• Heidelberg – Week Two

    Today is pretty much the mid-point of the Heidelberg Summer School – two weeks down, two to go. There were plenty of things to keep busy with this week with school, excursions, and other extra-curricular activities. The weather here shifted dramatically, however, and the beautiful 30 degree days of last week were replaced with mostly rainy, sub-20 days. I was quite happy to have the umbrella I picked up in Berlin!

    vlcsnap-2014-08-16-17h34m49s185We still had a few sunny days, and I managed to stitch together a nice panorama from my friends’ balcony.

    Panorama from a friend's balcony on Plöck

    Here is a summary of week two in Heidelberg.


    This week, we had our first test, which gave us an idea of how we were doing so far. It had no official bearing on our grades, but covered the important concepts we’ve been working on in class so far. I did fairly well, and it pointed out a few areas to improve on.

    While these classes are much less in-depth than those at MUN, the focus is really on speaking and comprehension, and I definitely feel like I am understanding German a lot better than before. My spoken German hasn’t met the same dramatic improvement, but I’ve been able to hold my own in a number of full-German conversations this week!


    This week, there continued to be plenty of activities for us to take part in.

    Monday was the second session of the weekly ballroom dancing workshop. This week we covered the Rumba and the Jive, though the Jive was definitely the more energetic of the two. What set this week apart was that, after the standard workshop, there was an additional hour for those who were taking part in the closing ceremony performance. With a partner who also wanted to take part in the show, I stayed the extra hour, and we learned and practiced the choreography for the first half of the performance. I imagine this will be a good laugh for many of you reading this, so I hope to have some great footage for you after the show!

    On Tuesday, I got to flex my tech support muscles again, and fixed my instructor’s overheating laptop. The evening, our class was invited to a barbeque at our mentor’s apartment, and we had a great time enjoying inexpensive beer and eating plenty of foods. I’m not completely certain on whose idea this was, but we discovered a delicious barbeque dessert which tasted so good!

    BBQ Banana

    What was slightly less fun was when I broke the screen on my friend’s iPhone while we were playing “Heads up/Charades”. Luckily it was I who broke the screen, so it was also I who fixed it.

    iPhone Fix

    On Wednesday, the University planned a free mini-excursion to Schwetzingen, a little town just outside of Heidelberg. It is home to a castle with a large and beautiful garden, and I was really looking forward to filming there. Unfortunately, it was raining somewhat heavily, and a majority of students, including our class, decided to postpone. We decided to try again on Wednesday, 27. August, and barring any issues I will be able to post about it later!

    Instead of going to Schwetzingen, we visited the Studentenkarzer (student prison), an old artifact of Heidelberg University. Centuries ago, there arose a problem with student behaviour which needed to be addressed. The solution was to create a prison, where students who misbehaved would be sent as punishment. Showing up to class drunk was also one way to get a direct ticket in.



    Students here were not permitted to leave for the duration of their punishment, for anything other than class. There was actually a tunnel which connected the prison to the main lecture hall, so that students could be escorted directly to class, and then back to prison once class ended.



    The walls of the prison are covered in paintings, signatures, faces and crests. It wasn’t clear whether these were introduced before or after the prison was decommissioned.


    “For academic freedom”

    After walking through the prison, we also checked out the University museum, which showcased the history of Heidelberg University. It was interesting to see that Kirchoff was once a student here.

    There was an old photo of the campus across the river, In Neuenheimer Feld. The building above is actually the Mensa (cafeteria) there, and is where the disco last Friday took place.


    I also found my name, but someone made a typo.


    We also took the time to check out the Alte Aula in the Alte Universität building. This is where all class lectures used to take place. Now, this is where a number of concerts and ceremonies are held.


    To warm up after exploring all this history, we visited a little café which served many varieties of hot chocolate.


    They serve it by giving you a glass of very hot milk, and a special kind of chocolate made to be melted in drinks. I ordered chocolate-banana.


