After weeks of anticipation I have finally made it to Germany, Heidelberg to be exact. I am currently two weeks into my 10 month stay and it has definitely been a learning curve. For a start their skimmed milk is our semi-skimmed, quark is apparently a cheese not a fundamental particle and prawns are pretty much a luxury commodity in terms of price.
Trying to enrol was an interesting task. I rocked up in Germany with my non German-speaking father as some kind of safety blanket who became pretty much useless once anyone started speaking to me in German. As I had spent the previous week in Leeds doing freshers week yet again instead of packing I managed to forget pretty much all of the identification and documents necessary to enrol. Not the best start. When I swagger up to the student union desk thinking I’m some kind of BNOC whose going to wangle her way into this uni with no documents and just grab her student ID and house keys no questions asked, I get immediately put in my place by hardfaced typical German Frau who just keeps aggressively repeating ‘Immatrikulation!!!’ whatever the hell that means. Over the course of the next few panicked hours I swear I have never heard the word ‘Immatrikulation’ used so much in my whole life and I still don’t really understand what it means. Once I finally get enrolled and receive my student card I feel relieved for all of a few seconds as I suddenly notice the visually offensive photo used for my ID. I suddenly have flash backs of an extremely hung over Thursday in the union attempting to take a passport photo with out falling out of the photo booth and throwing up on the floor.
My room in halls is pretty nice. Note that I said my room inside the halls. The outside is much to be desired. As I pulled up on a dirt track outside a building site on my second day in Heidelberg with my friend count still at zero- potentially -1 after I really annoyed the lady at the Student union- I was horrified to see the words: Block 661 on a banner hanging from some rickety scaffolding. That was my block, oh god my halls aren’t finished. There were various panels missing on the outside and as I got into my brand new stereotypically white ikea room I noticed that what I thought was some kind of luxurious penthouse balcony was actually scaffolding overlooking some raucous german builders who I have since accidentally flashed a few times… Drat! But it’s not all bad! The resident tramp has some really cute kittens and an obscure penchant for Miley Cyrus…
The whole Erasmus realm is pretty hilarious. On our first induction day we had a talk from the director of the university, I think. Well it was definitely someone in a suit looking pretty officious. Anyway, to make sure we felt extremely welcome, the university international a capella choir felt the need to sing to us. But not one song, they felt the need to show their sentiment in three flipping languages. For their English song they choose the synth beat 80s wonder track Only You by Yazoo in an a capella arrangement of course. Now if you guys aren’t as nerdy as I am and therefore don’t watch Ashes to Ashes over and over again because of your worrying crush on Philip Glennister you probably won’t quite get the hilarity of 6 people mimicking synth beats and Alison Moyet but try imagine people trying to sing the instrumental of Avicii’s Levels… but worse and with ‘Glee meets acid’ facial expressions.
Naturally I have sampled the local culture. Embarrassingly I have been fulfilling the Erasmus cliché of making the most of my time and travelling around like some kind of phantom gap yah experience. Last weekend we visited the Pfalz region also known as the German wine region. Yes my Echo falls and Blossom hill wine fans there is such a thing as German wine and it’s actually pretty good. Our visit to the town of Neustadt conveniently coincided with the local wine festival in which they had a parade. Now being a Londoner when I think parade my mind jumps to Notting Hill Carnival and loads of spangley outfits, dancing and daggering, you know, the works. But in Germany it means something a little bit different. They substitute the jazzy costumes for lederhosen, dirndls and Shakespearean knickerbockers, not to mention people actually dressing up as grape vines! Obviously the music wasn’t really RnB and reggae as it would be in London. It was more fanfares. No, actually it was all fanfares, fanfares and ‘this one time at band camp’ bands. I genuinely don’t think I have ever seen this many brass instruments in my life nor have I ever before encountered a xylophone shaped like some kind of shield. Very odd. If this wasn’t enough, they also had the Weinprinzessin (wine princess) competition. This is the provincial German equivalent to the Miss World pageant, except their talents are drinking wine and being dragged along by tractors as opposed to singing or hoping for world peace. All in all it was a very peculiar experience.
Clearly Germany has many idiosyncrasies but its definitely growing on me. Heidelberg is genuinely one of the most picturesque places I have ever visited (obviously excluding the building site halls), I finally get why my parents and some nerdy historian friends have gone on about its Schloss. And of course the night life is pretty good: there is a strip of bars which wont rival magaluf or anything but the ersties vibe is brilliant! Lots of hard core techno and trippy canal mills meets oceana venues. Im sure there will be a few stories to tell from the 1 euro beers at the Hard Rock café (yeah people get drunk at the hard rock café instead of stuffing their faces with nachos, how odd!), eLADSmus am I right!
(photos courtesy of Stef Oliver)