the grace of home

After our orientation in Köln was over, I headed to Vallendar, the place where Schönstatt was founded 99 years ago this month. Schönstatt is the oldest movement of the Catholic Church, and I got involved in the Austin branch my freshman year of college. You can read about my first visit to the Original Shrine here.

The first Schönstatt sighting on the walk from the train station

The first Schönstatt sighting on the walk from the train station

Vallendar is only about 1 hour south of Köln, so I figured I would use my DAAD-funded train trip across the country to multi-task. Unfortunately, that meant that I missed the October 18 anniversary celebration by only about a week, but I did spend a wonderful ~24 hours enjoying the peace and solitude of such a holy place.


Buses in Vallendar only run once an hour on Saturdays, so I just walked from the train station to the Schönstatt land. Luckily, I didn’t get lost like I did last time! By the time I reached the land, my feet were really hurting and my luggage felt pretty heavy, but I made it to the Original Shrine. It turned out adoration was going on, which was just a wonderful coincidence!


One part of the Schönstatt spirituality is the belief that Mary bestows graces on visitors of her shrines. There are three types of graces: the graces of home, inner transformation, and apostolic zeal. I am personally a fan of inner transformation, but this weekend the grace of home was placed on my heart especially.


The more time I spent in the shrines (there are probably 6 or 7 shrines on the Schönstatt land), the more I felt at peace with my life. I felt a real sense of belonging, and I didn’t want to leave.


In some cases, I really couldn’t leave; shortly after my arrival at the Shrine of the Ladies of Schönstatt, it started pouring rain, and I just stuck around a little longer until the rain subsided.


The weekend was very relaxed. I took a nap, I did some reading, I leisurely made my way around to several different shrines and sites on the Schönstatt land. I was only there for about a day, so I took things slowly and didn’t pressure myself to see everything (especially some of the places, like the Fr Kentenich Museum, that I had already seen).


Of course, I was sure to spend as much time in the Original Shrine as possible. I also climbed up Mount Schönstatt, and made a return visit to the Ladies’ Shrine, which might be my favorite. They have a relic of St. Therese of Lisieux, and it is nestled really beautifully up on a hill among the beautifully-colored fall trees.


I also made the hike up to the Tabor Shrine, which I think is the special shrine of the youth movement. Because it was also up on a mountain, the view was gorgeous (once it stopped raining and the sky cleared).


I stayed in Sonnenau, one of the buildings that houses visiting pilgrims. Apparently, there was some sort of children’s event going on, because there were kids everywhere. During meals, I got to eat in a separate little room because I wasn’t part of the children’s group… during each meal, I got to meet some really nice people. At dinner, I got to talk with Sister Anastasia and a visiting woman named Theresia, and the next day at lunch, I ate with a girl who visits every weekend because she works at a hospital in the area. I learned from Sister Anastasia that, even though there isn’t a shrine in Dresden, there is a Schönstatt site out in the Sächsischer Schweiz: a house with an MTA and a sister who lives there. I’ll have to visit sometime!


By the end of the weekend, I was relaxed and rejuvenated from having spent so much time praying, meditating, and enjoying the amazing feeling, at last, of feeling totally comfortable and at home.



The reason I’m in Germany in the first place is because I received a scholarship from the Deutsche Akademische Austausch Dienst (or German Academic Exchange Service, or DAAD). In case you don’t know what that means, it’s basically like a Fulbright, except instead of being supported by the American taxpayers, my research is being funded by the Germans. So, you’re welcome, American friends. I settled for a less prestigious program just for you 😉

The DAAD is headquartered in Bonn (the old capital city of West Germany), which really isn’t that big of a city, so our scholarship group’s orientation was held in the nearby city of Köln (Cologne, in English). The group is made up of grantees from Canada and the USA, and there were about 120 of us. That’s a lot of people, and I definitely didn’t get to meet everyone, but everyone I did meet was lovely.

I'm over-utilizing this map, but I won't assume that everyone has Germany's geography memorized so I'll include it again

I’m over-utilizing this map, but I won’t assume that everyone has Germany’s geography memorized so I’ll include it again

If my Plan II education prepared me for anything, it was this weekend. I was able to have conversations with Classics scholars and engineers alike, asking them about their research and answering their questions about mine. We found common bonds: hometowns in the US, grievances with the German system, love of Köln’s signature beer, Kölsch.


