bucket list

Here’s what I’ve been up to during my last few weeks, trying to soak in all the Dresden fun before I leave!

DSC06648Filmnächte am Elbufer! For all of July and August, the city of Dresden presents movies on this huge screen right along the Elbe. (That’s where I watched the Germany-Algeria game as well as the WM final!) Felicitas and I went to go see Prisoners, that movie with Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal that I knew would be too intense for me when I saw the preview. Turns out, it was too intense for us! So we left early. And I had nightmares. 

Soccer! I never got to a game last season, but luckily (?) since the Dresden Dynamo moved down to the 3rd Bundesliga this year, I was able to catch their very first game! It was an… interesting experience. Imagine a Texas A&M football game with the energy of Oakland Raiders fans. But they won!

Going to the cathedral when possible, as I really love it there and will miss it! Here we see the tail end of Thursday adoration, my last one. 

DSC06665Bidding farewell to friends. Adri, in the middle, is a fellow DAAD scholarship holder from Mexico. She cooked Felicitas and myself a delicious Mexican feast, which we enjoyed on this balcony with a fairly average view:DSC06663Overlooking the Stadtmuseum with a view of the Frauenkirche (hidden behind the tree on the left). Not too shabby!

DSC06658Abschiedsfeier! Felicitas and I had a little get-together of some friends where we grilled out in a park near our apartments! It really fun and we’re so appreciative of all the lovely people who came out to wish us well before we leave!

DSC06675 DSC06670 DSC06669Swimming in the Elbe! This was really fun. I may go back one more time before Thursday…

DSC06683Museums! We went with Daniela to the Militärhistorisches Museum (a statue outside of which is pictured above). Not pictured: us getting caught in the rain on our way to dinner and getting completely soaked! Later this week I’m hoping to get an appointment to see the Historisches Grünes Gewolbe museum exhibit in the palace, the last of the palace exhibits I haven’t seen!

last week in the WG with a view

It’s hard to believe I only have a few days left here! As the week starts, I wanted to share a photo project I’ve been working on: the views from my apartment through the year! I present: Die Vier Jahreszeiten.

West (from our balcony):


East (from my window):

2013-10-22-05-37-26DSC03946DSC04937One day after I took this shot, landscaping crews cut down a whole slew of those trees, leading to the final “summer” view, or what my view is at this very moment, which really underscores the reality check of living abroad.DSC06649Come to Germany! Then you, too, can experience the joy of being woken up not only by the beautiful bells of this church every morning, but also the sounds of a garage being demolished right outside your window!

Enjoying my last week! You’ll hear from me a few more times, I believe 🙂

EDIT: Check out how cool this is!!


today’s nerdy thoughts: the mixed blessing of flexibility

I just got back from my last meeting (or, as it could accurately be called, my fourth meeting) with my main research advisor for the year. I went into the meeting with a bit of resentment, as she did not respond a month ago when I sent her my full rough draft, and a bit of anxiety, as I always dread getting feedback about my writing. But I came out of our conversation with a renewed sense of optimism and opportunity! Here’s why.

For my whole academic career, I’ve always been a bit jealous of the future engineers, businesspeople, etc. who had a very clear path: XYZ classes during college, a summer internship with ABC company, and hopefully a job offer for after graduation. A discrete check-list to fulfill and check off, and a quantifiable plan to follow.


As a future social scientist/writer/consultant person in a nebulous field, I never had that (especially before but even after I had a clear area of interest). My summer internships and jobs have all been somewhat random and, if a full-time offer ever came from them (which never happened), it wouldn’t result in a job I’d be qualified for or even want to have. But I have been slowly accumulating skills along the way, skills which will hopefully be helpful to me once I am launched on the right path. And I have had, and hope to have in the future, a lot more control over molding these opportunities to fit my interests, lifestyle, and goals.

The way I’ve thought about this year’s research opportunity has been much the same. It would have been much clearer and easier to work in a professor’s lab, do the daily tasks, and write a research report at the end of each week or month. But instead, I had the very nebulous task of creating my own research project, finding sources, conducting interviews, and creating some kind of meaning or result out of it all. While working under the advisement of professors whose focus area isn’t even close to what I’ve been studying. And with the vague idea that my topic (flood management in Dresden) isn’t exactly what I want to do in the long run, anyway.


So, sometimes it was stressful. But today, after talking with my professor, I was able to see some of the wonderful fruits that will eventually come from creating my own opportunities and taking the road less traveled to my someday career. While this year’s research topic may not be the subject of my life’s work, I chose something important, current, and applicable that almost no one has researched yet. My paper tackles themes that relate to almost any question of environmental or natural research management, whether or not it is related to flooding or Germany at all.

In the more immediate scope of things, it’s possible that I can work with someone at Wisconsin to rework parts of my paper for publication. My professor also threw out the possibility of continuing to work on the topic together! In particular, one thing that my study has always been missing, which I simply couldn’t fit into a 10-month time frame, is raw data from some sort of census or poll of Dresden residents about their flood experiences.

She suggested the idea that she and some of her colleagues could conduct some such poll, and then use that data to expound upon the work I’ve already done. Which is actually really exciting! I had never actually considered that the dinky, self-guided research I’ve been doing could be my “way in” to real academic circles!


We also discussed the “bigger picture” themes that are included in my research: top-down versus bottom-up decision making in communities, resilience to natural disasters, citizen participation, and hard versus soft implements in natural resource management, all of which are applicable beyond just flood management and in other geographic areas than Germany. So my experience this year has broadened my mind and got me thinking about themes that will be important no matter what I decide to do in the future.

But something my professor also pointed out is that my main interests and experience in my past research tend to skew towards regional comparison, which could lead to some exciting opportunities in the future: learning lessons from researching one area or scenario, and being the person to apply that knowledge to another situation in a practical way. That’s exciting to me.

