Week 3 Mega Study

Week 3 found me deep in learning the German language. Grammar and vocabulary in the morning and then a tutorial in the afternoon where we basically reviewed and practiced what we learned in the morning. I noticed that I was extremely tired at the end of the day and not physically tired but mentally exhausted. I wondered if any of the other students were feeling the same or if it was just my age that made me so tired. I asked around and without exception the other students said they felt the same. This was something that I remember being told about in our orientations, but I didn’t realize just how tired I would be. Someone brought this up in a class and it was pointed out to us that of course you are mentally tired at the end of a full day. When you are learning a new language, you are using a part of your brain that isn’t used for ANYTHING else except learning a new language. And in an intensive environment like we are learning we are using that part of the brain to the max. We were told that it would be at least a month before we became used to this and didn’t feel so tired.
During the third week we also had our first test and that was a real shock for me. In all my other courses I’ve gotten As and Bs, but on this first test, I barely got a C. In other classes, I read the material, do the assignments and can count on at least a B (and that’s if I am, for me goofing off). Learning a language doesn’t work quite like that. The grammar concepts were easy enough for me to get a handle on, but that has to be backed up by rote memorization of words and verb conjugations and articles, etc… etc..
I used to have a good memory for rote memorization when I was younger, and while I still have a good memory in general, not when it comes to rote memorization. I found that I was spending three to five times as much time on homework as I did on any other class and was making Cs instead of As. Now don’t take this as a complaint, it’s not, just a report of the facts. I expected this to be a lot of work and it is. I am also really glad that I applied for this program.
As far as the studying goes this is an area where my age seems to be a factor. While the other students (all of which are 19, 20 and 21) aren’t exactly having an easy time of it, they don’t spend near as much time on homework as I do and get better grades. At 56, I feel like I am constantly in catch-up mode. I also learned that while I only had two terms of college German before coming here some of the students have had more. A number of them took German in high school. That actually made me feel better, less incompetent. In any case I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything; hard work is good for the soul.
The highlight of week three was a hike to Wurlmlinger Kapelle and the small town of Pfäffingen. Wulmlinger Kappele, or Chapel is on the top of a hill in the Neckar valley that affords a great view of the surrounding area. Here is a picture of the chapel from a ridge line near bay:


These are some pictures from the top, looking at the surrounding area:






We finished the hike by hiking down the hill and into the town of Pfäffington and to Silvia Kunze-Ritter’s house where we were treated to an excellent Swabian dinner. As well as good conversation and an all around great time. We then walked to the train station and took a train back to Tübingen. The hike, someone said was about 13 kilometers. I think that was pretty close and it was easy going terrain and a pleasant day with wonderful weather. Although slightly physical it was somehow relaxing after the mentally exhausting week we had just had.

Week 2 Stuttegart

I am really behind on these blogs, so I’ll be trying to catch up in the next week. We have been really busy, so much has happened and that is partly the reason why I’m behind. (bet no one else is having that problem, hehe).
The Medieval castle that is the center of the town of Tübingen, sits atop a hill. And much of the rest of the town is on hilly terrain, something that I noticed as I had to walk up and down those hills. Bikes are real popular here as a form of transportation, but to me all those hills make the bikes somewhat less than useful, but they sure seem to work for the locals. Thinking about this lead me to the thought, I wonder if all the cities in Germany are as hilly as this one. I found out this week.
For me the highlight of the second week here was our outing to Stuttgart. I flew into Stuttgart, but really all I saw was the airport and autobahn, nothing else. We went there by train which is how people get almost everywhere in Germany. There are no high speed trains between here and Stuttgart, so we took a slower commuter train. It made a lot of stops but the ride was smooth as silk. And one of the big advantages to taking the train, is that you can study or talk or read while you get where you are going. It beats the heck out of driving as far as I’m concerned. Here is the train station that we left from in Tübingen:


Here is the main train station in Stuttgart where we arrived:


This is Koenigsstrasse it is a long flat wide street that is for pedestrian traffic only, with shops and café’s on both sides. The street must be over a mile long and is where the real upscale shopping is. And this street is flat, as most of the old downtown part of Stuttgart is. So not all German cities are as hilly as Tübingen is.


This is the “New” Schloss or New Palace. In an earlier blog I mentioned the fact that the term new, doesn’t mean the same thing her as it does in the US. This palace was built originally about the same time that our country was founded, but it is the new one because there is an old one from the middle ages, which is now a museum. In general, however, new seems to mean anything built after the Second World War. When the Germans talk about new buildings this is usually what they mean.


Just How Old, is “Old”?

