02 May 2008


I'm still catching up!

So last weekend, my German friend Tobi had his birthday, and he invited all of his friends from Angers to come to Stuttgart for a party and a trip to the (beer-themed) carnival. Four of us were able to find the time and money to do so: Susanna (from Missouri; she had stayed in Stuttgart for Spring Break so was there already), Katie (from Ireland), Michael (from England), and me. Katie and I traveled together, which was really nice. Chatting and homework the whole way.

Tobias and Michaela, his friend who had volunteered to host me, met us at the station. Michaela is really sweet: she's a French major who speaks really good English, and she's about the most welcoming human on the planet. She lives with her boyfriend Patrick (who's also really nice) in a cute apartment close to the center of town. They were really good hosts. We chatted and admired her fish in the afternoon, then cooked a traditional southern German meal for dinner. Imagine giant ravioli stuffed with pork and vegetables: those are sliced and cooked with onions and eggs, it's really good. I'm going to try to make an Americanized version at home, with some sort of fresh ravioli.

In the evening, we went to a relatively swanky bar with a bunch of Tobi's other German friends, including Jenny, who was also in Angers last semester. They had quite an extensive menu, and supposedly cheap cocktails... everything seems ridiculously expensive in European bars though. I got tea and ginger ale. The ginger ale was excellent. It was interesting to see Tobi in his native environment, and it was interesting to try to understand, and attempt to speak, German. I understood a fair amount because it resembles both Dutch and English a little, but my speaking was a disaster. I would think, "Say zwei, you're in Germany..." and then my mouth would go north and end up saying "twee" in Dutch. Half the time I missed "danke" and ended up with "dank u wel," but at least I had the right first syllable...

Saturday, Michaela and I got up relatively early and went downtown to explore a bit. We walked around the weekly flower market, veggie market, and flea market, which was really fun.

I bought a really cheap vintage recorder, which has a different kind of fingering than I know how to do. Fun to experiment with.
Stuttgart has an enormous park in the middle with fountains, an artificial lake, a new castle and an old castle, museums, lots of grass... it's an awesome area. Here's a picture of the new castle:

We spent quite a while walking around and admiring German roofs:

Once we met up with the rest of the group (minus Jenny), we took the metro up to the top of one of the hills, to get ice cream in the supermarket where Jenny works. She was, as we'd expected (hoped?) embarrassed but pleased. Then we went up another hill, and hiked back down through a forest. Stuttgart is in a basin, so it's moderately hilly, but surrounded by mountains all around. There's a lot of variety in any direction you look; it's a beautiful area.

In the early evening, we headed to the frühlingfest (or something like that), which is kind of like a cross between your mental image of Oktoberfest and a carnival. We didn't go on many rides, but walked around for hours before the guys wanted to get beers. I'm not really a carnival person, and I don't like beer, but it was quite an experience nonetheless. The loud, live music was a combination of mediocre American pop classics and German songs, which people sang along to enthusiastically. And for people-watching, it couldn't get any better. After being in France for so long, it amazed me how much Germany looks, and feels, like America. People are louder, and taller, and there are blonds, and they actually dress comfortably. Our cultures are definitely closer than I realized.
Another perk of the day was that I got to see Alex, who was a Rotary Youth Exchange student in Russia the same year as I was. She was somewhere in Siberia too (I don't remember exactly where), but far away from my town of Blagoveschensk. She's a "yo-yo" (on her second exchange) in a town near Stuttgart this year, so she came to the fest to hang out for a while. Exchange students make awesome friends. Here's a picture:

Michaela and I went home pretty early in the evening... you have no idea how glad I was to discover that I was being hosted by an introverted teetotaler who didn't like to stay out all night! So much less awkward for both of us. We watched "Love Story" which is an American romantic tragedy from 1970 that I'd never heard of. It's apparently very well-known in Germany... as well known as "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and the like. Any of you ever hear of it?

