I’m now settling into my Erasmus exchange at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. It’s been a crazy whirlwind week here, but a truly amazing one.
It started with ‘Tag der deutschen Einheit’, a huge festival held in a different city in Germany every year. This year just happened to be Mainz, on the day after I arrived! There was also a large stand for the involvement of the European Union in the Rhineland – Pfalz region. For me, the most Erasmus moment so far has been walking through Mainz trying different German food and seeing local art and craft displays – while holding a European Union balloon!
I’ve done more socialising in the past week than I would normally do in a month! Some highlights have been film nights and going out for coffee, and I’ve even enjoyed going to Erasmus parties! The majority of Erasmus students here are Italian and French – I had no idea how useful my one year of studying Italian would be here, but it really helped to break the ice. I feel strange about the way that being one of the comparatively few native English speakers has improved my confidence in talking to large groups of people. Of course, we should be speaking as much German as possible, but we’ll have plenty of time for that when classes begin!
Although this week has been so much fun, it has not been without challenges. Navigating the German bureaucratic system has been pretty horrendous. One of the main issues was that I needed a photocopy of my passport to get my university login and student number. Unfortunately, I needed both my university login and student number to photocopy something on campus – it was a problem. Luckily there are plenty of copy-shops in Mainz, and they happen to be cheaper than at the university!
My first time in student halls is great so far, but again has not been particularly easy or simple. The paperwork – contracts and rules – has filled at least one folder, and we had to buy our own wifi routers! Students also have to be quite creative when shopping here. Supermarkets are completely different here so I’m going to have to adjust a little. At least I have my Semester ticket which gets me free public transport for the whole region, so I’m not reliant on walking everywhere.
I can barely begin to describe how this week has been. I’m really looking forward to all the new adventures as I start to register for classes this week!
At the end of my time in Germany, I travelled back home via Berlin. I was actually there earlier this year but it is still one of my favourite cities to visit. This was my first time sightseeing alone in Berlin, and I loved just walking around and eating street food.
Although I only spent two nights here, it was perfect for me to see a few new sights and revisit some old ones. Staying in a hotel was pure luxury after more than a month of workaway, and I really enjoyed finally having time to myself.
My first stop was Alexanderplatz, and although I love the atmosphere and the fact that there’s always something happening, I still don’t think it’s the best part of Berlin. I also took loads of photos of the Fernsehturm, which for me is another symbol of this amazing city.
No trip to Berlin can ever be complete without walking underneath the Brandenburg Gate, and I really enjoyed walking to the Sony Centre, my favourite area in the city. They were even showing clips of Metropolis on the screens there, so I spent a lot of time just sitting and people-watching. I don’t think anywhere in Britain can do social spaces in the way Germany can!
My second day started with the Espionage Museum. Located near the Sony Centre, it was somewhere I had never been before, but it had been recommended to me by a few people. I found the history of the Stasi fascinating, and loved being able to try out a laser beam obstacle course and map games in the less serious parts. It’s very interesting but also a lot of fun, and the most high-tech museum I’ve ever been to!
I ended my time in Berlin with a walk around Museum island, and loved watching all the street performers in the park in front of the cathedral. My last evening was spent wandering back through the city with street food and then an ice cream – and everywhere I went I couldn’t stop thinking about what a fantastic place it was.
On my day off last week, I went to Freiburg. I promise I’m not antisocial, but it can get quite crowded in our apartment so it was lovely to have a day to myself!
I really enjoyed seeing all the famous parts of the town. The market is lovely, and fantastic if you just want somewhere to walk around. One of the more unusual things I notice about Freiburg is the small rivers and streams in small gutters exposed in the street. People were dipping their feet in them!
I had to visit the cathedral, as it is one of the most famous sites in Freiburg. I wasn’t disappointed: it is very impressive from the outside and beautiful inside. Something I noticed was that it was strange, going sightseeing alone. While normally I love seeing cities by myself, this time I kept thinking that my parents or some of my friends would really enjoy it.
I then went to an Italian ice cream parlour, because Freiburg is one of the sunniest places in Germany and can get really hot in the afternoons! I sat and watched people taking photos of the cathedral, and at that point really appreciated my solitude.
Lastly, I decided to walk up Schlossberg, a park on a hill overlooking the town. It’s very impressive and the views are amazing!
The last few days in Switzerkand were lovely. The old town was very beautiful, with views right over the city. For the first time I learnt that Zurich was an important town in Roman times, which has given me plenty more ideas of places to visit.
