Yes, you read correctly. I was at Oktoberfest last Thursday. To be honest, I wasn't all that excited about it to begin with. If you know me, liters of beer, drunk people on county-fair-style rides, and lots of camera-toting tourists (including yours truly) aren't really my thing. But that's not to say that the experience wasn't entertaining, because believe me, it was entertaining.
First of all, with my blonde hair and traditional Bavarian attire, everyone believed me to be a native. My friend Keri from high school was also similarly garbed, and the two of us were tourist magnets. No one even cared if they realized we were American -- they still wanted to have their picture taken with us. Especially if they were Italian. We had choruses of "Bella, bella!" following us throughout the streets, which sounds less charming when slurred and coming from a pack of forty-five year old men.
But don't let my personal grievances give you a bad impression of Oktoberfest! It does have its merits, most of which fall under the category of "things to eat." Chocolate-covered fruit, roasted nuts, sausage and sauerkraut, crepes with nutella filling, fish-on-a-stick (not to be confused with "fishsticks" -- these ones have tails and eyes) . . . The list goes on and on. And all of these delicacies can be purchased at stands outside of the beer tents, so the prices are slightly more reasonable than those in the tents. (Think 10 euros for a liter of beer. Yes, it's a liter, but ten euros?!) Let's see. Other good things about Oktoberfest. Hmm. Yep, nope, that's it.
Munich is a phenomenal city, and Oktoberfest is interesting to experience once. But I won't be headed back that direction till the festival is over, the crowds have died down, and lederhosen is worn daily only by old German men, and not intoxicated foreigners.
I spent the rest of the weekend in Regensburg, hanging out with old friends and reliving my abroad experience. A part of me wishes I were back there, but most of me feels just plain excited to get to know Tübingen as well as I know Regensburg. They are both such beautiful cities that it's impossible to complain about having to live in either one!
All this traveling has meant not a whole lot of work on my project yet. But have no fear! I hereby swear that the next blog post I write will be about the letters. Until then, enjoy this picture of Keri and me in our dirndls at Oktoberfest:
Once I (finally) got to Göttingen, I was ready for some new friends and um, good conversation. Boy was I in luck! I immediately met a group of Fulbrighters at the train station and hopped into the shuttle with them to the Best Western. In the States, I think of Best Western as a pretty average chain, somewhere between a Motel 6 and a Marriott, and of the same caliber as a Holiday Inn, perhaps. But I have to admit, this might actually have been the Best Western. It was a very nice hotel with conference rooms, a fantastic breakfast and a good Italian restaurant. When I got up to my room, I met my roommate, Anna, who is studying chemistry and doing her research on petroleum in Essen. We got along great, and have plans to do some traveling together at some point this year. The only complaint I heard about the hotel was the proximity of the beds to one another: in true German fashion, they were basically just two twin beds pushed together into one. Some of the guys had issue with this, but I think everyone managed in the end.
After we went over some logistical information and were officially welcomed to Germany by the Kommission, we went on a walking tour of Göttingen. I was impressed by how beautiful it was -- I usually consider anything north of Bavaria/Baden-Württemberg to be less quaint and more industrial, and tend to scoff at it. However, the Altstadt was lovely, and along the tour we saw the former residences of Goethe and the Brothers Grimm. After a delicious German dinner at Restaurant Kartoffelhaus (which, for those who don't know, translates to Restaurant Potatohouse - how can you go wrong?) some of us went out to a bar for a few more drinks and some get-to-know-you time. The people I met were incredibly interesting and their projects sound amazing: German-Polish literature studies, psycholinguistics, stroke research, climate and renewable energy . . . The list goes on and on.
Tuesday was filled with meetings about how to go about living in Germany (registration, cell phones, housing, traveling) and about what it means to be a part of the Fulbright network. I won't go into that in too much detail; suffice it to say that it means a lot! There are a few exciting travel opportunities this year that I will get to do through Fulbright, including a Welcome Meeting in Frankfurt, a week of conferences and parties in Berlin, and a Winter Ball in Heidelberg that may or may not take place in a castle. (Guess which one I'm looking forward to most.)
Tuesday night we went back to the same bar, which is a good thing since one of the guys had left his passport there the night before and apparently had yet to notice. It was a late night, and I left on Wednesday feeling tired but extremely grateful for my new Fulbright friends. None of them live very close by, but at least I have some fun places to visit!
On Monday, I left my brand new, recently furnished apartment in Tübingen for my Fulbright orientation, which took place in Göttingen
(pronounced GUR-ting-en). Göttingen is about a four hour train ride away, with one change in Stuttgart. I love riding the train here in Europe--for me, it's a time to space out to some relaxing music on my iPod and look out the window at the beautiful countryside speeding by me. This particular ride, however, was a bit different.