I really enjoyed my time with the other Stipendiaten. It was clear that everyone there (whether they were undergrad students, master’s students, PhD candidates, or people like me who are just along for the ride) was brilliant and passionate about what they do. I had an awesome discussion with a recent Stanford grad studying in Münster about the impact that studying the liberal arts has had on our life decisions, and the fact that being in Germany for a year is going to give us a lot of perspective about what we really want to do in the future. I was able to commiserate about the bureaucracy involved in attending school in Germany, hear about other people’s host cities, and swap travel stories. It was totally weird to be speaking English, with Americans, in the middle of Germany, but it was awesome to be able to interact with so many different people.

Couples place a lock bearing their names (and maybe their anniversary) on the bridge and then throw the key in the Rhine, indicating the eternity of their love.

Couples place a lock bearing their names (and maybe their anniversary) on the bridge and then throw the key in the Rhine, indicating the eternity of their love.

The world is a small place, and the more you travel, the more you realize that fact. I met a guy who got his Master’s from UW-Madison, where I will be in a year, who offered me some advice about finding housing. I also met someone from Kutztown, PA, within hailing distance from where I was born and grew up, and (finally!) the only other grantee from Dresden!! We were very relieved to find each other… it’s lonely all the way over here in the east!

I spotted my favorite German bakery in the train station... I think it's an exclusively-Western establishment, or at least a non-Dresden one

I spotted my favorite German bakery in the train station… I think it’s an exclusively-Western establishment, or at least a non-Dresden one

Throughout the weekend, we had several informational sessions that educated us about different facets of the program and life in Germany. We heard a general summary of the DAAD’s programming and objectives, and we learned about the landscape of higher education and research in Germany. The DAAD staff members tried to answer our questions about funding, bureaucracy, etc. as patiently as possible. We also heard presentations from two Stipendiaten in their second year, offering some insight about what it’s like to live abroad and study in Germany.


As part of the program, we also got to take a guided tour of Köln together. I’m interspersing pictures throughout the post so you can see some of what I got to see. I had wanted to take a German tour, but alas, an English one was available and I went for it. It paid off, because our tour guide was highly amusing.


Köln is directly on the Rhine River and was once part of the Roman empire. That fact really informs a lot of the history of the city. It’s crazy how regional differences define German cities so much, but it’s true; the country has only been united as “Germany” since 1871, and each little kingdom or principality had already spent hundreds of years developing its own customs, cuisine, language….


The most famous landmark in Köln is the cathedral, the Kölner Dom. It has an incredibly complicated history–because of a string of political and religious events, it was completed in the 19th century (many thanks to Napoleon), about 500 years after its foundation was laid. It is said to house relics of the 3 wise men. It is unbelievably large, incredibly intricate, and absolutely beautiful.




Beautiful city, stimulating company, and delicious beer. A great 24 hours all the way out west!

tuesday ten {week 2}

Here’s what’s on my mind this week.

1. Yesterday I walked (about 2 km one way) to the university’s international office to pay an outstanding balance of 30 cents. (Yes, really.) And then, when I got there, the woman who I was supposed to see about the payment told me that I couldn’t pay because she doesn’t have office hours on Monday. But I was persistent (hopefully not rude) and made sure I could pay right then. I paid with two coins. German bureaucracy is ridiculous.

2. This week’s posts are all going to be pre-scheduled because I’m going to London tomorrow! I’m really excited!

3. One of the best developments of my DAAD orientation this weekend was learning that everyone else is experiencing the exact same frustrations with the German university system as I am. This served to confirm my strong belief that I should never, ever decide to actually complete a degree here. If I ever change my mind about this for any reason, you have my permission to talk some sense into me.

4. Another thing I learned this weekend was that long-distance relationships aren’t so crazy or uncommon… lots of the other grantees I met also have significant others back home, or at least not currently in Germany. We’re just cultured and patient, that’s all 🙂

5. I am reading Harry Potter in German. It’s something I’ve meant to do for awhile, and I borrowed the first 3 books from my wonderful roommate and her sister. I’ve made it through the Sorcerer’s Stone (or der Stein der Weisen) so far! I’ve learned a lot of new words and confirmed the exact meanings of many words I hear all the time but never knew how to define exactly.

