Wednesday, April 8, 2009

So many excursions, so little time

It has been many moons since my last blog entry, and to all my adoring fans, I apologize.

I last left you with a description of my pending adventure to Ludwigsburg, where we saw a castle, and Esslingen, where we went wine tasting. Unfortunately, the weather left a little to be desired, but it was nonetheless a lovely trip.

Our first stop was the castle in Ludwigsburg.

Every room was very ornate, and had that castle elegance that no home should be without.

Including marble statuettes of naked children wearing solid gold scarves.

Now I know what you're thinking, this is a ridiculous foyer. But don't worry, all the marble is only a facade because having marble all the way through was too expensive. See, the king of
Würrtemberg really did live just like the rest of us.

There are two interesting things about this throne. For one, since it was the queen's throne, it rested only on two tiers. The king's throne had three. Second, you might notice that the throne was...ahem...oversized. Both the king and queen of Würrtemberg were a bit overweight, to say the least.

The king's bedroom. Nice.

Servants' living quarters. Not nice. Also, notice the bell. It was of course connected to the central bell system of the castle which could be used to to summon servants at all hours.

The royals' personal theater.

I anticipate my dorm room looking like this in a few months.

I think when the marble work on the walls starts to look like extravagant mold, you know you've gone too far.

Nice garden.

Who says you can't have style and keep out the rabble at the same time.

On a slightly historical note (the rabble reminded me of it), the first king of
Würrtemberg was Friedrich. He was 6'11 and weighed 411 pounds. According to our tour guide, he fathered over 200 children out of wedlock. He had notably red hair, and apparently most of his children received that trait. Another amusing fact about him was that he was made king of Würrtemberg by Napoleon, which creates an interesting image of Friedrich juxtaposed with the emperor. At one point, Napoleon remarked that God created the Prince (Friedrich) to demonstrate the utmost extent to which the human skin could be stretched without bursting. In return, Friedrich wondered how so much poison could fit in such a small head.

In the afternoon, we walked to a German film academy across town. To be quite honest, it looked a lot like what I would expect American film academies to look like, but we did get a nice tour.

Continuing on to Esslingen (the hometown of one of my Mitbewohnern, by the way), we were given a two hour free time to wander through their Altstadt. This being about the hundredth Altstadt which I’ve wandered through, the weather being cold and rainy, and being tired from a long day of walking, a few of us wasted no time in finding a nice café and breaking out the cards. We did manage to get out of the café to wander around for a half hour or so, though.

The cards would emerge shortly.

An excellent example of a traditional German Fachwerkhaus (half-timbered house).

Mandatory fountain in the middle of town.

Now the highlight of the day: wine. Our venue was less a restaurant and more an underground cellar, walls/ceiling made out of stone with a curved ceiling. It was the perfect setting for this activity. What was also nice was that Deutsch-Kompakt was the only group in the restaurant, so there was no one to annoy as the drinking progressed. For every glass, the sommelierin gave us a description of the grapes used to make it, where it came from (all of them were produced in or around Esslingen), and what we should be tasting. Every student was given six full glasses of wine. It was incredible. By the end of the night, I had had six different, delicious wines, and had to make the difficult decision of which bottle I was going to buy. I eventually went with a white wine, a Grauburgunder, which is a bit drier than a Riesling, but nowhere near a Chardonnay. It cost me a whopping four Euros.

And let the drinking begin...

Our Sommelierin showing us how to swish, sniff, and enjoy wine properly. We felt very sophisticated.

Our dinner may not have been the most filling meal I've ever had, but it did complement the wine.

The bus ride home from Esslingen was also especially entertaining…36 Deutsch-Kompakt students x 6 glasses of wine each / median age of students (21) = 10.29 rational statements made throughout the course of a 60 minute bus ride. Collectively. And that’s German math.

Overall, although the weather could have been better, our day excursion was a ton of fun.

On Friday, we had one of our funniest activities/outings yet, which was a trip to the local bowling alley. The walls were of course painted with scenes from the American southwest (really, I have no idea why). We started out speaking German (I swear), but soon we all realized that none of us knew any German words for strike, spare, gutter ball, etc. Even the tutors had no clue, and pretty soon everyone was just speaking (and sometimes singing) auf Englisch.

