So its been about 6 weeks since I wrote my first blog and considering it was such a hit, there has been a bit of pressure to release the next instalment. Like the last post this blog coincides with what could be considered the end of a “chapter” in my exchange. I have spent the last 6 weeks doing a bit of travelling, living and studying, throughout which I have learnt a lot about myself and honed a fair few life skills (namely cooking). This blog post begins where the last one left off, an early morning train from Stuttgart to Cologne.
Between Stuttgart and Munich I had about 10 days of travel. I first went to cologne on what was a bit of a dreary day. It was grey and wet and it really matched the mood that I was in. I was sad from leaving behind so much in Stuttgart and I was anxious for what was about to come. I spent two nights in Cologne and the least I can say is that it is a beautiful city. It really continued on the themes that I spoke about in my last blog post of old buildings and history around every corner. Its only a shame this time that it was now beginning to warm up and there was no longer any snow. Besides the old town and the cathedrals something occurred there which I noticed and it was a real insight into a little aspect of living in Germany and possibly German culture that I would see again and again even when I was in Munich. On the first day I was too cheap to pay for a bus tour and decided instead to see the sights myself and reach them all on foot. It was cold and wet and I came across a market square that was quite large and open but was completely lifeless. I was finding much of Cologne quite similar and it was giving me a pretty poor initial impression. The next day, however, the weather decided to improve a little, it was still cold and a bit cloudy but there was no rain. On this day I caught up with a friend and we decided to do a little bit more walking of the city and see a couple more sights. In the morning we walked along the Rhine river together which for me was quite cool. I had only ever heard of the name on TV and read it in books but I knew that it was one of Germanys most important arteries, and well finally here I was. The banks of the Rhine, similar to the day before, were empty, there was almost no one and my impression of the city was not improving. As time went on, however, the weather started to break and just as we decided to loop back around and walk back to the central station the sun came out. This simple event absolutely transformed the city. We came across the square I had encountered the day before and it was almost un recognisable. There were people everywhere, there was drinking, laughter, talking and music that had been completely absent only just the day before. My friend and I decided to revisit the banks of the Rhine and all of a sudden, almost as if there were hidden networks of tunnels everywhere, it was as if the population had quadrupled. From what had been a completely vacant footpath along the river had now people walking, jogging, busking, drinking, talking. I was struggling to comprehend what had just happened, they honestly appeared out of no where. On that day, I learnt that when the sun shines German people will do what ever they can to get outside. It was like nothing I had seen in Australia before. We decided to sit on the banks of the Rhine and have a couple of drinks and chat. It was nice just to take in the atmosphere, enjoy the sunset and try some of the local Kölsch beer. I must admit that one of my favourite things about Germany is that beer is extremely cheap and it is legal to drink in public. That might initially sound a bit like a recipe for disaster, ‘oh he just wants to go and get smashed’ (cannot deny that that maybe true in some circumstances), but in reality most of the time it means that a group of friends can seek out the best place under the sun to call their own, sit down relax, socialise and enjoy the day. Ultimately Cologne is a beautiful city with a quaint old town and an iconic bridge with hundreds of thousands of love locks attached to it, its only a shame that I wasn’t there for the Karnival.
After Cologne I travelled to Aachen. This was a bit more of a history trip and it was only for a day but I think that was all that I needed. The town is small and it takes only about half an hour to walk from one side to the other but it is none the less another pretty little town with lots of old buildings. There, I did a small tour of the city hall and then the cathedral, in which I was able to touch the throne of Charles the Great, Charlemagne or Karl der Groß however you want to call him. For most people this name probably means nothing but I still remember my time in year 8 history with Mr Wright and I thought it was pretty cool that I was able to touch the chair on which he sat. Not sure if you were supposed to touch it but no one was looking so it doesn’t really matter.
