A big part of studying abroad for me is that it will allow me to get a major in German, because any class in which the language of instruction is German gets counted as a German class. That’s why I chose to come to Germany instead of anywhere else in the world, and that’s why all of my classes are taught in German!
IES Freiburg (and globally) offers programs for language students and people who only know English, and the staff is completely fluent in English. When they talk to us in the Language and Area Studies program, though, they only use German, and we’re encouraged to try to use German among ourselves as well, which is why the rest of this post will be entirely auf Deutsch. Just kidding!
Admittedly, it can be hard to remain “immersed” in the language- when I’m with the other American students, it’s so easy to just slip back into English, and when I’m texting or calling with people back home, I have to only use English. That’s one of the reasons why I appreciate having a German grammar class four hours per week, doing all of my homework in German, and hearing all of my lectures in German. My notes often end up being a mixture of Deutsch and English, which is known affectionately here as Denglisch. ‘Franken-sentences” of mismatched languages abound.
Luckily, the professors all speak relatively good English and can help us out if we don’t understand something.
German classes in general are structured differently from American classes. There’s less homework, and instead our grades are based primarily on 1 presentation, 1 research paper, a midterm exam, and a final exam. The concept of “multiple choice” tests hasn’t made it across the pond, and Germans seem skeptical and bemused by the idea. All exams are short-essay style. Thankfully, we’re allowed to use translation dictionaries to help us during exams, and the professors don’t dock points if we have to use the occasional English word.
My classes here are my language & culture class, German economics, German 21st century politics, and the history of the German state. It’s very interesting to get the European and German perspective on things that I’ve only ever heard from the American perspective. One would think that something like economics would be universal, but one would be wrong- the German have developed what they call “Ordo-Liberalism”, whereas Americans focus mostly on classical & neo-liberalism and Keynesian economics. I’ve also come to understand the roots of the first and second World Wars better than I ever have before, because Germans are much more concerned with questions like “why was Germany assigned all of the blame for WWI? Why did the Wiemar Republic fail so quickly?” The German perspective is helping me to see and understand the world more clearly, which is one of the biggest advantages of studying abroad.
While all of my classes are through IES, I could have chosen to participate in a course at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg (Uni-Freiburg for short) or at the Pädagogische Hochschule (PH). Many of the other students are doing one class at the university and the rest through IES. The university classes end a month later than the IES classes, which means that people taking university classes get to stay in Germany a month longer. Since I’m doing an internship, though, I get to stay late regardless, so I didn’t feel the need to take a university class (and it was a bit intimidating!)
The library is also a different experience. Before going in to where the books are, you have to lock all of your bags and coats in lockers. Anything that you want to bring in has to be carried in a shopping bag, and you can only bring water in clear containers. It’s much stricter than Van Wylen! On the ground floor is also a cafe in case you get hungry while studying, and you can reserve your study space using a little placard that displays what time you left. If you’ve been gone for more than an hour, though, people are free to take over your spot.
Students in Germany also tend to be older than American students. Many of the German students whom I’ve met are in their late 20s or early 30s. There’s not so much the “traditional” student who goes to college for a neat and tidy four years right after high school. It seems to be fairly common to wait a few years before entering the university, and also the idea of a very rigid 4-year plan isn’t as common here.
Mahpiohanzia – (n.) the disappointment of being unable to fly, unable to stretch out your arms and vault into the air, having finally shrugged off the ballast of your own weight and ignited the fuel tank of unfulfilled desires you’ve been storing up since before you were born.
This may be a fabricated word; however, I find it quite relatable. Besides . . . don’t we only have words because someone arbitrarily decided on them? The restless part of my soul that has always longed to have the ability to fly would finally be complacent, at least for 40 seconds. I would soon be free falling from a height of roughly 14,000 feet. I’d been eager to skydive for a while now so of course I was ecstatic beyond belief. This does not indicate, however, that I was calm and unwavering in my decision.