Thinking about all these things actually got me thinking about a potential writing project I could start in the future! Even though writing has always been my one talent, I have never really been all that inspired to write for anything besides school, or this silly blog I suppose. So it’s weird to say that this is an oddly new prospect.



I would never be able to consider something as daunting and nebulous as “writing” if I had ever been on a really clear professional track, so in the end, I am very grateful that I have been able to seek out my own opportunities and define my own path, even though it gets messy and frustrating sometimes.

Anyway. Just a sort of wrap-up update about the intellectual side of my experience. Accompanied by some photos from a walk along the Elbe, my main intellectual pursuit during this year!


freiburg (with a strasbourg bonus)

Well folks, this is my last travel post! How did we get here? [how the hell? Pan left…] I had about 10 different plans back in October of how I would get back to Freiburg, and in the end I went my second-to-last weekend in Europe, but better late than never! I brought Felicitas along with me and hopefully did not annoy her too much with my constant wonderment at being back.


And because we procrastinated in finding a hostel/apartment/hotel, we weren’t able to find anywhere in Freiburg for Saturday night. So, we decided to go to Strasbourg for the evening before going our separate ways on Sunday, myself back to Dresden and Flitzi to visit her grandparents in Wiesbaden. It all worked out wonderfully!

We had an early flight from Dresden to Stuttgart on Friday morning and then took a series of regional trains to Freiburg, which took about 4 hours because there isn’t anything direct! Which is a bit ridiculous, but anyway, we made it there by 2 PM. Our hostel was very basic but had an amazing location right off the Dreisam (technically a river, apparently, but more like a creek), adjacent to the Schlossberg hill which overlooks the city. We saw some of the sites as we walked to the hostel, and I began my 24 hours of marveling at how time and memory work.


I was in Freiburg three years ago. I’m a totally different person now than I was when I left. I’ve spent so much time thinking about Freiburg and missing it and reminiscing about it. And then to be back… it was like no time had passed, but like an eternity had elapsed since I was last there. It’s strange. But in all, it was nice to be back. We’ll leave it at that.

Because we were so nearby, we climbed the Schlossberg first, taking in fabulous views like this one:


And I recreated some old photos from last time:


We tried to find the overlook tower but somehow failed, so we descended into the city, bought some bottled water before we died of thirst, and started meandering the familiar (to me) streets.

By the time we got there, the Münster market had mostly already closed and packed up for the day, and we got to briefly see the inside of the cathedral but there was Mass happening so we couldn’t stay for long. After a quick trip to dip our feet in the Dreisam and an even quicker “tour” of the university, we stopped at my very favorite restaurant, Euphrat, a middle eastern place owned by an Afghani family. I ate there close to every day while I lived in Freiburg and I have dreamed (dreamt?) of their food ever since. And it did not disappoint my memory!



We enjoyed a scoop of ice cream near the theater (which now serves as the end station of most of the tram lines due to major construction in the city center) and jumped on a tram up to my old abode, StuSie. I do not have fond memories of StuSie (my dorm was disgusting and I didn’t have many friends there to speak of), but one good thing about it was always its proximity to the Seepark, a gorgeous park surrounding a huge lake. So that was our destination for the evening.


My only regret: that I forgot my swimsuit in Dresden!!! It would have been so refreshing to take a dip.

OH!! One other thing I got to check off my Freiburg bucket list–sitting on the Blaue Brücke, a bridge over the train tracks. All the cool kids go sit on the top of the bridge and drink beer, and i never got to do it… until this time! It was incredibly terrifying but hey. I did it. (Minus the beer. Whatever.)


On Saturday morning, we rented bikes from our hostel first thing so we’d be able to use them all day, and first stopped for breakfast near the university at my favorite bakery, Ihr Backshop. They’d renovated since I was last there, but the pastries are still just as delicious. After making a quick stop at the post office to buy stamps, we set out for our first destination of the morning: the Schönstatt shrine in Merzhausen!


I seriously wish I had visited the shrine more often when I actually lived in Freiburg! It’s in an absolutely beautiful location, and to be honest I was in a place mentally and spiritually back then that could seriously have benefitted from some more time spent chilling with the Blessed Mother. It was fun being back there and telling Felicitas a little bit about Schönstatt (not easy to do, but she was a great “student”). It was great to be able to re-center myself in a familiar place and hopefully receive some graces as I go through a huge transition in returning home and then moving again!


One fun bonus: there were blackberry brambles all over the place with ripe fruit!! While we were in Merzhausen we filled up a whole tupperware container with delicious blackberries, which we continued to refill throughout the day as we saw more bushes.


We cruised back into town, parked our bikes near the Augustiner (it’s a chore to walk them on cobblestone, and foot traffic was way too heavy to ride through the streets) and headed for the Münster and market, which we hadn’t yet seen!


We did a quick loop through the Münster, which was packed with tourists, before spending some time perusing the market. It’s absolutely insane to me how big the daily market is in Freiburg. Every day with dozens of stands selling fruit, vegetables, flowers, herbs, meat, spices, toys, souvenirs… It’s so lively and fun! I spotted a vendor with some tea that we loved when I brought it as a hostess gift to Krakow, so I bought a satchel of it to bring home 🙂


Euphrat had been so delicious the day before that we opted to eat there for lunch, this time ordering wraps to-go which we ate sitting along the Bächle.


We continued meandering through the streets, taking in the unique medieval-but-modern charm (and wondering to ourselves how it could be so different from Dresden, yet in the same country!), and I insisted that we stop at the Feierling brewery Biergarten. Felicitas doesn’t drink beer, so I ordered a solitary half-liter because I’m only in Germany for two more weeks and I need to enjoy it while I can! 😉

Hmm, sorry for all the indulgent pictures of myself... my  blog, my rules.

