Heidelberg: walks in the woods and boardgames with strangers

Having the freedom to roam is one of the best things about being on a year abroad. Since my last post I have been spending a lot of time outside, including exploring the woods around Heidelberg (apart from the time spent in classrooms studying, which has been 70% of the time). Sometimes in a group, but often by myself, being able to connect with nature really does help me stay calm.

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heiligenberg_(Heidelberg)

Last weekend, I made my way to Heiligenberg, a mountain area near Heidelberg [right]. I didn’t have a clue where I was going, and ideally would have gone with my classmates. I didn’t have a map, and I lost count of the number of times I had to ask strangers “welche Richtung” (which direction) I should be heading in.

But in the end it was a positive thing to go for a long walk by myself.

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I walked up to an open-air theatre (called “Thingstätte). It was build during the Third Reich and had places for 20,000 people to watch performances. You can read more about it by clicking the link above. The theatre is now used only very occasionally.

The design of the theatre impressed me, and so did its dramatic location – it dominated the surrounding forest.

I walked right to the top of the theatre, took a seat, and started to draw. Two Germans walked over to me, one of them whispering “zeichnen” – she’s drawing. They asked me why I was drawing, what I was doing in Heidelberg, what I thought of the theatre…

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I said goodbye and walked up to the cloister ruins (of Monastery of St. Michael). However, funnily enough, on my way back down I bumped into the two Germans again. They were heading back in the same direction as me, and suggested we take a short cut together. We talked some more – they were very friendly and good company.

Shortly after, I made my way back on the tram. When I got off, guess who was there again!? The very same man I met earlier. He invited me to play “Brettspiele” (board games) with them one evening!

And, being the inquisitive person that I am, I decided to do something different, and go along to the public board games evening at a community hall on Wednesday. I spent quite a while looking at bus times and maps to make sure I knew how to get there, and took my classmate along too.

The evening itself was good fun! The Germans I met on my walk welcomed us, and showed us the cupboard of games we could choose from… there were hundreds, from German card games to classic multiplayer games. It was a wonderful experience to see all generations and nationalities playing board games together under the warmth of the evening sun.

The Germans explained the rules of the game, Carcasonne, very thoroughly, but despite their patience it took me half the game to get a feel for how it should be played! I’m sure many of you can relate… Our fellow players took the game very seriously – spending minutes considering each move, exclaiming with “Schimpworte” (swear words).

Needless to say, I lost the game.Konigsstuhl

I found myself in another forest on another day this week. This time, I visited Königstuhl, a hill near Heidelberg with spectacular views of the city. I reached the top by taking the fernicular railway. I used to be afraid of those as a child because of the enclosed spaces and height, but I actually felt safe this time: I was in awe of the surrounding city.

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Once I reached the top, I went for another walk. When I got tired, I found a bench, and sketched for a while. I could hear someone peering over my shoulder from behind, which was distracting to say the least! The man from behind told me to “weitermachen” (keep drawing). A few minutes later, before he walked off, he pointed at my sketchbook and said “Respekt” with a smile.

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Maybe this sculpture in the forest could be a metaphor for what I’ve been doing – somehow finding the confidence to meet new people, and communicate in another language even when it gets tough.

misspraxic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Heidelberg: yellow submarines, bear necessities, and learning to laugh

Week three already – I can’t believe it!

The complex themes we are discussing in class challenge me more each day – in just three hours each day we seem to cover so much ground, from international perspectives of current world news to philosophical themes behind literary pieces, to re-learning grammar topics that never really sunk in at home. So I am pushing myself to step out of my comfort zone.

Of course, that is one of the great things about being able to do a year abroad – exposing yourself to new experiences and challenges – but this week has been the most overwhelming and tiring, without a doubt. After the constant concentration, planning ahead, and not always finding quiet time each day to rest (as great a socialising is), it’s not surprising that my emotions go a bit all over the place some days.

I probably will always be the person who takes ten minutes to turn their key in the lock, or the one who leaves their plate of food on the weighing scales. But people are still very patient and lovely (and the staff probably get a chuckle which makes it worthwhile). My ability to laugh along when things don’t always go to plan is improving by the day.

I am still going to the singing workshop twice a week, and enjoy the contrast after a long day of studying. This week at choir we sung a familiar song from the Jungle Book, some of you might know it too? Just for some fun, here’s the Youtube video of the German version, in case anyone is in the mood for some procrastinating:

On the subject of music, I also went to a pop concert with my classmates, which took place in a venue you probably wouldn’t expect. The screechy sounds of the pop (rock, metal, screamo!?) band didn’t harmonise with the neo renaissance University’s impressive neo-renaissance (1886) hall, “Alte Aula” [below].20160811_192814

The band were trying to be international with their banterous narrative in English, however I did find it a shame that most of the songs they played were in English: The Rolling Stones, Queen, The Beetles! Just when I thought it couldn’t get any more bizarre, the band made us, the audience, sing along with them. It wasn’t really singing. We had to repeat “bum, bum, bum” in unison for about ten minutes while the lead singer screamed the lyrics to the Yellow Submarines by the Beetles over the top. I probably won’t be purchasing their CD, but the evening was fun nevertheless.

Like many of the evenings here at the Summer School, the concert finished pretty late. As I said in my first post in Heidelberg, I am living some distance from the city centre, and it has taken some time to get used to the public transport system! The buses and trams are usually full in the evenings, so there are no free seats. I have literally gone flying down the aisle more than once (sure many of you can relate to balance problems)!