The insanity of jumping from a helicopter in a few short hours slowly materialized as my parents and I drove our rental car directly from the airport to Skydive Interlaken. My heart would lurch within my chest every time my mind would attempt to visualize myself jumping from such an immense height. The concept of free falling for more than the few seconds experienced while riding a roller coaster sent my stomach into a continuous somersault. My nerves remained uneased as the instructor’s explanation of the procedure lasted merely a couple of minutes. It seemed far too simple; I felt unprepared. I was slightly reassured by the fact that I would be physically fastened to a professional who’d jumped hundreds of times before.
Once we were all set in the helicopter, we swiftly ascended past the trees moving far above the mountains. I kept thinking we had to be high enough yet our constant speed upwards persisted. We finally reached the desired jump point above two of the most iconic lakes in Switzerland (Thun and Brienz). Half-believing my own words, I told the instructor now holding my life in his hands that I was ready. He opened the door allowing gusts of wind to toss traces of freezing rain onto our faces. The very moment I stepped onto the skid of the helicopter, my fear evaporated. I stood there awestruck until our feet abandoned the safety of the helicopter. The free fall completely embodied the way I envision being free.
My eyes darted around at the elegantly snowcapped mountains and strikingly turquoise lakes. Once the chute was pulled, we floated down slow enough to admire more of the landscape. It was unreal enough to pass for a green screen. I clung to the unique view knowing that I’d never again have the splendor of seeing the exact same perspective . . . a sight that only birds have the luxury of observing. After landing, I immediately wanted to go again. I began struggling to maintain a grasp on the experience as I felt it fading rapidly from my awareness. The euphoria lingered while I mentally checked off a major component of my bucket list.
*Shout-out to my dad for being crazy enough to join me, and to my mom for letting us chase our dreams.
This country was far too beautiful for me to refrain from sharing more pictures:
Antes de llegar a España, como todos aquellos que estudian en el extranjero, investigué sobre cosas que se pueden hacer en estas nuevas fronteras. Así encontré muchísimos eventos y fiestas que me llamaron la atención. Pero luego vi una fiesta que caía a mediados de marzo en la ciudad costera de Vàlencia. Una fiesta sobre la cual habíamos hablado en mi clase de español en la prepa. Recuerdo cuando mi profesora en aquel entonces, la señorita Browne, nos contó sobre una fiesta donde el pueblo se reunía para hacer grandísimas estructuras de madera en todas partes de la ciudad para luego quemarlas al final de la fiesta. Cuando nos explicó el concepto yo supuse que las estructuras iban a ser algo hecho muy de prisa y sin mucha atención, como a final de cuentas se iban a quemar. Pero luego nos mostró unas fotos y quedé verdaderamente asombrado de las maravillosas estructuras que podían hacer los valencianos. Eran verdaderas obras de arte que estaban destinadas a ser quemadas. Esto era algo que tenía que ver con mis propios ojos.
Las Fallas: Lo primero que vi al llegar a Vàlencia fueron las Fallas, estructuras de cartón y madera hechas por vecindarios enteros de valencianos. Algunos se tardan alrededor de todo un año para hacer semejante estructura.
Mascletà: Es la exposición de “petardos,” como le dicen aquí, que hacen en la plaza histórica de Vàlencia. Petardos, para todos mis mexicanos, son cohetes, pero cohetes de ruido como las palomas mexicanas. La mascletà ocurre durante cada día de la fallas a las dos de la tarde.
L’Ofrena de flors: Significa la ofrenda de flores en valenciano. Esta sucede del 17 al 18 de marzo, cuando cada casal faller le lleva flores para decorar una reproducción de la Virgen María. Por cierto una casal faller es el grupo de falleros que hacen una falla. Por lo regular cada casal faller esta compuesta de vecinos y gente que vive en la misma vecindad.
