First week in Munich

My first week in Munich has turned out to be great. I arrived at the airport last Friday, and the signs (a lot without English translation) all around soon reminded me that I had entered a German speaking world! Cultural shock came out soon as well. It took me a while to figure out how the Germans are still obliged to buy transportation ticket when there is no fare gate at metro station entrance: there are plainclothes who randomly check the passengers’ tickets and would make fine as high as 60 Euros to fare dodgers (in German they are called “die Schwarzfahrer,” the black riders!).

The place I live is in the southern part of the city. It takes me 40 minutes every time to go to Carl Duisburg Institute to take the German course. I enjoy the time on U-Bahn, because it gives me the opportunity to observe the life rhythm of ordinary German people. After an interview, the institute instructor assigned me into an A2 class. The teacher insists speaking German only in class, which was challenging to me (since my German had been a little rusty) at the beginning, but I can feel that I am getting accustomed to it. Besides me, there are only five students in my class: a Japanese, a Brazilian, a Korean, a Pakistani and a South African: a very international team! The South African Pedzi is a PhD student (like me!), whose specialty is modern theater. He has talked to me a lot about the project that he is working on, about how genocide is memorized in modern theater, and I feel it very interesting and inspiring!

Munich is a beautiful city. This weekend I will have time to pay a visit to the famous historic scenes in the center of the city: die Frauenkirche (the Church of Notre Dame), die Residenz (the seat of residence and government to the Bavarian rulers from 1508 to 1918) and etc. As a historian, I am really looking forward to it! And, I will enjoy the famous Bavarian Schweinshaxe!

Radolfzell: Week Eight

This week we learned grammar that was completely new to me. We had reached a point where are our teacher told us it may be helpful to stop translating the grammar to make sense in our native languages and just learn it as German, because we all struggled to understand how to correctly use the grammar we were learning. I understood the concept but kept making mistakes in using the actual grammar in sentences. By the end of the week, I managed to get a better grasp of how to use it and made less mistakes which made me happy.

Since it was my last week in Germany, I ended up trying to eat more traditional German food. Because I had not stayed with a host family, I ended up cooking or buying meals from the most convenient places, most of which were not German. I ate a lot of meat; most of the German food I tried was some kind of meat between bread, such as sausages or schnitzel. Schnitzel was interesting, mostly because it reminded me of a hamburger. It is a slice of meat that has been fried and can be eaten with noodles or with bread. Although I asked, no one really provided a clear enough answer on the historical importance of the food. Regardless, it tasted good and I enjoyed the new foods I tried.

This was my last week in Germany. While I have greatly improved my German, I hope to return one day and become even better. I appreciate this opportunity and all it has given me, whether it be friends from new places or a better understanding of a foreign language. I think most of all, I realized I want to keep learning new material and improving.

Halfway through the Summer in Mannheim

I’ve reached the halfway point of my studies here in Mannheim this summer. Last week my first Goethe Institut course ended, and I’ve had a five day break before my next one begins today. This break has been a good time to rest, travel, do some extra study, and take stock of how my learning has progressed over the past four weeks. On the whole I am cautiously pleased with what I’ve accomplished, which feels dramatic in some areas while being more modest in others. Now that I know how Goethe Institut courses work, and feel relatively settled into my routines of daily life here in Mannheim, I am looking forward to increasing the effort I put into my studies and trying to take advantage of the wonderful opportunities to learn that remain for me here.

Finding ways to learn outside of the classroom has been the most important step I’ve taken since coming here; this is, of course, the whole purpose of studying abroad. My most fruitful experience learning German outside the classroom has been meeting once a week with a local Mannheimer (as residents of the city are called), and talking over tea, coffee, and pastries. I’m doing this through TandemPartners, which matches native speakers of different languages together so both can both improve on a target language. Since I want to learn German and my partner wants to learn English, over the course of several hours together we switch between the two languages, or sometimes speak both at the same time. Along with this practice speaking, having a Tandem partner has also helped me to get a better understanding of the life and culture of the place I am living; my partner has graciously invited me on excursions to the surrounding area that I otherwise would not have known were possible. For example, last week we drove to the nearby city of Ladenburg, where my partner has a friend who is an official tour guide. Speaking in German I could understand, she showed us Roman ruins, medieval city gates, and the workshop where the first automobile was invented by Karl Benz. It was a wonderful tour–and the city of Ladenburg had not even been listed in my guidebooks! This just goes to show that to really learn a language and the lay of the land, you have to get to know the locals.