6. My mental map of northwestern Europe is really off. While in Köln this weekend, I was surprised to find that I was actually closer to Belgium than to France.  Frankfurt is also way more southern than I had imagined.

7. I’m doing laundry for the first time in my new apartment. Hanging everything to dry is an adjustment, but at least I am 100% sure that I will not shrink any clothing while I’m here.

8. Since Daylight Savings Time just ended (a week earlier than it will in the States… who knew??), the sun should start setting in Dresden around 5 pm. Apparently later in the winter, the sun will set as early as 4. The Texan in me is a little intimidated.

9. I’m really excited for Advent. It’s my favorite time of the year, and now I’m in a country that really celebrates it. It’s a deeply-seeded part of the culture to observe the beginning of December as distinct from Christmas. Advent wreaths, Advent markets, Glühwein, hopefully snow… I just can’t wait!

10. My go-to music for homesickness has been Lyle Lovett. The weekend before I left the country, I went to see him in concert with my family in Austin, and it was the best last Texas experience! Texas Country is also great train music (even in Europe).

my love-hate relationship with Deutsche Bahn: a case study

Yesterday, I departed from the Vallendar train station at precisely 5:01 PM, as indicated on my ticket. I saw this as a very good omen for my trip, as the Deutsche Bahn is not always known for punctuality.

A few hours earlier, I had noticed a red flag on my ticket: according to my schedule, I would only have 6 minutes between trains in Mainz, which would be a close call even if all the trains ran on time. I was scheduled to arrive home at 12:05 AM anyway, and I didn’t have much time to mess around if I wanted to get home at a decent time. I offered it up in prayer in several different shrines at Schönstatt just to be sure 😉

(I guess I should mention where I was. I traveled to Köln for a DAAD function on Friday, and when it ended on Saturday, I headed about an hour south to Schönstatt outside of Vallendar/Koblenz. Posts about these trips are forthcoming; I have to get this off my chest first.)

But alas, when I arrived in Koblenz for my first transfer, I saw the dreaded delay notice. Our train to Mainz was “about 20 minutes late!” Well, there went my chances of making the high-speed, direct train to Dresden.


Which, by the way, is apparently in the most inconvenient corner of Germany. See it way over there in the east? Apparently no trains dare to enter that little elbow jutting out into the Czech Republic. Needless to say, traveling to Köln (Cologne, on the map) from Dresden was an amazing feat compared to how far some of the other scholarship holders had to travel. Frankfurt? Göttingen? Münster??? (Which is so close it’s not even shown on the map?) A lot of people came from Berlin, but being the capital/most important city and all, there are all kinds of high-speed trains to and from there.

Anyway, with the news of the imminent delay, I started to get upset. But I observed that many other passengers would also be missing connections, and decided it wasn’t necessarily the end of the world.

On the (late) train to Mainz, I asked the DB employee checking my ticket for my options once I got to the station. She let me know about a regional train from Mainz to Frankfurt, where I could get a train “in the direction of Dresden.” I copied down the times and platform numbers she told me.

The first train was right on time, but when I got to the correct platform in Frankfurt, I noticed 2 things immediately:

1. The train was an Inter-City train, rather than the faster Inter-City Express for which I had paid extra


2. It only went as far as Leipzig–the closest major train station to Dresden, but still more steps than I had anticipated.

That train ride seemed like it took forever, for several reasons. Firstly, it was going across about 3/4 of Germany. Secondly, I started to realize the gravity of my situation along the way. This particular train, leaving at the exact time it did, was not actually going all the way to Leipzig, but rather to Halle, which is not only a little further from Dresden, but is also in Sachsen-Anhalt rather than Sachsen, where I can travel for free with my student ID. I started to make conversation with the woman next to me about trying to find a train to Dresden, and she enlisted the help of both the DB employee in our car and the smart-phone wielding guy in the seats next to us to discover that, although I would be able to make it to Leipzig by transferring a few stations early (at 12:36 am, mind you. At this point I should have been in bed.), I would probably not be able to find a train to Dresden tonight.

Well, that was fantastic. At this point, I couldn’t let it bother me too much, because no one could say with certainty that there wouldn’t be a train to Dresden, so I focused on selecting calm music on my iPod and finishing the 1st Harry Potter book, which I had undertaken to read in German. (Mission accomplished!)