La Cremà: Significa la finalización de la fiesta. Ocurre en la madrugada del 19 de marzo. A las diez de la noche del 18 de marzo se empiezan a quemar las fallas infantiles que se ubican a escasos metros de las principales. Después, empezando alrededor de la media noche se empiezan a quemar a diferentes horas las fallas principales. Culminando con la quema de la falla municipal en la plaza histórica. Por cierto el nombre falla proviene de la palabra castellana de antorcha, por eso el nombre de las estructuras.
La Nit del Foc: Si la cremà es la finalización de la fiesta, la nit del foc es la celebración de ella. Es una serie de cohetes que se truenan y explotan en el cielo que se traduce al castellano en la noche de fuego. Es el último acto de la fiesta y marca el comienzo de otro año entero antes de la próxima fiesta.
Me encantó poder ir a una fiesta tan extraordinaria aquí en España. Cuando aprendí sobre las Fallas en mi segundo año de prepa yo jamás pensé que iba a poder ver con mis propios ojos esas grandísimas estructuras. Gracias a Dios y a mis padres he podido ver las estructuras erguidas y como se quemaron hasta el piso. Ese par de días en Vàlencia jamás se me olvidaran.
Before arriving in Spain like all those who study abroad I did a little research on the things that I could do within these new borders. While doing my research I found many events and parties that caught my attention. I then saw a party that fell on mid-March in the coastal city of Válencia. A party that we had discussed in my Spanish class in high school. I remember when my teacher at that time, Mrs.Browne told us about a party where the town got together to make huge wooden structures all over the city, only to burn them at the end of the party. When she explained the concept, I assumed that the structures were going to be something done very hastily and very rough, as in the end they would be burned. Then she showed us some pictures and I was truly amazed with the wonderful structures that the Valencians could make. They were true works of art that were designed to be burned. That was something I had to see with my own eyes.
Las Fallas: The first thing I saw upon arriving at Vàlencia were the Fallas, cardboard and wooden structures made by entire Valencian neighborhoods. Some groups take around a whole year to make such a structure.
Mascletà: It is the exhibition of firecrackers as they say here, which they do in the historical square of Vàlencia. The mascletà occurs during each day of the fallas at two o’clock in the afternoon.
L’Ofrena de flors: It means the offering of flowers in Valencian. This takes place from March 17 to 18, when each house faller brings flowers to decorate a reproduction of the Virgin Mary. By the way, a faller house is the group of falleros that make a falla. Usually, each house makes a falla, composed of neighbors and people who live in the same neighborhood.
La Cremà: Signifies the end of the party. It happens in the early hours of March 19th. At ten o’clock on the night of March 18th, the children’s fallas that are located a few meters from the main ones begin to burn. Starting around midnight, the main fallas begin to burn at different times. Culminating with the burning of the municipal falla in the historic plaza. By the way the name falla comes from the Castilian word torch, giving the structures their names.
La Nit del Foc: If the cremà is the end of the party, the Nit del Foc is the celebration of it. It is a series of fireworks that thunder and explode in the sky, this translates into the night of fire in Castilian. It is the last act of the party and marks the beginning of another whole year before the next party.
I loved being able to go to such an extraordinary party here in Spain. When I learned about the Fallas in my second year of high school, I never thought I would be able to see these huge structures with my own eyes. Thanks to God and my parents I have been able to see the structures erected and later burned to the ground. Those were a couple of days in Vàlencia I will never forget.
I have long excelled at doing nothing. One of my favorite childhood pastimes was sitting on a riverside rock for hours upon end, whiling away the summer just watching the fish, frogs, and water voles cavort in the current.
Then adulthood came and I was expected to actually do things with my time, so that childhood habit fell by the wayside.
…Or at least, it did for a few years. Now it’s assigned for class.
As part of our homework for the Fundamentals of Tropical Biology class, we students need to wade into the underbrush, have a seat for an hour, and catalogue everything we see, smell, and hear in that area. The exercise trains us to quickly notice the most important aspects of a local habitat and often prompts questions about the ecological interactions we perceive. That latter part reveals the other purpose of this exercise; it provides a sort of brainstorming process for the independent ecological research projects that will be our magnum opera of this semester.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed completing these exercises in every major biome we visit, but our current location has provided the most interesting wilderness for exploration. We’re now staying at La Selva (“The Jungle”) Biological Station in northeast Costa Rica. There are nearly 4,000 acres of tropical rainforest held by this station, and there’s no lack of activity as the rainy season is just beginning to start in earnest. Life is everywhere you look!
