Yay! My first post for LindseyTinsey! 😀 Finally!
Allow me to introduce myself:
Hi. I’m Alaric. I’m 25 (but not for very much longer – Rocky Horror reference FTW). I’m a scientist (or at least, that’s what I pretend to be most days) and a huge Harry Potter nerd (Potterhead, if you will). I’ve known Lindsey for 7 years, and through our mutual love of Harry Potter, amongst other fandoms, and Lady Gaga (Yaasss Kween!), we’ve become great friends (queue: emotional music and staring vacantly into the distance). However, I digress – this post is not about our life-story…
Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m, by and large, in love with German-speaking Europe. In 2012, I was given the amazing opportunity of travelling to Germany for a one-month research exchange. I was in my Honours year at uni, it was my first time heading overseas and I went about it all by myself, so obviously I was a nervous wreck. For months, I researched the country, the culture, the sights-to-see, etc., etc. and mentally prepared myself for what was coming. Fast-forward to the 1st of September 2012, I boarded my very first international flight aboard the German national carrier, Lufthansa, and said goodbye to Cape Town (I actually cried a bit – DON’T JUDGE – this was the first time I was leaving my home country).
When I landed in Frankfurt the following day, I took a high-speed train from the airport to Stuttgart where I was staying. There I met with Michael Kirchner, a student in the lab I was visiting, who took me to my guesthouse and showed me around campus.
Stuttgart is the capital of the Baden-Württemberg region in South-West Germany. As expected from a modern European city, it was beautiful and clean (my word, was it clean!), but perhaps what I loved most about the city, was the balance between the modern and contemporary city centre (which was about 10 minutes away by underground from campus) and the old-world charm of the houses in the suburbs that surrounded the centre. Getting around the city was a hitch – I bought a month-long pass that allowed unlimited access on the city’s transport system. There was always a bus, train or tram to catch, any time of the day and always on time.
Perhaps the most important part of my trip was the food (only joking…not really). The first thing that struck me as I walk out of the arrivals terminal, was the smell of freshly baked bread and cakes. I’ve heard from friends that baked goods in Europe were some of the finest in the world, and I can now attest to this statement. The food was absolutely delicious – there was really nothing I did not enjoy. From Maultaschen to Käsespätzle, Zwiebelrostbraten to traditional Black-Forest cake, I took in every bit of what German cuisine in the region had to offer.
As outsiders, we often have this stereotype in mind of how serious and grouchy Germans are. In my experience, the exact opposite was true. From the moment I stepped off the plane, the people were extremely friendly. Language was also not an issue. While the older folk are not very fluent in English, the younger crowd absolutely are and communicating was never a problem. It also helps if you try and learn a few German phrases – the locals appreciate the effort – even if they chuckle at your horrible German accent.
During my trip, I met new friends, Michael (as mentioned above), Silvia Racolta and her boyfriend at the time, Felix Fademrecht (who are now married, yay! :D). From day one, they took me in as one of their own and showed me around town, as much as time would permit.
The historical sights were absolutely breathtaking – buildings older than you can imagine, rolling hills and massive trees are far as the eye can see. I spent a lot of time in the city centre, near the castle square, Schlossplatz, which had a huge park in front of it. Here, friends and couples, would break out their blankets and sit around the fountain, spending time with one another. When my friend and colleague from South Africa, Nuraan, came over to Stuttgart, Silvi, Nuraan and I spent an evening in the village of Rotenberg on the outskirts of the city. It is renowned for the Württemberg Mausoleum, which was built by King Wilhelm I for his wife, Queen Katherina, the daughter of Tsar Paul I of Russia and Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg). The following day, we took a road-trip to Ulm, a couple of hours away by autobahn, where we visited one of the tallest cathedrals in the world, Ulm Munster. We climbed all 476 steps, right to the top.
After this, we drove further north to the south of Bavaria to visit Schloss Neuschwanstein (commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria and opened in 1886) in Schwangau – the castle that served as the inspiration for the Disney Castle!! This was quite the experience! After a short trip by horse-drawn carriage through the forest (yes – very much fairytale-like), we arrived in front of the castle. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take any pictures inside of the castle, but you’ll have to take my word for it – IT WAS STUNNING! Huge doors and hallways, gold and marble, and hundreds, if not thousands, of hand-painted tapestries covered the walls and ceilings. If I remember correctly, it was also the first building to have contained a centralised heating system, a technological marvel of its time. The tour of the castle was way too short for my liking and I wished we could have spent time there for longer, but alas, it was time to head back to Stuttgart.
I ended off my trip to Germany with an age-old German tradition – A BEERFEST! We attended the Volksfest in Cannstatter, about 20 minutes by train from campus. On the way there, you could almost feel the excitement in the air. Boys and girls were dressed in their lederhosen and dirndls. At the fair, massive tents were constructed (each beer company had a sponsored tent) and you could sit down and enjoy a Maß (mass) or four of beer (and let me tell you, I had sooooo much beer!). Singing along to traditional German songs and dancing to modern ones, my trip ended off on just the right note.
Slightly hungover (and by slightly, I mean VERY!!) and surprised at how quickly the month had gone by, I packed up the following morning and had lunch with Silvi’s family before heading off to the airport. Amidst tears (not all of them were mine, okay?), I said goodbye to a country that I will always cherish and hope to visit for many years to come. Auf wiedersehen, Deutschland! Until we meet again. Bis bald.