Blogs | Visits From The Family

In hindsight I noticed that my previous post was a little bit depressing what with all the revision chat. So this month I have a more exciting experiences to share with you guys, than exhausting exams and horrific Hausarbeits. Over the past month I have not really been in Heidelberg that much at all, I’m such a jetsetter I know. Due to the two-term university system in place at Heidelberg I have essentially had a summer holiday in February and March. That does not mean I have been horizontal basking in the sun next to the River Neckar. Quite the contrary, I have been extremely vertical and in the cold most of the time not to mention experiencing some of the weirdest events of my life.

After a few post exam partaays, I was lucky enough to head off to France for a cheeky family ski trip. We were blessed with some of the most beautiful conditions ever, and sadly we cursed with a confined hotel room and my brother’s flatulence. The contrast between the fresh vibrant alpine air and the asphyxiating scent of my hotel room was incomparable and quite frankly unbearable, so I attempted to stay on the pistes as much as possible. Unfortunately this led to the most profound goggle marks known to man. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining about my naturally quick-tanning gypsy skin and how I looked like I had been on a ski season for the past four months but when you are out of the mountains and back in a dull dark city you look a little odd with an olive skin beard especially being a girl. In my case I looked like a cross between Mickey Mouse and the bearded lady from the local sideshow. Not my best look.

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After my delightfully scented ski holiday some of my family finally made the flight out to Frankfurt to see me. As much as they joked about snagging some national socialist memorabilia, much to my protestations of upholding political correctness, my family was astounded by the beauty of the quaint Heidelberger German streets not mention the food. Obviously I showed them all of my local haunts like my wannabe hipster bars and cafes but they were most happy with the Mensa. The Mensa literally translates to university canteen but it is very different to the refectory we are used to in Leeds. For a start it does not cost you your student loan to eat there on a daily basis because you’re not paying like £5 for a protein-less E-number ridden salad. Secondly the building is an architecturally beautiful space. It’s very Hogwarts arches meets techno German functionalism (okay that sounded a little pompous but you catch my drift). Also it isn’t swarming with sufficiently overhung Freshers in onesies squealing the outrageous night they had in halo, although there are a lot of German couples who are overly expressive about how much they fancy each other. By that I mean there is quite a bit of mid meal PDA, it can sometimes put you off your food. But the funniest thing about the Mensa is that you weigh your food and pay a standard rate per 100 grams. My mum was amazing that she could wangle a Currywurst for €1.80. However it can be a bit mortifying when you realise you have just piled over half a kilo of food onto your plate and the majority of it is mini ‘party’ burgers and mozzarella sticks…


We did do other things other than stuff our faces all day. We sampled the local sights such as the Schloss and Heidelberg Zoo. Although I think the local culture was pretty lost on us as we resorted to replicating those gap year photos where you play with the perspective of the camera as opposed to taking in the view from the Schloss. Oh and due to my most recent obsession with goats we managed to spend an hour at the Heidelberg petting zoo and simply glanced at the endangered Orang-Utans and Tigers. To be fair the goats were cheeky buggers who would head butt you if you didn’t give them food, and thus much more entertaining than the rather sedentary snakes.


Once my I had converted my family to the German way of life they were quickly snatched from me to go and re-join the world of school runs and moped fines. I could not mourn this loss for long as I was headed to Cologne for Fasching or as the cool kids call it Karnival. This is essentially the same thing as Mardi gras in the Hispanic world but by the sounds of things a lot weirder and more ritualistic. Cologne turns into this hallucinogenic, psychedelic city for a week at the end of February/ beginning of March every year where every single person is wearing some kind of fancy dress. But the fancy dress is nothing like sleazy cats and boys in sports kit pretending to be athletes that we often see on nights out in England. Instead there are people dressed at what looked like kleptomaniac bag ladies and ridiculously controversial racial stereotypes, such as Iraqi terrorists and blacked up blokes dressed as Aladdin… If this wasn’t enough there was an enormous parade with multiple fanfares and people dressed up as noblemen throwing chocolates and flowers at you. I have to say this part was a bit of a health hazard; there was many a time when I was almost knocked out with the German equivalent of a Dairy Milk Tray.

But the most obscure experience of this whole weekend had to be the burning of the puppets (yeah you read that right, they were burning puppets). This happened on the last night of Karnival and was meant to represent the burning of all the sins of the previous year and ringing in a fresh start for lent. This description makes it sound like there were a few marionette dolls and a cutesie campfire but boy was it something else! We rock up to this suburban street and there is a man dressed some kind of tin man come master of ceremonies talking in the local dialect whilst a man dressed as Freddie Kruger stood on a gargantuan unlit bonfire. From each corner of the road came a procession of people dressed up as priests carrying extremely lifelike mannequins and were flicking so-called holy water into the crowd with a toilet brush. Once the mannequins reached Freddie Kruger he pretended to wrestle with them disturbingly violently and threw them onto the pile of wood. The fire was then lit whilst a priest said a prayer. At this stage we were completely freaked out and were slightly concerned that we had taken part in a slightly satanic ritual but thankfully we soon realised that it was more satirical that tribal as the master of ceremonies announced that the puppets were responsible for all the woes in society such as blood doping in Sochi and people dancing like pillocs at Karnival. Thankfully our souls were saved.

All in all my experience of Cologne was fantastic from Karnival dance tracks we sampled on our nights out to seeing people dressed up as terrorists and looking round the astonishingly stunning Cologne Cathedral. It wasn’t too dissimilar to my mini-break to Leeds last week, which was also filled with drinking, dress up and weird traditions (#getyourcatout). I can only hope that my next semester holds just as much excitement as these past few months have.

Stay tuned kids as I venture to Budapest, Vienna and Barcelona in the next instalment of the life of Tildred!


Tilly Kersley

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