Next was Amsterdam which was quite an experience. Amsterdam is a beautiful city and, given that the weather is good, one doesn’t even need to do anything except walk along the canals to enjoy it. I was there for 5 days and I have to say the hostel I stayed in was possibly the biggest shit hole in the world. I don’t really know how to describe it, I’m not normally a picky person and can deal with pretty filthy conditions but this was next level. Anyway, I guess it just kind of added to the experience. In Amsterdam I caught up with some friends from Stuttgart, so it was good to see them one more time. I saw the Anne Frank house, the wax museum, some churches and then went on a pub crawl. It was fun to just sit and relax with some friends. Anne Frank’s house was interesting as I had just spent 6 weeks in Stuttgart staying with a host family and studying a bit of the German culture. The way I saw the house was therefore coming from some kind of German perspective. Not from the perspective of being a German person but from the fact id been spending my last month and a half trying to understand German culture more and learn the German language. As much as the house is confronting and I felt awful for what happened to the Jews in the second world war, I found myself feeling just as bad for the Germans. What I mean by this in particular is mainly the young German population, the people my age who ive been getting to know over the last 3 months, who now have to bear the responsibility for something that they had completely no say in or control over. When I was in Australia last year I met a few German exchange students with whom I discussed this topic often and discovered this idea of collective guilt which I previously had absolutely no idea about. This feeling of responsibility for everything that happened 70 years ago is propagated throughout society from generation to generation. In school the German youth are taught absolutely everything that happened, nothing is hidden from them and there is no bias, it is straight up ownership. As a result, in the words of a German, they learn “they should be proud to be German but ashamed, proud but ashamed!” and in the words of another “To say im proud of being German it sounds false it doesn’t sound true!”. In addition, there was a German song recently made that a friend showed me and the lyrics are very pro EU against the rise of right wing extremism and nationalism in Europe. The song itself, I must admit, is very catchy. It makes fun of stereotypes of German culture and hence the music itself is very rammstein-esque. The lyrics however were quite striking. One of the lines of the song was “we are proud of not being proud” and it continually had this theme of “we have made the mistake already please don’t fuck up like we did”. Hearing this song in combination with all of the conversations I have had and the amount of time I have spent trying to come to terms with what the “collective guilt” must feel like, made me feel quite sad. I think its such a shame that there is such a restriction on how the German youth can express their pride of being German. This is especially considering how proud I am to be Australian and is in stark contrast to the words of an English friend of mine who said when I was there “god I love this country.”. The whole time I was in Anne Franks house I couldn’t help but imagine how awful a German person would feel walking there regardless of whether they were alive at the time or not. I suppose the collective guilt plays a role in insuring that the mistakes of the past are still repeated but honestly it must suck when the first thing that comes to anyones mind about your history is the Nazis. As a disclaimer I would like to say that ultimately I have no idea whether people do or don’t have this collective guilt and what I’m reporting may not apply to every German but it is just an observation that I have made time and time again. Amsterdam was a lot of fun but by the end of it I must admit I could not wait to get back to Munich. Munich was to be my home for the next year and I was very anxious to get started settle in and start exploring.
Before I get onto the topic of my first month in Munich I want to say that I have been immensely lazy and as a result I am writing this post almost 2 months later. Therefore, I cannot write about everything in complete detail and chronological order so I will write a few paragraphs on specific milestones and events that I think are important.
When I arrived in Munich I was able to stay with an old friend for the first couple of days whilst I got my bearings. I moved into my accommodation on the 1st of March and this was the first time in my life that I was finally living on my own. Now accommodation in Munich is not easy to find and it is one of the most (if not the most) expensive cities in Germany. I must admit that I am not the most efficient person and I like leaving things to the last minute (My parents can testify). I searched for an apartment during my time in Stuttgart and having no prior experience and being quite slack I resorted to booking a last minute air bnb for a month. I was a bit worried as I had to sleep in the same room as 4 other people (a bit like a hostel) and I was quite annoyed at myself but in the end it was not as bad as it seemed. Although I shared a small room with 4 people the apartment itself was enormous, it was brand new with a massive bathroom a huge kitchen and a sauna. For me, living in a room with 4 other people was a small price to pay in order to have such an apartment. My first day in the apartment involved my first ever trip to the super market with the sole intent of buying the weeks groceries (I’ve been to the supermarket before obviously but never was I buying for myself and myself alone with complete control over what I selected). Well guess what, I was super healthy. I bought plenty of fresh fruit and veg as well as meat, cheese, eggs and some muesli. Up and until today I have maintained this balance. After I returned home from shopping I began what would be the beginning of the long road to becoming a master chef. That’s right, all of a sudden I now had to cook for myself. Mum, dad and Briah used to always give me a hard time about how I would never be able to survive on my own and would always question: “well what are you going to do when you have to cook for yourself?”