    The table where we sat had a drawer, and in that drawer we found tons of notes, letters and stories on pieces of paper, left by visitors of the café for others to find. We took the time to add our own contributions.



    Thursday night there was a classical piano concert, where works from Beethoven, Brahms and Chopin were played with great energy on a Steinway Grand Piano. You can see the piano and venue in the photo of the Alte Aula, above.

    Friday night there was another disco, like last week. This time, it was hosted at Halle 02, a club in a warehouse, with the bathrooms interestingly located inside shipping containers. It was a bunch of fun, but by 2.30 am I had to leave to make it to the excursion in 5 hours. Sadly, in a couple paragraphs you’ll read that this still didn’t work out.


    You can check out my last post for details about the excursion to Cologne, which took place on Saturday.

    For this weekend, I purchased tickets to two excursions: Saturday was a boat cruise on the Rhine river (Rhinefahrt), and Sunday is a tour of Straßburg, France.

    Sadly, Friday night’s disco rendered me incapable of making the departure for the Rhinefahrt. The two alarms I set simply couldn’t get me out of my slumber. I was really looking forward to a relaxing tour and seeing even more of Germany. The Straßburg trip tomorrow has no reason to suffer the same fate, and I will be sure to post about this small French-German town later this week!


    The recurring concept I’m finding with traveling is time. You see it in history, in buildings, roads, nature and people. You feel the effects of it as you get settled in a new location, with a new daily routine, and new transportation needs. Two weeks is a short amount of time to experience and learn so much, to meet new people and push yourself to try new things you wouldn’t have considered before.

    At home, it feels like there is a higher level of commitment to the tasks that fill up a day. The very nature of “home” has a permanence, and maybe demands more forethought. My experience here in Heidelberg has been the opposite. I’ve been able to really relax and change my pace. There is a lot of comfort to be found in not needing to schedule things to the minute, and instead to the hour or half hour.

    While there are only two weeks left, I am thankful there is still so much to be done, all things that will continue adding to how special this trip is. Maybe I just won’t use that return ticket 😉


  • Heidelberg – Week One

    Tonight marks the 7th day of my visit to Heidelberg. Berlin feels like a distant memory, now that a new routine is established here. A lot has happened this week, and I will do my best to recap everything here.



    We began the schooling process Sunday morning with an oral exam. The oral and written exams are used to determined which difficulty level we get placed in. There are 4 primary levels:

    • Complete Beginner
    • Elementary (Grundstuffe)
    • Intermediate (Mittelstuffe)
    • Advanced (Oberstuffe)

    Within each of these levels, however, are numerical sub-levels. The range varies, but for Grundstuffe there are 6 sub-levels that I know of. The greater the number, the greater the difficulty.

    I applied for Grundstuffe, and after a mediocre oral exam, and a rather good written exam, I was placed in Grundstuffe 5. Not bad!

    Classes truly began on Tuesday, where we met our professor, Thorsten, our Betreuerin (mentor), Juliane, and all of our classmates. Within this class I made some friends to hang out with after class. It really is an outstanding opportunity to make friends with people from every corner of the world. This week I made acquaintance with people from Romania, Hong Kong, Spain, Bulgaria, China, the UK, and it goes on!

    So far it has been challenging with 100% German instruction, but it is getting easier. Even though I do not have the vocabulary to understand everything, I can still fill in most of the blanks and gain context. The biggest challenge now will be in diligently completing my homework…


    Heidelberg University offers summer students a number of free workshops to help increase exposure to spoken German and help teach new skills. Sports, singing, writing and film are all options, and there is also a ballroom dancing course. I attended the sports and film introductions, but the activity I plan on making time for is ballroom dancing.

    Monday was the first session of this weekly workshop. This week we learned the basic Cha Cha and Waltz. I partnered up with a complete stranger, and had a great time trying to stay afloat in something completely new. I’m looking forward to future weeks and getting more practice, since dancing really is a worthwhile and fun skill to have.

