Monday, May 24, 2010

Mein Abenteuer: First Week in Pforzheim

Since my arrival in Pforzheim, a lot has happened. I will start with my trip to the Goldstadt (city of gold). On Saturday 5/15, I would take the next step in my 103 long adventure by traveling to Pforzheim via train. This was the first time I had ever taken the train alone, so needless to say I was a bit nervous. Julian and his father dropped me off at the station in Landau around 4:15pm for my 4:22pm departure. I got my ticket for EUR 5.20, which, in my opinion, is a reasonable price to travel 70 kilometers. After about 30 minutes, I needed to change trains in Karlsruhe. The trip from Karlsruhe was only about 20 minutes. I would like to point out how convenient public transportation is. Since starting to use the bus system in State College to get to different classes, and now using the train system here in Germany, I must say I am very glad there are such systems.

When I arrived to Pforzheim, I was greeted by the international programs director Mrs. Schnabel. Along with being the program director, she is my German language teacher. Since I took German previously in high school and at Penn State, I tested into the higher level course. Mrs. Schnabel drove me to my apartment where I would be residing for the next six weeks. Although being on the outskirts of town, it was a quaint and inviting place possessing a full bathroom, kitchen, and a deck that overlooked a few streets. Accompanying me in the apartment were 3 others students; Mike, Evan, and Christina. Evan is my roommate and also from Penn State. Mike came from the University of Wyoming and Christina is from Germany and also studying at Pforzheim.

After I settled in, Mike offered to take Evan and I out to dinner at an authentic German restaurant with a few of his friends. Since we missed the bus, we needed to walk about 20 minutes to the restaurant which I took the opportunity to examine the city. Although some of the residents of Pforzheim say the city is ugly, I begged to differ. The architecture and environment gave it a more modern look, much different from my hometown. There were many shops, cafe's, restaurants, and apartment buildings that lined the streets of Pforzheim. We finally arrived at our destination, Chez Ernstle. It was a quiet, most likely family owned restaurant. There were about 15 of us, so we seated in a back room with a television that had a soccer game playing. Before ordering our meal, Mike suggested the local beer which was brewed across the street from Chez Ernstle, Gründerbier. This wasn't the first time I had a German beer so I wasn't surprised by the bold flavor, but it had a different taste to it which appealed to me. Once it was time to order, I had gone over the menu about three times without understanding 90% of it. I finally decided on "schnitzel mit pommes," which translates into pork with fries. I was content. The food was great and I completely satisfied my hunger.

Following dinner, Mike and I walked to a friends house where there was a little get together with some friends from the university. Mike introduced me to them. A few from France, some from Mexico, and then throughout the night I met some from Hungary and also some Germans. It was such a sight to see and hear different cultures collide in one room. I thought to myself, "by the time I leave this place, I will be speaking three or four languages!" Around midnight, we decided to go to a club in downtown Pforzheim. It just so happened to be the same club that I went to with the Landau mates on Thursday night. We arrived at Musikpark around 12:30am and spent about an hour and a half dancing and having some drinks. It was a great way to start off my stay here in Pforzheim.

On Sunday 5/16 I was fairly tired so I slept in until around noon. I then took some time to email and chat with some friends and family. Later that day, the group of students from Penn State as well as the program directors and some students from Pforzheim were to meet at an Italian restaurant for a meet and greet. So around 5, Evan and I took the bus downtown and met up with everyone. Once we got there, we found our places and began to talk about the different experiences we had getting over to Germany, etc. We finally got our food. I ordered lasagna and it was very good. Not an authentic German dish, but I enjoyed it.

When we finished dinner, our prep session teacher, Natja, offered to give us a quick tour of the downtown area before we headed to a Mexican style bar for some drinks. I finally got to meet my "buddy" that was assigned to me, Madeleine. We had previously emailed each other some information about the trip, the study, and some general tips that may help me get accustomed to the culture. We sat and chatted at the bar, Enchilada, for about an hour before making the hike home.

Monday 5/17 marked the first day of classes. At 11:00am, we were to meet at the university for an orientation about the program. The other program director, Dirk Wentzel gave a great introduction and then introduced the vice president of Pforzheim University, Michael Felleisen. Once the orientation was over, we got to eat lunch of the university cafeteria. The food was good and affordable. After lunch we went to our first class, German. I started in the beginner German class, but then took a placement test, which I scored high enough to get into the next level of German. After class, I headed back to the apartment. The rest of the night I relaxed after grabbing a bite down the street at a Thai cuisine restaurant.

