The next few weeks are going to be pretty exciting… I leave for Berlin on Thursday for a long weekend, the next weekend is the beginning of our Pentecost Break, during which I’m traveling some of central Germany with my dad and then flying to Poland (!), and then the next week I’m going on a school-sponsored trip to Vienna! So expect lots of cool stories from those big events.
For right now, though, I just wanted to share some random little thoughts with you that I’ve had and that don’t really make up a full post in themselves. Little things about life abroad, life in Freiburg, or whatever it is I’ve noticed. Because small things matter too.
First, I’ve noticed that Freiburgers are really committed to what they like. If they want to do something a certain way, that’s how they do it, by golly. I’ve noticed this personified in two things: ice cream and bicycle riding. Random, but hear me out.
Ice cream (gelato, really) is really popular here… there’s literally a gelato place (Eiscafé) on every street. Cones are relatively cheap and it’s great quality. And Freiburgers eat it all the time. It’s not just little kids that you pass on the street eating ice cream. It’s businessmen in suits, moms pushing strollers, college students, cute little old couples… everyone. And they stick to it. I’ve seen people eating ice cream in the rain. And once after a cold front blew through. On days when even I didn’t find the idea of ice cream the least bit appealing, Freiburgers didn’t think twice about ordering a scoop or two. I admire that, in a strange way.
Biking is also huge… I’d say that half of the city’s population gets around by tram, and the other half by bike. Again, it’s not just college kids or hippies, the way it is in Austin. It’s everyone… businessmen, elderly people, moms and dads with kids. It doesn’t matter what clothes you’re wearing… suits, dresses, skirts; and any type of shoe will do, too. The weather phenomenon holds true here, too. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night will stop a Freiburger from riding his or her bicycle. Even on rainy days when I wimp out and take the Straßenbahn, you can bet that 80% of fair-weather bikers still ride to work or school. The people that impress me the most are the parents with little kids who haul a stroller attachment around on their bikes. That, my friends, is dedication.
Second, Freiburg is as big a hippie town as Austin. Seeing people with dreads walking around everywhere reminds me of home. The street-people-with-mangy-dogs thing happens here, too, but it doesn’t seem to be as widespread as in Austin. I think the hippie population is a little more noticeable now because of the anti-nuclear energy mania that’s gone on since I got here. In fact, the other day, a friend and I went on a little day walk around the city and ended up in the middle of an anti-Atomkraft rally. It wasn’t as much a rally as it was a get-together of banner-toting like-minded individuals in a field listening to anti-atomic energy A Cappella music (not joking). It was like a huge city-wide family picnic. About nuclear power.
Third, I’m learning so much about other cultures… and not just German culture either (though I’ve kind of been repeatedly smacked in the face with it). One of my closest friends here is from Australia, and we spent a lot of the day on Saturday talking about politics… not as much politics, but comparing the systems in our respective countries. She asked me a lot about what Americans think about Obama, and what we think about George Bush, and how elections work and all that jazz. It turns out that news media is biased all over the world, not just in America, so she was glad to hear an actual American’s viewpoint. It’s funny how different our system is from Australia’s considering the relatively similar histories of our countries. I also had a conversation with an exchange student from China. It seems like the structure of second-language education there is actually quite similar to ours… everyone takes English starting at age 10 or so, but then once they graduate from high school they basically stop. I don’t know how accurate that is considering I only talked to one person about it, but it was interesting nonetheless.
Finally, there are certain things about living in another country that you wouldn’t think would be a big deal, but then they are. Like, now that I ride my bike, I’m constantly afraid that I’m unaware of a bunch of major laws about bike riding and that I’m going to get pulled over for breaking them. Or the fact that classes here, if they’re scheduled to start at 10, actually start at quarter past. It took me a few weeks of sitting around for 20 minutes at the beginning of every class before I asked someone about it. What a time suck. Also, Germans know so many bad American oldies. I went dancing with some friends at the Jazz Haus, where it was 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s music night, and I got seriously out-Americaned by a bunch of Germans, who apparently know more Kenny Loggins than I do. Go figure.