For starters, these little guys—about the size of my last pinky joint—are perpetually underfoot! This is the aptly-named strawberry dart frog.
If you’ll allow me to really get nerdy for a second: their scientific name is Oophaga pumilio, which is Latin for “dwarf egg eater” (pūmilio, oon, phagos). They won this moniker because the female carts the tadpoles up into the trees soon after hatching so that they can develop in the isolated, safe puddles of rainwater trapped by bromeliads and other tree-dwelling plants.1 The devoted strawberry dart frog mother then cares for her growing children by periodically stopping by these puddles and laying unfertilized eggs for them to eat. If she leaves them alone for too long, they’ll start splashing at the puddles’ surface to communicate their desire to feed on the proteins of their unfathered siblings.
I realize that the saga of Oophaga might not be appealing to everyone, so let’s move right along and check out this glasswing butterfly. Butterflies and moths have tiny scales on their wings which give them pattern and color, which you might have already found out if you ever tried touching one and a fine colorful dust rubbed off on your fingers. But the glasswing butterflies are special; their wing scales are modified into translucent hairs, so you can see straight through the wing frame! Their Spanish name is espejitos, or “little mirrors,” which is just plain adorable.
There are all sorts of amphibious critters to be found in the forest. This tree frog is cozied up with some thick epiphyll cover—that mossy growth on the leaf surface. He’s a nocturnal species, and is more than a little grumpy at being woken. I feel a special kinship.
This is the biggest damselfly I’ve ever seen, with an abdomen about four inches long. I think it’s Megaloprepus caerulatus, which boasts the largest wingspan of all damselflies (and even dragonflies) worldwide! They, like the dart frogs, raise their young in arboreal puddles called phytotelmata. Unlike the dart frogs, they lay all their eggs in one puddle and let the carnivorous young naiads murder and cannibalize each other until a few satisfied winners emerge and develop to adulthood. It’s lonely at the top.
The roots of the trees here seem as old and broad as the earth, and sport so much moss that they appear to be growing small forests of their own. The biodiversity here at every level is stunning, and I’m excited to spend the last weeks of this program surrounded by so much pure life.
A uniquely popular phrase here in Costa Rica is “pura vida!” or “pure life!” It can be used as a greeting, a farewell, or a philosophy. I think I’m finally beginning to understand.
My whole life I have been surrounded by creative cooks. From my mom fixing up schnitzel and spaghetti carbonara in the kitchen to my boyfriend, Daniel, mixing up a new pastry or challenging dish, I am never without a new treat to try. In Oman I am surrounded by new foods, but there is a simplicity in the palate that I’m not used to—unless I’m eating at an Indian restaurant where they bring on the spice. The important element of meals is not necessarily what is on the plate, but who you are sharing the plate with. There are some treats that I grab on my way to meeting someone, and other meals that center on sharing them with your neighbors or family. However, every Omani dish I have had was in a hospitable, friendly setting.
In a typical Omani home, a specific room called a majilis is designated simply for hosting. I have been to a few different majilis and each one is different. Otherwise, we would share a meal in the hadeeka (garden). Men and women typically eat separately and typically in a home if possible there will be a men’s and a women’s majilis. This took some getting used to, and I will admit to not enjoying every flavor of every food, but the time to sit and have conversation is where I learned most about Omani culture and Islamic tradition.
Some of these items are not unique to Oman, but either brought from Indian cuisine or a general favorite across the Arab world. I’ll do my best to dish out which is what. I’ve had these prepared in many ways and every time they have tasted different. I cannot hope to replicate the dishes, but I’ve enjoyed sampling. Let’s start with dessert….