Hmm, sorry for all the indulgent pictures of myself… my blog, my rules.

With our time winding down until we had to fetch our things from the hostel and head to the train station to catch our bus, we headed again for the Dreisam. It was amazing to spend some time relaxing, wading in the shallow but frigid water, and enjoying the fact that nature and city can coexist so closely! It really is beautiful there.


The next thing we knew, we were on a bus to Strasbourg, and before long, we were standing in France! Against all odds, we made it to our hotel (we had a private room AND bathroom. LUXURY), changed and freshened up quickly, and walked to the famous Strasbourg cathedral for Saturday night vigil Mass.

Normally I highly endorse going to Mass at beautiful churches to avoid entrance fees and get the authentic experience, but in this case it was literally the only way that Felicitas and I were both going to make it to Mass. Mission accomplished! Luckily we had read the readings ahead of time so we kind of knew what was happening. We did get to have a little fun making up our own words to the Mass parts.

It turns out that things in Strasbourg are expensive, especially food. Luckily, we did happen to stumble upon a restaurant/brewery that was un-touristy enough to only have a French menu and seemed to mainly cater to students and young people. Ergo, affordable Alsatian food for all!

Flammkuchen and beer

Flammkuchen and beer

Strasbourg is a beautiful city, you guys. I’d been there with my mom at the very beginning of my 2011 European adventures, but that was before I really became a conscientious traveler and I hardly remember anything except seeing the astronomical clock and dancing apostles at the cathedral (which, incidentally, was out of order this time due to construction). I don’t recall much else! But it’s gorgeous. Surrounded by a canal from the Rhine, the city has so many beautiful bridges which were even more gorgeous this time of year because of the flowers they’re decorated with!

DSC06549Not to mention stunning gothic architecture and lots of German-style Fachwerk houses.

We got to see a lot of the city in the short time we had by taking a boat tour. It was a little oddly-paced, and at some points we were really low and couldn’t see much that the tour recording was telling us about. Regardless, it was a good choice because we got to see and learn so much in a short period of time.

A few quick facts (with not many accompanying photos because most of our tour was after nightfall and the photos I attempted to take were awful):

  • Strasbourg is part of Alsace-Lorraine, the contested territory between France and Germany. It’s gone back and forth so much, but the truth is that it’s its own distinct region with aspects of French and German culture, architecture, language, etc.
  • Strasbourg is the seat of the EU Capital, which I had no idea about until this weekend! We got to see all of the parliamentary and official buildings, which were stunningly modern and striking, especially at night!
  • It is really awkward to sit in a tour boat both in front of and behind incredibly amorous couples.
  • During the summer, they have light projection shows on the Vauban Barrage (one of the city’s important landmarks) and the cathedral. We got to catch both!

On Sunday morning, I walked Felicitas to the train station as she left for Wiesbaden and I bought my ticket to the airport for later that afternoon. I spent the rest of the day walking around and seeing parts of the town I hadn’t gotten to the day before, taking photos, getting caught in the rain, going inside to cafés and restaurants and paying too much money to avoid the rain, and writing postcards.

Here are some photo highlights!

On the water at dusk

On the water at dusk (that church is not the cathedral)

Before Mass shot!

Before Mass shot! (That church is the cathedral)

Detail shot of the cathedral

Detail shot of the cathedral


The Covered Bridge, one of Strasbourg’s signature sites, once used as an armory. Cathedral in the background!


Casually donning an Alsacian costume and headdress




I would say something meaningful here about this being my last trip of the year, but I’m just as tired and burnt out writing about it as I was at the end of the actual trip. So I guess I’ll just include a little taste of my next destination….


just checking in…

I’m working on writing my LAST travel post, but it’s taking a while for one reason or another, mostly due to my total lack of initiative to do anything whatsoever. So in case my many avid readers are dying to know what I’m up to… here we are. I’m working on cleaning out my room: packing, donating clothes that didn’t make the cut, throwing away trash based on Germany’s careful 6-category classification system, and trying to do at least one cultural or Dresden-specific thing per day.

On the “going home” front, good news! About 6 weeks ago, I sent the first of two packages to my aunt in Chicago, hoping to cut down on luggage on my way back to Houston and then on the way to Chicago when I move. Three weeks later I sent the second package. Then, the first package oddly went missing and I had no way of tracking it. But! I finally received notice that the MIA package has arrived at its destination. So now I can stop worrying about that and move on to more important things.

This week: a few last museums, some outdoor activities, a (hopeful) last meeting with my advisors, and a going-away party for myself and Felicitas!

I don’t know how many more posts I have in me. A ranking of Dresden’s museums? A photo dump documenting my last few weeks’ activities? (I think you can count on that, actually.) I have a few thoughts rattling around in my head, but I don’t know how interesting they’ll be to anyone.

(Why this post made the cut, we may never know.)

To make it worth your while, enjoy this photo which I never got the chance to share: evidence of my travels in the form of a shoe tan. Thank goodness that I’ve almost gotten rid of it by now…


lessons as a listicle

It is a terrible cliché that one travels abroad (or embarks on a post-graduation “experience”) to “find themselves” or “learn about life.” Mostly because… those aren’t things you can wake up and do, as if you were checking them off of a checklist. As life happens, the finding and the learning are found in the everyday, gradual things.