As for the weekend, it was a pretty quiet one. On Friday night, I went to a party with some of my German roommates/friends. It was delightfully filled with trashy American music (I’ve come to expect no more), and at one point, a rousing game of limbo. On Saturday night, I had dinner with my Tandempartnerin, one of my roommates, and a friend from Deutsch-Kompakt, followed by a viewing of Sabrina, the Audrey Hepburn movie. I think this was an especially important activity to remind me that not all American culture is comprised of what one sees in Germany. Plus, I didn’t have to take a bus home at two in the morning.

On Monday night, Gökce, one of my roommates (when I say I went out with one of my roommates, it’s almost always Gökce, for clarification purposes), invited me to go to karaoke at one of the bars in the Altstadt. How can I say no to an offer like that? Although I personally did not get up and sing, I must say that I knew most of the songs, and was greatly entertained by the Germans trying to figure out the English lyrics. We also ran into at least 10 people, either from Deutsch-Kompakt or from other activities who I knew, proving exactly how small Tübingen is. So small, in fact, that I’ve decided that whenever I’m bored from now on and want to meet up with people, I’m just going to go sit out in front of the church and wait ten minutes. Someone will come by, guaranteed.

On Wednesday we had our final grammar test and essay. It was very bittersweet; on the one hand, no more class at 9 in the morning, but on the other hand, I’m not guaranteed to see all my friends everyday anymore. That’s okay, we’re all here for another 4-5 months, so I guess it’s not that sad.

That night, to celebrate, I met up with some of Gökce’s friends (unfortunately Gökce left on Wednesday morning for a vacation before semester begins) and we attempted to go to the local/only club in Tübingen. When we got there, one line to get in was at least 2 hours long (I know people who waited over three hours to get in). The problem was that Wednesday nights are not only student night, but also that all the German Gymnasiumschuler (high school studentsz, basically) took their Abitur (equivalent to the SAT) that day, and so they were also celebrating. We tried to get in via a slightly shorter line with a special pass. The cute girls had no issue getting in, but as soon as the guys got to the door, the 7,000 lb gorilla of a doorman said no. We decided not to argue. We ended up wandering around the Altstadt (my favorite place to wander, by the way), and eventually had a few drinks in a student bar right by the church. This particular bar, Der Blaue Salon, is actually turning into one of my favorites in Tübingen. For one, the beers are 1.50, and it’s also just a really nice atmosphere. My friends informed me that it is a favorite watering hole for the philosophy students and there are all sorts of quotes from Goethe, Schiller, Kafka, and others on the walls. My favorite aspect of the bar is a sign outside, directly across from the church: “Hier kotzte Goethe.” This requires the explanation that practically every old building in Tübingen is trying in some way to associate itself with Goethe. He did study in Tübingen for several years, but sometimes it’s hard to believe that Goethe really slept/ate/drank/cavorted/revelled/dabbled in magic in all these different buildings (or maybe he actually was that talented, who am I to say?). So this particular sign mocks all of the others by informing passersby that “Goethe vomited here.”

On Thursday, our teacher and tutor threw us a large, traditional German breakfast (Frühstuck). It had all the fixings that one needs for this delicious meal, including salami, ham, various cheeses, rolls, pretzels, bagels (those were for the Americans), coffee, tea, and probably some other delicious treats.

Here was also our opportunity to give our teacher Janine a present for her wonderful teaching. On Wednesday afternoon we had gone shopping and found a baby store with a really cute outfit for her newborn, which should be born sometime in the next two months. For Pia, our tutor, we got a nice bottle of wine from one of the fine wine shops in the Altstadt. Over the course of the last few months, over the course of many late nights in bars and many dinners in nice restaurants, we were pretty sure she would enjoy that.

