I really should be studying right now.

I had my first final Friday afternoon, and even though I studied a lot, not one thing I studied was a part of the final. Actually, nothing that was covered in class was on the final either, but you’ll never guess why that is.

All us international students had a special oral final with him instead of the multiple choice test that the normal German students took. It didnt help that he danced around the question when I asked him what sort of questions he was going to ask me. I was completely in the dark, so I studied everything. Now I understand.

The first thing he said when I walked into his office Friday afternoon was “I wont be asking you any questions today, we’re just going to sit and chat for a little and then I’ll give you your credits and you can go.” Apparently, he and some of his colleagues in the history department think that we international students should be rewarded for showing so much interest in Germany and that we are willing to risk getting worse grades because of taking classes and exams in a foreign language. And that reward is having no final. I was rather shocked when he explained that to me. In fact, I would quite like to have seen my face transform from poorly disguised nervousness to poorly disguised excitement.

We talked about my interest in history and how I want to be a professor. He was really interesting to talk to and I will definitely be taking the lecture he’s offering next semester, not because of the lack of final, but because he’s honestly a really good professor. Its too bad that I’m not here for a degree, I bet he’d write a really nice recommendation letter for Grad School.

Needless to say, I’m writing him a thank you note.

I have a final tomorrow however, that I know will be difficult. I can do this.

On to the fun stuff, yea?

Tuesday night we had a French dinner cooked by my two friends from France. If Tuesday seems random, its because my French friend Sarah is going home later this week. Sarah made Quiche and a savory cake with olives, cheese and speck while Valentin brought a bunch of cured meat from home (he’s from Orleans) and 1/4 a wheel of cheese for dessert. Oh, and wine. And Baguettes. And these really good pickles that apparently Valentin found here but I cant find them anywhere. They were delish.

Last night french Sarah had a going away party at her friend’s flat here in StuSie. Sarah (roommate from England Sarah) made flapjacks which are not the country western thing you’re thinking of, but rather like a sweet granola bar thing. I made onion rings.

Actually, I really cant say that I made them, because it turned into a team effort about halfway in. I would dip the onion slices in the batter, Sarah would roll them in the breadcrumbs and then put them back into the batter and then we’d fry them. They were a little doughy, and our apartment still smells like onions and oil, but they disappeared at the party in a flash.

You’ll never guess what I had to use as a substitute for breadcrumbs… crushed up Matzoh.  Not only was it not kosher for passover however, but not kosher at all. This raises the question, do non-Jews actually eat Matzoh as a cracker? Weird.

Anyways, the going away party was really fun, there were some people there I havent seen since September and it was nice just to be able to forget about finals for a while. After a couple drinks at the flat, we headed over to StuSie bar to go dancing.

I have no pictures from last night because my camera was dead, sorry about that.

Well, that’s pretty much it I guess. Today is just me sitting here at my desk doing some last minute studying for tomorrow with the soundtrack to the Prince of Egypt playing in the background. How exciting.

Oh, one more quick thing that makes me really happy. Apparently, I must look pretty European because I’m asked rather frequently if I am French, or Spanish, but the best is definitely being asked if I’m German. Especially because this has happened more than once, and even after I’ve opened my mouth and said something in German.

Even though being mistaken for a German only comes from other International students, its still exciting. There’s nothing wrong with being seen as an American, dont get me wrong, but living here and trying to be as much a part of the culture around me as I can means these comparisons are really nice to hear. Plus lets be honest here, Europeans in general look so much classier than Americans do.

There’s this expectation here, not that you need to dress up every day, but that you need to simply dress. No sweatpants or jeans and a T-shirt, but actually put a moment of effort into picking out what you’re going to wear every day. Its nice to have everyone look put together. The difference is most remarkable with the guys, they wear nice shoes and jeans and scarves. Its nice.

A Shift in Focus

01/23/2011

My first final is five days from now, and even though I’m not that worried about that specific one, the fact that its so close is rather scary. Its my finals on the 31st and the 9th of February however that have me rather worried. I dont even know if I’ll be allowed a dictionary on that last one. I need a dictionary. We shall see.