That’s one reason I’m glad I’ve gotten to live abroad rather than just traveling for a short period of time. These things take time, and they take reflection. So, here I am to reflect. In the style of 21st-century journalism, of course. I have learned a good number of things this year–about the world, myself, what I believe, what I want… and I thought I’d share some of them as I attempt to parse through them 🙂

Listed in no particular order:

1. People are people. This is a huge one. No matter your ethnicity, nationality, or main place of residence, most people are fundamentally the same. I have experienced many incidences of people from various places assuming things about people from other places, ranging from harmless to vitriolic: all German people like beer, all people who travel or live abroad are enlightened, all people who can’t speak a second language are ignorant, all Europeans are lazy, all Americans love guns and hate all other countries… and the list goes on and on.

However, this year I have also had the opportunity to get to personally know many people from many different backgrounds, and have usually found more exceptions to these stereotypes than people that conformed to them! Yes, national or ethnic stereotypes are usually rooted in some fragment of truth about what a society values in general, but rarely does such a stereotype describe any particular person within that society. On several occasions, I have gotten very angry about people (Americans and non-Americans alike) letting their prejudices get in the way of truly learning about people and places that are foreign to them.

The only way that we can move past the “othering” of strange people and places is to experience them at a personal level… to really know another person and to have a relationship with him or her, rather than defining them based on vague and ineffective categories. This is one of many reasons why I think that everyone would benefit from living abroad at some point in their lives. The people you meet will definitely have annoying habits or attributes, and because they come from a different culture, they may do things you don’t understand or believe things you don’t agree with. But they are people. They are people like you, with likes, dislikes, dreams, ambitions, and feelings. The things we share as humans are more fundamental than the cultural things that divide us. We all have so much to learn from each other, because at the core, we all have so much in common.

2. That being said, there is one universal truth: all tourists, no matter their age or country of origin, are fundamentally aggravating to all non-tourists. 😉

3. Hospitality = Gastfreundschaft. Those two words are technically synonymous, but “Gastfreundschaft” literally means “guest friendship,” and I think it’s important to think of hospitality in those terms. It is really hard to be new in a different country, city, school, church, workplace, or group of friends. The friendly and hospitable thing for the “established” people to do is to extend a hand of friendship to people who are new. This is especially important when we’re talking about being new to a country, because often there is some degree of a language barrier, and there is a new culture and new social cues and structures for the new person to navigate… so, from where I stand, the “established” people need to be the ones to act. And to act beyond just a “hello” and a handshake… an invitation to come out with everyone later, an exchange of phone numbers and a follow-through with a call or text, a real conversation. And for goodness’ sake, at the very least a greeting or acknowledgement when you see them later at a party, meeting, or event.

Without getting too much into it, I’ve met people who were lovely and hospitable and open, and people who were very, very not. Let’s just say that there is a reason why many “international” people in any given place stick together: because, more often than not, the existing group or community doesn’t offer an adequate point of entry. (They are often not aware of this.) Thinking back, I’m not sure that I have been the best about this when I have been in my own little comfort zone at home; I have probably come off as cold or closed off when I thought I was simply being friendly enough and going about my day. But new people need your hospitality, and they need to be included and regarded as “friends” in order to feel at home.

4. We are truly blessed as Americans to have contact with so many diverse people, opinions, and lifestyles within our own country. It might be (incredibly) annoying and aggravating that Americans are 50/50 divided on just about every political and social issue in existence… but I have realized that the, ahem, lively variety of opinions and values in the US has made me acutely aware that not everyone agrees with me, and in many cases has given me a reason to really, truly know what I believe and why I believe it. I’ve encountered people from more homogenous countries who, until meeting me and discussing whatever issue or opinion it happened to be, seemed to have no idea that people thought differently than they did! Just because most people where they are from generally agree, and they haven’t had contact with anyone who was much different from them. It’s easy to get stuck in our own little “bubbles,” but the liveliness of American public and private life is a gift we should cherish, as it helps us to better understand others and ourselves, and to live in (relative) harmony with people who are different from us.

5. Personally, my diligence is only matched by my laziness. I had a very loosely structured life this year, and there were absolutely days when I sat in my apartment and watched TV all day, and there were even more mornings where it took me 2, 3, even 4+ hours to get my butt to the library. Then again, I wrote 20 pages of my report in the eight days before I left for Spain in February, and wrote a total of 60 pages (a whole Plan II thesis!), over 14,000 words, about flood management, with little to no supervision from anyone, for better or for worse. And I’ve been told that it actually makes sense! So, although I could definitely improve in certain virtues regarding my “down time,” I can get things done when it comes down to it 😉

Besides those “big picture” things, there are small nuggets that I’ve been chewing on, as well. Like…

Even though it’s sometimes annoying or inconvenient that stores in Germany close on Sundays, it’s a welcome reminder to take the Sabbath seriously. I hope to keep up the Germany-enforced habit of not shopping on Sundays in favor of more reverent, less frantic activities.

In a similar vein, the chance to live more simply this year with fewer clothes and possessions, a small but sufficient monthly stipend, no car, and a disincentive to buy much (namely, having to bring it all back to the States somehow) has been a good practice in living the kind of life I want to in general. [Have less; love more]

However, I will be glad to have a bit more wardrobe variety upon my return, not to mention easy access to black beans (a staple of my diet that I basically had to cut out this year) and new music on the Internet that is not blocked by GEMA.

Finally, I am excited for my next adventure: graduate school. I think that, in the end, I will be very glad that I took a year off to decompress from my four years of college, and I am ready for the more structured, disciplined life that Master’s student life will provide, as well as the many opportunities ahead!

how to get rid of that pesky american accent

So you’ve finally learned German, and probably spent years learning all of the erratic grammatical rules, genders, and adjective endings. But Germans still won’t take you seriously because you sound like this:

Yes, this is a problem many of us know well. Even after you’ve learned German and even summoned up enough courage to speak, you identify yourself as American immediately upon opening your mouth! And, as we know, in Germany (the west, at least), indicating that you are American is a sure way to get Germans to never talk to you in German, in favor of showing off their always-superior English. But how to get rid of the accent?