Halwa is the most traditional dish for a sweet bite and is uniquely Omani. It’s a unique combination of tapioca, spices such as saffron, ghee, cardamom and nutmeg as well as rose water, and assorted nuts. The consistency is similar to sticky jello. Sometimes fruit or date paste is added. The best halwa I had was fresh at the Muscat festival. The picture is warmed and wrapped around and around a hot bowl like taffy. Fresh is the best when it comes to halwa, but I have been offered a free bite from every tourist spot and bakery.
Man making Halwa at Muscat Festival
Qahwah (coffee), Chai Karak (tea), and juice are all offered in every “coffee shop” around Oman. Each is a social drink and consumed several times daily in small paper cups. It’s hard to imagine coffee when it’s not in a big mug, however the cardamom coffee that is unique to the region is hard to take in big quantities. So, little porcelain cups in homes are used to share coffee with guests. Traditionally, guests shouldn’t drink more than three cups when visiting. I will miss the karak tea most because it is sweet and the first drink Shah brought me when we met. No two cups of karak taste the same. When my language partner made me some in Ibri, I almost didn’t recognize the combination of spices she used versus the coffee shop on the Mutrah corniche. But, one thing is guaranteed: the tea will be sweet.
Danny having a cup of Karak in Shah’s shop
Coffee start in the Sahara
Qahua in Nizwa
My absolute favorite snack in Oman is samosas. Samosas are most famous as a side to your Indian restaurant’s main course. However, they are found all over the Arabian Peninsula as well. Samosas can be stuffed with anything from vegetables to chicken. My favorite were in Ibri right across from my language school. These were stuffed with potatoes, onions, cilantro and a combination of spices. It took everything I had in me not to get a couple every day. By the time I left, the men in the shop knew me and always asked “samosa?” when I walked in. In Muscat, we get plenty of smaller, crispy samosas when we visit Shah. These are made of a lighter dough and are always fresh when we get them from the coffee shop on the corniche.
Samosas in Shah’s shop
Danny and Ben having a snack at the shop near Arabic school
Tabouleh is a salad with a parsley and garlic base, cucumbers, tomatoes and lemon. I was familiar with this snack from home, but the garlic is much heavier here in Oman. Occasionally I feel I am not getting enough grain from my normal diet so I’ll go grab tabbouleh to boost my iron. I just might brush my teeth four times that day!
Litchi, Bananas and coconut are my fruits to throw in my bag for a snack. Coconuts are grown more in the southern city of Salalah. For part of my spring break I spent a few days in the sun and my taxi driver dropped me off on the side of the road to have a vendor chop off the top of a fresh coconut for a drink, and hand me a banana. Litchi is a fruit I never have back home. I feel as if I’m eating a rose, and I love litchi juice as well!
Coconut water in Salalah
Fruit stand in Salalah
Favorite Litchi drink
Litchi for snack next to some halwa
Meat, Meat, Meat
For lunch with guests, fresh goat and rice are typically the first pick. After sharing qahwah the main meal will come out. On one occasion on a visit to a farm, our group was met with a huge platter of rice and meat. Half the goat went to the women, and the other to the men. We all stayed around the platter and pulled off the meat with our hands and some of the women helped us scoop with our hands. Out of this struggle came laughter and joking and fun memories. I also had a bit of the brain…how’s that for a cultural experience?
Turkish grill at another restaurant
Pita, fatoush and hummus a typical snack! There is a frankincense burner in the back too!
Among with goat meat, camel kabobs and chicken are common to find in town. In Salalah we tried some camel from a shop off the road. During the week in Ibri, camel kabobs hit the spot when we wanted some added protein. A man just down the road would grill up the kabobs next to his car and smother them in a spicy sauce before smiling and handing us our lunch.
Shwarma is a great combination of chicken, sauces and maybe some veggies wrapped in pita. It’s great for a lunch or late-night snack and has definitely become a part of my weekly diet in Muscat along with a large watermelon or lemon mint juice.