I did make the transfer from Naumburg to Leipzig, which was, to my relief, a direct ICE train scheduled to get us there by 1. However, the concern with which the train employees greeted me was concerning. They beckoned me to come talk to them privately (I was sitting in a quiet car) and told me that there would definitely not be any trains to Dresden until probably 5 AM, and I should probably just find somewhere to sleep in the train station until then.

Well, that was definitely not what I wanted to hear, but at this point, what could I do? I did my best to appear disappointed and dejected, just so they would know, and I went back to my seat to begin angrily composing this blog post. I had just resigned myself to my fate when….

I was again beckoned up to the employee car! There were 2 other people on the train headed to Dresden, and the DB had decided to give us a reimbursement to split a cab! Oh, happy day!

The 2 other people were a married couple from Stuttgart, who were taking a vacation to Dresden (first-time visitors!) and whose trains had been delayed by weather in the south. (This doesn’t explain the reason for my train’s delay, as it had originated in Hamburg, so I guess that’s still a mystery.) Together, we hopped in a cab in Leipzig, grateful that we didn’t have to sleep in the train station, as impressive as it is, and waited. I did have to help the taxi driver navigate once we got to Dresden, as she was obviously from Leipzig, which was difficult in the dark and coming from an unknown direction. But in the end, we did it! And I got home at about 2:30. About 2 hours late.

I don’t really know what to make of this experience other than to resolve to a) fly the next time I literally have to cross a country, and b) always take morning trains, before they have the chance to get delayed. My trains on the way to Köln ran perfectly on schedule, so luckily I was able to make it to the conference on time. Had this nonsense happened on the way there, I would have missed half of my orientation! So I guess that’s good.

Aside from this whole saga, I really did have a wonderful weekend. I’ll continue writing about it and share some pictures later in the week. 🙂

tuesday ten

It looks like Tuesday is going to be my best chance at a regular posting day. I may be able to write on other days, but for now, I’m going to shoot to blog at least every Tuesday!

There’s been a lot going on around here, but nothing that warrants an entire post, really, so a brain dump/top ten-type list is the best I can do for ya. And I don’t have many pictures because I haven’t been taking any (bad blogger), but I do have some from my roommate, Agnes, that she took on our trip to her hometown. My camera phone was not cooperating.

The view of Burg bei Magdeburg from above

The view of Burg bei Magdeburg from above



So here we go, 10 things that are on my mind today!

1. In a group of Germans, it is not unusual for someone to be named Konstantin or Benedikt — no one even thinks twice about these names you would absolutely never hear in America — but the moment I introduce myself, everyone needs me to repeat my name 4 times and maybe spell it before they can understand what’s happening. And they do not know about Annie the musical… I tried that.

2. It is kind of a miracle that I ended up in an acceptable number of classes by the second week of the semester. My research advisor has been at TU-Dresden for over 10 years and he says he still doesn’t understand the website/scheduling system.

3. It is proving difficult to get back in the research game after a few months’ break, but hopefully I can establish a steady routine soon…

4. I just sat through a 3-hour hydrology lecture about the nitrogen, phosphorous, and carbon cycles. I am super impressed with myself. Also, the periodic elements have some crazy German names.

5. I love my neighborhood! As I walk back to the apartment from campus, I totally have a glimpse of the Marienkirche off in the distance, which is a nice reminder that I live in an awesome city, even if I don’t get to be in the Altstadt every day. Also, here is the view out my window, which I wasn’t able to capture a photo of until today:

2013-10-22 05.37.26

6. Somehow my German has gotten really good, even though I hadn’t spoken it with regularity since Freiburg. A normal reaction now, much to my surprise, when I meet someone new and give them the whole spiel (from the US, in Germany for 2 semesters on a scholarship) is “How do you speak such good German?” While it’s possible that this is partially flattery, it’s a far cry from the last time I was in Germany. I guess all that essay writing and 19th-century German literature junior year paid off?

7. I wish I could have a Pad Thai from Thai Cottage right now. I was totally spoiled this summer, when I got to eat it several times a week.

8. There is a little farmer’s produce stand outside the dining hall, and I picked up a beautiful bag of peppers and one of tomatoes after lunch today.