I won’t pretend that I have no remaining American accent. But, 3 years ago in Freiburg, I would introduce myself to someone in German and helpfully explain, “I’m from the USA,” and they would say, “Yes, I could tell.” Whereas this year, I was once on the tram speaking German with a few friends, and a stranger, having inquired about where we were from, told me he could only distinguish me as foreign because of my R’s. So I think I’ve come a long way. And I think that if I had put a concentrated effort into getting rid of the accent, I could have done it better and faster. So here are a few tips, which I think may apply to languages besides German, but how would I know?

Los geht’s.

1. Know your phonetics. This is obvious, and if you’ve been studying German for a while, you’ve probably got it down… but it doesn’t hurt to review! One effective and convenient tactic I’ve used for reinforcing the exact sounds of vowels, letter combinations, and words is to listen carefully to the pre-recorded announcements on public transportation (e.g. “Nächste Haltestelle, Hauptbahnhof!). They are all perfectly pronounced, and you’ll probably hear them so often that the sounds will be burned into your brain.

2. Spend time talking to and listening to native speakers. Preferably native speakers who speak conversational, but not overly slangy, German, and preferably not a strong dialect. Luckily, most college-aged people fit these criteria. (In many places, older people generally speak dialect and this will probably lead either to confusion or to you picking up the dialect!) What you want to do is to get an idea of how people really talk, and to pick up some useful phrases and pronunciations that are commonly used but are probably not in standard textbooks.

Native speakers’ everyday speech is generally less crystal clear than “textbook” German (z.B. saying something closer to “ham” or “hab’n” than “haben”), and far fewer end consonants are voiced in German than in English. This is the kind of thing you learn and grow accustomed to by listening to real, live Germans! And, of course, these relationships will give you a chance to practice your speaking skills.

3. Fake it ’til you make it. I was always petrified to talk in German class because I knew I was pronouncing things wrong… especially those damn R’s. It did not help that my German name in German 1 was “Britta”… I couldn’t even pronounce my own name correctly (and I picked it!!). At some point in college, where our professors expected us to speak a lot more in class, I knew I just had to do it… approximate the R sound the best that I could and hope that people would buy it. At the time, this led to my R’s sounding a lot like L’s… but at least I was saying the words!

Over the years, the sound has gotten easier, more natural, and closer to what it should really sound like. There are still some words heavy on R and CH that I may never say with full Germanity*, but I’ve come a long way since the days of my botched German name freshman year of high school. (Vis: I used to exclusively introduce myself as being from “den USA” because that avoided the R sound in “Amerika.” But now, I am more or less comfortable with either, although “die USA” is more geographically accurate.)

4. Sing! One of the best things I have done to improve my German accent is to sing in German on a regular basis! In case you didn’t have enough reasons to go to church while abroad… here’s another one! German hymns are perfect for practicing your German pronunciations. They contain a variety of important and common words and sounds; they are often repetitive so you can reinforce correct pronunciations; and because singing is much more deliberately metered than speaking, your pronunciations will be careful and intentional.

Because an entire congregation is singing along with you, it is a safe environment: no one will be able to hear you experimenting with different pronunciations or making mistakes along the way.  Plus, you’ll be able to hear everyone else singing the same words, so you’ll know if you’re doing something vastly wrong! I have been able to overcome a lot of insecurities about my German accent by singing the hymns and participating in Mass responses every week. As a bonus, German hymns are incredibly beautiful and I’m glad I’ve gotten to learn some of them! (Here is one of my favorites from the Christmas season, and this one is a German translation of Adoro te devote by St. Thomas Aquinas.)

5. Repetition, repetition, repetition. This all takes patience and lots of practice.  A fellow DAAD scholarship holder I met in Braunschweig told us that, after being made fun of for his American accent, he would spend hours in his room practicing. Apparently he practiced the infamous guttural R sound so much that he gave himself a sore throat! But it appears to have paid off because his accent is impeccable. Don’t give up hope… if you are really motivated to improve your German accent, you can make it happen!

And here’s another Ben & Jerry’s commercial, because they’re fun!

*This is a made up word, obviously, but I guess making up your own words goes along with the spirit of “Fake it ’til you make it.”

a weekend with no photos? inconceivable!

Yes, it’s true. I was in Braunschweig this weekend for a DAAD conference/meeting and I didn’t take a single picture! Which is a shame because I enjoy taking probably too many photos while traveling, but I have all the memories in my mind, and due to this boring blog post, they will be documented here for all of eternity… [it’s late as I write this, and since I have to make this interesting without photos, I guess melodramatic rambling will do the trick.]

In October, we had a similar meeting in Köln, but that was only for the North American (US + Canada) scholarship holders. This weekend’s conference was one of four “universal” DAAD conferences: every international DAAD scholarship holder currently in Germany was invited to attend one! They were broken down by topic; I seem to have been lucky in that I got my first choice, “Climate Politics, Food Security, and Natural Resources” or something like that.

It turns out that there are a lot of international DAAD folks… there were over 400 just at this weekend’s conference! Of course, I was the only American from Dresden as Felicitas had already been to the meeting in April, and I was one of only 7 Americans in total this weekend. As it turns out, the developing world far outnumbers the developed world when it comes to these scholarships, as getting money to attend school in Germany offers a huge draw to people whose home countries can’t provide the same level of education.