With all this coming up, plus the writing of two 15 page papers, the majority of my free time is spent studying, reading, or writing. I just sit down at my desk here, turn on my lamp and study. This kind of thing really doesnt make for an interesting blog. At least this week I took some pictures though.

Thursday in my discussion section for my borders class we took a tour of the military archive here in Freiburg. Basically it is a collection of maps and paperwork that have to do with pretty much every aspect of every German military campaign since 1865. The only thing they dont have is a lot of stuff from East Germany which is apparently still in Russia.

It was really interesting to see an actual archive though, and to see original maps from Operation Barbarossa (WW2 Russian campaign). Though the military is not exactly my focus, I can easily imagine myself holed up in the normal archives in Berlin for weeks on end doing research for books. I cant wait.

Friday night we had another traditional dinner, this time it was cooked by my two friends from Norway. They made some sort of porridge thing from sour cream that youre supposed to top with cinnamon and sugar. Apparently they eat it on national holidays and such. It was interesting, but definitely and acquired taste.

Bottom right corner of the photo are these roll things with lox and parsley and such. It was actually really good which is still somewhat surprising to me because I’ve always hated fish. This isnt the first time here that I’ve had lox and liked it though, maybe there’s hope for me yet.

I love dinners like this because we’re all from such different backgrounds, with different native languages and cultures and traditions. Some of my friends speak hardly any English at all, and yet you put the 12 of us around a table and its a really great time.

After dinner, we played mafia, which was rather amusing to me simply because I hadnt played it since I was like 12. Also the fact that it wasnt just Minnesotan or American was rather surprising. You really never know.

Last night my friend Danija and I played in another Beer Pong tournament at the bar in my apartment complex. We got second place again. Although with 11 teams, I guess that’s pretty good. Dont worry though, we didnt play 11 games, we only played like 5 (which was honestly about 3 too many). That photo is of the line up for the games, we (the Blondinen) made it to the very last bracket. Lovely.

It was a fun night though, after the game we went downstairs to the bar and just hung out. I like living in StuSie (my apartment complex, short for Studentensiedlung).

Sometimes I catch myself still thinking that I’m still a minor and not allowed to buy alcohol. When I got here, German kids my age had already been able to buy beer and wine for 4 years which made going to a bar wholly unremarkable. Going to someones flat with bottles of beer or wine still feels weird to me. Like I half expect a policeman to come up to me and ask to see my id. They dont even id when I buy liquor at the grocery store.

I feel like I’m gonna come back to the States, turn 21 a month later and just not be phased at all. I mean its nice to be able to go out and buy a drink, and I’ll still be excited to turn 21 so I dont have to be sneaky, but it’s really not that big of a deal anymore. While everyone is freaking out about finally being able to go to the bar, I’ll be sitting there going yea, its nice, but its really not that exciting. Which is a lie, because it kind of is. Dont get me wrong, the first time I went to a bar here and got a drink, I was secretly really excited. But you know what I mean.

Sorry if this blog doesnt really fit together all that well. I feel like I just jumped from one topic to the next without any transition, but I honestly cant be bothered to spend the time editing. Tell you what, once finals are over in two weeks, the quality of these blogs will improve dramatically. Plus, I’ll be much more interesting.

A Quick Rundown

01/16/2011

This week has been a combination of realizing that finals start in less than two weeks and being sick enough to really not want to go anywhere or do anything. Because of both of these two things, I have unfortunately taken no new photos this week.

Faced with the options of either pulling up some old, irrelevant photos from the last four months or doing a relatively short, bare-bones blog, I decided on the latter. Sorry about that, I’ll try to take some more photos this week, but with finals literally around the corner, I’m not promising much. Semester break should make up for the current lack of pictures, however.

January 28th I have an oral exam for my lecture on the 20th Century. While normally I probably wouldnt even study for a class like that except by maybe watching some history channel documentaries, this 20th Century is different from the other one I’ve learned about for so long. How is that, you ask? This time its Euro-centric, and that makes all the difference.