On Tuesday, my German course started at 9:45am. Although this is relatively normal time for class to begin, I need to wake up much earlier than this in order to make it to class on time. I believe I woke up around 8:15am, grabbed a shower, and headed down to the bus stop for around 9:15am. I wanted to give myself enough time to test how long it would take to arrive at class. Unfortunately, I had to wait around 15 minutes for the first bus to arrive. I was hoping to grab some breakfast on the way since classes last about three and a half hours long, but since I was short on time I was only able to grab a croissant. At this point, I knew it would take some time to get used to a normal schedule. After catching the second bus to the university, I arrived just on time at 9:45 for class. For the next 3 or so hours, I was slowly beginning to remember what I had learned the previous 5 years in different german classes. It had been a year since I had my last German class at Penn State, but I eventually began to remember bits and pieces.

After class, we went to the cafeteria before heading downtown to meet the Mayor of Pforzheim. Once we arrived at the Rathaus (town hall), we were greeted by Mayor Gert Hager. He gave a warm, welcoming speech to our group. He seemed extremely pleased to have us. The next day, there was an article in the Pforzheimer Zeitung which featured an article about the group of Penn State students who are studying at "der Pforzheimer Hochschule."

Following our time with the mayor, we then had to opportunity to take part in a high ropes course located at the edge of the Black Forest. Prior to Tuesday, I had never experienced anything like a high ropes course. Basically, once you are secured by a harness, you then latch on to a steel cable about 25 feet in the air which prevents you from falling down. From that point on, there are many exercises you can participate in. Some included tires which were attached to individual ropes and you had to balance yourself and cross about a 20 foot gap by only using the materials they provided.

Along with the tire exercise, there were about 30 different obstacles that you could attempt. An interesting one was a single piece of nylon that was stretched over 50 feet to the next platform. I continued through the course to the final exercise which was more or less a zip line. It was really fun to descend about 100 feet into a rope net that caught you. That was the highlight of the day. Most of the group was hungry after the high ropes course, so a few of the Penn State students are from China offered to take us out for some authentic Chinese cusine. It would be an understatement to say I was excited to try some authentic Chinese food. We had a variety of platters which ranged from chicken to fish to beef. After a long day, I headed home for a solid nights rest.

The following day, Wednesday 5/19, was my first European Integration course with program director Mr. Wentzel. It was a very interesting class to say the least, so the three hours went relatively quick. I will give a brief summary to cover a little of what we went over in class. The first half of the class consisted of a solid summary of every country's economic situation within the European Union. The professor also touched on countries that could possibly be in the EU in the near future. Lacking the geography skills I once had in 7th and 8th grade, it was really interesting to hear the different statuses of all the countries in Europe. We also discussed the question, "What is Europe?" There is no real answer to that question, but Mr. Wentzel definitely gave us the best definition through applying multiple questions and concepts into the discussion. His final statement regarding "What is Europe" was, "As a core thesis and intermediate conclusion, it is clear that Europe is, in hardly any respect, clearly definable. Europe is much more of an open dynamic process in which the outcome is not clearly foreseeable. After class, our group headed to the cafeteria for lunch. Following lunch, our first prep session for our trip to Munich began. Our TA, Natja gave us a great history and economic status of many automobile companies within Europe, but mainly discussed BMW's impact on today's market. BMW was chosen because on Friday we would be traveling to Munich and visiting the BMW headquarters, production facility, and museum. It was interesting to hear some different views on the company and what its future may consist of.

After the prep session on BMW, we then made our way downtown for a guided tour of the city of Pforzheim. It was great to finally see the entire city so I could be more prepared when I wanted to visit something. Our first attraction was a church which had been fortunate enough to survive the bombing of Pforzheim during WWII.

My attempt to portray the church: failure.

The city suffered a tremendous assault during the latter part of WWII. Much of the city had been completely destroyed. We then continued to what the city of Pforzheim is extremely proud of and may be the main attraction for tourists. The only museum dedicated completely to jewelry.

Due to time restraints, we didn't get to view the entire museum, but I hope to go back and examine all the different types of jewelry. We then continued to make our way around the city while the guide mentioned bits of information regarding different buildings or landmarks, all interesting.

We then made our way to the jewelry shopping and historical center of Pforzheim. It was great to hear some history of the jewelry production in Pforzheim. One attraction that caught my eye was the 22 karat gold Porsche Boxter. It was amazing to see the creativity and uniqueness of such a vehicle.