For a lot of the weekend, I was really out of my comfort zone… mingling with large groups of people I don’t know is very difficult. (I know it’s probably hard for most people and they somehow get over it.) Luckily, the American group was really cool, and there were built-in ways for us to spend time with those from our own geographic area. And some of them seemed much more at home in the large, lively, and international atmosphere, so they were able to meet interesting friends to invite to our table during meals! In particular, several of the American guys spoke some level of Russian, so we got to know a few Russians who were especially entertaining at the conference-wide “disco” on Saturday night. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

After a day of conference-opening and keynote sessions on Friday (the keynote speaker gave a surprisingly good talk on the pros and cons of biofuels which I particularly appreciated) and several chances to bond with our fellow countrymen, Saturday morning was filled with typical “conference” activities: breakout sessions, coffee breaks, and a cafeteria lunch.

My first breakout session was a fascinating presentation by a professor from Braunschweig about the potential for sustainable waste management. I love it when environmental scientists and engineers are able to be optimistic and innovative instead of talking gloom and doom all the time. I would love to see the future of self-sustaining apartment buildings that run on energy created from their own recycled waste. “Urban mining” was also a topic of interest: making use of resources that have already been converted into consumer goods for a secondary life as energy sources!

Luckily, the “conference” as such ended midday. After lunch, we were bussed into downtown Braunschweig for guided tours through the city! At this point, I really wished I had grabbed my camera, which was useless in my hotel room. The city is mid-sized, medieval, and gorgeous. How medieval? Its founder (around the 10th century) was nicknamed “the Lion.” Between that and the cobblestone roads punctuated by Romanesque buildings, Braunschweig seems like it would be the home of German Robin Hood.

Braunschweig boasts Germany’s “newest castle,” rebuilt in 2007 after being destroyed in WWII. There are also several Romanesque and Gothic style churches, as well as multiple city halls in the Renaissance style. (Because Braunschweig was originally five different cities, there are multiples of important landmarks.) During the tour, an open-air performance of West Side Story had just begun in one of the town squares, so as we were led around by our tour guide, we could hear snippets of the music; most amusingly, “I like to be in America.” There were also a few huge pro-Palestine rallies happening in various parts of town.

After the tour, a few of us grabbed ice cream (for the girls) and beer (for the guys) as we waited for the buses to arrive to pick us back up… after a few misunderstandings and a bit of running around, we finally found them and we made it back to the hotel for a small break before dinner.

On the bus to dinner, I reconnected with a few other Americans. As there were over 400 of us, we couldn’t imagine what kind of place they had found that would fit all of us! (Until this point, we had just eaten at the university’s dining hall.) We eventually arrived at a huge green warehouse… yep, that seemed about right. The place had been decked out with a big buffet table, dozens of smaller tables for seating, and a dance floor. We joked that it seemed like prom! We considered taking prom photos with our American-Russian coalition, but that never happened.

The food was delicious, and we each got three drink coupons, which could be used to purchase beer and wine, so that kept things lively! I really enjoyed the opportunity to get to know some of the other scholarship holders and hear about their experiences: where they come from in the US, what experiences they’ve had in Germany, what they study. It’s always good to have a bit of solidarity, especially during an experience that can be as solitary as I’ve found this year to be.

And the dancing… the dancing was fun. I was skeptical about the idea of what had been billed as “clubbing,” but it was fun in the cheesiest way. The music selection was eclectic, and we speculated that it had been chosen to appeal to people from over 100 countries! (Over 100 countries! Can we just take that in? Where else could you find such a group?) In any case, I’m sure that the Backstreet Boys would be proud to know that their 1998 hit “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” is still widely known and loved by twenty- and thirty-somethings around the world.

I can’t come up with an adequate closer, so I suppose I’ll leave it at that! I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to have been in such esteemed and diverse company this weekend. It’s good work that the DAAD is doing and I’m proud to be a part of it.

deutschland sind weltmeister!

The team celebrates after the final whistle

The team celebrates after the final whistle

Well, that was an experience I could never have expected or planned for my year in Germany! World Cup Champions! How exciting.

I had secretly been hoping that this would happen since the Cup started. Of course I was rooting for the USA, but if they had pulled off a miracle and advanced further or won, I would have been a bit disappointed to not be home for that. Watching Germany during the last month has been so much fun!

A truly terrible photo of Daniela and myself. Once the flash is necessary, you know things will end badly. (But see the Frauenkirche in the background there?)

A truly terrible photo of Daniela and myself. Once the flash is necessary, you know things will end badly. (But see the Frauenkirche in the background there?)

Germany is basically the total opposite of America when it comes to patriotism or national spirit, but things are different during the World Cup. Actually, the tides of “German patriotism” changed ever so slightly when the World Cup was hosted here in 2006, and now it is slightly acceptable to catch a glimpse of a German flag from time to time.

But to be in a crowd of hundreds of Germans singing the national anthem before the game? It was a wonderful and rare experience.


(I didn’t sing along, because I’m not German of course, and also because the words I know the best are to the “old version” and that would not have been well received.)

The game itself was suspenseful. At least it was clear that the teams were well matched! But I did get the feeling, especially towards the end when poor Schweinsteiger was getting tossed around so violently (but kind of for the whole game) that Argentina was getting calls that Germany just wasn’t. It was less pleasant still when a 6’5″ chain smoker decided to come stand squarely in front of me at halftime and stay there for the rest of the game, through both periods of extra time.

My feet and ankles were getting so tired from standing on my tip-toes that, when Götze finally scored, I had resigned myself to not being able to see the screen anymore… luckily, I did indeed see the fateful goal! And the place erupted. It was unreal.


The uproar subsided shortly while Messi took his penalty kick, but then once the final whistle blew… Wahnsinn.

(This video didn’t capture the post-victory jubilation as well as I had hoped, but… here you go.)

We celebrated as we watched the players and teams receive their awards (Neuer hugging Angela Merkel was probably the funniest thing of the evening) and finally the Cup was awarded!! Then we set out on an epic hour-long journey to get home amid totally packed tram cars and people driving crazily down the street, honking their horns and waving flags out their windows! I was exhausted when I finally got home (and I hadn’t eaten in almost 10 hours thanks to some craziness in getting to the game) but still exhilarated.

