12 October 2006


My stay in Germany has lasted for only two weeks now, but it honestly feels like months have passed since I arrived in this country. I have been so busy in the last days that I hardly have had an opportunity to post a good entry, and when such opportunity presented itself I was most likely too exhausted to take it. However, time is on my side for the present moment, and I will make the most of it while I can.

Life Goes on Without Freetime

First, allow me to explain the main reason for my lack of free time. Only a few days remain in the presemester intensive German course which I and almost all the other foreign students have been attending for nearly the last two weeks. Class starts at nine in the morning and dismisses at three in the afternoon. Thankfully we have a one hour lunch break to rest our brains. My class group is the largest of three, about 20 people, and resembles a small meeting of NATO officials. The morning teacher, we have one for each half of the day, decided to enforce a seating arrangement in which no two people of the same mother tongue sit next to each other. I blame this on a few French girls, a social nation they are, but seeing as how there is only one other American and one Irishman in the class, my chances of sitting next to a native English speaker before were slim. As long as it may be during the day, I realize the class will help me ease into my semester courses better than without it.

Other school related activities have kept me on my tired feet. On most days there have been orientation tours around town, campus, and campus buildings. There were two full day excursions, Coburg, as you already know, and Nuremburg this past Sunday. Pictures of Nuremberg and more detailed account of that trip are to follow this entry. There have also been film evenings and welcome parties. On top of all these other school related activities stand the necessary tasks performed when moving to a new home and new country.

However, Charlotte eased my experience with the matters in this area. Together we have been to seemingly every public office in town to fill out paper work and take part in the beautiful universal constant of government bureaucracy. My apartment complex required me to open a bank account here so they can withdraw my rent every month. After searching many banks in Eichstaett for the best rates, Charlotte and I decided on the Postbank, as in the bank that is a part of the German postal service. In order to open an account at the Postbank, a foreigner must possess a visa, which in my case required proof of enrollment at the university. I took care of the enrollment, and Charlotte and I returned to the visa office. When I handed the employee my passport size photos that I had brought from home for this exact purpose, he told us that in Germany one can not smile in passport or visa photos; this applies even to babies. Now all that stands behind me, and I think I have just about bought all the items I need to live with in my apartment.

As for Charlotte, I have this to say. This girl is awesome. I could not have asked for a better guide around the school and the city. Case in point, during the visit to the visa office I was given a form to fill out. The office closed in twenty minutes and I was busy searching for additional required documents, so Charlotte said she would fill out the form for me to save time. A few minutes later I looked over at her working and was almost shocked to see how well she knows me by now. Not only had she correctly filled in the easy blanks that asked for my name and nationality, but also those which asked for my birth date, place of birth, religion, and local address. I feel as if I should be paying her for her service. In addition to her cordial assistance she has said that maybe for Christmas I could go with her to her home near Munich. That’s still a good deal of time away, but it intrigues me none the less.

Life in Eichstaett

In my opinion, to put it bluntly, life here is amazing. Considering I’ve only been here two weeks I may be jumping the gun here, but as of now I feel like I could truly live here. Here is a run through of a typical day. I wake up in the morning, get ready for class, and walk out my door. On the way to the bike parking area for the apartment complex (I bought a used bike about a week ago) Willibadsburg Castle often peeks through the morning fog and greets me from its hill-top perch over the city. On my five minute ride to campus I pass private gardens overflowing on to the sidewalk and buildings of centuries past. About half of the ride takes place on a greenway (a pedestrian and bike path) that parallels the lazily moving Altmuehl River. Since many of the streets consist of cobblestones the greenways provide a much more comfortable ride. I arrive at campus, the main portion of which was originally a palace and garden complex for the local Bishop, and still retains its splendor today. After classes I head back home, perhaps stopping in street side shops along the way to pick-up a thing or two. Later in the evening I head back to
the old city center and hang out with some of the other foreign students, more often than not in the Theke, the student bar. At the end of the night I return home and prepare to repeat the process the next day.

The town itself is of course worthy of praise.

I can easily access the natural environment around the town. Dozens of trails for hiking, running, or bike riding lace the hills on either side of the valley and their trailheads are never more than a ten minute walk away. The color change of the tree foliage on the hills began nearly a week ago, and I predict patchwork of gold, orange, and red will soon surround the city. Paved greenways crisscross the area and head toward nearby villages and towns. The fact that Eichstaett lies in the middle of the largest nature park in Germany , Naturpark Altmuehtal, benefits the outdoor recreational opportunities available here, which for me are important as any other necessity in life. The other day I ran on a trail that follows the ridge of the valley and offers a spectacular view of the town down below. At one point a rainbow appeared and spread out over the valley creating a truly transcendental experience.

The Germans seem much more in tune with nature than us in America. I find recycling bins for glass, plastics, paper, and metals all around town. Almost every house has a compost heap in its backyard. Timers automatically turn off many lights after so many minutes have passed in order to conserve energy. Toilets even use less water than the ones I’m used to in America. To top it all off, people walk or ride bikes to go to places in their neighborhood or around town instead of driving. I think this last trait helps explain how the German people avoid obesity while dinning on a diet heavy in meat, potatoes, and high carbohydrate foods.

