30 October 2006

Meet Eichstätt

Eichstätt has been my home now for over four weeks, and I figure it's about time I properly introduce you to it.

Let us begin with the spelling of the name for it may have caused some confusion. In past posts I have written Eichstaett or Eichstätt, the prior is the English spelling and the latter, naturally, the German. The two dots above the "a" in the German spelling are called an umlaut, and together they are a pronounciation mark that changes the sound of the vowel. The name may appear as a tongue twister but it's really quite simple. The first syllable, "Eich" is pronounced like the name Ike in English. The second syllable, "stätt" requires a little more effort. Think of the word stat, as in the short word for statistic. Then add an "h" between the "s" and the "t." Put the two syllables together and there you have it, "Ike-shtat." Now you're on your on the path to speaking German, that is, a very long and tiresome path.

To review, Eichstätt lies in the federal German state of Bavaria, about half way between München (Munich) and Nürmberg (Nuremberg). Its current popluation is around 13,000 people, but I believe that includes the approximately 4,000 students from the university. Eichstätt is also the seat of government for the Eichstätt Landkreis, roughly the equivalent of a county in America. This county is home to its own Catholic diocese and the Naturpark Altmühltal, Germany's largest Nature Park. However, do not confuse Nature Park with National Park. The difference is that people can not reside within a National Park, but they may in Nature Park, alongside the natural surroundings.

The city boasts a long and detailed history which I will attempt to breifly cover. The first inhabitants came to the region around 10,000 BC. The name "Eichstätt" appeared in the First Millienium BC, and comes from Celtic orgins. From 80 AD - 260 AD the Eichstätt area belonged to Roman Empire. In 741 Saint Boniface, who was Archbishop of Germany at the time, sent Saint Willibald to Eichstätt to christianize the Pagans living in the area, and he created the diocese as its first Bishop. Saint Willibald also guided the construction of the first cathedral in Eichstätt. In 908 the city was officially chartered. In 1634 the Thirty Years War arrived locally, and most of Eichstätt burned to the ground. City leaders began the reconstrucion of Eichstätt and lead architect Jakob Engel guided the rebuilding of the city in an almost entirely baroque style. Today, the well-preserved and dense baroque city center, which sets it apart from most other German towns and cities, remains as one of Eichstätt's claims to fame. The city remained undamaged after World War II, and today is Europe's smallest University city, although I am not too sure of what this designation means.

First we must cover basic orientation. Eichstätt lies in the Altmühl River Valley, which one can see in the photo below. The town is flanked on the West, East, and North by the valley ridge. I took this photo from the eastern ridge, looking Southwest. Being in the nature park, there are many hiking trails on the valley ridges and along the river. Perhaps the most obvious landmark in the phto is the castle in the upper right. That is Willibaldsburg, or Willibald's Castle, but, again, more on that later. Behind Willibaldsburg, on the other side of the ridge, are a few other villages in the valley. Find the bit of freshly tilled earth in the center of the photo, then look at the group of buildings directly behind it. That complex is where my apartment is located. On top of the far ridge you can see an open field centered in the photo. This is an airfield mostly used by gliders. Now move your eyes to the upper left of the photo, that dense cluster of buildings is the old city, and behind that is the campus. I know that's a tad difficult to see so let's zoom in.

In this photo you can see the fall colors on the valley ridge better, but still not the old town too well, so let's keep going.

I think this should suffice. The building on the right end, with the two steeples, is the cathedral. Directly left of that stands another tall looking building, the Schutzengelkirche. I believe one can translate this to the Church of the Guardian Angel. A Holy Mass was held here to celebrate the beginning of the semester. The tops of trees which you can see left of that is the campus. On the left hand side of the photo, in the center, you can see what remains of the old city wall at the base of the ridge. Directly right of that is another large looking building, this is the Kloster und Pfarrkirche St. Walburg, or the Cloister and Parish Church of St. Walburg. Funny enough, Saint Walburg was the sister of Saint Willibald.

Now I'll take you to the western ridge and you can get a look of the town from the other angle. My bike takes center stage in this photo, with the East looking view in the background. Real men choose pink. Acutally, the shopkeeper only had three used bikes to choose from and this one was in the best working condition. Conisdering that a new bike would have cost around $500 and this was only $80, I was willing to ride in style with this pink and black sportster. The shopkeeper also used the selling point that the color would probably deter thieves.

