather than his German passport. The customs officer didn’t like that and threatened dire consequences if he didn’t have proof of the German passport by the time he tried to get back into the country. Luckily we were able to have his mom fax him a copy of her copy of the passport, and got through OK.

The country was absolutely beautiful! Zadar, where we went, is right on the coast and has a mixture of classical and Italian influences. It is quite a tourist-friendly town but not too crowded yet, since we went pretty early in the season. We had heard that prices are cheaper in Croatia, but the only thing that was really cheap was our hotel. The hotel was really beautiful and pretty well located, about 40 minutes’ walk from the Old Town and close to a few beaches. We did a lot of swimming and beaching (I’m a little bit tanner now), ate some good food, got a few souvenirs, and also rented a car to drive to Plitvice (“Plit-veet-say”) Lakes, the biggest national park in Croatia, about an hour and a half away. The lakes are clear and blue and there are big waterfalls. The biggest one in the country is called “Veliki Slap,” or “the big waterfall.”

If you want a recommendation of where to stay in Zadar, I can give you a contact at our apartment to get a 10% discount!

Here are some photos from the trip on Facebook.

It’s not actually summer yet, but today’s entry is dedicated to summer pastimes.

Yesterday two of my friends went camping. I’m resisting the urge to put quotation marks around that word because camping in Germany (and, from what I hear, all of Europe) is a lot different from what we know in Michigan. It literally took ten minutes to explain the concept to me.

So in short, the idea is that you carry a tent (or not) to a campground, which in the case of Tübingen is pretty close to the city center. There they have cabins to rent, or spaces for you to set up tents. You can set it up in the middle of the day and go shopping for the rest if you want. You can order dinner if you want rather than cooking it yourself. And I don’t even know if campfires are allowed. It seems that the difference is in philosophy. In Michigan, the point of camping is to go camping. In Germany, the point is to have a cheap place to stay overnight. I don’t know why, but none of the differences from America have made as big an impression on me as this concept.

The other event from yesterday was going to the public pool (Freibad), which meant I went swimming for the first time I can remember. It was a great day for it and the pool was really nice, almost deserving the elevation to “waterpark” rather than “pool” status. There are a few waterslides, a lap pool, diving boards, and a nice grass-covered area for sunbathing and such. You can see some pictures of the facility (not taken by me) here. Speaking of diving boards, there is a German proverb you can use to egg people on if they get scared at the top:

Ein Taucher, der nicht taucht, taugt nichts.

A diver who doesn’t dive is useless. I looked for some figurative or deeper meaning to this saying but couldn’t find any.

Finally, I saw some more short films at an event put on by the “Leibniz House,” a hippie-ish house that occasionally hosts art events. The most interesting part of the evening was the discussion with the director of one of the films. They introduced him by saying “he’s Italian and doesn’t speak German, so he’ll give his speech in English.” He then proceeded to speak a few lines in the nonsense language from his film (somewhat like “speaking Whale” in Finding Nemo) before being ushered back off stage, obviously drunk. His was one of the weirder films so I guess a certain… immaturity was to be expected. Another interesting film was “Go Bash!”, a dark-comedy mockumentary in which society is alarmed at the rising frequency of “bashers,” disaffected urban youths who film themselves running head first into walls.

I found a link to another entry in the festival, “The Mafia Chicken.” The picture is a little dark and the subtitles aren’t so good, but it’s an authentic product of Baden-Württemburg!

Tomorrow Pentecost break starts, meaning no school for a week, and on Wednesday I fly out to Zadar! I guess my last thought about summer is that it has brought a certain longing for Michigan. I’ve been hearing and reading about high school graduations, college graduations, the start of tourist season on Mackinac Island, trips to Traverse City, and the like. As the end of my fourth month (and with it the two-thirds mark) comes up, I’ve begun to realize how good it will be to be back home. Every time I mention longing for home I need to add the disclaimer that I am still having an incredible experience in Germany. But, especially on quiet Sundays, I do miss Midland, and Albion, and Mackinac, and everyone there. And if I had the choice, I would change the summer semester at the University of Tübingen to a spring semester.

Congratulations to everyone who is graduating or even just finishing a tough year! I enjoy hearing about everything going on back home. And have an awesome week!

My plan to watch Munich play in the Champions League Finale today unfortunately fell through. Too many factors turned out not to work: our plans to stay in a friend’s apartment because all the hotels were booked, finding a public viewing was tough, and then two of our group canceled this week. I’ve decided that I put off going to Munich until a day when I can take time and enjoy the whole city.

But an even better trip is in the works: to Zadar, Croatia! I’ll be going there over Pentecost break (a whole week long, but this trip is from May 30 to June 3) with one of my classmates from the Antioch program and his roommate. Croatia seems to be the up-and-coming Mediterranean hotspot and with a plane, it’s fairly easy to get there. The city has Roman ruins (it was part of the region of Dalmatia, making it my second dog-breed-related destination after Weimar) and a lot of nice churches. Maybe most importantly, I’ll be able to swim in the Mediterranean for the first time! (sorry, I can’t put the video directly in the blog, but Mr. Bean always seems to capture how I feel in these situations.)