Germany! World Cup Champs!!

I’m pulling for America in 2018, though 🙂

the last hoorah in budapest

I’m interrupting my regularly-scheduled activities of fact-checking, Works Cited-making, and wearing the same 3 outfits over and over again for the next three weeks to tell the blogosphere all about my fantastic and wonderful and magical trip to Budapest this weekend!! It was my last big international trip before the biggest international trip (home), and what an incredible one it was!!! I truly loved the city and had a fabulous time, and I’m excited to share some of my pictures and stories with y’all!

Felicitas and I chose to go to Budapest because our friend Domi, who studied in Dresden last semester, lives there, which was as good a reason as any to pick one city over another! A few of our friends had gone several weeks ago to visit Domi and we had heard great things from them, so we were really excited for the trip. We used airbnb to book an apartment for the weekend… I think this is a relatively new start-up, or at least new to me, and we had a great experience with the guy we rented from. The best feature of the apartment (besides the great location and totally unreal price) was that it included the use of 2 bikes, which was absolutely clutch. No public transit for us!

We arrived in the early afternoon on Friday (July 4th, for anyone keeping track) and made our way from the airport to the apartment with only some minor confusion, and as soon as we had dropped off our stuff, changed into cooler clothes (it was HOT), and figured out the bikes, we were off to see what Budapest had to offer!

Budapest, if you don’t know, is actually the “fusion” of two cities, Buda and Pest, each lying on one side of the Danube River, so the river dominates the city landscape and most of the major sites are along it. And, like most cities on rivers, the bridges are all-important. It was crazy how much bigger Budapest’s bridges are than Dresden’s, though not surprising when you observe how much bigger the Danube is at Budapest than the Elbe at Dresden (esp. this year).


We were really hungry and we (I) were (was) starting to get hangry, specifically, so we tried to find somewhere to eat something inexpensive that would still leave us free for dinner a few hours later. We settled for some pastries right before stumbling upon the first of many great discoveries: the Budapest Central Market! We thought it was the train station at first, which should clue you into how big it really is, but it’s just full of stands and kiosks selling fresh produce, dairy products, dried fruit, meats, spices, etc. etc. etc. Absolutely magical. I wish I could shop there every week. With some cherries and nectarines in tow, we set off to see as much of the city as we could before finding a viewing location for Germany’s quarter final World Cup game at 6.

We didn’t get to see MUCH in the limited time we had, especially while getting used to the… not exactly perfect quality of the bikes, but we crossed the famous (and beautiful and massive) Chain Bridge, saw the Citadel up on its hill, and observed the locations of some of Budapest’s more famous sites: the cathedral, fisherman’s bastion, and Parliament. It was great that we were able to cruise up and down the river (well, parallel to it on bike paths) as we oriented ourselves and made plans for the next day. And then, we staked out our World Cup viewing spot, which was hilariously a British pub… on the 4th of July.


We enjoyed our meal and a few beverages while watching the relatively uneventful game (but GERMANY WON!) and hiding our disdain of the rowdy and rude international clientele at the pub. Then Felicitas discovered that she had lost her iPod, which was a huge bummer. I resolved to take twice as many pictures for the both of us, the results of which promise you have already partially experienced, dear reader.

After the game ended, we continued on our bikes towards the Parliament building to get a closer look, and I can honestly say that it was one of the most impressive buildings I’ve seen in my life. Apparently it is the third largest government building in the world (behind only Buenos Aires and Bucharest, if I remember correctly, so maybe the competition is limited to capitals starting with B?) and has a total of 365 towers. It is the tallest building in Budapest (actually, maybe just in Pest?) and is legally required to remain so. St. Stephen’s Basilica is exactly the same height, although during the Communist era, a red star was placed on top of the Parliament building to signify the state’s dominance over the church. (The star isn’t there anymore, clearly.)


We rode back to the apartment as the sun was setting and night was falling and experienced the most magical of Budapest experiences: everything lit up at night! It was so gorgeous.


The next day started bright and early with another trip to the market to stock up on fruit, cheese, and bread for the day, before we headed across to the Buda side of the river. We parked our bikes at the bottom of the Gellert hill and hiked up to the top, where the Citadel is located. We were surprised to learn that the fortress had only been constructed in the 19th century! It has now fallen into disuse, but the Citadel as a symbol of political power was a complicated topic during the Austro-Hungarian Empire years (it was seen as an imposition of Austrian power on the Hungarians), as well as during the Nazi occupation through to the Communist regime. Besides learning some of the history behind the structure, we also enjoyed fantastic views of the city.


Continuing to follow the Danube north, we climbed up to see the Royal Palace, which is absolutely stunning. It is an imposing but beautiful presence up on its hill, overlooking the river, and the grounds, including the surrounding buildings of the National Gallery, are all very picturesque. We scored some free tap water from the restrooms in the Palace (again, SO HOT. We were staving off dehydration the whole day) and continued walking north to the Cathedral.


The Royal Palace

St. Matthias’ Cathedral is one of the more distinctive churches I’ve seen. It’s built in a gothic/probably neo-gothic style, but the building itself is very bright because it’s built all in white stone! And it has a colorful, tiled roof. The whole thing was an interesting mix of western (gothic) and eastern (almost byzantine) aesthetics, including the inside! A lot of the decorations were geometric, which reminded us of some Islamic decorations (no graven images).


Right in front of St. Matthias’ is the Fisherman’s Bastion, a word that doesn’t mean a whole lot to me but I think it’s some sort of fortress or embarkment. Regardless of what its purpose is/was (and I don’t remember actually learning any of the history for this particular structure… oops), it is very unique and striking… and offers some gorgeous views, as well, and it’s one of the defining landmarks of the city.