I’ve been getting to know locals in less in-depth but still significant ways by interacting with people while I am simply walking around Mannheim. The other day someone asked me where I gotten the bretzel (pretzel) I was eating. Another time I had to explain to a conductor that I had forgotten the pass I usually use to ride the streetcar (it’s amazing how quickly your second language improves when you are trying to avoid being ticketed!). Once a woman living on the street stuck up a conversation with me about where I was from and what she was doing that day. All of these interactions, just a few examples of many, are brief, but their spontaneous and colloquial nature help keep me on my toes.

Because of immersion experiences like these, it is my speaking skills that have improved most rapidly during my time here. However, because I am learning German for academic purposes, it is also important that I continue to improve my reading and translation abilities; this is something I’d like to focus on more in the second half on my time here. I’m going to start wrestling with an eighteenth-century text I want to translate (this was one of my perhaps overly ambitious goals for my summer learning), but I’ve also begun reading a less complex book titled Über das Meer, a undercover journalistic account of Syrian refugees crossing the Mediterranean to Europe (the English translation of this book was actually sponsored by Goethe Institut). Lately I’ve also enjoyed listening to and translating the lyrics of a German musician named Philip Poisel, whose music I was first introduced to in my translation course at Notre Dame. By adding these translating, reading, and listening habits to my routine here in Mannheim, I hope that by the end of my time here I will have seen significant improvement in multiple areas of German usage.

These first four weeks have gone by quickly, and I have a feeling that the next four will also fly by. I’m grateful that along with the language learning I’ve been able to travel to some beautiful places nearby Mannheim, such as the city of Heidelberg, or Triberg, a town in the *Schwarzwald*, or Black Forest. My language learning journey has been paired with travels along riverside paths and hiking trails (see photos below). I know that just as there is more to learn, there is also more to see. This blog has been a great way to keep track of what I’ve experienced in Germany so far, and I looking forward to updating it with more posts in the weeks to come.


The Philosopher's Walk along the Neckar River in Heidelberg

The Philosopher’s Walk along the Neckar River in Heidelberg

Triberg's Waterfall in the Black Forest, one of the Largest in Germany

Triberg’s Waterfall in the Black Forest, one of the Largest in Germany

Munich week 3

Week three in München has come to a close and with that my 7th week in Germany is over. Only one more week of classes, then 2 weeks of traveling around with some family members and ill be back in the states. Looking back on the summer, I truly have no idea how it went by so quickly. Anyway, München has had decent weather yet again this week so I have had a chance to do some touristy things this week that I can recommend for the huge groups of travelers reading this…(sarcasm).

1st touristy thing. You must see the Residenz and the theater that is next to it! This was one of the living quarters of the royal family and all their guests. Not only does this building showcase beautiful southern German architecture, but it also portrays the strong influence that french fashion had on the German royalty. The interior is decorated in a strikingly french 19th century fashion, some rooms also adopt the southern German rococo style which has so much detail and gold gilded extras that it often leaves you overwhelmed. I definitely recommend the complete tour, it only takes around an hour and a half and is worth the small charge to see how the royal family got to live.

The secondary recommendation for car lovers is to go to the BMW welt und museum as well as the Mercedes building, in which they have a giant showcase of the newest and famous older Mercedes. Because BMW owns Rolls Royce and Mini Cooper you also get to check out their newest models which was a dream come true for me. BMW is my favorite car brand so I may be biased, but I have to say that the BMW welt (world) and museum really surprised me with how large they were and how many really cool concept models you could see and sit in. For anyone who loves German cars these places are a dream come true and cannot be missed!