This first week has been kind of a blur. The first day we walked from the dorms all the way to the down town area where we will be taking classes. There is a reason that we will normally be taking the bus, it had to be every bit of three miles. The steep downhill slope was no fun on my knees, but I made it there. We had biometric photos taken for our student ID cards and visas. We also waited in line to apply for our visas and in between we had a walking tour of the down town part of the city, because apparently we hadn’t walked enough. By the end of the first day I was exhausted and sore, but still very excited. After all of the walking and paperwork and orientation we headed back to the dorms. I got lost trying to find a bus stop to get back to the dorms, then when I did find the bus stop, I got on the wrong bus and had to wait for it to make a complete circuit of the city to get back. The upside is I had a nice, unguided tour of the city and I didn’t have to walk anywhere.


One of the first things that struck me about Tübingen was the apparent age of the buildings. Most were built in the 14th and 15th centuries. The City hall was currently undergoing renovations to ensure that it would last another 600 or 700 years.


I asked one of the student teaching assistants how old this wall was and her response was, “It’s not really old at all, only about 200 years.” There are a few buildings in the US that predate the founding of our country, but darn few, and any building that is 200 years old is definitely considered to be old.


Arrival in Germany

My arrival in Stuttgart, Germany was much like I expected. Navigating any airport these days is fairly easy. Most signs are international symbols, in addition I was able to read the German signs and there was usually an English sign right next to it so there was basically no excuse for getting lost. A very interesting element of my arrival that I didn’t expect was the chatter from the passengers as we got off. Some of it was in German of course, but most of it was in Danish as we had just come from Copenhagen.

The Airport itself was like any American airport anywhere with the exception of the German signs. I didn’t encounter any unusual smells like I did during my arrival in Korea years ago. In just about every way the arrival was much less of a shock to my senses and much less confusing than my first trip to Korea in 1975.

Not long before my departure my wife learned that old friends of ours were living in Germany. He is a Colonel in the US Air Force and I knew that he had been stationed in Germany, but I thought his tour was over and he had returned to the states. It turned out that not only was he still in Germany but was living in Stuttgart! He and his wife picked me up at the Airport. I’m not certain of course, but I don’t think too many study abroad students get picked up at the airport by Air Force officers. They drove me straight to Tubingen and gave me a quick tour of the town, including the castle at the top of the hill in the old part of the town. Then they took me to lunch which was wonderful, but I found that I wasn’t able to finish eating it. My friend pointed out to me “Of course you can’t finish it, its the middle of the night for you, not lunch time!” The jet lag thing hadn’t really caught up with me but it did soon after.

My friends then took me to the dormitory where I checked in. We exchanged phone numbers and they said good by and I went to bed and Crashed for a couple of hours until it was time for a get together dinner with the program director, students, and staff.

In my rush to meet up with my old friends I didn’t take any pictures at the airport on arrival. I completely forgot about that. I did have them take a picture of me at the castle just before lunch, so I’m including that picture.

It was a really long, but a good dayDSCN0068

What I’m Expecting

This post is my pre-departure post. What I’m expecting to encounter when I get there is illustrated by the pictures I’ve selected. I’m expecting to see narrow pedestrian friendly streets, and old buildings. I’m expecting the people to look a lot like me, in terms of dress and appearance.

Tubingen 3

I also expect to see picture postcard river sides like this one.

Tubingen 4

And beautiful pastoral country sides.

Tubingen 1

In terms of culture I’m expecting the German people to be a little more reserved and conservative than most Americans, in short ‘my kind of people’. I’m also expecting to encounter some cultural differences that I haven’t expected. Every new country will have that as an element of a persons travel there. There isn’t anyway to get around that, you have to be willing to go with the flow and adapt.

I’m also expecting this experience to be a lot different than my first time over seas. The first time I went abroad was almost 37 years ago, I wasn’t quite 19 yet and the Army sent me to Korea. I immediately experienced three, very much in my face. forms of culture shock. The fist was the smell that assaulted my nose when the door to the plane opened. The second was the fact that I literally stood out in a crowed, at 6’3″ I was head and shoulders above everyone else, not to mention the only one with hair that wasn’t black. Third, I couldn’t read any billboards, and the only road signs I could read were those with international symbols.

I’m expecting this to be a very different experience. First, I’m fairly certain that even if Germany smells noticeably different, it won’t be as bad as Korea was in the 70’s. Second, in terms of dress and physical appearance, I won’t look all that different than everyone else. My age will make me stand out among the student population, but that is a different thing altogether. Third, I may not be fluent in German yet, but I have enough of a background in the language to at least be able to read signs.

While I do expect some very noticeable differences in the culture, Germany will seem like my home town by comparison to my first tour in Korea.

I am also very excited about this trip. As a History major, I am looking forward to seeing all of the history around me. I’m also looking forward to making friends in Germany that I can compare notes with about our two cultures. As well as getting to know my fellow students I am hoping to meet some locals that are about my age, people that I will have some things in common with in terms of family and experiences.

No matter what my experience turns out to be I know that I am going to enjoy every bit of it, even the challenging parts.


Winter’s end. And the Alps.