For example, learning about WW1 is completely different. I’ve spent my entire life learning about WW1 from the viewpoint of a country who not only won the war, but only spent 8 months fighting in it. Instead, I’m learning about it from the country who was not only one of the first to start fighting, but the only Central Power who really had to face its aftereffects. And we all know how that turned out…

Whenever we read about trench warfare at home, its always about the people who were on the same side as us, the British and the French. Here, its the exact opposite. We learn about the Germans in the trenches, and its fascinating.

But anyways, the nice thing about this oral exam is that the professor is doing it only for international/ERASMUS (the EU exchange program) students. The full-time students have to take a written exam instead. Hopefully this means that the professor will be more understanding with grammatical and/or vocabulary issues. We’ll see. I’m not that nervous for this test, honestly.

January 31st I have a final in my Border class. Its a short answer test, and I have no idea what sort of things we’re supposed to know. Apparently it hasn’t even been written, and we’re not scheduled to discuss it until the Thursday beforehand. No worries though, I’ll make it work. I am, in general, a good test taker.

Last but certainly not least is a multiple choice exam in my Introduction to History class on the 9th of February. Multiple choice + history = happy Sarah. Multiple choice + history + German = Sarah hoping the professor allows me to have a dictionary. Either way, as long as the questions arent worded awfully, I shouldnt have too rough a time on it.

The class itself covers a large range of time (4 weeks on atiquity, middle ages and modern era respectively), but the central themes that run through the course are very clear, so with the right kind of studying, I should do just fine. I hope.

After that final, I’m so done with the semester. I’ll still have two 15 page papers due at the end of March, but I’ve already made some progress on those, and should have them roughly put together before the end of February which means I’ll just have editing to do over break. I’ve got some pretty awesome travel plans in the works for my 2.5 month break and I really dont want to spend that time worrying about papers.

I’m counting down the days till break. I’m so excited.

Gonna go to Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow, Prague, Munich, London, MINNESOTA, and who knows where else. Travel is relatively cheap within the EU, and I want to do as much of it as I possibly can while I’m here.

I love living in Germany. I love the German language. I love having 50º weather in January. I love that regardless of where in Europe I am, I am never more than a couple hours or so from a country with a different culture than the one I’m currently in (although here in Freiburg, its 45min to both France and Switzerland). This may be the first time I’ve lived abroad, but it will definitely not be the last. In fact, I’m kind of toying with the idea of getting my masters in Europe. We’ll see what happens.

 

Hello everyone! I’m writing to you now because my overhead marker decided to run out of ink and there are no stores open where I can buy a new one. No worries though, I have two hours between my classes tomorrow to pick one up and finish my homework.

The overhead is for a quick 3min presentation that half of the students in my borders class have to give tomorrow. We have to present the topic of our final 15 page paper (theme, thesis, questions we’re trying to answer, etc). I’m writing mine on the Old City of Jerusalem in the Six Day War and the role the Western Wall played in all of this. It’s rather hard to explain in one sentence, but nevertheless quite interesting.

Class starts back up again tomorrow which means that finals are only four weeks away. That’s a frightening thought seeing as I have absolutely no idea how German finals are structured. Good news though, with finals only a month away, break is only 5 weeks away and then I had 2.5 months of awesome! I’m kind of excited.

We’ve gotten to the part of this week’s blog where I make everyone from MN want to get up and move. It’s been consistently in the mid to upper 50’s this week. In fact, yesterday was 60 and partly sunny. I rather like being able to walk around in just a long sleeve shirt and jeans in the first week of January, you know?

One of my friends from Freiburg posted this video on their facebook, and I loved it so much I wanted to share it with you. If you ever wondered what December in Freiburg (or just Germany in general) was like, this video is a wonderful example. It makes me wish I was in Freiburg, even though I’m already here.

It was made this year, so that fair you’re seeing is the same Christmas market my friends and I drank Glühwein at. And thats all real video/photography, its just some weird technique that makes it look like toys.