Where possible I recommend travelling with friends, trying to let people at home know where you are, and keeping aware of your surroundings. Though I know that is easier said than done when you’re about to fall asleep.

On that note – Gute Nacht (goodnight),

misspraxic

 

 

 

 

Heidelberg: grammar, missing trams, boat trips, singing in German, and more grammar

I’m a week and a half down, and I feel like I am learning so much. I have never taken part in such an international project/summer school before: it is a wonderful experience to be meeting so many different people from all over the world.

At school I always felt “weird” for loving languages – I just didn’t fit in. In my language class at Heidelberg, there are no other Brits – but students from France, Germany, Spain, Finland, Israel, Chinese, Poland, Japan, India, Russia, and so on. And I feel like I fit in! People have been friendly and warm towards me, and an enthusiasm for German language and culture unites everyone.

Cultural-Iceberg-2The language lessons are intense: three hours every morning (grammar, comprehension, listening exercises, discussions). It is often a challenge to keep up with everything, but nevertheless I feel myself thinking in German most of the time. I have even dreamt in German. As well as learning more about German culture, it fascinates me to learn how things work differently in other countries and continents, just from having conversations with fellow students. I’m reminded of this ‘cultural iceberg‘ diagram [left] – language is so important because it manifests itself in culture and how we think.

After the initial panic of having to take a tram and a bus to the university from my apartment, I am now also getting used to the transport system… Despite admittedly taking the wrong tram heading for the completely wrong direction once… (but it wasn’t so bad – I ended up meeting an interesting elderly Albanian woman who helped me find my way. She talked to me for the whole journey in an intriguing mix of what I recognised as Albanian, Italian, English and a bit of German. But I think I got the gist.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Having come from a rural area without regular buses, I appreciate the reliability of buses arriving every ten/twenty minutes. Equally, however, missing the bus because I arrived at the bus stop one minute early/on time is new for me – only in Germany.

The International Summer School has organised some extra activities for us to take part in. Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely would never get into sport, but I have joined the singing group – really enjoying singing in a big group with new people, and of course in German (a range of pieces, from “Volkslieder” to modern pop). It’s helping my pronunciation as well as confidence!

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In the limited spare time there has been, when there hasn’t been grammar homework to puzzle over, I went on a great boat trip on the river Neckar with my classmates. It lasted four(!) hours – the views were wonderful, and I got to know some more new people. This weekend I was also able to visit Heidelberg Castle for the first time, with a friend I haven’t seen for three years (she knows who she is)! We went for a walk along the Philosophenweg where we found a peaceful, pretty little garden in memory of the writer Joseph von Eichendorff (whose works I studied this year at University).

I wonder what the next days will bring!

Bis bald,

misspraxic

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heidelberg: first day!

Wow – what a day!

The day started at 3am, at which time I woke up in a daze – thinking to myself “will everything be OK today?“, “will the flight be on time?“, “will I manage to find the right buses?” In short, all manner of logistical panic was running through my mind.

5am: We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare (two hours), so I took my time through security. I found it less stressful than I usually do – I felt so excited to be heading off on my own adventure.

7am: The flight was delayed due to a scheduling issue with the shuttle buses – to the amusement of my fellow German passengers, disappointed at the lack of “Pünktlichkeit. My German had its first practice on the plane and at the airport, as a kind passenger directed me towards Gepäck/luggage reclaim. My immediate feeling at the airport was honestly panic, because of its size and the visual and auditory stimuli surrounding me (e.g. signs, lights, noise, people talking and moving in every direction).

10.30am: After struggling to follow the German directions to my bus (I would recommend translating anything and everything beforehand if you can), I asked the “Informationsburo” for help. That’s something I learned today – no shame in asking for some help. Most people are more than happy to help or speak slowly or repeat things when you show willingness to try.

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12.30pm: On arriving at Heidelberg, several other international students were in exactly the same position as me: what do we do now? Where do we go?

1pm: With a bit of teamwork (Irish, English, Finnish, and Russian teamwork), not to mention a lot of copies of the same map, we managed to locate the correct bus stop and board the next bus.

However… the bus was moving so fast and there wasn’t time to put my bags away safely. In true dyspraxic fashion I slipped and went flying down the bus! One of the girls kindly helped me up, but I was conscious of the looks in my direction…

2pm: We were welcomed at the Summer School with a big banner and plenty of paper, once again. A whole bag full of documents, leaflets, maps, forms etc. to sort through, and information to retain – but on the positive side people were generally very patient with me and spoke slowly.

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5pm: I had to wait for a couple of hours to be given my key, and driven directly to my accommodation, which is inconveniently located twenty minutes in a car from the city centre. I had to walk up four flights of stairs (with heavy luggage!) only to find that this was the wrong apartment.

6pm: I finally settled into the correct apartment after dragging my bags up more flights of stairs. I’m living in an apartment in a “Studentenwohnheim” with two German students at the University, a girl and a guy, and both seem very friendly.

7-9pm: After drawing myself a map (thanks to my friend Google) showing the route to the nearest supermarket from my apartment, I was able to stock up the kitchen cupboards with some food, and prepare a typical German salad – with olives, goats cheese, salad leaves, some ham, and a big glass of orange juice (which I really needed after all that rushing about).

10pm: The day ends in an unfamiliar room (incidentally without a curtain), in an unfamiliar apartment with two German students I hadn’t met before, and not really knowing what’s going to come next – how am I going to find the bus/tram stop? How am I going to make my own way into the city? How will I manage this!?

I am on an adventure – both daunting and exciting, as there is so much to be discovered.

misspraxic