Business comes first. This coming week I have to give my first presentation in front of a class. It’s one of the German as a Foreign Language classes (Massenmedien und Werbung in Deutschland, Mass Media and Advertising in Germany), so I’ll be among other foreign students; the presentation is also done as a group, which takes some pressure off. At least staying in Tübingen today will give me more time to work on that and read assignments for other classes. The reading load here is not overwhelming but definitely takes a lot of time since most of it is in German. The only class with readings in English is for some reason “Political System of the EU,” where the lectures are in German, so we really need to learn vocabulary lists in both languages, to avoid confusing the European Council with the Council of Europe or the Council of the European Union (a.k.a. the Council of Ministers… aargh).

Today is beautiful here, so I’m going to sign off for now and go enjoy the weather. I’ll probably end up seeing the Munich game in a bar in Tübingen, which will still probably be pretty good, and with fewer annoying drunk fans. Hope everyone has a great weekend, and I miss you all!

Last night was a blast;  I went to the Culture Night, which is Tübingen’s version of the Long Night of Museums in Stuttgart. There’s a lot of stuff to do all around the city center (and you can walk to most of it!)

We started off with some open-air concerts, including a percussion ensemble like Midland’s Resonators. There was a really interesting tour of the paleontology museum (it made me remember how much I used to like dinosaurs) and a display of Lotte Reiniger’s cutout animations from the 1920s. We also saw short films, including this one. You don’t need to know French to get it!

Finally, at midnight, we went along on a tour called “Eerie Tübingen,” which is analogous to the “Ghastly Mackinac” tours I gave at Fort Mackinac last year: a chance for the tour guides to talk about gruesome stuff like executions, disease, and murder. It was a great time and this time I could stay out as late as I wanted, not worrying about having to take a train home.

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone! Sorry that this post is shorter than usual but I hope you’re having a great day!

Yesterday was one of the most “German” things I’ve done on my trip so far: I went to the Spring Fest in Stuttgart! (That website is in German, but even if you can’t read it, it gives you good pictures. The “Trachten zum Fest” tab on the left is my favorite.) Everyone I talked to said that it’s Stuttgart’s equivalent of Oktoberfest in Munich, so I took a Mitfahrgelegenheit (carpool arranged online) and planned to meet up with some Tübingen friends at the fest. How do you get excited for the Frühlingsfest in Swabia? If you are like me, you do it by listening to this song.

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Well, it turned out to be more and less than what I had expected. There were lots of lederhosen, dirndls, gingerbread heart necklaces, carnival rides, food, and drinks. It was very much like a county fair in the US, although drifting more towards PG-13 on account of the ubiquitous alcohol.

There were some downsides. The weather wasn’t great, and I expected that that would shorten the lines, but I waited a long, long time in a dense crowd to get into a Festzelt. While I was in line, separated from the other Tübingers (since we arrived separately), I met some hip young Germans, some even wearing dirndls. I had no choice but to meet them, because everyone stood so close together, and on top of that, I had an umbrella and was in high demand during the cloudbursts. They told me I looked like German Formula 1 racer Sebastian Vettel and kept asking for pictures with me doing the “Vettel Finger.” They were nice enough to invite me to stay with them when I couldn’t find my Tübingen friends. We had a good time.

The Festzelt or beer tent is really the centerpiece of the American view of this kind of event, and in fact it was probably the most attended attraction at the festival. Instead of an oompah band, which I was picturing, there was a DJ with pop music. Still, the essential qualities of the Festzelt are being loud, rowdy, fattening, and intoxicating. This one fit the bill!

At this point I should point out that I have been committing the sin of not properly distinguishing Bavarian and Swabian culture. Saying things like “Stuttgart’s Oktoberfest” blurs the reality that these two groups are very conscious of the differences between each other. In American culture there are two images of Germany: the standoffish, humorless, efficient northern Germans (a heritage of the “Prussian virtues”), and the jolly, lederhosen-wearing southern Germans. Well, geographically Swabians and Bavarians both fit into the latter category. But the American image is definitely Bavarian-centric, probably in part because Bavaria was occupied by American GIs after the war.

This is, in a nutshell, what Germans in general, as well as the Bavarians and Swabians themselves, say about these two cultures. Each stereotype really comes in two flavors: one charitable, one less so.

Bavarians are:

  • Hospitable (intemperate)
  • Folksy (uncultured)
  • Affluent (greedy)
  • Patriotic (stubborn)
While Swabians are:
  • Inventive (neurotic)
  • Frugal (cheap)
  • Hard-working (boorish)
  • Proud of their language (incomprehensible)
I think of Bavaria as the Texas of Germany, which makes Baden-Württemberg (home of many Swabians)… the California of Germany? That one doesn’t fit so well, but you can get the idea (high-tech industry, lots of universities, but not many hippies or surfers). Of course, any given person you meet, from Swabia, Germany, or elsewhere, is likely to prove you wrong on a majority of stereotypical expectations, and the fun of meeting new people is having your expectations shattered. That’s why the Spring Fest was a lot of fun, even though it didn’t go quite like I expected.

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