Catherine Tait (MLang French and German – Year Abroad studying at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, S.W. Germany)
Welcome to Freiburg. I expect you cycled into the city centre. Most people do. That said, you are looking a little pale… you must have come by foot. Where else would that raised pulse of yours have come from, other than the adrenaline rush brought by being nearly run over by one of the cyclists?
That’s one of the first things you notice when you arrive. Bikes are everywhere. Or if you’re by the tramline or the train station, bits of them are everywhere. And if you enjoy people watching, I promise you, you could spend many happy hours marveling at the things people do on two wheels. I’ve seen someone transporting a cello, someone carrying another bike slung over their shoulder, someone seemingly moving house on one… Or, my personal favourite, the brave soul lugging around a decently-sized SOFA on a bike trailer.
As you see, it’s the weekend. You can tell it’s the weekend in Freiburg, because someone will be holding a protest about something. And if it’s a Sunday, all the shops (except petrol stations and train station ones) will be closed. It takes a while to get used to that, particularly if you are disorganised as me.
There are certain images that will cling to the word Freiburg long after I have left. My brain likes to savour the whackiest tidbits it has tasted. Like the graffiti on the toilet walls in the Universitätsbibliothek, with its collection of poetry, political slogans, philosophical debates, life advice, book recommendations, and references to the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The strangest thing I have seen there? Has to be the conversation that started: ‘Can four people kiss at once?’, with the answer ‘Nah I tried it once – too many cheekbones’. My favourite, however, remains:
Interesting facts from my Studies:
If you eat 13 tonnes of tomatoes, you die from cyanide poisoning.
-> But what else am I supposed to eat? :/
Other things that I’ll remember:
- The man with a donkey sat chilling outside the humanities building, in the city centre
- The number of people who walk the streets barefoot, even when it’s 35 degrees outside and barbecued sole is high on the menu
- Sunsets atop the Schlossberg
- The snow at the top of Schauinsland in winter (very very thick)
- Seeing the Vienna Boys Choir performing at the concert hall
- Singing with the choir I joined (the Biologenchor) at our final concert
- The joys of the tram network
- Watching terrapins at Seepark
- My multiple day hike through the Black Forest with my friend
- The obsolete and completely useless German words my flatmate taught me (e.g. Lichtspielhaus – a word for cinema which is only used by the silver-haired and wrinkly)
- Introducing said flatmate to ‘moo-offs’.
- Popping over to Basel to watch a 4 am lantern procession for the Fasnacht celebrations. If you do it, bring a coat. It was freezing.
- Very long bus journeys to and from Freiburg (around 24 hours or so from there to Southampton). Paris Bercy-Seine bus station has awful toilets. If you can, just hold it in and wait.
In truth, it’s a little hard to fit this past year into a little blog post. Since I’m already rambling, I’ll try to sum it up. Freiburg was a city of artsy dreamers, eco-hippies, and nutters, and I loved it. I was particularly grateful for my daily conversations with my flatmate, who always spoke German with me and corrected my mistakes. It helped my fluency a great deal. To anyone heading to that part of the world, the SWFR (Studierendenwerk Freiburg) is your friend – they organise lots of free-time activities like wine-hikes (if you fancy wobbling down some very steep vineyards and watching your fellow hikers get plastered on a train, I recommend it) and cookery workshops. It’s a great way to meet people; I met some of my closest friends through SWFR walks.
Some other words of wisdom (or mildly justified blathering, I leave that to you to judge):
- Prepare for some serious homesickness in the first couple of months. Once you’re past that, you’ll love it. Doing sociable stuff helps, hence the SWFR recommendation. But for the first month, keep the Kleenex handy and don’t worry, it gets better.
- Go for Studierendwerk housing, it’s much cheaper than private accommodation, and they prioritise internationals. The university sends you a form to apply for it. Just make sure you select the option for a shared flat (unless you really want one to yourself) – most of my German practice came from speaking to my flatmates.
- Sign up for one of the Uni-Sport workshops and do it as soon as the booking system opens. They have lots of cheap sports courses and clubs, but they book up quickly. I tried taster sessions for Stand-Up-and-Paddle and waterskiing.
- Going for seminar-style courses is better than lectures, at least at the start before you’ve gotten used to fast-paced German. Maybe it was just the kind of lecture I picked in first semester, but the lecturer spoke way too fast for me to understand any more than half of what he was saying. I dropped that module pretty quickly. With seminars, you can ask questions and discuss things you don’t understand.
- Either get a second-hand bike or a Semester Ticket (89 euros for all the train services, trams and busses per semester) for travelling around.
- Events worth attending: Freiburger Chornacht, Basel Fastnacht, Freiburg Fastnacht, Strasbourg Christmas market (Strasbourg is only an hour away by bus), the Stadtheater’s free summer concert programme, Freiburger Mess’ (particularly the fireworks display at the start and end. You get a good view of them from the wooden tower at Seepark).
- Favourite places in and around Freiburg: Moosweiher lake, top of the Schlossberg for the views, the Markthalle (very nice food from around the world), the Ravennaschlucht, Todtnau waterfall, the Wutachschlucht (very Lord of the Ringsey), Schauinsland (particularly in winter! So much SCCCHHHNEEEEE!)
- If you fall into one of the Bächle* you supposedly marry a Freiburger, so watch where you put your feet 😉
* Little streams that run through the city streets
- They speak Badisch not Schwäbisch. They don’t like it if you call them Schwaben, and there’s a big rivalry between the two.
I think that covers it. In terms of what I gained from the experience… I’d say greater confidence and independence (yes I know, everyone says that), some lovely friends from around the world, a better German vocabulary (though I still hate the grammar) and a feeling that part of me belongs there. To all future residents of the ‘Burg, have a great time!