After exploring a bit more of the Buda side, we crossed over the Chain Bridge to Pest; first stop, St. Steven’s Basilica. The Basilica is the biggest Catholic church in the city, and it could fit right in in Rome as far as I’m concerned! When we first went in the church, they were getting ready to have a wedding, so we could only see a small part of it. However, a short time later we came back with our walking tour and got to see the whole thing!


Displayed in the basilica: a relic of St. Stephen (his preserved hand), who converted Hungary to Christianity

Displayed in the basilica: a relic of St. Stephen (his preserved hand), who converted Hungary to Christianity

Our tour was the “Essential Pest” tour and concentrated a lot on sites with historical meaning, so we learned a lot about the history of the Hungarian people, religious milestones, and events during the Communist period from 1945-1990. One interesting fact: the roots of the Hungarian people and language are actually in Asia! They claim Attila the Hun as their great ancestor, and the Hungarian tribe was one of the tribes he ruled. On the tour, in addition to the Basilica, we saw many historical landmarks and statues (many of them Communist but some hearkening back to the Austro-Hungarian days), Liberty Square, a nuclear bunker, the former Hungarian television headquarters (which was closed after it was attacked by protesters in 2006), and Parliament once again.

After the tour was over, we made our way slowly across the city to a church we knew would be having an English mass about an hour later. Domi met us for Mass! It was great to see him again, and to have someone to translate for us!

Dresden friends reunited in Budapest!

Dresden friends reunited in Budapest!

We enjoyed a post-Mass ice cream cone on our way to our next highly-anticipated destination: one of Budapest’s famous thermal baths. Many of these baths were built during the time of Ottoman occupation (Turkish baths, you see), and we definitely wanted to see what the fuss was all about. Our original plan was to buy reduced price tickets starting at 7 and stay for a few hours, but it turns out that the bath closed earlier than we had anticipated. Instead of paying full price for only 45 minutes of bathing time, we decided to wait until one of the baths re-opened at 10 pm.

In the meantime, we headed up to Margaret Island, an island in the middle of the Danube between Buda and Pest. It’s named “Margaret” for the daughter of one of Hungary’s kings, who lived in isolation on the island as a nun during her life. (She’s now a saint.) There’s a big fountain on the island, and as we sat down to put our feet in the water, the 8pm water show began! The fountain is synced up with lights and music, and it was such an unexpected surprise! It was nice to be able to sit down and enjoy something relaxing and fun at the end of a long day. We ate the rest of our fruit, and Felicitas and I took a little spin around some of the rest of the park before coming back to enjoy the 9pm show! Some of the music selections: “Cecilia” by Simon and Garfunkel, The Blue Danube, appropriately, and Bruce Springsteen complete with red, white, and blue lights.


Poor posture exacerbated by exhaustion

Poor posture exacerbated by exhaustion

We returned to the bath in time for the 10pm re-opening, changed into our swimsuits, and bought our tickets (kind of pricy, but worth the splurge). I had no idea what to expect from the baths. It was like being transported to a different world! The bath itself was built in the 16th century, though you would never know from the exterior and the main building, which is modern. The bath itself was a cavernous little room with five separate baths: one in each corner, and a large one in the middle, each one kept at a different temperature. The water is all natural and directly drawn from the earth, though of course it’s cooled and regulated at each temperature. (The whole area smelled faintly of sulphur, a smell that didn’t leave my hair or skin until after my second shower, two days later!) Domi, as he is Hungarian, had been to thermal baths before, and Flitzi had looked up some articles about the best “strategies”: going from the coolest bath to the hottest, then maybe a trip to the steam room or sauna, and then back in the coolest one. We did go in both the steam room and the sauna, though I can’t say I particularly enjoyed either one… I’m more a “cool water” gal. Shortly before leaving, I did take the plunge into the 60-degree “cold tub” which was… only refreshing after having spent time in the 110-degree bath. Overall, I would say it’s absolutely worth it to go to one of these baths while in Budapest. What a crazy and otherworldly experience! I don’t know that I’m really conveying that effectively, and I don’t have any pictures because no cameras were allowed, but I guess you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Before thermal bath

Before thermal bath

After thermal bath

After thermal bath

Shortly after midnight, we bid farewell to Domi (he was catching a flight at 6 am and planned on just staying at the bath until 3 am, which I’m sure was a good alternative to sleeping at the airport) and biked back to our apartment, both absolutely collapsing into bed after such an eventful day. Something about a thermal bath at the end of the night will really take it out of ya!

On Sunday, we “slept in,” got the apartment ready for our departure, and tried in vain to find a good place to eat breakfast. The place we did eat was absolutely terrible and our waiter shortchanged us like CRAZY… but, in our exasperation, we decided not to fight it… we were trying to spend our Hungarian currency, anyway. (We did leave scathing reviews on Tripadvisor after we got home, though.) As we made our way back to the airport and eventually to Dresden by way of Berlin, I was a little sad that this was my last big trip before I return home. However, that sad emotion is always mixed… in this case, I was tired and ready to be in my own bed, as well as knowledgeable of the fact that I will be traveling (just within Germany) for the next two weekends, and of course anticipating my impending trip home!! I can’t believe it’s already mid-July, friends. I just can’t.

One thing I was sure of, though, in leaving Budapest, was that I would love to return one day. I guess I drank the Kool-Aid, but Budapest really was one of my favorite cities… just don’t ask me to list all of my favorites!!! One of my new favorite travel tips is “go to countries with cheap currency,” because seriously… Budapest has all the magic of Paris and all the mystery of Prague for probably half the price! Highly recommended 😉