Finally, there are many Schlösser (castles/mansion) around and in München that are well worth the visit, but if you only have time to see one in the city, Schloss Nymphenburg is the one to see. Started around 1704 the architecture as well as the park that surround the palace are a wonder to see. Just watch out for the ducks and geese that surround the ponds, they’re bolder than you’d think. So far that the end of my touristy experiences here in München. I have spent most of my afternoons either working on school/scholarship stuff, or playing soccer in the Englischer garten.

As far as school goes, I took a test that determines the level of my German knowledge and officially know German well enough to become a German citizen which is pretty cool. Still need to work on the vocab and sentence structures alittle to be able to study in a German university where classes are taught in German. sadly I only have one more week to work on my German here so that probably wouldn’t happen. Sorry this week I have no “pro-tip of the week” I know this must ruin the week for all of my dedicated readers. Maybe the fact that I have not done anything extremely embarrassing is a sign that I am learning to act slightly normal in this different culture, or I just got lucky all week. Either way sorry all and happy independence day!!



Germany, Britain, and the European Union

As part of my time in Germany this summer I am trying to learn about the country’s political situation along with the language. While the acceptance over the past year of over a million refugees is the major event shaping German politics currently, Britain’s recent referendum on its membership in the European Union (EU)–which is not unrelated to the matter of refugees and immigration–also has received significant scrutiny here and likely has serious consequences for the country. As one of Britain’s strongest allies on the continent, and as one of the EU’s leading nation’s, Germany’s perspective on the UK’s referendum decision to leave the EU highlights some of the central issues at stake in this major development.

Britain’s EU referendum (often referred to using the neologism “Brexit”) is a difficult phenomena to summarize. A motley cast of political actors are allegedly involved: fear-mongers, technocrats, cosmopolitans, a disaffected British working class, immigrants, racists, nationalists, the young, the old, Little Englanders, Europeans, patriots, economists, globalists, and a politician nicknamed “BoJo.” In spite of this carnivalesque scene, however, there are two basic takes on the British referendum that can be illustrated by way of reference–since we are talking about Britain–to a pair of famous Monty Python scenes. On one hand, Britain sounds like the leader of the People’s Front of Judea from Life of Brian, naively and pompously asking, in spite of a long list of benefits, “What have the Romans ever done for us?” Understood in this spirit, the vote to leave the EU is a foolhardy, small-minded, even ethnically motivated repudiation of the broader human flourishing brought about by its membership in the EU. On the other hand, Britain’s choice also recalls the anarcho-syndicalist peasant in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, who tells King Arthur that “Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses,” and when threatened by the monarch cries out, “Help, I’m being repressed!” If the peasant’s perspective is taken as a guide to Britain’s decision, it becomes a matter of a democratic country reclaiming its national sovereignty back from an elite bureaucracy out of touch with the lives of the people. Both of these examples are too simple to stand on their own, but taken together I think they illustrate well the questions animating Britain’s EU referendum decision: what sovereign powers and privileges should nations in a supranational organization like the EU possess, at what point should the inevitable limits of a political relationship be considered as ground for terminating that relationship?

For those who consider the EU a self-evident good, a glorious international project built on free trade and free movement, it would be good to turn away from Britain towards the continent and remember the national interests that drove the formation of the EU’s predecessor organizations, for example, France’s desire for a political platform to spread their interests across Europe, and Germany’s concern to establish a new role for itself post WWII. Along with recognizing the persistence and even dominance of national agendas in the EU supposedly supranational framework, liberal critics of Britain’s referendum decision should also take into account arguments in favor of Brexit coming from the left, which question the ability of the EU to be a working against inequality or to be reformed democratically. The EU is not the institution many, especially Americans, perhaps, imagine it to be, and I think Rachel Donadio of the New York Times is right to say that the referendum “signaled the definitive end of the era of transnational optimism.”