As you can see the eastern ridge is more heavily developed. I think that may actually be another town, Over Eichstätt.

In this photo we see the village of Rebdorf. It too lies in the Altmühl River Valley, but on the opposite side of the western ridge. A series of greenways and other walking trails lead to Rebdorf along the river and at the base of the ridge. The large building on the left side of the photo is a monastery. To give a better sense of place, if you could enter the photo and look to the right down the ridge you would see Willibaldsburg.

Here is a closer view of Willibaldsburg from some soccer fields in Rebdorf, but, again, more on the castle a bit farther down the road.

Back in the Eichstätt portion of the valley now, this photo shows the strong presence of agriculture in the area with the plowed filed on the left. I think this is a fairly typical example of the relationship between cities and farms one finds in Germany. True, Eichstätt is no metropolis, but it still exists as an urban area; yet, one finds farm fields right at its edges. They are not industrialized farms either, but local and small scale. This all means that fresher produce can reach the residents of the city quicker and easier, which in turn leads to healthier and cheaper food choices. At the top of the ridge on the right you can also see the brown surface of a rock quarry. Eichstätt is also known for the limestone that comes from the surrounding area. This rock has been used in construction projects around the world and has even revealed quite a few fossils, the third main Eichstätt claim of fame. The view in this photo is also toward my apartment building. You can´t see it here, but let me take you inside.

As I have said in previous posts , my apartment is slightly larger than a typical dorm room. Here is a view of my writing desk. The apartment's a little plain now, but I have some photos on the way to add a little decoration.

Turn around from that view and you find my bed. On the left is my wardrobe. From my understanding most Germans perfer wardrobes to closests in their home.

Take a few steps back and this is the wider view of the room. The glass door leads to my balacony which I share with the apartment next to me.

My kitchen space contains the bare minimals, a sink and a stove top. I feel fortunate the leasing agency threw in cabinets and a table.

The grand tour would not be complete without a photo of my crazy German shower. I searched for nearly two weeks trying to find a shower curtain so I wouldn´t have to mop the floor after every shower. I was almost ready to buy window curtains when I got a tip on a store similar to a Home Depot or a Lowe´s on the out skirts of town that sells shower curtains.

This is the back view of my apartment complex, my building is the farthest on the right. I find the buildings rather ugly from the outside, although the purple I-beams for the balconies add some color.

Not much more inviting from the street side, my building is on the left. On the right is the parking area where we must store our bikes.

The view in this image looks north up the road to the appartment complex on the right, but turn around and you would see my usual grocery store as seen in the second photo below. Keep going in that direction down the main street or take an alley, then take a left at the train station, and you arrive at the city center.

One must cross over the Altmühl River to enter the city center. In the background of the following photo rise the twin steeples of the cathedral.

The statue on the right side of the bridge depicts the patron saint of bridges, placed here to protect the bridge travelers obviously.

Below are the north and south views from the bridge, respectively. In the background of the north view one sees the steeple of the Parish Church of St. Walburg.

Once across the bridge if you take a right you would come to the Residenzplatz, or the Residence Place. The building on the left side of the photograph is the former residence of the Bishop, today it contains the offices for the Eichstätt Landkreis. A statue of the Virgin Mary rests at the top of the column. It was placed there under the orders of a past Bishop who desired to look out his balcony and she the Blessed Mother under the morning sunlight.

If you take a left once across the bridge instead of a right, you could find your way to the Marktplatz, or the Market Place. A statue of Saint Willibald stands atop a fountain near the center of the photo. Many fine examlpes of the baroque architecture in Eichstätt surround the Marktplatz. Orders during the 1634 reconstruction stated that all buildings had to contain at least a certain number of floors to provide enough living space for residents to return. As an incentive to return, the city leaders proclaimed that new and returning residents to the city would pay no city taxes for life.

Below, a narrow street leads to the Marktplatz at dusk.

We see another view of the Marktplatz in the following photo. The city hall is the pink building on the left.

The three following photos display the characteristic look of the city center and the streetscape along its narrow winding lanes and network of alleys. It was easy to lose my way during my first days in town, but now I have a fairly good knowledge of the lay of the land.