One must not search hard to find a reminder of the past. History lies around everywhere in the form of buildings, statues, and traditions. In the city center I become lost in time. It seems like an anachronism to find cell phone or computer stores in the first floors of buildings built in the 1600s. Along side new Turkish and Italian restaurants are bakeries and butcher shops. The streets follow irregular patterns over the land that twist and turn around buildings. Narrow stone paved allies lead off to hidden courtyards or other equally mysterious places. It is as if the streets call to me to keep exploring them, to go on around the next bend and discover a new fountain or statue. This characteristic, that is the mysterious allure of an urban neighborhood, is one that many city planners in America now desire to bring to their new developments or return to old ones. I even find myself sometimes living like a resident of the 17th century.

The best example of this is how I get my drinking water. The first few days here I simply filled my glasses from the kitchen faucet, but it didn’t take long for me to one day find particles the size of sand grains floating in the water. I should say that Germans have a certain issue with drinking from the tap, and opt to instead buy their drinking water in bottles from the stores. After finishing the bottles they can usually exchange the bottles for money by returning them to an automatic machine in the grocery stores. One can not even find drinking fountains in public buildings. And let’s not go into the fact that water in restaurants costs money, or that one must ask for water without carbonation when ordering it to drink. I believe that the water from the faucet really is safe to drink, but since finding the particles in my cup I have been a bit weary do so, and have had to turn to alternative sources. Coming from America and not wanting to spend money on drinking water I asked around for other sources. Eventually I discovered that in the old city are two public fountains that provide "safe" drinking water. So now I find myself periodically taking a side trip when coming back from campus to fill up my nalgene bottle from the fountain. One is actually more of a faucet on the wall of the cloister in the cathedral and appears a little more trustworthy for drinking water, so I usually go to this one.

I try explaining to some of the other foreign students how different this lifestyle is for me coming from America, but I think most of them do not understand. A few of them seldom complain how different Germany is from their homelands of Italy or France. If only they could fully comprehend how different it is for me.

Language and Cultural Barriers Breaking

Aside from the complaints every now and then, I enjoy spending time with such a diverse group of people. It’s entertaining to observe the cultural and linguistic differences from each nationality. The French seem the most physically intimate between friends. Some of them often greet or say good bye to each other with cheek to cheek kisses. Only the individuals’ cheeks make contact, never lips to cheek. The first time one of them insisted on saying good bye to me in this fashion I was a bit hesitant, but I realized then and know now I should accept such requests as an invitation to experience a person’s culture and not decline it. Another, more comical observation, comes from the Italians and their language. When speaking English or German they tend to add a long "e" sound to the end of words. For example, "Hello, Nicke."

The difference of languages is still slightly frustrating but with time I find it becoming easy. A good example comes from Tuesday night. At the welcome party a Spanish senorita was trying to talk to me. Her English is limited and she’s only been studying German for one year, so our conversation was slow going. I had to dumb down my vocabulary and speak at a tortoise’s pace, and we had to rely on a third party translator every now and then, but overall it went alright. I actually enjoy having those kinds of conversations because it feels like I’m trying to solve a puzzle. When the other person finally understands what I mean it’s like another puzzle piece has been correctly laid in place.

Other times I catch myself speaking in English to another student who I know can speak good English, only to realize that it would probably be more respectful to speak in German, neither of our native languages, rather than forcing my mother tongue for the conversation. I can sometimes take for granted the fact that most of the students can speak enough conversational English, and forget that for me to begin a conversation in English is a little like them starting one with me in Spanish or Italian. So unless the other person speaks English firsts or requests it I try sticking with German now; in the long run it will be better for me anyway.

When I finally have the chance to speak with the other Americans I feel, as a friend put it, like Shakespeare. It took sometime for me to meet the one other American guy, Chris, in the presemester course. He’s actually here to work as a teaching assistant, but has never taken a full semester course in German. For the first days it was easy to feel like an outsider since almost every other nation represented has a large contingent present. When a group of French girls, for instance, laughed and joked in French, I could only smile. But now when I’m with Chris and there are other foreign students nearby I try to speed up our conversation pace so the others can’t understand our English. Not that I’m trying to distant myself from the other students, far from it, but it really helps when I can speak and joke like I normally would in English.

The exam for the German course is tomorrow, so I should probably end it here to go study. On Sunday the study abroad students travel to Munich to tour the city. I have good memories of that place, therefore I'm excited to return.

I almost forgot, but, as I'm sure you wondered, the titel of this this entry is a German adjective that I learned recently. It means fond of life. Naturally, I commited this fitting word for me to memory as soon as I heard it. After the experience of these first two weeks, I eagerly anticipate the months to come, and the growth of my own fondness of life.

Until later, or, as the Germans would say, bis spaeter.

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