The again, the EU is probably not exactly what Britons voting to leave imagine it to be either. Just as the anarcho-syndicalist peasant, however justified in his grievances, probably overestimates the nature of King Arthur’s hegemonic power, so too Britain may overestimate the EU as a monolithic institution. Thinking about the continent again, specifically Germany, is helpful here. While it is true that some leaders in the EU such as the President of its executive branch, Jean-Claude Juncker, wish move towards a superstate model where national powers are transfered to the EU, the current attitude towards Brexit, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, is that elected national leaders should negotiate the terms of Britain’s departure, not EU officials. Germany takes this stance to a great extent out of self-interest: with the EU’s largest population and strongest economy, Germany can maintain its position of strength and influence by advocating for the autonomy for EU nation states, emphasizing cooperation rather than integration. Britain’s decision to leave the EU is a great loss for Germany, which shares with the UK a more democratic and capitalist outlook that its other major ally (and rival), France. And while French President François Hollande has pushed for Britain to make a quick exit, Merkel has cautioned Europeans leaders to “avoid drawing quick and simple conclusions that could further divide Europe.”

Europe is already, of course, quite divided, and this state is both a cause and consequence of Britain’s referendum: Perhaps the biggest mistake made by both Brexiters and European Unionists is to imagine the EU as a monolithic political entity. Living in Germany this summer makes me a little more aware of the country’s unique place in European politics. In some ways Germany and its recent open borders to refugees represents a major characteristic of the European project some British voters are wary of. Then again, Germany is much like Britain in that it maintains a strong interest in its own national sovereignty. It is therefore somewhat in the middle of Europe politically, as it is in the middle of Europe geographically. Whether the middle can hold together remains to be seen.

2nd Week in München

Finally there has been acouple days this week with no rain so I was free to explore the city and get a feel for what the summer life in München is really like. Its amazing how alittle sun and warmer weather completely changes the atmosphere of a place. As I walked through the old karlplatz (inner city) I was amazed by just how alive and vibrant the atmosphere is here, not just because of the sheer number of people, but all the festivals, live music, and performances going on make the city center a hub for Bayerisch culture and celebration. If you make it to Marienplatz (nearby square) around 12pm or 5pm you can also see the glockenspiel play. This always draws large amounts of tourists and there are almost always some really cool street performances going on nearby.

When you get tired of the pavement, buildings and crowded downtown, you can walk ten minutes to the Englishergarten the central park of München. It never ceases to amaze me just how large the parks are in Germany, the Englishergarten is so large that you can be inside it and not see any buildings whatsoever (it’s in the middle of the city). Another plus is that the river Isar (eisbock) goes through the park. In this there are places for surfing, swimming, or just lazing down the river in an inter tube. I could not believe the beauty of this park when I went to visit it on a sunny warm day. There are massive fields of sunbathers, people playing volleyball, Fußball, or throwing Frisbee’s. Music is played everywhere, and whenever you get too hot, you’re always welcome to jump into the Isar and let it carry you to a different part of the park. Also, if you work up an appetite, there is a biergarten in the middle of the park that can seat over 7000 people and always has great traditional Bayerisch food and drink.

This weekend we made use of the good weather and made a trip out to Chiemsee one of the lakes around München. From this lake you get a clear view of the alps and have ample opportunity for enjoying good food, boat rides on the lake, and gorgeous scenery. It is only an hour outside the city via train so I would recommend this to anyone as a day trip with friends, its well worth the 7 euro train ticket for the day.

Class things, so I am still the only American that I know of here in the München CDC which has been awesome for getting to know people from other cultures and practicing my German. The classes also have gotten very difficult, we have covered (in theory) all of the grammatical structures of German and have a good base vocabulary so now we are learning how to same things in a more academic or educated manner. This has caused endless amounts of frustration, because I am able to say most of what I would ever want to, but now I have to relearn how to say something in a different way so that I can sound more formal. Naturally the formal way of saying something is much more complicated than the casual way. It also requires verb noun combinations that make almost no sense if literally translated to English, so this has proved difficult. I am continually asking “why is this verb needed here” or “why is this noun here”. The difference between what is said is minute also, for example, it could be the difference between saying “can I ask you a question” and “may I pose a question to you”.