After the tour, I think I speak for everyone when I say that exhaustion set in. Although tired, we all went to another authentic german restaurant. It was quite interesting due to the fact that none of us were fluent in German and the waitress spoke hardly any English. The German - English dictionaries were flying around the table, but in the end we all got what we wanted. I had Kartoffelsuppe (potato soup) and some schnitzel mit pommes. Oh, and two beers.

After dinner, it was time to go home and rest up for the night. The local Irish pub was having a karaoke night, so we all decided to go. After taking a little rest, I showered and started heading downtown. We arrived at the pub and it was packed! Me and another student from Penn State, Greg, split a pitcher of Heineken. Although some people were insisting I go on stage and sing "Sweet Home Alabama," I resisted stating, "I'll need about three more of these pitchers before I go up there!" Overall the Irish pub was a good time that for a short time had me forgetting I was actually in Germany.

Thursday was a routine day with the European Integration class in the morning and a speaker who talked about the earthquake in L'aquila, Italy during the spring of 2009. After class it was time to head home and pack my things for Munich! Our bus was to come early Friday morning at 5:30am.

Although I didn't get much sleep the night before, I was too excited to sleep on the bus. We left Pforzheim at approximately 6:00am on Friday morning for a two day journey to the city of Munich. Munich has an extremely historic past being home of many events, businesses, and landmarks. Although I could speak about the city for pages and pages, I will stick with my itinerary for the weekend. On Friday morning after our arrival, we had a 9:30am appointment to visit the BMW production facility. The entire BMW property consisted just over 6 acres of land.

BMW Headquarters, Munich

It was an unbelievable feat of architecture. We soon began our tour of the production facility. We started in the metal department where workers would control the machines, or "robots" as stated by our guide, that formed the body of the car. We then continued through the facility to see where the painting was done, the seating, all the way to where they test out the final product. It was very neat to see how many steps there are to complete a car. After the tour, we had a bite to eat and got to check out BMW Welt (world). Here they showcased a variety of new cars as well as motorcycles and also had some interesting games that you could play. After the production tour and some food, we continued to the BMW museum, which consisted of a complete history of BMW. Here they showcased classic cars, to modern cars, as well as engines, motorcycles, and some unique innovations.

Playing games

On the Police Beemer

Me wishing.

Inside BMW Welt

Inside BMW Welt

Following the BMW adventure, we took our luggage to the hostel we were staying at on the outskirts of Munich. Having such little rest, I decided to take a little nap before heading to our next thrill, the Hofbräuhaus. Once I was rested, I then made my way into the heart of the city. Here, there were many interesting sites which gave tourists an opportunity to learn more about Munich's culture. After seeing some interesting landmarks, I made my way to the Hofbräuhaus. The Hofbräuhaus might be the closest you get to authentic German culture.

Me and Carolina in the Hofbräuhaus

Beer flying, bratwurst being engulfed, and live Bavarian folk music being played made for an incredible evening I will never forget. Once we had enough beer, food, and Bavarian fold music, it was time to hit up the nightlife in downtown Munich. Before traveling to Munich, I had heard the nightlife was world renowned. Without a doubt, it lived up to the hype.

The next day our group was to travel to the Neuschwanstein Castle, home to King Ludwig II of Bavaria. We arrived around 1:00pm to one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen in my entire life. The landscape and atmosphere can speak for itself. This sight is a prominent tourist attraction and completely caught me off guard. I had been to a few castles before, but the geography of Neuschwanstein was breathtaking. I couldn't close my eyes. I will let the pictures and videos do most of the talking, but it was such a great experience to have witnessed something this beautiful. After viewing all of the different attractions, it was getting late so we decided to head back to Pforzheim.


Neuschwanstein Castle

King Ludwig II of Bavaria Castle in the Distance

Beautiful View

Breathtaking Mountains

Castle of King Ludwig II

Observation Bridge

In front of the Castle

Today is Monday 5/24 and I am only touching the tip of the iceberg. I am thankful that I have the opportunity to see and participate in the things I have done so far and I am looking forward to spending the next 3 months traveling and telling my story. I hope you are enjoying my stories and I hope to have caught up on my adventures so far as to not have the next blog so long. For the week of 5/24, my upcoming schedule include a trip to Karlsruhe to visit the Federal Constitutional Court and a tour of the Media Museum: The World's First and Only Museum for Interactive Art. For more videos and pictures, please see my facebook page for more information.

1 comment:

  1. Keep the posts coming (as your studies allow). I love travel stories and photographs.