Ok ok, running around the country-side would be more accurate, but that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 4 months. Not only is it a good way to keep all the good food here in check, it has allowed me to really see my physical surroundings. Since the Rhein River is only 100meters from my flat and there is a gravel path directly next to it, that tends to be my preferred running path. I used to run toward a setting sun on the river, then the path was littered with autumn leaves and since there have been many cold grey days. There have been foggy morning runs , jogs to neighboring villages and then there are those days that its the only way to clear my head, but it always helps it feel like a place to really call home, even if for just a few months. Barges drifting past and folks walking their grand-babies or dogs have become the norm. This past week the river has been exceptionally high and flooded most of my path, so this evening I decided to head up to the vineyards. There’s a first for everything and this evening it was running in the dark. Not safe you say- au contraire- Oestrich-Winkel has a crime rate in the negatives and cars don’t drive through the vineyards after dark. It was amazing and exhilarating to see the ‘town’ lit up at night from a higher elevation for the first time since being here! Not to mention hills are less daunting when they’re harder to see.
Yet another reason I’ve absolutely fallen in love with Deutschland is how they prepare for and celebrate Christmas. Santa’s are climbing into a window on every street and even the train stations have ginormous stars hanging from the high ceilings and nutcrackers sending you off on your way into the cold, bustling cities. One of many longstanding German Christmas traditions are the Christmas Markets found in every city. I’ve had the pleasure of wandering about the dozens upon dozens of booths filled with Christmas goodies with a child-like gleam in my eye in a neighboring village and in Munich. Both provided rather surreal experiences as we roamed with warm Gluhwein, a mulled wine, in hand, soaking in the 2 story lit up tree with lights strung between the narrow streets exiting the market squares as carols drift from somewhere. The vendors though, offer handcrafted everything, from painted wooden ornaments and statuettes to miniature villages and Nativities giving Santa’s workshop some stiff competition. Naturally there is also food, another delight to the senses. Spicy bratwursts, specialty potatoes, sugary crepes, candied nuts and the gluhwein can keep even a picky eater from going hungry.
All in all, it was amazing. However, as much as I love Christmas time, it is also exam time of year. For EBS’lers this means camping out in the library or other chosen location to study and not seeing the light of day (not that there’s much to see since it gets dark around 4:30 🙁 …..) from mid-November until exams are over on Dec. 21st. Though exchange students are notorious worldwide for not working as hard in the classroom as their fellow students, we exchange students here at ebs are somewhat mirroring our fellow EBS’lers because these exams are either the sole grade in the class or at least the majority of it. No pressure.
On our return from Munich we decided to visit Dachau, the first concentration camp used under Nazi Germany. It was also a surprise to learn that less than half of the prisoners were Jewish, the rest were political prisons and mostly Christian. It was depressing and emotionally draining to walk the 2 hr audio tour. It was surreal to walk into the camp and feel like we could have been on the set of Schindlerâ€™s List or Life is Beautiful and to have dramatic scenes from those movies reeling in my head as the speaker described life at the camp. The crematorium with a gas chamber was even opened to the public. Personally I like doing service work and helping those less fortunate, but Iâ€™ve never had my heart break in such a way from human suffering. The most amazing thing to me though, was a photo of the prisoners on the campâ€™s liberation day. Everyone was ecstatic, smiling ear to ear, waving merrily from tortured, starved bodies having only known darkness and despair. An unexpected perspective was gained that visit for sure.
On Thurs. of this week I found out I was going to Munich for Oktoberfest! 5 of us, 1 French, 2 Spanish 1 Bolivian and me, made the 4 hour drive in a VW Polo, which is even smaller that a Golf. Getting tables in the tents is either really expensive or on a first come first serve basis. So, since Oktoberfest opens at 8 a.m., we left little Oestrich around 3 a.m Friday morning with another car full of tauschies. By 9 we had lost the other car but were parked in Munich in the pouring rain. But we made it and thankfully some other friends were already at a table, so within 15 mins we had 13 people crammed around a table drinking liters of beer from the biggest glasses Iâ€™ve ever seen. By noon, nearly everyone in the tent is standing on their tables singing traditional German songs toasting at every other drink and dancing to the German folk band playing. Oh, and about half of the people there had on traditional Bavarian attire, suede shorts, suspenders, pointed hats. It was amazing.
Once it started getting dark, the rain had let up and several of us rode festival rides, like the Frisbee, and ate wurst afterwards. All of the tents were becoming absolutely packed and weâ€™d lost our table when we came outside, so the 5 of us went back to the car to sleep. It was absolutely miserable. There is however, a certain type of bond that forms when you spend over 24 hours sharing your personal space with 4 others. And we still had the drive back! That was one of the best weekend trips Iâ€™ve ever made!
This past weekend I traveled to Luxembourg for a conference where around 100 Uni (no one calls it college) students gathered to discuss the future of the EU. There were students from Denmark, Ireland, Romania, Germany, etc. discussing challenges and decisions the EU will face in the next 20 years. As much as I love political discussions of this nature, I wasn’t terribly familiar with some of the topics, but found it immensely interesting to hear lecturers and participants debate the acceptance of Turkey into the EU and whether or the EU should have a standing army. We also toured Luxembourg City and dined on the same boat the Schengen Agreement, which opened the borders of EU countries, was signed. The trip was enlightening and provided a good opportunity to meet European students as well as other EBS students.
This week happens to be the biggest week of the year at EBS. An event called Symposium takes place Wed-Sat and consists of workshops, lectures, firm presentations (EBS students are heavily recruited in Germany) hosted by CEO’s, CFO’s and other hotshots from the biggest German and International companies based in Germany. The ex-chancellor of Germany is even coming. The most bizarre part to me is the Fire and Ice party Fri. night for all students, alumni, lecturers, firm representatives where everyone is dressed according to the theme(Fire and Ice), drinks cocktails all night, but the wildest part is that this is the part of the Symposium when most students receive job offers, internships, etc!
Maybe the Ulmer Center can find inspiration here 😉
This time last year, I was driving Jenni and Rafael, the 2 German exchange students from EBS to my parents home in Whitesville, Ky to see the country, meet my folks, and eat BBQ. In the past 3 weeks, Jenni took Kartik and me to a culture festival in Frankfurt, I’ve zoomed past 1000 year old castles along the autobahn with Rafael, bumped into Ralph, an exchange student from this past spring, at the grocery and currently have a class with Moritz, the other exchange student from the spring. It’s a little wild to see familiar faces in Germany, but very nice as well!
Oestrich-Winkel, my new home, is situated pleasantly in the middle of wine country. Vineyards surround the town and looking out from campus down a gently sloping hill is a vineyard that leads right up to the Rhine River. Campus though, is only 3 buildings, one of which bears the remains of a 300 year old castle. The temperature has been on average 30 degrees cooler here, so coming from the sauna that Ky is during Aug was a fast-forward of about 3 months.
EBS has a well established exchange program, so there are plenty of resources available to us, but there is also the fact that there are over 100 exchange students. And we’re called Tauschies. This has been a really great way of meeting people because we had 2 weeks of German classes with just exchange students before starting regular classes.
Apparently, since I have a very notoriously American accent, people ask which state I’m from and 4 out 5 times, the reaction is “Kentucky Fried Chicken!” I don’t quite think I like being known as Miss KFC. Everyone is very friendly here, and especially helpful when they know you’re a Tauschie.