Pro-Tip of the week! This will save you endless amounts of embarrassment!

-When jumping in the Isar make sure that your swim suit is tied very tightly, the river is actually very quick and will take your shorts if you are fighting the current, and although it is perfectly legal to be naked in the Englischer  garten (there is always a section of naked people) I am guessing that most prefer not to join them. Until next time!


Radolfzell: Week Six and Seven

The past two weeks have been a bit of a blur. We have begun new material, much of which is a bit new to me. Although I have general knowledge of most German grammar, we are now learning more in depth grammar. It is interesting to see how much my writing has improved when I look back at homework assignments from the first week. I can definitely write longer and more complex sentences, and I have greatly improved my vocabulary. There are always new words to learn, however, but I am always interested in the logical formation of German words. My speaking has gotten quite a bit better as well, but I hope to continue to improve. My accent has improved greatly, and almost everyone can understand me when I speak in German now. I am a little worried about forgetting my German when I come back to the USA, because it is only getting better now by speaking every day.

I have asked about slang words, which I surprisingly have not heard used quite often. For the most part, the slang words I have asked about are well known by both young and old people. Apparently, it has been a recent thing to say things are “cool”, which is an English word but widely recognized by both younger and older people. “Sauer” is also a slang expression; literally, “sauer” means “sour” or “acidic”, but colloquially it is used like the word “angry”. This is an expression used by both older and younger people, and everyone understands what it means. The last slang word I learned and asked about was a little more controversial. Recently in the German language, younger people have used “geil” to express that something is “awesome”. But the tradition meaning of “geil” is “horny”. When I asked younger people about “geil”, they did not seem shocked or upset and explained that it was like “cool”. But for older people, they were shocked, although they explained later they knew the more modern use of the word. For older people, the slang word “geil” was more associated with the sexual meaning, because that is how it was used for most of their lives. Only for the younger generation is the word not automatically associated with a rather crude word. One person explained that in the future, the new meaning of “geil” will completely replace the old one.

This past week, I went with a group of students to Hohentwiel in Singen. It is an old castle on the top of a steep hill. Despite the rigorous walk, it was quite beautiful at the top. Everything was very green and sunny. All of the tops of the buildings were covered with plants and you could actually go up on the roofs of the buildings, because parts of the walls were worn down. We spent the afternoon walking around the castle and it was incredible to see the history of the place.

1st week in München (5th week overall)

I arrived in München after a 8 hour train ride from 1am to 9am after five train changes throughout the night. I would not recommend just picking the cheapest train ticket to anyone after this, most of the trains were not LCE, (the kind that have comfortable chairs, are quicker, and are just overall better). However the 39 euro price instead of 70 won me over, but I repeat, it is definitely worth the extra money! Anyway I arrived to my host family just in time for breakfast. Immediately they set to making one of the most amazing breakfasts I have ever seen. Caprese salad, scrambled eggs with tomato, onion, and schwarzwald speck (bacon) with a plate of 5 different types of both meat and cheese along with strawberries, apricots, and cherries and orange juice and a cappuccino. Needless to say, we spent about two hours at breakfast talking/eating, and I felt welcomed at once.

The classes here have been much better organized that the classes in Berlin. In Berlin it was really a “find your own way” type of atmosphere, but here they make sure that the extra curricular options are known to everyone. As I said before they put me in a B2.1 class which is where you start to meet other students who are trying to study in Germany. Most of my classmates are actually DAAD scholars from all over the world, who are given 5 months to learn German before their classes begin. Needless to say their German is excellent and often puts mine to shame, but it is nice to finally have some non-German friends who can speak about complicated subjects freely. I am the only american in the group, and so far I haven’t met a single other american in the whole school. So far the group I have been hanging out with after school consists mostly of Italians and Swiss students, along with a few students from South Africa.