Head to the east side of the city center and you find Leonardplatz, Leonard Place, as seen below. The building on the left is the Schtuzengelkirche, who´s top was visible in one of the first photographs.

Continue down the street to left and you reach campus. In this view one actually looks back toward Leonardplatz. The large building on the left is the Sommerresidenz, it was originally a summer palace for the Bishop. Today it houses the administration offices of the (warm your tongue up first) Katholische Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt. Your on your own with the correct pronounciation for that; however, you might find the English translation better: Catholic University of Eichstaett-Ingolstadt. Simpler still, most staff and students refer to it as the KUE.

If you could turn to the left in the photograph above, you would have the following view of campus. These buildings were of course recent additions in the university´s history.

The universtiy´s orgins go back to a seminary for priests which was founded in 1564. In 1980 Eichstätt´s School of Philosophy and Theology merged with the School of Education to give birth to today´s university. This merger was helped in large part by then Archbishop of München Kardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, and the former Bishop of Eichstätt.

Despite what the name may lead you to believe, the university is actually both private and public. It retains ties with the Catholic church, but, according to my understanding, is also a member of the Bavarian public university system. The KUE is the only "Catholic" university in the German-speaking world.

Twenty-six years after its founding, the KUE has grown into praise-worthy center of education. The university has eight faculties (think colleges) and five research institutes. The main campus is of course in Eichstätt, but the business college is in Ingolstadt. The school´s enrollment reaches nearly 4,800, with one-fourth of that number as the business students in Ingolstadt. Nearly one-tenth of the students come from abroad, and many of the German students spend time studying abroad themselves. I could be wrong, but I believe a recent report ranked the KUE as the best liberal arts university in Germany.

In the photo below you can see the gardens located behind the Sommerresidenz. Where the Bishop and his dignitaries once stolled, students now spend their time.

Finally, we can explore the castle. Willibaldsburg was built in the 16th century, but for what specific purpose I am not too sure. Today it houses a museum which I have yet to visit, and a courtyard open for all to enjoy. Within the museum are some of the fossil specimens discovered around Eichstätt, including one prized fossil of a complete Archaeopteryx, one of the earliest birds known to exist. I can see the castle from my balcony and my street, it´s hard to miss on its ridge over the valley. At the bottom of the ridge of the first photograph one sees the train zooming along from Eichstätt toward Rebdorf. The second photo was taken along the greenway also leading to Rebdorf.

At night, spotlights shine on Willibaldsburg bathing its century old walls in a warm yellow glow.

Eichstätt may not offer the big city life I grew up in, but it none the less feels like home to me now. The town is small enough that I can´t walk anywhere without running into a familar face on the streets. People are friendly, and sympathetic for the mos part towards my imperfect German. As small as it is, I can usually find something to entertain me, whether it´s simply hanging out in with friends in one of the bars or exploring a new hiking trail along the valley. Only one month down, but I already know I will miss Eichstätt when the time comes for me to return home. It´s a good little community, and I recommend you stop by if you´re ever in this neck of the woods.

28 October 2006

First Week of Classes

The semester officially began this past Monday, and I finally experienced the true life of this German university. They definitely go about things a little differently than America universities. More things will probably surprise me as the semester progresses, but here is what I encountered for this first week, and of course I'll also throw into the mix a few of the other ups and downs that completed the past five days or so.

On Monday I had two classes, German Conversation II and the Geography of Bavaria. First up, the German course began at one in the afternoon and allowed me plenty of time to sleep the morning away. The Language Center offers this course, and they design it for foreign students learning German, so the teachers speak relatively slow and announciate their words. No book is needed for the course, and little homework will be given; therefore, it receives no complaints from me. Every course taken by me, like most of the courses here, only meet once a week. However, each session can last anywhere from one and half to two and half hours. Apparently German universities do not synchronize their class schedules for the day, and the convesation course ended fifteen minutes after the geography course began.

The geography course is a regular class offered by the Geography deparment, in other words, not designed for foreign students like myself. I emailed the professor beforehand and received his approval for coming late to class. I also needed to determine if we could find a way for me to receive credit for the class for it is only a lecture.