I had trouble finding a seat on the train because lots of them were reserved for people who paid extra to guarantee themselves a place to sit. Finally I found an empty seat in a compartment with a middle-aged woman and a guy in his twenties. Upon second glance, the guy in his twenties was dressed in all black and looked like he needed a shower. At the next stop, the woman got off the train and I was left alone with Mr. Gothic. I slid over to the window seat, cranked up my volume, and was just drifting off into thought when I was interrupted by a, "Und wo fährst du denn hin?" It was the guy, asking me where I was going. I politely made small talk with him for a few minutes before it emerged that I was from America. He immediately wanted to practice his English, and started off with a strong, "Ehm, so, what are your hobbies?" I listed singing, guitar, and reading, and then politely asked him what his were. To my utmost dismay, his response was, "World of Warcraft, do you know it?"
Uh-oh. Red flag. Okay, more like a hundred red flags. As I answered that I was not a fellow WOW player, he seemed surprised. I wondered to myself, am I dressed wrong today? What could I possibly have done to imply that playing that game was a hobby of mine? The answer is nothing. But it didn't matter. For the next four hours, I listened to Stephan tell me about his love of online gaming and inwardly bemoaned my ill luck. At the end of the ride, he gave me his phone number in the hopes that I would call him with my return train information. Then we could talk for another four hours on the way back! Never mind that I had said about five words since the hobby conversation got started.
Needless to say, I didn't call my new friend on Wednesday, but I did go to the train station terrified that I would run into him. Fortunately I did not, and I'm pleased to report that I had a relaxing ride back to Tübingen. Normally I might have been annoyed by the businessman who talked loudly on his phone all the way to Frankfurt, but hey, he wasn't talking to me. I turned up my volume, leaned my head against the window, and smiled to be back in Germany, riding through vineyards and winding around rivers as I made my way back to my new home.
It's official -- my blog is back up and running. Exciting, right?! Well, I'm excited, because it means that I'm not only back to my good ol' blogging self, but am also doing what I love best, which is, of course, traveling.
I arrived in Germany yesterday at eight in the morning, which meant that I had a very long day (I don't sleep during the day unless I am desperate; naps are the best way to prolong jetlag). Between connecting flights to Newark and Düsseldorf and a little layover time in there for good measure, it took a mere nineteen hours to get to Tübingen from St. Louis. Not bad, eh? Running on the one hour of sleep I got on the transatlantic flight, I spent the day getting acquainted with my new city, my new roommate, my new landlord, my new neighborhood . . .
Tante Irmgard (my grandmother's sister) and her husband Gerhard picked me up at the airport and drove me to my apartment in Tübingen. I'm living on the first floor of a three story house with Kay, a girl I knew at Vanderbilt who has conveniently been living in Tübingen for the past two years. The apartment is great! I have my own bedroom, and the two of us share a bathroom and kitchen. Other than some bright orange stripes of questionable taste painted on one wall, everything looks perfect. (I'm repainting tonight with the help of Kay and her boyfriend Peter.) We spent the day doing important things like buying a mattress, going to the grocery store, and getting to know each other. My landlord also took me to the German version of Home Depot to buy a ceiling light for my room, which I mysteriously had to pay for myself. Though I thought that was strange, at least I now have a light in my room, if little else. I crashed hard at about 9 pm and slept for the next thirteen hours.
I awoke to a phone call from my grandmother, who is also in Germany visiting relatives. The fact that it woke me up was cancelled out by the fact that it meant my phone worked, which was one less thing I had to take care of today. After breakfast, I headed out alone to explore the city and run a few key errands. I succeeded in getting quite lost in the rain for about the first hour of my exploration before finally finding the Deutsche Bank, which closed for lunch the moment I got there. So I headed in the opposite direction to the train station to sort out some business with my discount train card and to buy tickets for my orientation in Göttingen next week.
To make a long story short, I did not sort out the business at the station and the issue is far more complicated than I expected. It placed quite a strain on my rusty German. And without my discount card (which I don't have access to because I didn't pay a bill that I never received nor ever responded to angry letters that I also never received regarding said bill), the train tickets placed quite a strain on my wallet. Er, my dad's wallet. The rest of the afternoon went better; I set up a bank account without a hitch, and my German is now rust-free.
Now that I have the letters that my project is centering on in my possession, I am feeling considerably intimidated. There are so many! And the handwriting, oh the handwriting. I think I'll feel better once I have a desk. At least, that's what I'm telling myself.
Tonight I'm cooking dinner with Kay and Peter, and going to sleep early again. I'm already exhausted and it's only 5:30. Tomorrow, my uncle and grandmother are taking me to IKEA ,and then later I'm going with Kay and some of her friends to see The Expendables, dubbed in German. And from what I can tell, that might be the best (the only!) way to see it.