On Thursday afternoon, we had a Stadtfuhrgang (city tour) given to us by students in our class (this was their class project, whereas mine had been sports). This was especially nice because now that we had all gotten to know the city fairly well over the course of a month, they now showed us a ton of stuff which we may not have seen yet. Also, this was really the first spring day we’ve had so far, and it was absolutely perfect. Their tour was so good, in fact, that I have requested their notes so that when/if people come to visit me in Tübingen, I will be able to give a thorough tour. Afterwards, a bunch of us went to get ice cream and sit out on a balcony overlooking the Neckar. This might have been one of the best moments in Tübingen so far for me. I love spring.

Madison looking like a badass. Couldn't help but include this. Geographically, we're standing on Neckarinsel, the island formed by the Neckar briefly splitting and reconverging roughly 150 yards later. The plane trees on this island, including the one behind Madison, can be up to 200 years old.

Now this is just a really pretty view of the island.

Our tour guides telling us about the Tübingen Schloss. I've never been so grateful for having to squint because of the sun. I was really excited about spring.

This is the Marktplatz of Tübingen, in front of the Rathaus. I've already included a picture of it, but I think the nice weather merits another.

Now to the ice cream place.

I'm not sure if I'm laughing or yawning. I am sure, however, of what Madison is doing. Being a badass.

This is almost the whole group at the ice cream place. I actually got to take the picture, and got to lean way out over the edge of the railing to try to get everyone in. Live, our Norwegian friend, should be on the far right, but I wasn't willing to risk leaning out any farther. Madison may actually be holding out a cautionary arm to prevent my falling.

This was the view from our balcony. Schön...

On Friday, we had our last excursion with Deutsch-Kompakt (tear). This was the much-anticipated trip to Stuttgart. We started out with a visit to the newly built Mercedes-Benz museum. I have to say, I’m not a car person, but this was one of the coolest museums I’ve ever been in. They give you these audio guides which sense where you are in the museum and automatically play the appropriate spiel. You can also select which aspect of the particular exhibit you want to learn about: general, history, technical, or for children. I only learned afterwards that the kids’ spiels were by far the best. As evidence for how much I loved this museum, we were given approximately 1 hour 15 minutes to go through it all. 45 minutes in, I was still on the first of 4 floors. And in one of the funniest moments yet for me in Deutsch-Kompakt, I actually missed the bus. At first I was really nervous that it was going to be hard to meet back up with the group, but then I realized that I had unwittingly given myself an adventure, and I love adventures in Germany. Turned out that it was really easy to find the group again in downtown Stuttgart, and only an hour later I was sitting down at a nice outdoor Italian restaurant with my good friend Madison.

Throughout the museum, I was trying to decide which car I was going to take home as a souvenir. These were nice, but I'm not sure they would be able to handle the tough streets of LA and/or Providence. Next.

I do like the idea of cruising around in the Beatles' Magical Mystery Bus, but it could be hard to find a parking spot... Next.

Done. My new car.

My other new car. (Decisions are hard!)

I think I might be running out of garage space...

A shot of the museum from a distance, just to get a feel for the architecture. Everything about the museum was just really cool.

Pretty soon, it was time to head off to the next item on our agenda, the ballet. That’s right, after all this, the fine organizers of Deutsch-Kompakt are still under the impression that we are mature adults, and that we deserve to go to the ballet. Well, it gave me an excuse to wear my suit. The ballet was Der Widerspenstigen Zähmung, or the ballet version of The Taming of the Shrew. I fortunately got to sit next to Sarah, and we spent a good part of the time matching each scene with its 10 Things I Hate About You counterpart. It was quite amusing.

But before we could get to the ballet, why not take a stroll through Stuttgart. Along the way, we saw a few of the main sites of the city.

Like every proper city should, they had a grand obelisk in their central square.

We had a few minutes before the ballet, so you know what that means. Let's find some beer/wine.

I'm just saying that Erin, Madison, and I clean up real good. I believe we all enjoyed the opportunity to break out the class.

This is definitely the picture for the back cover of my first book. Never mind that the cigarette isn't lit and that I may have borrowed it from a friend.

And now...

 the opera!

Please note all the Schickimickis.