For German students, lecture courses are just that, there is usually no homework, no book for the course, and no final exam. The university expects the German students to attend the lecture, listen attentively, and take away knowledge without the motive of performing well on exams. As you can begin to see, the German university system expects students to be much more independently motivated and to hold themeselves accountable for their academic performance. Imagine what it's like trying to explain to a native citizen the concept of curving grades. In the end, the geography professor told me I could take an exam at the end of the course.

When I finally arrived to the class, about thirty minutes after its start, I slowly walked opened the door and walked in. Essentially the entire class of maybe 75 people turned around to look at me as I searched for a seat. The professor stopped his lecture and said, "Are you the American?" The class laughed after my confirmation and I found a seat by the window. I wanted to take the course for two reasons, I need a culture geography course for my major at the U of M, and I wanted to learn more about the area I now live in. Unfortunately, after about an hour and half I could only take away about things from the lecture. Maybe it was the professor's accent or his topic, ancient history of the region, but I was not able to understand him too well. I decided I would try out another cultural geography course the next day. I was more confident that I would be able to follow this lecture better because of the topic of the course: the USA.

The Geography of the USA began at noon Tuesday and this time I was early to class. It was a good move on my part, because by the time class began students were sitting on the floor in the front of the lecture hall and others were standing out in the hallway. The professor said we would have to move to another room for the rest of the semester, and that he did not anticipate this many students (one does not enroll for classes ahead of time, rather he simply shows up on the first day). I sat in front of some girls from the Czech Republic whom I already knew through the study abroad student activities. They were surprised to see me in the course since it's a topic that I know so well.

To begin the class, the professor played a short movie he made which documented a trip he and some German students took last semester to the American southwest. As the scene faded in to Death Valley and "Born to be Wild" came out of the speakers I realized I prefered this class to the one on Bavaria. The movie also showed portions of their time spent in Los Angeles, and documented such places as the Walk of Stars and a shopping mall. After the movie the professor announced that we were going to take a quiz for fun, and I was ready to show off. There were ten questions about the dates and events in American history, such as the year we declared independence. Then we had to draw a map of the country on a blank sheet of paper and place and label at least two mountain chains, four rivers, the Great Lakes and eight cities. I looked around at my neighbors and the Czech girls and saw mostly rounded rectangles with randomly placed dots and dashes, but also some with an extension for the Northeast or Florida. The heading on our paper included the usual items like name and date, but the professor also asked us to write if we had ever been to America and, if yes, for how long. I wrote, "twenty years."

After the papers were collected the professor told us we would get them back next week and he began the lecture. We covered basic things about the size of the country, number of states, and the branches of the federal government. I think having a background in this topic helped in my comprehension of the professor, because I was able to follow along much better than in the Bavarian course. Naturally, I've decided to stay in the USA course. I might not learn much new information, but it will offer another perspective of America, and provide me with a good method of working on my German comprehension.

After the geography course it was off to German Course 4, another German course offered by the Language Center. This will last two and half hours till 5:30 in the afternoon every Tuesday.

Wednesday I woke up for my 10:30 class, The German Landscape after 1945. It's basically a geography course but the Language Center offers it for foreign students, although odd enough there is one German girl in the class. We will have to a give a twenty minute presentation about a topic at some point in the course, mine will be on the German state of Baden-Württemberg, home of the Black Forest. I might try switching to another course though, because I really didn't get too good of a feeling from the course or the professor. My decision can wait for a little while though, because next Wednesday is a holiday, All Souls Day, and there are no classes.

At one in the afternoon I went to a fencing class. The University Sport Center offers it every Wednesday at this time. It's not a true university course, rather more of an extracurricular activity for students. I never fenced before, but I have always wanted to give it a try, probably inspired as a kid from the light-saber duels in Star Wars. We went over basic positions and movements. Close to the end of the session we donned the protective jackets and helmets and sparred with one another. Those characters in the movies sure do make it look easy. I had a good time and I think I'll be returning in future weeks.

That was it for classes on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday are my best days of the week for classes, because I have none on those days. This will give me ample free time to travel if I so desire, and of course to study. I actually think it might be too much free time, and I'm considering taking an introductory Spanish class for fun.

Many of the European students are taking anywhere from eight to thirteen classes for the semester. This blows my mind since five or six classes per semester is the norm for American college students.

Wednesday night, the start of my weekend, I went to a conversation event at a bar arranged by the International Student Organization. We should meet at the same time every week to hang out and practice our German. Charlotte and many other native Germans attended, so we had people present to actually correct our grammar when desired.