The Fußball spirit here is amazing, with the EUFA 2016 tournament going on. Every day huge groups gather at Biergartens and Olympia park to take part in public viewings. Its great to watch the games with people from all different countries because someone is always really invested in at-least one of the games of the day. sadly I haven’t explored the city too much yet. The weather has been continually overcast, cold, or raining, so I am hoping that next week will turn out better for outdoor exploring.

At-least the bad weather has given me an excuse to work on my Fulbright application and a few others that I haven’t as of yet dedicated near enough time to. I know it’s really disappointing for the crowd of dedicated readers… but I do not have a pro-tip of the week this entry, because I have not made any noticeable social mistakes. This only means, I haven’t been out in public enough. The only tip I can give you all is never take a non-LCE overnight train just because its cheaper! I am sure to make a mistake by the end of next week, so tune in again to learn from my mistakes so you don’t have to have the same awkward experiences as me. Until then!

Radolfzell: Week Five

This week I learned about religion in Germany during “Lernstudio”. Almost all public holidays in Germany are actually church holidays, with many of the German people being Christians. For the most part, the local Germans all know their public holidays because they are avid church goers and thus recognize these holidays by their formal names, such as Corpus Christi from a few weeks back. Younger children do not seem to understand the religious background of the holidays, but in general most people are well aware of which holidays are which. My teacher had given a pretty detailed explanation of Corpus Christi; it is a solely Catholic holiday and is not always considered a public holiday in northern Germany. He explained that the southern part of Germany tends to be more Catholic than other regions, and many of the cities in the south have parades on Corpus Christi to celebrate. I remember I went to mass on Corpus Christi, which they celebrated outside in the town center. It was mostly older people and children that came with their parents. There are no public holidays coming up, so I asked a few local people about Corpus Christi, since it had been the most recent. While my teacher had given a very formal background of the holiday, the public holidays are typically considered time to spend with family. Most people do not have to work on public holidays, so they can spend time with their loved ones. Plenty of the students staying with host families mentioned barbecuing together or just having a large meal in general. In that sense, the public holidays are very different in their religious background as compared to the actual meaning for the people who celebrate them.

I believe my speaking has improved quite a bit, because I have less people switching to English when they hear me speak. It makes me happy that I am improving, and I am now very comfortable ordering food, making casual conversation, and contributing in class. I still think I need to learn more words, but that is something I need to continuously work on. I have bought a couple books in German and am struggling my way through them; I learn many new words this way. I have also made it a habit to look up words in advertisements or signs I see that I do not understand. I hate having to rely on my phone as a dictionary, but it is quite convenient. My little notebook with words I had not known grows bigger each and everyday, and I am very proud of it. In hindsight, I feel that staying with a host family would have been very beneficial in terms of improving my speaking, as the guesthouse is not always occupied. I still try to go out and find people to speak with instead, but it would probably have been easier to manage with a host family.

I also visited a friend in Lucerne, Switzerland this weekend and I had a little trouble adjusting to the Swiss German. It was also harder to engage in German because so many people just spoke English there. I saw the Lion of Lucerne as well as a rainbow, due to the constant drizzle. When I arrived back in Radolfzell, I felt so blessed to be here. Lucerne was a large city, full of tourists, noise, and English speakers. It was beautiful, but had such a different feeling from Radolfzell. Here in Radolfzell, everything is peaceful, and while most people can speak English, they typically stick with German. I grow even fonder of the language as I hear locals speak it; my tongue always feels so clumsy trying to pronounce certain German words, but it sounds so effortless and smooth when a local says it. Although my days here have become relatively routine, I still feel so excited and so lucky to experience life in Germany.