Shwarma and a juice!
Camel meat shop in Salalah
One of the best places for dinner in Mutrah we refer to as “Plate o’ meat”. The mixed grill of lamb, beef and chicken along with hummus, pita and a side of fatoush (basic green salad with fried pita chips on top) is perfect for a big meal. This is a typical middle eastern mix of dishes along with mint tea to finish.
Start with hummus, salad and chicken soup
Meat and juice at Plate O’ Meat
…and don’t forget the Dates
Of course, I have to finish with the most popular part of the Omani diet: dates. I’ve mentioned them before and I’ll mention them again because every Omani home has a stash. When visiting Nizwa, I saw more dates than I will probably ever see again in many, many varieties. The date trade has been present in Oman for centuries and most are still picked off the palm trees individually. On one visit to a farm, try the process of wiggling up the trunk of a palm tree as a date farmer would. I finished with nothing but several scratches to show for it.
Southern Germany, Freiburg included, has been a stronghold of German Catholic Christianity for over 1,700 years, and especially after Charlemagne (742-814 AD) united Germany and France into the Holy Roman Empire under the auspices of the Pope. Even after the Reformation, the south stayed true to the Roman pontiff. In Freiburg, this history has a physical presence: construction of the Freiburg Cathedral of Our Lady (known colloquially as the “Münster”) began as early as 1120 AD, though the original building was much smaller than today’s impressive red, Gothic masterpiece. Even after bombings during both World Wars, the Münster is 90% original- even the stained glass windows date back to the 1400s, when local trade guilds funded their construction.
When you walk into the dim, cool interior of the Münster, it’s like you’ve been transported back in time. People light votive candles, pray in pews, and worship in much the same way that they have been for a thousand years. The continuity is striking. Compared to America, where everything is mostly 300 years old or younger, the Christian in Germany has a more tangible sense of timelessness.
Germany has nowhere near the religious diversity that the U.S. has. About 55% of the German population identifies as Christian, and that number is pretty evenly split between Catholics and Lutherans: to an extent, it seems that groups besides these two main ones aren’t noticed by the public at large.
It can be difficult for me to try to explain to Germans what it’s like in America or at Hope with so many different denominations, because the language doesn’t avail itself to subtleties. I believe the large absence of other denominations is because of Europe’s tradition of national churches- after the Reformation got the ball rolling, kingdoms in Northern Europe created national churches under the authority of the monarchy. Examples of this would be the Church of England, the Church of Sweden, the Church of Scotland, the Dutch Reformed Church, and the Lutheran Church in Germany. Because these were associated with a specific European nation, they didn’t spread into other European nations, whereas colonies on other continents were “fair game” for missionary work and pilgrims.
Another unique feature of the religious landscape in Germany is their separation of Church and State- or lack thereof. The strongest political party (both historically since the founding of the Bundesrepublik after WWII and currently, though they’ve weakened significantly in the past couple decades) is the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), of which Chancellor Angela Merkel is the chairwoman. While today the CDU has backed away from being overtly Christian in favor of plurality, its foundations and worldview are still Christian. Interestingly, the CDU (and economists from Freiburg University) are responsible for the current prevailing economic theory and the modern economics system: the “social market economy,” which they like to call “caring capitalism”. A great effort is made to insist that this system isn’t socialist or communist, because the government does not control the economy, but rather regulates the private sector to ensure that people are treated fairly. “Treating people fairly,” however, may often look somewhat socialist to Americans, but Germans are quick to correct you that these policies of wealth-redistribution, mandatory state-run health insurance, and regulations regarding the dismissal of employees are social, not socialist. This leads to further linguistic confusion: when Americans talk about “social issues,” we mean things like LGBT+ issues, race relations, religious liberty controversies, etc., whereas Germans consider “social issues” to mean unemployment assistance, welfare programs, Social Security pension programs, etc. The Christian element in German politics has translated into a government that concerns itself that the “downs” in life don’t destroy people, that no one has to live in inhumane conditions, and that creation is protected.