Walking home around Midnight with some Spanish and Italian girls I almost literally ran into some trouble. I was walking the curb of the sidewalk talking with Maria Rosa of Italy, who was walking in the street.

Now I must give a bit of disclaimer before I continue. This was the first time the following event happened to me, and I still do not know how I actually allowed it to happen. I contend that I normally possess an excellent sense of place in my surroundings. With that said, I shall continue.

While talking with Maria Rosa I apparently was not watching where I was walking. To put it simply, I walked into a light pole. To put it graphically, my left brow collided with cold hard metal and I stumbled back in a daze. I kept walking and swore I was alright, but then I brought my hand back down from consoling the place of impact and saw that distinctively red liquid on my fingers. Now if you thought having a handful of nationalities present in one group of friends could be confusing, imagine what happens when that group has its emotions excited by fear and worries. In a babel of languages they guided me back to their dorm building, where they found someone's frozen steak in the freezer. After a little first aid and rest they walked with me back to my home to make sure it got home alright. The spot is only a little sore now, and I'm simply thankful I collided with the pole there and not my nose. But my streak of physical bad luck didn't end there.

Thursday night there was a large party for the whole university in the Theke, the student bar. Imagine three floors of rooms filled shoulder to shoulder with seemingly every student from the university. The party was alright enough, but as I was walking with friends, some of the same from the night before, down the stairs to the exit someone dropped a beer bottle from the top of the stairs. Want to take a guess where it landed? Square on the top of my head. I thought I would be greeting my blood for a second night in a row, but luckily it didn't break the skin. Now that spot too is a little sore. Word travels fast in Eichstätt, the next day I got an email from Charlotte saying she heard about the bottle and asking if I was alright.

Friday I slept in and eventually got around to introducing some foreigners to Ultimate Frisbee, an entirely new game for them. I predict it will quickly spread over Europe.

That's essentially it for my school week. I promise that the post on Eichstätt will come soon. Lastly, remember to watch out for poles.

25 October 2006

Medieval Bamberg

About two hours by bus north of Eichstaett lies Bamberg, a town of around 70,000 people in the Franconian region of Bavaria. UNESCO recognizes the town as a World Heritage Site because of its well preserved city center with dense clusters of historic buildings primarily from the Middle Ages. However, one can find textbook examples of other architecture styles around town. There is also an American military base near by. Under the reign of Heinrich II, circa 1000 AD, Bamberg also acted as the capital of the Holy Roman Empire.

I foresee that last statement causing some confusion and maybe it’s been quite some time since your last history course, so let’s review. The Roman Empire was of course centered in Rome for its wonderful stint in history, but it eventually collapsed around 500 AD. Some time passed, Europe entered that thing called the Middle Ages and a guy by the name of Charlemagne began to have visions of grandeur modeled after the glory of the Roman Empire. Based out of present-day Germany, he founded what would become the Holy Roman Empire around 800 AD. In summation, the Holy Roman Empire (Germany) and the Roman Empire (Rome) occurred at different periods in history. The Holy Roman Empire lasted for roughly a thousand years. I confess that I did have to perform some quick research myself to get the dates. Now with that out of the way let’s get back to Bamberg.

This past Saturday the study abroad students of my semester and some other foreign students went on an excursion to this medieval gem of a town. Here is the play by play of my day spent discovering Bamberg.

Rain greeted us for our arrival in town at around 10 o’clock in the morning. First up on the day’s schedule was a boat cruise on the Main Danube Canal. Below you can see our wheelless rudder bus, it’s the one on the right and obviously the flagship of the fleet.

As the rain let up to a drizzle some of us walked up to the top deck to take in the sights. The majority of the time the cruise rewarded us with lovely views of an industrial district, and at one point we even had the good fortune to pass a landfill.

We did pass through a lock though, and that added some interest to the trip. Here we are upon first entering the lock.

After the water was pumped out we went on our way.

The poor scenery aside, we managed to have a good time with the cruise. This is Marine from France.

We joke with Chris about his perfect teacher appearance.

We actually did pass some attractive scenery, so not quite as bad as it may have first sound.

