April 30, 2010

Kaiserslautern, Germany

I spent the last week on a geography field course across southern Germany (with a bit of Austria and one foot in France).  The course was run by my host (Anton) and his assistant (Simon) and consisted of about 30 undergraduate geography students.  It was an urban geography themed course, so we visited a bunch of cities and a couple of universities in both Austria and Germany.  We had some site visits and lectures – a few were in English, but the rest were either in Slovene or in German and translated into Slovene.  Since I now have a handful of Slovene words, I spent most of my time trying to figure out how things like “potatoes” (krompir) or “pants” (hlace) fit into the context of the lectures.

We left through the Julian Alps in northwestern Slovenia across the border into Austria, which would have been a spectacular drive had the weather been clear.  We had a walking tour of Salzburg in the morning before we left Austria, along with a coffee and apple streudel at a Viennese-style cafe (circa 1705, complete with people still sitting around reading newspapers).  I thoroughly enjoyed the city and could easily have spent the rest of the day exploring there.

Chapter Fountain and Hohensalzburg Fortress in Salzburg, Austria

In Germany, we visited the contrasting cities of Ulm and Tübingen – the former which had to be rebuilt after the war and the latter which remained relatively unscathed.  We also had a brief stop in Stuttgart, where, incidentally, I saw my first Starbucks in 3 months and 5 countries.  We spent a few nights at a hostel in Bad Urach, an old spa town near Tübingen.  This was my first hostel experience, and I can’t say it’s one I’m anxious to repeat.  However, I feel quite privileged that, as the only female prof, I was given a key to the private showers.  Nonetheless, the water only stayed on for 5 seconds at a time, so those were, guaranteed, the shortest showers I’ve ever taken.

Tübingen

We had a free afternoon in Kaiserslautern, so I took the opportunity to do some hiking in the Palatinate Forest – the largest forested area in Central Europe that more or less surrounds the city – and went up to Rapunzel’s Tower.  It’s actually called the Hamburg Tower, but I instantly thought of Rapunzel when I saw it standing alone on a hill in the middle of the forest.  I climbed the long spiral staircase and stood at the top looking at the view over the city and the forest.  (No princes came for me.)

Rapunzel's (née Hamburg) Tower

We also had a quick trip to Strasbourg, France to visit the Council of Europe – a regional multinational organization that focuses on human rights – and sit in on a session.

Assembly Chamber at the Palais de l'Europe

The food was typically German, and it was apparently a rule that we had to try the local beer in each city we visited.  Some of the more interesting experiments: white asparagus which is in season right now and a green salad that turned out to be served on a bed of potatoes.

White asparagus at the market in Munich

My favorite – under Betty’s description of eating and atmosphere – was in Ulm.  It was one of the first nice weekends of the year, so they had set up a huge biergarten next to the cathedral – tents, picnic tables, a stage with a polka band (okay, so polka really isn’t my thing, but it definitely added to the experience), and a whole lot of people drinking beer. We ate our white sausage sandwiches and drank our Pflugs while standing in the middle of the crush.  The best scenery, however, was standing on the side of the road in the Austrian Alps eating a salami and pickle baguette that I had bought back at the train station in Munich before we left.   (For the record, I didn’t know there was going to be pickles.)  Why is it I always seem to be standing in my food stories?

The Austrian Alps

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2 Responses to “”

  1. Velvet, I think it is pretty much universal that we ALL eat and REMEMBER food-experiences. I enjoy reading about yours; also any art museum visits. Your cousin Dick was stationed in Kaiserslautern during the Vietnam War. I am forwarding this latest blog from you, to him.
    love you..
    Millie

  2. Interesting! There’s still about 50,000 Americans stationed there, and we saw/heard the planes coming in on a regular basis.

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