My second week in Freiburg has been much more serene than the first. Although my teacher, Frau Klein, is fond of giving us tests, and sitting in class from 8:30-1:00 every day can be somewhat exhausting for the brain, I still thoroughly enjoy the challenge of learning to speak, read, and write German. Speaking and understanding spoken German remain the greatest challenges; I know so little vocabulary that I often cannot formulate complete sentences, so I end up having to speak to others in English. Additionally, so many people here know English that they immediately recognize my limited grasp of German and respond to me in English. I have enjoyed a few small victories, however: I am usually able to order food in German, or to ask if a vendor accepts credit cards, or to ask for directions. It is always thrilling for me to speak in German and have the other person understand what I’m saying!
I have also become much more familiar with the city of Freiburg during the past week, as I spend much of my free time wandering the streets and perusing the shops. Freiburg strikes me as a city in which the old and new are everywhere juxtaposed: sleek modern trains run in the midst of old cobbled streets and ancient stone or brick buildings stand side-by-side with contemporary glass-and-steel apartments and sky-scrapers. I have not often encountered this polarity in the US, although Charleston, South Carolina, the city where I was born, comes close. I hope to learn more about the history of city when I visit the Augustinermuseum and the Museum für Stadtgeschichte.
I always find it engaging to observe the people of Freiburg going about their lives. There are two or three spots in the city where groups of Goths congregate with their dogs; sometimes they are asking for money, other times they just seem to be hanging out together, listening to music. They are marked particularly by their creatively cut or shaven hair, which is often teal, pink, or red. Many non-goths also dye their hair (frequently red) and shave parts of their head, or wear facial jewelry. These aesthetic choices do not seem to carry the subversive undertones than they might in the US.
Freiburg is also notable for the number of bicyclists seen on the streets, and the traffic routes are designed to make riding or transporting a bicycle easier: nearly all the staircases have special grooves or ramps which can be used to roll the bicycle up or down, and there are numerous railings to which a bicycle can be bolted or chained. Walking around the city can be somewhat nerve-wracking because of the steady stream of bicycles whizzing by. This is less of a problem in the areas where the streets are cobbled, however, since cobbling is not so easy to ride over. I have also seen people using their bicycles to transport groceries; although this would not be feasible in any US city I have ever visited or lived in, there are at least eight small supermarkets within easy walking distance of my apartment, so I expect that many people buy fewer groceries more frequently, since the stores are so conveniently located.