9. I finally have a functioning German debit card; now just waiting on the SIM card for my phone!

10. I’m headed to Cologne and Schönstatt this weekend!


Well, the next chapter of my Germany adventure is upon us! I’ve been here for 4 whole weeks already, and yesterday I moved into my very own apartment which I share with my new roommate, Agnes!

This is me in front of one of the Elbe Castles on the last day with my host family! This is my new favorite outfit, which is the main reason why I'm including this off-topic picture.

This is me in front of one of the Elbe Castles on the last day with my host family! This is my new favorite outfit, which is the main reason why I’m including this off-topic picture.

We’re on the 9th floor, and we have some pretty awesome views. From my room, I can see the tower from a church a few blocks over, which is very stately and 20th century-looking. I like it a lot, except for two facts: one, it faces east, which means I get a lot of sun in the morning (which will be fun come May when the sun rises at 5 am!); and two, apparently the church bells ring at 7 AM. We’ll have to hope that today was somehow unique and that this isn’t a daily occurrence. (I don’t have a picture of my view right now because the sun was shining right at me when I tried to take one.)

However, here is our view from the balcony, on the opposite side of the building, from which we can see this beautiful Orthodox church!



I thought I’d give y’all a little tour! Let’s go!

Ok. So when you walk into the entryway, you immediately get a little American vibe:



Homage to New York

Homage to New York

My room is very cozy: red curtains, several homey light fixtures, lots of bookshelves… it’s very nice. I like it so far.


I am, once again, sleeping in a loft bed, as I did for about two years in college. Every time I have a loft, I tell myself I’ll never do it again because it’s so “inconvenient” and “dangerously near the ceiling fan” and “unstable” (thanks to a faulty lofting kit in San Jac… thanks UT Housing). But every time, I end up in another loft bed. But it’s not terrible. It’s like having your own fort.


This lovely inscription next to my bed means, according to Google Translate, "The early bird can kiss my ass." A good refrain for me to know the next time those dang church bells wake me up!

This lovely inscription next to my bed means, according to Google Translate, “The early bird can kiss my ass.” A good refrain for me to know the next time those dang church bells wake me up!

This time, there is an awesome couch underneath the loft, which is a definite plus. Check out this little alcove!


This corner unit is where I would put my TV if I had one, but since I don’t, I figured it would make a perfectly acceptable Home Shrine.

Roses provided by my wonderful boyfriend on our anniversary (the day before I moved in!)

Roses provided by my wonderful boyfriend on our anniversary (the day before I moved in!)

I won’t lie, one of the MAJOR perks of finding an actual roommate this time (besides the obvious “not being totally alone every day”) is that the apartment was already adorably furnished before I got here! The common spaces are so cute!

First, we have our ample seating space at the dining room table/breakfast nook/whatever you’d call this:


Even more comfy seating in the living room area:


And a little kitchen that does not photograph well, but alas:


Yes, that is a washing machine in the kitchen. (But at least we have one in the apartment! Oh, Europe.)

I’m just settling in (in the midst of trying to get my classes settled… I’d had just enough time to forget just how crazy ridiculous the German university system is, and now I’m having to learn all over again!), but I am enjoying the apartment life so far!

As a reward for reading this whole post, here: have an awesome video about people named Annie moving. #sixseasonsandamovie

the best is yet to come

Classes start next week, I’ll be able to meet with my research supervisors, and I will officially move into my new apartment! Things are getting exciting!

I also went in to campus this afternoon to meet with one of the Geography faculty members, Cindy, who has been helping me out a little in the absence of my professors. She is very sweet, and we switch off between English and German because she is in an English class currently! 

With her help, I finally have a (hopefully) definitive course schedule! Lectures start next week, and seminars the week after.

As it stands, I’ll be taking Integrated Geographical Concepts, Intro to Limnology, Regional Physical Geography, and Watershed Management. All are in German except possibly the last one [there are 2 similarly-named classes, and one’s in English… I might go for the English one because it’s also a Master’s level class in a particularly relevant subject].

I’m starting to get excited and actually feel competent… when things were so far off, I felt helpless to deal with them, but now I’m excited to start my research and I think my project is actually doable! A good feeling to have.

My other win for the day was feeling prepared for the unceasing rain. A rainy day feels less terrible and more romantic when you’re wearing boots and a raincoat, and remembered to bring your umbrella!