The Christian heritage of Freiburg is also obvious in day-to-day life. The Munster has been the center of the city for centuries, and it’s Gothic spire is considered the symbol of Freiburg. The skyline would be incomplete without it!
Many doors in Germany have the same little chalk inscriptions on them. There’s a German tradition where every year on the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th (also called the Twelfth Day of Christmas or Three Kings Day), priests go around blessing homes for the New Year. The letters written have two meanings: one is the initials of the three kings who came to honor the Baby Jesus (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar), and the second is the Latin phrase “Christus mansionem benedicat”, which means “Christ bless this house.” The numbers are the years since the birth of Jesus (aka the current year), and the crosses are a symbol of Christ.
Every day of the week except Sunday, an outdoor market sets up around the Munster selling all kinds of things- flowers, produce, candles, bread, sausage, and toys are just some of what you can find. This market has been going on since 1120, and there’s still carvings in the doorway of the Munster that show the standard measurements used by the medievals. Having this market was a big deal for Freiburg in the early days and helped to develop the city as a center for trade- and all of it is centered around the Munster.
Public holidays in Germany are more frequently also Christian holidays. Christmas Eve, Christmas, Good Friday, Easter Monday, the Ascension of Christ, Pentacost, Corpus Christi, and All Saint’s Day are all public holidays. On these holidays and on every Sunday, most businesses close and public transportation runs on reduced schedules. If you need to go grocery shopping on a Sunday, you’re basically out of luck, even in the city!
A further entanglement between Church and State is the “Church Tax”. Every month, Christian citizens have a tithe automatically deducted by the government from their paycheck to go to a federally recognized religious congregation. In Germany, the Church and the government have historically had a fairly close relationship, in which both mutually relied upon and benefited from each other’s administrative structures- the Church Tax is simply a continuation of this symbiosis.
Because of the Church Tax, churches in Germany are relatively well funded and rich compared to America. However, secularism is on the rise in Germany, especially in the former socialist German Democratic Republic (East Germany), where Christianity was discouraged by the government. Slightly over 50% of German youths aren’t religious, and it shows when I go to church here- most people are rather elderly, the pews aren’t full, and there’s not as many families with children as I see in America.
Nevertheless, I have been able to find ways to get involved with the local faith community here in Freiburg. I joined one of the 5 choirs at the Munster, which has helped me meet a lot of people. The age range is really broad (about 20 to 65), but everyone is very friendly and nice, so I don’t feel out of place. (I’m planning a post specifically about my involvement in the choir later.)
I also found a young adults prayer group that meets every other week at a church in the city center. Everyone has been really welcoming, even inviting me to other events to hang out with them. After an hour of praise & worship, we hang out with cookies and tea. It’s been a great opportunity to meet faithful young adults and practice my German, since all of them are native Germans! (And a few are now reading my blog, so shout-out to them!)
I’ve found that Germans in general tend to not approach strangers, but are really quite friendly once you approach them. For my first few weeks in Freiburg, no one talked to me after church at all (except for one fellow, who vanished quite fast once I told him I had a boyfriend). Even the clergy don’t tend to shake hands or chat after the service, and I’ve never seen an offer of donuts and coffee. I had to put in very intentional effort to involve myself, but once I did, the Germans are just as chatty, curious, and kind as Americans.
The University Church also offers a service in English once per month, but so far I’ve happened to miss it every time. Luckily, I do alright with the German services. I can understand most of what’s said now, especially since I’m already familiar with the Bible readings. Oftentimes the sermons escape me, though, because of the echo. One German tradition that I think is an interesting and nice touch is ending sermons with “Amen,” as if the sermon was one long prayer.
German ecclesial language is a little bit different and more formal than the kind of “everyday” German we learn in school, so sometimes I don’t know specific biblical or theological terms. I always find it amusing when someone refers to “Jesus and His disciples,” because in German it’s “Jesus und seine Jüngern” which sounds an awful lot like “Jesus und seine Jungen,” which means “boys”. Every time I hear a German say that, I hear it as a story about”Jesus and his ‘boyz'” getting up to some new adventure in ancient Israel. As Church history teaches us, one letter makes a world of difference.