. Well the answer is, as it turns out, I actually like cooking and I took it very seriously. Armed with a bag full of groceries fresh from the store I began, of course, on my first dish: a traditional, a favourite and a staple for all those who can’t really cook out there… pasta. All great master chefs have to start somewhere right? But that was only the beginning, I found cooking as a massive creative outlet and preferred to muck around with what I had than to follow a recipe. In the end, if what I did worked out, it would be an immensely satisfying feeling and would encourage me to continue cooking. Slowly, my repertoire began to grow and soon included, omelettes, curry, fried rice, chilli concarne, stirfry, burgers and to this day continues to grow. Because I didn’t use a recipe it was not uncommon to make some mistakes and end up with some pretty dodgy food. My approach to cooking was to buy the necessary groceries to cook one dish but to cook it day after day for the entire week. Each attempt I found out where I went wrong and would make the necessary adjustments for the next. This kind of systematic approach I think reflected my personality and the way I work very well. I learn by trying something first and making a mistake in the process, not from watching or being told by someone else. When I studied for my exams at uni and in highschool, I would watch some of my friends write and re write notes over and over again. I couldn’t do that, instead I would do question after question until I had made every single mistake there was in the book so that when I walked into the exam there were no others to make. This is what happened with cooking, and on the last day of the week when I sat down to eat, and I put that first spoonful into my mouth only to find out that I had completely nailed it, the feeling was incredible. A perfect example of this was with my omelettes. The first day I made some curried vegetables and thought I could simply tip some whisked eggs over the top and let it cook. In the end I went to flip it over but unfortunately ended up with some messed up scrambled eggs. The second attempt I tried to cook the eggs separate in a pan but used a bit too much oil and ended up with a pretty oily egg pancake. The third attempt I used less oil and nailed the egg pancake but still didn’t really have an omelette. The fourth and final attempt I made some curried veg, took it out of the pan. Made an egg pancake, but just before it was done put some curried veg onto the pancake and folded it over and bam I suddenly questioned why I was wasting my time with mechanical engineering.
Besides cooking and learning to live on my own I also had a lot of administrative stuff to do throughout March. I sometimes wonder how I survived as it was not uncommon for me to just scrape through by the skin of my teeth. An example of this was registering with the city of Munich. By the time it was March I had only 30 days left on my passport and needed to apply for a Visa. Rather unfortunately, the application process for that was not entirely made clear by neither my host university nor by the German government. The order in which I needed to apply, open a bank account and register with the city, at the beginning of March, appeared to be an illogical circle in which each step required at least one of the others to be completed first. As a result, I was entirely confused where to begin. I thought that the Visa was the most important and therefore the initial document that I should obtain. Before I continue with this story, I need to clarify that one only has 14 days to register with the city after moving in. I moved in on the 1st and on the 10th I found the time, and in a fit of urgency, the motivation to apply for my Visa. Just as I printed the visa application form that I needed to fill out, I noticed an interesting requirement. I needed a number from a certificate confirming my registration with the city. It was at that moment that I realised the first step was actually to register with the city. Under just a slight bit of pressure, I looked up when the registration offices were open and found that they all closed at 12 pm. Now the 10th of March was a Friday and all the offices were closed on the weekend so remembering that I had 14 days to register and that I moved in on the 1st its not hard to figure out that I had to get my shit together fast or I was going to be in trouble. It was 11 am and I had an hour to some how print the new form off, get my land lord to sign it and then race to the office to hand it in. Luckily my land lord was home and he was familiar with the process and so was able to print me off a pre filled out form. Now in a complete hurry, I took it and ran as fast as I could to the train station. I must admit Munich public transport is pretty damn amazing but as always whenever you are in a rush it just seems to be going at that slightly slower pace. Completely out of breath, I reached the office only to be the last person who was allowed to take a waiting ticket. I managed to register with the city and the week after aquire my Visa. This was not the only time I managed to scrape through at the last minute, it was a recurring theme throughout the following weeks but in the end, however, I managed to survive, sorting out everything I needed to in order to stay.