Work and Respite in the City of Squares

Today I completed my second week of classes at the Goethe Institut in Mannheim, which means I’m already a quarter of the way through my studies here. It’s been a full two weeks: my classes run from 8:30 AM to 1 PM Monday through Friday, and when I’m not in class I’ve been exploring the city and adjusting to life in a new place. My studies at the Goethe Institut have helped to solidify the German I’ve already learned while continuing to push me forward, especially when it comes to speaking. Goethe Institut has several great locations throughout Germany, but I am glad that I choose to come to Mannheim, a mid-sized city where I’ve already made a few wonderful discoveries.

The Goethe Institut was founded in 1951 with the purpose of providing additional training for foreign teachers of German in Germany. Today it serves as the Federal Republic of Germany’s cultural institute, teaching German language and serving as an ambassador for German culture broadly defined. Goethe Institut’s global reach can be easily deduced from my class’s international composition: my fellow students are from Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Ireland, Tunisia, Vietnam, and the United States. Our classes are structured around activities and interpersonal interaction (carried out completely in German, of course), so we’re consistently required to mingle with each other. This approach has been very helpful for my own particular learning. I started studying German this year in a graduate reading course that focused exclusively on translation into English. It was fast-paced, and I learned enough to competently translate German given enough time and a dictionary, but my knowledge was more broad than deep, and I could essentially only read. The intensive classes here at Goethe Institut have allowed me to develop a better grasp of some of the grammar I learned so quickly before, and the focus on interpersonal interaction has helped bring my conversational skills up to speed.

The grammatical area I’ve sensed the most improvement in so far has been the German case system, which I think is a significant challenge for English speakers. Whereas in English there is only one definite article, “the,” in German there are five, “der,” “die,” “das,” “den,” and “dem,” and they can signify sixteen different kinds of noun depending on gender, number, and case. That’s a paradigm shift! When I was learning to translate I had to have familiarity with the case system, but I could get away with a little guesswork: all I needed to do was translate German definite article into “the.” Being required to speak German has forced me to get closer to the case system, and to develop a more precise understanding of how the language is working. Overall, even though I’m still a beginner when it comes to speaking German, I’ve taken significant steps beyond the Goethe Institut placement interview I had to do upon my arrival. Then I could barely string a sentence together to say what I needed to say, and now I do this kind of thing on a daily basis in class.

Of course, speaking in class is different that speaking on the streets, but I’ve been doing some of this too. Mannheim’s streets, in fact, are quite distinctive. Much like Philadelphia, and built around the same time, Mannheim’s city center is laid out as a chessboard-like grid, a testament to the Enlightenment’s rage for order. Unlike Philadelphia, however, you won’t find a Chestnut or an Arch street here, not even a Goethe Straße: the grid is organized by letters and numbers, so blocks are referred to as “A4” or “K7.” This layout has garnered Mannhiem the nickname “die Quadratestadt”—city of squares. While this may seem a bit impersonal, Mannheim’s city center contains a number of public spaces and historic buildings, and is largely pedestrianized, so walking the city makes for a nice break from study. I suppose the Enlightenment was never as orderly as it hoped to be, and that here, there, and everywhere, it sometimes is hip to be square.

While Mannheim’s most famous sight is the Wasserturm, my favorite thing to go to downtown is Wochenmarkt, the weekly farmer’s market held in in the Marktplatz. Here I can take in the wide array of fruit, vegetables, breads, cheeses, and, of course, Wurst, that the vendors bring in from the area. Last week I approached one of the stands selling Wurst and asked for help selecting from the many kinds of sausage that were being sold. The vendor very patiently helped me, teaching me the names of the various sausages and giving me a summary of how spicy they were. I took several home and enjoyed them very much. Yet even outings like this on the city grid practicing my German can feel taxing at the end of the day. I’m learning how much energy it takes to make one’s way around a foreign place using a foreign language. For this reason I’ve been thankful to discover recently, completely by accident, that my apartment is a five minute walk from a heavily forested park that borders the Rhine river. At the end of the day being able to go here and stroll along the bank, passing other people by and not having to say a word, is a welcome respite.

Mannheim's Water Tower

Mannheim’s Water Tower

The Rhine

The Rhine