• Heidelberg – Week Three

    There is only one week remaining in the Heidelberg Ferienkurs, and every passing day makes this fact feel even more real. It will be difficult to leave Heidelberg, a city that I made home for a month. This week I enjoyed as many activities as possible with the people I met here. Here’s the recap for week three.



    Last Sunday, we visited Strasbourg, France. After missing the Rhinefahrt on Saturday, I made sure to rest up the night before.

    This Sunday, we are going to visit the Schwarzwald (Black Forest). It is located within this same state, and the tour will pass through a number of cities, including Baden-Baden, Baden-Württemberg. Not surprisingly, the thing I am looking forward to the most is a giant piece of Black Forest Cake!


    This week was very busy on this front, so I will break out the second level headings.

    Ballroom Dancing (Monday)

    The first portion of ballroom was spent revisiting the dances we did over the last two weeks, and reinforcing proper technique and the different variations. We also did the Wiener Waltz, which takes the Waltz and turns the speed up to 11. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to move myself fast enough for this one.

    In anticipation of the final performance, I also picked up a dress shirt and better shoes. My partner will without a doubt outshine me, but at least I will now fit in on stage.

    Because it was our second last rehearsal before the performance, the extra hour this week was focused on the details of our routine. This includes how we enter the stage, and how to synchronize the beginning of the dance. However, my friend Sebastian and I had to leave 10 minutes early, in order to make it to…

    Pub Quiz Trivia (Monday)

    In St. John’s, the German society invited students to attend Stammtisch, every Thursday evening. This coincided with Bitters’ trivia night, and every week we would join in the fun of pub trivia.

    When our Betreuerin invited us to take on trivia here in Heidelberg, I knew I had to go. It was hosted at O’Reilly’s, an Irish pub with an energetic host and a bunch of questions we had no idea how to answer. A handful of classmates attended, and we formed two teams: girls and boys.

    Despite our genuine effort to play fair and do well, the guys team ultimately received a different kind of award. We had the absolute lowest score of all the teams in the pub that night. After a minute or so of ridicule and disappointment, we were suddenly transformed into winners. The losing team receives 4 free Guinesses, along with collectors beer glasses! Not so bad after all.


    Sport Fest (Wednesday)

    For the last week and a half, our Betreuerin had been trying to get people in our class to sign up for the Sport Fest. Ideally, each class could form teams in Soccer, Basketball or Beach Volleyball, as well as for the Spaß Olympiade (Fun Olympics). Participation was low for the organized sports, but anyone who wanted to play was still able to join other incomplete teams and enjoy themselves.


    I signed up for soccer, and while our team didn’t do so well, we had a great time playing. I also signed up for the Fun Olympics, where we all had fun doing silly races like the spoon-egg race, potato sack race, and a bunch of others that had us scrambling around and looking ridiculous. We also didn’t do so well in this either, but we sure met the objective of having fun!


    Concert and Klassenabend (Thursday)

    As with every Thursday so far, there was a free concert for us to attend. This week, it was in the church by the university library. An organ and flute duo played sonatas from Bach, Vivaldi, Händel, and a few other single pieces.

    Right after the concert, we had to hurry up and wait for transportation to make it to a Spanish restaurant, where our class was meeting for supper. By the time we arrived, it was already quite late, but we still managed to enjoy a few beers and multilingual conversation in English, Spanish, German, and Chinese. I tried both San Miguel and Franziskaner beers, the latter I really enjoyed.

    Philosophenweg Hike and Brewery Tour (Friday)

    After being here for 3 weeks, I finally got to take the Philosophenweg, or Philosophers Way. It is a trail that goes through the large hills North-East of Heidelberg, and was named so because philosophers at the University used to walk the trails while thinking.


    There are a number of great lookout points up here, allowing you to see almost all of Heidelberg.




    There is also a tower with very sketchy stairs, to get an even higher vantage point.


    The hike took us along beautiful trails passing through gorgeous woodland. We also stumbled upon a pretty cool play structure.