Sunday morning, we slept in and then met Susanna and Katie downtown to go to Mass. Katie and I are Catholic, so we understood what was going on during Mass, and Susanna understands a bit of German, so she could follow a bit, and Michaela was lucky enough to understand every word spoken :) There were a few peculiarities, like the fact that the second reading was skipped, and the mystery of "who's the guy giving the homily?!" He was dressed in a suit, so when he went to the pulpit I wondered if we were going to get a budget talk, but then I heard words like angels, and Holy Spirit, and Jesus... he was giving the homily. Katie and I figure that he must have been a deacon, but he was in normal clothes and sat with the congregation, so it was a bit odd. The best part, however, is that Germany does church music right! Not like in France, where you're given the words and do your best... there was a book with sheet music, and consequently everybody sang and did quite well. The Mass parts were sung, but they skipped the Credo. Yet another mystery. Strangest yet, however, was that after the Mass had ended, everybody sat down to listen to the entire organ postlude... then they clapped politely, and got up to leave. In France, people leave during the postlude, and in America, many people dart out as soon as possible, and it's only the hardcore people like my family who stay until the very end. Although, admittedly, if my parents left before the choir was done, I wouldn't have a ride home!

Sunday was a day of going to high places. After lunch, we went up to the Sky Beach to see if there were any seats. It's a brilliant concept, I think: they covered the top level of a parking garage in sand, added lounge chairs, umbrellas, and a boardwalk, and sell expensive drinks at the bar. All the chairs were full though, so our hopes of an afternoon of sunbathing in Germany were dashed. We took the elevator to the top of the tower at the train station, and enjoyed a great view of the city, and the hills. Then we hiked to the top of one of those hills (my asthma didn't enjoy that too much) to get ice cream from Pinguin, which is supposed to be the best ice cream in Stuttgart. Here's a picture of most of us, at the half-way point. From left to right are Tobias, me, Jenny, Michael, Susanna, and Katie. Michaela's behind the camera.

The ice cream was excellent (I got cinnamon and mint), and it seems that the fact is well-known. Check out the line we had to wait in!

We hung out in the park for a while, enjoying the sun and the ice cream. One of the fountains had potable water, which made me really happy. I hate spending money to buy bottled water. Fountains in Germany have a unique feature, as well: I saw countless fountains that had water coming out of animals noses. Like this one:

After walking back down the hill, we headed to the park to hang around for a while. From left to right, Michael, Katie, Jenny, Susanna, Tobias, me, and Michaela.

My last dinner in Germany was as stereotypical as can be: a bratwurst (longer and skinnier than the style we get in the States, but the same taste) and a bretzel. Those taste the same too, although the southern style bretzels (yes, spelled with a B) are somewhat funnily shaped... the top is very puffy, and the twisty part is thin.

Final impression: Germany is like an American feeling in a European city with German as the lingua franca. It's a beautiful country, and I look forward to going back someday... and hopefully, I'll speak a bit more German when I do!

Since then:
- Monday I slept on the way to Paris, and studied Dutch on the way to Angers. I used 53 tissues (I'm allergic to April and May) and got some medicine for my laryngitis. Monday night I had my Dutch exam, which went pretty mediocrely. It's really hard to write an interview with a famous person when you know very little vocabulary!
- Tuesday I used only about 40 tissues, and I worked on a paper for my French class.
- Wednesday I finished the paper, and studied halfheartedly for the exam. The exam went abysmally, and I wish I had had the mental energy to study more... I think the problem is that I had studied backwards. I made sure I understood everything, and came up with mnemonic devices so that I could remember what all the expressions meant. But then for the exam, I was supposed to go from the meaning to the expression, and I drew a blank on about half. Literally half. I guessed creatively for the rest.
- Thursday I spent the day cooking (crêpes, soup, ginger syrup to make ginger ale), studying for my didactics exam (Tuesday), and watching movies. May 1 was a double-whammy national holiday this year, for the Ascension and for May Day. Therefore, there was no bus service whatsoever, which was annoying.
- Today, I cleaned, went grocery shopping, and avoided studying by any means possible. I will get around to it... I plan to study at least ten pages of notes after choir practice tonight.

In the future:
- Saturday and Sunday I have little to do other than study.
- Monday, Kristen arrives!!! She and I are going to be Loire Valley/Brittany tourists for a bit more than a week. And Monday night is the end of year party for Dutch.
- Tuesday, I have the didactics exam, and in the evening my choir is going to record some of our repertoire. (Our concert was canceled due to really bad organization (external problem). France isn't nearly as choir-friendly as America is.)
- Wednesday, Kristen and I will go to French class.
Then... adventures!! We'll keep you informed.

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