After the cruise we had some time to get lunch and then we met back up for a city tour. The first photo below came out a little dark, but in it from left to right is Briana (America), Chris, Olga (Spain), Elena (Spain), Fabrizio (Italy), and me with the frisbee.

The main stop on the tour was the Kaiserdom, the local cathedral. It was built under the command of Heinrich II and was the site of his coronation in 1012. A unique feature of the cathedral other than its four towers is its style of architecture, it actually has two. Construction began on the back portion of the cathedral, the left side of the building in the photo below, and is an example of Romanesque style. By the time the right side of the church was completed the Gothic period was in full swing and the builders followed the style of the era. Actually, the cathedral is still unfinished and some construction continues. The church installed the organ only a few decades ago.

Near the cathedral is the New Residence and State Library with a rose garden court yard that overlooks the city. In the second photo one sees the characteristic red tiled roofs of the medieval city center, but look close enough and you can see signs of the 21st century, like satellite dishes.

After the rose garden we headed back into the narrow streets of the city center and passed Wirsthaus zum Schlenkerla, which, since 1678, has brewed smoke beer. As the name suggests, this smoke flavored beer. We then made our way to the Old Town Hall, which in my opinion is the coolest building in town. It sits on its own island in the middle of the Regnitz River and looks like it could fall in with the next flash flood. Towards the end of the day Elena and I successfully went in search of the perfect vantage point to view the building.

Other than some more free time spent roaming the city with the Spanish girls, that concluded my visit to Bamberg. By the end of the day the skies cleared and Bamberg glistened after it’s fresh wash. Below one sees St. Michael’s Cloister overlooking the town from its hilltop perch.

However, the story of the day would not be complete without telling what happened on the bus ride back to Eichstaett. At some point in the drive, Marine randomly sang a song to us over the bus speaker in French. I think she was following through with a dare poised to her by a of couple French boys. Whatever the reason, the light bulb went off in the excursion coordinator’s head. Kristin had the idea for each group of students to sing a song in their mother tongue from their homeland. After hearing from France again, Italy, and France once more, it became clear that we had to prepare something. There were only four Americans, Chris, Briana, Christen, and me. Chris and Briana refused to sing, so it was up to Rebecca and me to represent the USA. As the Czechs belted out their selection, Christen and I quickly realized we had a problem. All nations were singing drinking songs or something of the nature, and we came to the conclusion that America has no traditional drinking or party songs.

The closest thing to traditional American songs we could think of was "Yankee-Doodle Dandy" and "Home on the Range," but we couldn’t remember more than one verse for each. By now most of Europe was accounted for and some poor lonely soul from Uzbekistan was straining our ears. Kristin kept asking for the Americans to come to the front and take the microphone, but we managed to stall every time. We moved on to pop songs, Christmas songs, and Memphis music but either one of us (mostly Christen) wouldn’t know the lyrics, or it wasn’t a song fitting for only a few lyrics to be sung, like the National Anthem. A French boy looked at me and questioned how a guy from Memphis couldn’t think of any songs to sing, then, all in good fun of course, started a chant with his French buds for the Americans to sing. Christen and I decided on the one verse we knew of "Yankee-Doodle Dandy" and walked the long walk to the front of the bus.

It was short and sweet, but too short. Kristin told us to sing more because our selection was so much shorter than all the others. With the pressure on Christen said the first thing that came to her mind: "The Wheels on the Bus." Worse yet, I agreed. And so it was that we represented the good ol’ US of A with a heartfelt rendition of the "The Wheels on the Bus." On the second round of "round, round, round" the other foreigners joined in, and it occurred to me that to those unable to comprehend the lyrics this silly child’s song may actually seem like a drinking song. Who knows, go to a bar in Poland five years from now and maybe you’ll hear "The Wheels on the Bus" being sung by a group of drunks.

In seriousness though, this event reminded me that America still lacks some the deep traditions that fill so many other cultures of the world. Honestly, do we have any drinking songs? I hope that Christen and I are simply clueless on this matter. Coming from the Bible Belt I can think of plenty of gospel and church songs, but nothing from the other end of the spectrum. Please let me know if you have anything, and something other than "99 Bottles of Beer."

Stay tuned for another entry by Saturday on my first week of classes. I have also been busy taking pictures around town, and I plan to make a post about Eichstaett and the university sometime soon.