Happy 2013 to all! After a short blog hibernation I am awake once more and would like to share with all of you my winter in pictures. Enjoy and don’t be afraid to comment!

Scalottas down
At the summit.
Coming down from the Alpine summit  in Lenzerheide.
Coming down from the Alpine summit in Lenzerheide.
The professional Gingerbread house in the Columbi Hotel. (The local 5 star lodgings in Freiburg.)
The professional Gingerbread house in the Columbi Hotel. (The local 5 star lodgings in Freiburg.)
A view across the Rhine of the snow dusted rooftops of the Swiss Laufenburg.
A view across the Rhine of the snow dusted rooftops of the Swiss Laufenburg.
Looking down the snowy streets of Hügelheim, my current home.
Looking down the snowy streets of Hügelheim, my current home.
Just a good picture in Hügelheim.
Just a good picture in Hügelheim.
Another good and reverent picture from Hügelheim.
Another good and reverent picture from Hügelheim.
A good depiction of the farming community in which I live.
A good depiction of the farming community in which I live.
Looking up into the forest which Hügelheim is nestled up against.
Looking up into the forest which Hügelheim is nestled up against.
The Freiburg Christmas market.
The Freiburg Christmas market.
Some typical holiday goodies.
Some typical holiday goodies.
Another awesome stand.
Another awesome stand.
Chestnuts to stay warm.
Chestnuts to stay warm.
Yummy yummy Glühwein.
Yummy yummy Glühwein.
The Shneeball is a delicacy from Rothenburg. It is essentially a rolled-up pie dough dipped in chocolate, nougat, cinnamon, etc.
The Shneeball is a delicacy from Rothenburg. It is essentially a rolled-up pie dough dipped in chocolate, nougat, cinnamon, etc.

An Anecdote to War

For all the peace we still live in a time of war

Still I believed not that I would feel it so far from it’s core.

Yet one dreary night as I rode through the  snow

A man came on board with nowhere to go.

He was escorted by two policemen who continued to say

Here in this country he wasn’t to stay.

With much discussion, most of it lost in translation

It came through that he was in seek of asylum; a safe location.

While this was a first for my young mind

This war weary continent keeps this story in endless supply.

Land bridges connecting the agony with the west

Bring refugees to live among we who can rest.

So while I wish not to know the story behind those African eyes

It was a subtle reminder we live in restless times.

And so ends an anecdote to war.


Thanksgiving German style

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

Today’s special holiday post isn’t a post, but rather a recipe for what I call “Breisgauer Pie.” Whether you need an idea for a pie as an exchange student, or you just want a delicious recipe, I hope you give my pie a try!

I also have a recipe for a small, simple holiday meal.

Make the stuffing from scratch! We used sliced bread, bacon, herbs, onion, and oil but one could use anything. The only tip I have is to use sliced bread instead of croutons or old, hard bread. The soft bread will soak up the flavor of everything it is mixed with and be a tad chewy (as a traditional stuffing is.)
Here in Germany one can find turkey steaks (puten schnitzel) anywhere. Just grab a couple and flatten them to get more bang for your buck.
Put a little oil in a frying pan, and throw the cold stuffing in. The oil will keep the bread soft so it can take in the other flavors.
Once the bread is nice and gold, go ahead and pile it on the turkey steaks.
In order to get the turkey rolls started, quickly fry each side before putting it in the oven to roast, bake, whatever. TIP: In regards to cooking: if it smells done, it’s done; if it smells burnt, it’s burnt; if it doesn’t smell, leave it alone.
With the stuffing piled on, roll the turkey and stick some toothpicks through to hold there form while cooking. If you still have stuffing left over, just shove it in the sides.
To merge the US tradition with the German culture, rotkohl (sweet red sauerkraut), mashed potatoes, and red wine accompanied our turkey rolls.
Hope I have given all those exchange students and those who might be having a small holiday feast an idea for a simple festive meal.

The Breisgauer Pie

The main key to my pie is something called Blätterteig. It is basically a ready-made pie crust and good for everything. For those studying in Germany and Europe, I would recommend finding Blätterteig in your nearest grocery store when making your traditional American dessert.
My filling was very spontaneous. The quickest and easiest filling to make, I found, was to buy a bag of frozen mixed berries and mixed in some amaretto, white rum, cinnamon, and lots of sugar. TIP: Use about 1/2 cup of the liquor or else the alcohol will be overpowering. I have also found, for dessert recipes in general, that Torani syrups (the usual Italian soda syrups) are a good substitute for alcohol. (Here instead of amaretto I would use the Torani Almond syrup.)
Fill the crust. TIP: Put some oatmeal, corn flakes, or something to soak up the juices and keep the crust dry.
Throw your second blätterteig over the top and cut it to the round form. Put a cross-cut in the middle to let the steam out and make it look like grandma’s traditional pie.
Throw some vanilla ice cream and whipped cream on top and enjoy.