    After around 2 hours of hiking, we reached our destination: the Klosterhof Brewery.


    Before the tour, we succumbed to our thirst and had a first taste of Klosterhof. It was very refreshing, and had me looking forward to tasting more of their varieties.


    The tour was bilingual in German and English, and gave insight into the varieties of hops used to create different tastes, as well as the processing involved.


    German beer was historically crafted according to the “Beer Purity Law”. This stated that beer was to be made with only 3 ingredients: water, hops, and malt. The diversity of flavour is then due to the differences in processes and ingredient varieties.



    On this tour, I got to experience one of the most German moments during my trip: drinking delicious craft beer while enjoying fresh pretzels.


    One Week Left

    This is it – my last 7 days in Heidelberg are already ticking down. Keeping as active as possible with events and classmates has really helped set this adventure over the top. That is what I will really miss, the freedom to explore more of the world with others, without worrying about time.

  • Excursion – Straßburg

    As the bus was crossing the bridge at the Germany-France border, our tour guide announced, “I hope you all brought your passports!” Very funny, thought a number of us who were initially caught off guard. Travel between most EU member countries does not require a passport. In fact, there is usually no border control at all! Our bus continued into Strasbourg, France, and we were greeted by street signs in French.


    Our first stop on the other side of the border was the European Parliament, at the glass-faced building located along the Canal de la Marne au Rhin. We stopped there for a quick photo-op.


    We then drove a short distance to another building at this site, le Palais de l’Europe.


    After an even shorter photo session, we were finally let off at Place de l’Étoile, and began our exploration on foot. We started by walking towards the old town, which is mostly on the island at the heart of the city. Yet again, we were all met with very old architecture and really small and quaint streets.



    The first major landmark we visited was le Palais Rohan, which faced the canal.


    Perhaps the biggest attraction here is la Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg.


    It is a giant single-towered church, with well preserved and impossibly intricate stone detailing, inside and out.




    Inside, there is an astronomical clock, which keeps track of much more than just time.


    After our smaller buddy group left the church, we discovered the entire tour group had disappeared. So, after scooping up another lost soul, we wandered the little cobblestone streets of the old town some more.




    Somehow, we found the group 5 seconds before the guide announced it was time to break for lunch. So, we looked around for a place to eat and found an inexpensive pizzeria. In keeping with my (failed, but valiantly attempted) goal to try a new beer every day, I discovered a Turkish beer called Efes, which I had to try.


    It was actually rather tasty, I must admit.


    After lunch, the group met at a bridge to continue on to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. There we found a diversity of expositions to explore. To get there, we got to cross this very neat covered bridge, which also seemed to double as a storage area for random sculptures.







    The museum was the final point of our tour, and we made our way back for the bus to Heidelberg.


    This was the second-last weekend excursion I will do here. Stay tuned for a post sometime next week about Sunday’s Black Forest trip!

  • 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!

  • Flight by Night – Train by Day

    Our flight from Halifax to Frankfurt was delayed by almost an hour, but we arrived with time to spare to catch our train to Berlin.

    This was my first flight out of North America, and I found it to be fairly comfortable on our 767. That being said, I was also fortunate that I didn’t have to share my seat with anyone!


    My dreams of free beer on the flight were proven false (€3), but liquor was still available. In nothing but German, I was able to order my first drink: vodka and apple juice.


    It was well mixed, but even with double the pillows I couldn’t manage a restful sleep.

    Frankfurt airport is huge. It is the West Edmonton mall of airports. There are so many services and stores and people, the landing strip even goes over the autobahn! Frankfurt, with the S-Bahn and airport, reminds me of Montreal.

    Once we made it to our ICE train, it was time to make up for over 28 hours of being on the go.


    After some train delays, and a slightly difficult taxi ride, we made it to the hostel, baxpax! We set up our rooms, and the students that had arrived got together for supper at the restaurant downstairs.


    First beer in Germany – check.