Thursday was some silly catholic holiday, so the entire city shut down. With all the stores closed, I had nothing to do and an afternoon of time I had set aside to go into town. Instead, I got on a tram going in the opposite direction and decided I wanted an adventure.

I went to the very end of the line, thought that apartment complexes were far too boring, so I hopped on a random bus waiting at the curb. Ten minutes of driving through country and forests (remember, I do live in the Black Forest region), I decided that wherever the bus stopped next was where I would get off. Lucky for me, it was in a small town named Hochdorf.

Just as a side bit of information, I didnt know the name of the town until I looked at a map when I got back home two hours later.

Because it was a catholic holiday, I decided it might be cool to take a look in the Church and see what was going on. For any of you that have been to Europe, you know that every single town, no matter how big it is, has a church in the center that more often then not, is the skyline. When I got inside however, there was no one there.

It was completely empty. The only security was a sign taped to a chair telling people not to break anything. Fair enough.

It was completely quite, musty and honestly probably my favorite church that I have seen since I got here. The huge Münsters are gorgeous, dont get me wrong, the vaulted ceilings, and towering pillars make them seem larger than life, but the simplicity of this church was refreshing. Plus, the colors of turquoise, gold, deep brown, pale blue and tan were quite pretty put together the way they were.

Right outside the church were these three plaques. The one on the left is a list of Hochdorf residents who died in WW1, the one on the left is a list of those who died fighting in WW2, and the one in the middle is a list of civilians who died during the allied bombing raids of 1944. One interesting thing about the plaque on the right is the very bottom group of names are those who died in Russia in 1946 in soviet detention camps.

For just hopping on a bus and hoping for the best, I had a pretty good afternoon. It didnt hurt that it was like 50 degrees outside either.

The only other notable thing I did this week was go to a flea market. I went to one back in October, if you remember the blog How I Became A Millionaire.

They have them about ever 1.5 to 2 months at the convention center just out of town and its an interesting way to spend an hour or two. Theres a lot of junk of course, but you never know what old books or trinkets you may stumble across. Plus, there’s something much more satistfying about finding an antique book or pin or whatever that youre interested in and being able to see it and hold it before you buy it. Ebay is great, and there are plenty amazing things being sold, but just like reading an ebook cant compete with the real thing, the same thing goes with antiques or historical and political memorabilia.But that’s just my opinion.

I know this blog is rather shorter than normal, but my life hasnt been that exciting this week. You’ll just have to take what you can get this week, and hopefully with everyone back in town, next Sunday’s blog will be longer and have more pictures.

Tschüss!

Good morning John, Hank and Sam Schwab. I woke up Friday at 9am because I had a train to catch.

Friday was New Years Eve day, and I had nothing to do. My friends are out of town for winter break, and the girl I was supposed to have plans with dipped, leaving me with no plans, and nothing to do. Fortunately, I know how to problem solve. Thursday evening I decided that I wanted to go somewhere on Friday, after looking at a couple of different options, I decided to stay close to home and go to Basel, Switzerland.

Basel is only a 45 minute train ride from Freiburg, which meant that I could go for pretty much an entire day and not have to pay for a hotel room. It was an adventure.

The first thing I did there was go inside a church. As I was leaving, I noticed a sign that said that for two euros I could climb to the top of the tower. I paid my two euros and headed on up. At first the stairway seemed rather normal, as you can tell, its steep, but not very narrow. That changed pretty quickly. You can see at the top of the photo there is a wood ceiling, and in that ceiling is what looks like a half circle. That’s the next staircase. It was narrow, steep with no handrails besides the wall itself, and it felt like it went on forever.

I dont know if I can say that the view from the top was worth it, Friday was rather cloudy and slightly foggy, but you can see the Basel Münster in the distance with the two spires, and the Rhine river is right behind it. The path around the top was icy and slippery, and even though there were high stone railings, I took a look around and then headed back down. That’s where it got interesting.