On the 27th of February I began with my next intensive language course, like in Stuttgart I met so many different and wonderful people from all over the world. The course really was quite multi-cultural and on a regular basis I was hanging out with people from Spain, The Czech Republic, Croatia, Italy, Turkey and Switzerland just to name a few. Together we explored a lot of Munich, made a small trip to Innsbruck and made our way round to a few different bars and cafes. Not only did I make friends in my course I also made friends with the people in my apartment. These people were from all over and we had some good times enjoying the sun in the Englischer Garten. The garden is easily my favourite place in Munich. It is apparently larger than New Yorks central park and in a similar fashion to cologne the minute the sun shines the Garden comes completely alive. The atmosphere is indescribable. Its almost like there is some unofficial sun worship festival going on. I am confident that I’m going to spend at least 50% of my summer there because it is just so amazing. All over the Garden there are people, drinking, playing games or music, and relaxing. To finish off the afternoon, the sunset over Munich is equally as impressive.
|Sunset in the Englischer Garten|
Now something that is 100% worth noting about my first month in Munich is… The Starkbierfest. Yes that’s right not Oktoberfest but the Starkbierfest. Most people in Australia associate, without pause, German culture with drinking beer and beer fests like Oktoberfest. Now I could sit here and write a whole other essay about how that’s technically not true and there are lots of different states in Germany and beerfests with their brass music and lederhosen are really just from the state of Bavaria but im not going to. Instead I’m going to explain my first beer fest experience and why I now 100% understand why there are so many stories from German people about drunk Australians at Oktoberfest. So yes Munich has the world famous Oktoberfest that takes place actually in September every year. Yes everyone I ever told that I was going on exchange to Munich asked me if I was going to go there and yes I will. The thing is, Oktoberfest is only one of many beerfests in Munich / in Bavaria. The Starkbierfest is only a much smaller version that celebrates the opening of this seasons strong beer barrels from the Paulaner brewery. It was 10 at night on a Saturday and I was with a group of friends who were deciding where they would like to go out for the night. We decided in the end to go to the Starkbierfest which had just begun the day before. The festival actually ended at 11 so we were only there for an hour but we were catching up with some friends who had been there for the whole day. The fest is at the Paulaner brewery and it began with us entering the courtyard full of people dressed in brightly coloured dirndls and lederhosen. These people were already well underway having been on the strong beer all afternoon. The beer is served in Maß’ which is the one litre portion in the glass we know as a stein. Walking through the courtyard you can already feel an incredible vibe among the people. Everyone there is having a good time and you can hear the faint sound of brass music coming from the main hall. The fest hit me the minute we walked through the double doors into the main hall. There you are greeted by an enormous hallway full of long tables with benches, hundreds of fairly drunk people mostly dressed in lederhosen and dirndls singing and dancing to the lively brass music coming from the band at the front. I do not think I have ever opened my eyes so wide in utter dis belief. It was absolutely incredible. Literally like Christmas. I have never had a bigger smile on my face in my entire life. The place was on fire. My explanation here is simply not enough, one can only experience it by going. The festival starts around 2pm every day and by 6pm everyone is standing on benches, singing and carrying on to the music, it is incredibly loud. The music itself is a mixture of traditional brass music with its collection of trumpets and at the same time some real sing along classics that are great after a couple of Maß’. The best part was easily when the band played nena’s 99 Luftbaloons. I was drinking German beer, at a German beerfest listening to a live German band playing a German classic that people know about even in the English speaking world.
In the last blog I spoke about how I was just getting the hang of conversational German, well since then a lot has changed. After my first week in Munich speaking in German just kind of clicked. It was good because all of the people in my course were motivated to learn German and were eager to also speak it outside of class. As a result I had a lot more opportunity to practice and so I got the hang of putting sentences together with relatively the correct grammar. I also made a big effort to take every opportunity I could to speak German. I went to language Cafes in which there would be tables with particular languages that would be spoken and I searched for tandem partners on the internet with whom I could practice my German. By the end of March I could hold a decent conversation but I still wasn’t quite where I wanted to be. The ultimate goal of thinking and dreaming in German was still evading me and unfortunately my day to day language was still English.
On the first of April, I had successfully passed the exam for my intensive German course, had really settled into life in Munich, had made a solid group of friends and had moved into my new home, the Studentenstadt. March was an incredible month, it flew past before I’d even really come to terms with what had happened. On the first of April I dumped my stuff in my new home, caught up with an old friend and the day after embarked on another journey, this time to the UK.
PS. It is now the 20th of May. Almost 2 months after I started writing this.
PS. It is now the 20th of May. Almost 2 months after I started writing this.