Saturday, 18 August 2012

Weekend Visit with T & H

Since we’re finally in the same time zone as one of our kids they decided to come for a weekend visit. Yay! 

We did some of the touristy things you have to do in this city like visit the Schloss (Castle) and stroll through its grounds and sample traditional regional foods and beer. T and I went shopping and so did H and Erwin – but to very different stores so all were happy. 

Lingered over breakfast, relaxed on the hotel terrace late in the evening (where we met a German/Egyptian arms dealer by the way) and basically just enjoyed being in each others company. Before we knew it 48 hours were up and they were gone again - with just some pictures and memories as mementos.

The city of Heidelberg is behind and below us on both sides of the Neckar river.

Not sure what she was trying to do here...
Erwin & I sitting on what is know as Goethe's Bench on the Castle grounds. Apparently he wandered these grounds in the late 1700's, sat on this bench and found inspiration here. Of course as a German prof/scholar Erwin had to sit here too.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Heidelberg Summer School

It’s been so crazy busy that it’s hard to believe we’ve already been here for nearly a week. It’s been a week of intensive studying, learning and getting to know fellow students from around the world. There are nearly 600 students here from five continents and representing nearly 60 countries; a truly international summer program. As mentioned in my last post, the MUN Heidelberg program is an immersion program where you can earn nine credit hours within the space of a month. That always sounded a bit generous to me. I don’t think that anymore. The doors you see pictured below are the doors I enter through every morning for class which run from 8:15 to 12:45 with two shortish breaks in-between. Then there’s homework almost every night. EEK!! But, that’s ok, I’m learning, and having fun and have NO other responsibilities (including housework and meal preparation) so it’s all good. 

The lettering on the building translates to "of the living spirit" and the banner below it translates to "international summer-program for German language and culture." 

The University was established in 1386, making it the oldest university in Germany and one of the oldest in Europe. It boasts ten Nobel prize winners and is considered one of the high-power universities in Germany. MUN has had a relationship and has been bringing students here every summer for about 12 years.

Which class I attend was determined through an oral test, which I did last Sunday and aced because spoken German is not my weakness, and a written (grammar) test which I wrote on Monday which is not quite so easy for me.  I guess after running this program for over 60 years the University of Heidelberg knows what they’re doing because I was placed exactly right, not too easy and not yet not too challenging. I'm in a class with 13 other students literally from around the world. I'm the only Canadian, there is one American, a couple of Asian, eastern European, an Italian, a Spaniard, a really good mix. Along with improving my German grammar, and increasing my vocab I’m also taking a translation course and learning the nuances of translating from German into English and vice-versa. Something that will be useful when I guide the St. John’s city tours with the German cruise ships. 

So what's Erwin's role here? First of all MUN requires that a MUN faculty person been with the our group of ten adults at all times from the moment we leave St. John's airport to the moment we return. (Don't even get Erwin started on that issue.) But basically he's here to make sure everything runs smoothly, encourage and support and act as a resource or sounding board when needed. Plus, he still deals with daily MUN stuff since he's still head of department until August 31.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

MUN in Berlin

As I write this entry the German country side is flying past my ICE train windows. A beautiful Saturday morning, picturesque farms nestled in valleys, cows lazily grazing in lush meadows, church steeples signaling the next village. The stuff of post cards.

I, and my fellow classmates along with two profs (one of them is Erwin) from MUN are on our way from Berlin to Heidelberg. The twelve of us are part of what’s known as the Heidelberg program offered through MUN. It starts with a five-day whirl-wind tour of Berlin, a chance to get over jet-lag, get used to experiencing German language and culture, before plunging into intensive month-long nine credit hours of German language instruction at the University of Heidelberg. Besides you can’t go to Germany with students and teach them about Germany and not go to Berlin.

While in Berlin we stayed in a student hostel called the BaxPax. In the picture you see Erwin chatting with some of the students who have collapsed into bean bag chairs (after a full day of sight-seeing) located in the courtyard, I also took a picture of our rather provocative room key-card. In my old age I tend more towards the five star resort hotels, so I was quite skeptical about the whole idea of spending five nights with a bunch of back-packing-through-Europe types. But, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. Clean, well-run, quite after 10pm, maid-service, in a great location, and student pricing too.

Even though I had seen most of the sites we went to before, it was a lot of fun doing them again with a great group and watching them experience the sights for the first time. And then, of course Berlin is constantly changing. A perpetual building site…and according to our cabby the second biggest building site in the world after Singapore. So things are constantly changing in the city and it can be a bit disorienting if think you know your way around from last time and now not so much anymore.

What did we see and do in the five days we were here is a partial list:

Alexanderplatz (crazy busy modern shopping area)
Reichstag (German seat of government)
Brandenburg Gate (iconic symbol of Berlin)
Holocaust Memorial
Jewish Museum
Berlin Underworld (tour of underground WWII bomb shelters)
East Side Gallery (1 km stretch of remaining Berlin Wall)
Topography of Terror
Babelsberg Studio tour (Germany’s Hollywood)
Pergamon Museum (gates of Ishtar, relics from ancient Babylon etc.)
Altes National Gallerie (old national art gallery)
Here I am standing just in front of the Brandenburg gate; that's what those columns are in the background. The brown bear that’s hugging me is a folksy symbol of Berlin, kinda like the Newfoundland Puffin. Stuffed bears, pins, key-chains etc. sold at all tourist kiosks. When I saw a costumed one I couldn't resist getting a picture.

 We did lots of walking, according to one of my fellow students with a pedometer about 15,000 steps a day! In addition to taking subways and buses, eating on the run, and dropping into bed at night with a brain full of new input. Sounds tiring, but it really wasn’t. In spite of my very recent surgery I kept up pretty well and thoroughly enjoyed everything with a fun group of fellow MUN students.