Climbing up was really no problem, granted I was a little tired when I got to the top, but nothing remarkable. Going down is altogether a different story. The stone steps were extremely narrow and steep, and had been worn smooth by countless amounts of people climbing to the top. It was only wide enough for one person, so running into someone heading the other direction meant I had to literally cling against the wall as they squeezed past me. And I’m a pretty little person. There were points where the only light was coming from a single lamp against a wall, and as you past by it, your back blocks the light for the next four or five steps in front of you.

Needless to say, by the time I made it down those stairs and out into the street, I felt like I had legitimately survived the climb. My legs were so tense from trying not to fall, that it felt like I had just climbed a really steep hill on a bike, they were that shaky.

I didnt take that picture of the church, but I just wanted you to see what I’m talking about here. The part where it starts to go pointy is where the stairs lead to, and since there are windows in the middle of the part below, the staircase was, based on where I stepped out on top, squeezed into one of those corners. Never again.

After almost dying, I wandered around the city for a while, crossed the Rhine and wandered a little more. Everything in Switzerland is really, really expensive. A pretzel that I can buy here for 45 cents cost a little over seven Swiss Francs. Thats the other bummer about Switzerland, not only is it expensive, but they dont use the Euro. What a pain in the ass.

I know that this just looks like a rather ugly fountain, but dont let that trick you. It’s too small to read in the photo, but that plaque above the pipe says “potable water” in four different languages. It’s a drinking fountain! I filled up my water bottle from the running water and it tasted just fine. Seriously, every city should have these.

Basel has a lot of museums, and though the majority were closed for New Years, I went to the natural history museum and the art museum. The natural history museum was kind of disappointing, it was small and unimpressive. The art museum was better though. I’m a big fan of impressionist paintings by artists like Monet, Manet, Degas and Renoir, and there was almost an entire wing of them there. The museum had absolutely nothing on the one in Chicago, but it was nice nonetheless.

I had lunch at an “American” diner. The minute I saw the sign, I knew I had to have a burger. It tasted nothing like an american burger, which was kind of disappointing, but at least it doesnt count against my no american fast food rule (aka, no fast food like McDonalds, BK, Subway etc for the first six months). Only two more months to go and I havent broken it yet!

After the art museum it was about six pm and everything was closed for the new year. My train home didnt leave until 9, so I had almost 2.5 hours to kill until I needed to be at the Bahnhof. I managed to find a small cafe where I had a sandwich and took up a table for 1.5 hours reading a book I had brought along with, but left because the waitresses were giving me a look.

With nowhere else to go, I went back to the Bahnhof and found a small cafe, bought an english copy of Dan Brown’s latest book (which was a little too preachy, if you ask me) and read for another hour or so.

The train back was empty, I had my own compartment which made me feel like I was going to Hogwarts. The only bad thing was that the loudspeaker in my car wasnt working, so the only way I knew we were at the Freiburg Bahnhof was because I recognized a church in the distance. High-tech.

I got back to StuSie at like 10:15, tired and just expecting to curl up and watch a movie til midnight. Instead, I ended up talking to my mom, dad and brother on Skype for 2.5 hours. A record. As dumb as it may sound, it was really a perfect way to end 2010. We toasted to the new year with brandy, clinking them against the webcam and then watched the fireworks from outside my bedroom window. I know it sounds nerdy, but it was actually really nice.

New Years Eve here, or Silvester as the Germans call it, is like their fourth of July. All the stores were selling fireworks, and the park across from my building was one giant amateur fireworks show for almost a half an hour. It was really fun to watch.

You know what’s a crazy thought? I’m spending the majority of 2011 in Germany. And I never want to leave.

Oh, and on a completely unrelated note, I made onion rings from scratch last week. I just had to tell you, because I was pretty excited too. They tasted alright, but now that I know that I can make them, it’s opened up a world of recipes. Yum.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Oh, and John, Hank and Sam Schwab, I’ll see you next Sunday!

(If you dont get that, you obviously didnt watch the vlogbrothers video in my last blog. Your loss!)