I ended my time in Zurich with a trip to Clouds, the restaurant in the Prime Tower. It was the tallest building in Switzerland when it was first built!
On my last day, I took the train to Solothurn to visit a Scottish friend who was also saying in Switzerland with relatives!
It has been more than a year since I last posted an update, but I’m really happy to be updating the blog again. I’m having a really exciting year and I want to share some of what is happening at the moment.
2017 has already been amazing. I spent a week in Berlin with my friend Vivien and had the chance to see some of the Berlin districts and go to places I wouldn’t immediately think of. This was my fourth time in Berlin, but it’s great to see some new places there (as well as revisit my favourite ones). Some highlights were Prenzlauerberg and the older parts of Berlin such as the Nikolaiviertel, which are quieter areas of Berlin away from most tourists.
I’ve also had a couple of ‘holidays at home,’ spending a week in a guesthouse in Beauly near Inverness at Easter time and then another week camping near Dingwall in May. I love travelling in Scotland because I feel there are beautiful places to visit, gorgeous beaches and impressive history, just a few hours away from Glasgow. Having grown up with a membership to the National Trust for Scotland, I’ve discovered that I still love to visit castles and historic sites, just like I did as a child. Camping is always lovely and relaxing as well, although it is weather-dependent and we had to leave a day early because the ground had turned to marsh!
I also had a really wonderful opportunity to go to a conference at the Goethe Institut London for a day! It was a long day of train travel, and I was completely exhausted by the end of it, but it was so worth all the travelling because I spoke so much German and I was even able to see some of London! I love walking through cities on my own, because I can take my time and feel really anonymous. I felt really independent, particularly as I only got lost once!
Tomorrow is the start of a year filled with adventures, starting with a week in Zurich in Switzerland. I’m thrilled to be keeping a blog to update on everything that is happening and to keep track of all my experiences this year.
This trip is the start of a year of German – speaking adventures! I’m currently staying with my aunt and uncle in Zurich, Switzerland. The weather has been absolutely amazing and I’m so excited to be telling you about what I’ve been doing the last few days.
The day after I arrived, my aunt took me to Schloss Hallwyl, a gorgeous medieval castle complete with a moat and drawbridge! This is the first Swiss castle I’ve visited, and I really enjoyed wandering around it.
Another highlight was going out on lake Zurich in my uncle’s motorboat. There’s something so continental about taking the boat to a bathing area and swimming in the lake, surrounded by people barbecuing and relaxing on a Sunday morning. Getting the boat to an ice cream cafe is also very luxurious!
Later that afternoon, I went to a lakeside party with my oldest cousin, Anne. It was held by a company promoting exchanges across the world, and was a fantastic opportunity for me to meet people from Argentina, Finland and Mexico. By far the best part was the chance to speak lots of German, and it’s the first time I can remember being so relaxed about speaking the language, and genuinely understand all the conversations.
It’s been a wonderful trip so far, and I can’t wait to experience more of this culture (although I’m looking forward to having a rest today)!
I think the second day of my holiday in the Ruhr area of Northern Germany was the best. It was certainly the most alternative, and very spectacular. However, there is a drawback to doing alternative activities in non-touristy paces: even though the public transport in Germany is fantastic, the places we went were quite difficult to get to.
We spent our second day in Duisburg, part of the “Industriekultur” or German Industrial Heritage cities. Duisburg Landschaftspark-nord is a suburban landscape park with a difference. It’s on the site of an old steel-works, and the industrial structures have been stabilized and left in their abandoned state, in the centre.
But, by far the best part, is that the towers are open for anyone to wander around. The walkways are just exposed metal grids, so you can see right down to the ground. All the structures are an impressive height, but they make fantastic viewpoints because the area all around is so flat.
I just think this is an amazing idea! It’s a celebration of German industry, but a lot of fun to visit. Plants are slowly growing over some of the structures, and the old warehouses have been turned into decorative garden spaces. I particularly appreciate this, because I studied Bernd and Hilla Becher when I took a photography course a couple of years ago. They photographed industrial areas in stunning black and white, and aimed to show that something so mundane as a steel – works chimney can be beautiful. They photographed a lot around Duisburg, and helped create a love and appreciation of the unusual shapes.
That afternoon, we went for a boat trip on the Rhine. But instead of gorgeous rural scenery, this boat celebrated what’s left of heavy industry. We passed cranes unloading goods barges, and machines squashing scrap metal. It’s bizarre – all the German tourists loved seeing piles of materials and were commenting on how photogenic the cranes were. Given that Britain seems embarrassed about what industry it has left, it was a refreshing – if unexpected – attitude.