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.