    The city here is so beautiful, and has a preserved Alt-Stadt (old city) area. The buildings and scenery are picturesque, and above it all is the Heidelberger Schloss, a castle high up in the hill.


    With a few others, I made the trek up a long, steep cobblestone path to reach the castle. The view was incredible, overlooking the entire city. All of the bridges on the Neckar River were visible. We took a walk through the large park up there, complete with a fountain, garden and plenty of trees.


    The university hired a party boat Wednesday afternoon, where a live band played plenty of rock music and got the crowd in a dancing frenzy. It was a great time, and brought us far along the river past the outskirts of Heidelberg.


    Exploring the city itself is an extra-curricular activity, and this week I walked along several of the bridges and enjoyed a few parks.


    Thursday night, our class as a whole went to the park beneath the Theodor-Heuss-Brücke to enjoy a group picnic. Later that evening, we went to see a Jazz quartet playing a free show in the old university hall.


    When I was first brought to my apartment, I was shocked by how far it felt from the rest of the city. Like my map from last week showed, it is a good trek from downtown.


    Bikes are everywhere here, and it really is the most practical method of transportation.

    After riding my bike for a few days to get to school, I didn’t feel so distant from everything and it seemed that biking would work out nicely. That is, until the rear tire went out on Wednesday. So, I ended up purchasing a bus pass to allow me to get around. Less independent, but perhaps a bit more reliable.


    In Heidelberg, there are buses and trams for getting around in-town. However, the bus pass I purchased also allows travel in all of the Rhine-Neckar region, which extends out to Mannheim, and even further East and West. While I don’t expect to do much traveling that far away, it is very convenient to have all of that included in a 55 Euro ticket.

    Living Arrangements

    Once we were all settled into our own apartments, we also began to visit friends’ apartments.


    There are some great views to be had from those with top floor rooms, but even my front window offers a taste of something different from home.



    With 90% of my waking hours spent near the university, this means that almost all my meals are purchased. European universities generally have cafeterias, known as Mensas, which offer a selection of real meals at very low prices. So for the past week, almost all of my lunches and suppers have been at the Mensa.


    The buffet there has many vegetables, meats, and occasionally fries and noodle dishes. The cost is based on weight, with a rate of 8 Euro per kilogram of food. It takes a few days to calibrate yourself for taking food. A full plate might cost 5 Euro, but end up being more than you can eat. It is very easy to pile on multiple main courses.

    Today I smartened up, and was able to get a good lunch for 1,28 Euro. Much better.


    Yes, it deserves its own section. The beer here is pretty awesome. Both in price and in taste. There is a local brewery, Heidelberger Brauerei, which makes tasty and inexpensive beers. Beer can be bought at the Mensa, and the Heidelberger comes in Kristall, Light, and Dark varieties. I have become a fan of their Dark.


    Another common drink here is Radler. This is beer mixed with a carbonated beverage, possibly Sprite, Coke, or most commonly Lemon spritzer. They have half the alcohol content of beer, but taste good and are worth a few tries.

    And yes, 500ml of beer really does cost around $0.50 from a grocery store. The taste is equivalent to the cheapest varieties found in Canada, no doubt, but they are drinkable and do work as advertised.



    One of the exciting offerings of this summer program are the excursions. For around 22 Euro, students can buy tickets for trips to Cologne, Strasbourg, Rothberg, Bodensee, the Schwarzwald, and more. This includes transportation.

    This Saturday, I will be visiting Cologne, to see the Dom and hopefully a few other sights there. The tickets sell out very fast, and I ended up snagging one of the last seats. Hopefully next week I can arrive earlier and have a greater selection.


    Tonight there is a disco put on by the university – a dance. I will be there, and it should be a great time, even though the trip to Cologne leaves at 7.15am tomorrow morning. Hopefully I can sleep on the bus there!

    Until next time!