Oh my, who are those fashionistas? From left to right, Calley, Emilia, Madison, Erin, Sarah S., Live, and yours truly.

During intermission, Erin, Erin's scarf, and I enjoyed a heart-to-heart. We discussed the relative merits of the different dancers. I personally thought that while the main actress' pirouettes were spot on, the ballabile at the end of the first act was mediocre at best. Erin, however, thought that her brisé was quite elegant, but her bras croisé was lacking both in pose and in execution.

The second act of the ballet was just as enthralling as the first, but I think it'll be a while before I go to another one. I can do opera, but I'm afraid ballet just isn't my thing.

By the time we got back to Tübingen that night, it was just the right time to go to a bar (and no, there is no wrong time to go to a German bar, if you were wondering). And, to my delight, that meant another trip to Der Blaue Salon. It was significantly more full than Wednesday night, but that also made it a lot of fun.

On Saturday, I couldn’t resist an offer from Courtney to go to Stuttgart again. Her Tandempartnerin and Sarah also came along, so it was a good sized group (certainly less cumbersome than the 40 people in Deutsch-Kompakt). Courtney is basically an Olympic figure skater (okay, maybe not Olympic, but she’s really good), and she really wanted to go skating before the season ended (and the season officially ended Sunday). That meant that she also had to put up with the three of us, none of whom could keep up with her. Nevertheless, we really enjoyed watching her put on a little show for us and for some German onlookers.

I like the still fails to capture my wild attempts to stay upright.

Courtney making the rest of us look bad (actually we asked her to perform for us, but I'm going to complain anyway).

One last look back at the ice rank. From left to right, Monica, Sarah M., me, and Courtney.

Afterwards, we walked the short distance to the Stuttgart Fernsehturm, the first TV tower in the world.

A shot of the tower through the trees.

It was a bit overcast, but the view from the top was still pretty nice.

I seem to be enjoying myself.

After we descended from the tower, we took a brief walk through downtown Stuttgart before heading back to Tübingen.

Along the way, we found the greatest Cadbury bunny ever. That is, until we bit into it to discover that there was no chocolate inside. Germany clearly has no respect for this sanctified tradition of Easter.

We decided to make it an early night and head back to Tübingen before dinner. After dinner with Madison at a really great (and cheap!) Thai place in the Altstadt, we went to a party at one of our classmates apartments. She’s a little bit older than us (she’s studying medicine at Tübingen), so it was a classy dinner party, making us feel very mature. The theme of the party was a bit unusual, though. She had learned about this fruit, called Miracle Fruit, which, when you hold it in your mouth for a few minutes, will completely dull your ability to taste sour. Therefore, almost everything becomes very sweet. She assured us that it was not a drug, and that there’s actually research being done on it to see if it might be able to help with diabetics. Taking her word, I tried the fruit. For the next hour or so, I tried almost everything she had put out (the food was specifically chosen to eat with this fruit), and sure enough it was a bizarre experience. Beer suddenly tasted like apple juice. Wine was of course grape juice. Tobasco sauce was still spicy, but tasted a bit like oranges. It was very strange, but also quite interesting. Most of the people there were med students, so it was amusing to listen to them hypothesizing on exactly how this fruit worked and what potential it had. That is definitely one of the most interesting parties I have ever been to.

I believe that is a thorough summary of all the main events that have gone by since my last update (whew!).

Per my usual habit of constantly changing what classes I might be taking, I now have a new list of potential courses. Highlights include:

History of the Reformation, Ethics of the New Testament, Law and Constitutional History of Germany, The Crisis of European Liberalism between the First and Second World Wars, The History of Sport, and several others.

In other news, I will be leaving on Sunday (Easter) for London, to visit Jason (my roommate at Brown) over at Cambridge. This will be my first trip to England, so I'm very excited. I'll be there for five days, so I should have enough time to tour the local area.

I think that's about it for now. Once again, a few photo credits are necessary. Thank you Courtney (as usual), Sarah, Erin, Calley, and Will for providing me with fodder for the blog. And of course, thanks for reading, congratulations for getting this far...I know I don't make it easy.