I’m also not entirely convinced that Germans haven’t tried to make one big pun out of communion- the priest says to each person “Der Leib Christi” (the Body of Christ) before giving them the sacramental bread. However, the German word for a loaf of bread is “Laib“, which is pronounced exactly the same as “Leib” (body), and they could have very easily stuck with the word from Latin, “Körper” (like “corpus“). This coupled with the Germans’ love for puns makes me mighty suspicious.
Click on the circles below to see photo collages of some of the churches around Freiburg!
This is the church in my neighborhood. It’s quite new (2005) and designed in the “brutalist” architectural style.
This church has a very interesting surrealist style.
After the University Church was bombed during WWII, it was rebuilt but painted completely white inside. The “corpus” (Jesus on the cross) is done in a brutalist style and is massive- you can’t really tell how huge it is from the photos, but it’s giant in person.
For various German Christian art, click on the circular thumbnails below:
This angel holding the Bible is on the pulpit in St. John’s.
This impressive, life-sized wood carving of Jesus is in Sacred Heart.
This tapestry is one of the oldest surviving of its kind in Germany and hangs in the Munster every year during Lent. It’s from 1612!
This is the main altar of the new Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin.
This is the baroque church of St. Peter in the Black Forest.
This side-altar in Lucerne shows the death of the Virgin Mary.
This statue is in the University Church and might be depicting Jesus.
This woodcarving is in the University Church and might be depicting Jesus.
St. Michael’s in Freiburg is entirely decorated in surrealist art.
This life-size statue of the Madonna and Child sits in St. Martin’s.
This mosaic, depicting a bishop’s mitre, cross, and shepherd staff, is on the sidewalk outside the old bishop’s apartment on the main square.
This moss-covered statue is a tombstone in the old cemetery in Freiburg. The graves here all dated in the mid-1800s, and many of them had “Auf Wiedersehen” inscribed on them, which means “Until We Meet Again”.
After finishing up WWOOFing throughout the UK, as I talked about in my last blog, Gabbi and I headed to London. We spent a day in London before flying to Salzburg, Austria and, then, taking a train to Vienna.
London is a massive city filled with tons of things to do. So, what do you do if you only have a day there? We decided to purchase a travel card for the day which covered our use of the bus system and the tube and to stick to a rough itinerary that I made a couple of nights before arriving.
We started our day with a long walk through the city centre, stopping to admire and take pictures of some important locations: Big Ben (which was under construction) and the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey, and St. James Park. We spent a long time milling through St. James Park before making our way up to Buckingham Palace, where the crowd had started to form for the Changing of the Guard.
After watching the Changing of the Guard, we stopped into a grocery store down the street to grab food for a picnic in Hyde Park, where we took a little break before going to Kensington gardens. All three of these parks (St. James Park, Hyde Park, and Kensington gardens) are practically connected, so it was a nice, long, green walk.
Exiting Kensington gardens by the Royal Albert Hall and Natural History Museum, we disappeared underground to put our tube tickets to use and re-emerged outside of the British Library. We bought a few macaroons from the Real Food Market outside of the station then went to explore the few collections we could without purchasing a library membership. Then, we walked across the street to check out Platform 9 and ¾ from Harry Potter before disappearing underground once again.
This time we returned above ground opposite the River Thames of the Borough Market. We crossed the London Bridge to walk through the Borough Market, where we would return for dinner, to go on a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe.
After the tour and dinner, we went to the National Gallery for the remainder of the night before racing around the city to catch the last train to London Stansted for our flight to Salzburg the next morning.
We didn’t have much time in Salzburg and were pretty worn out from the day in London, so we just walked around and enjoyed the beautiful city and its delicious food before catching the train to Vienna. We spent a couple of days exploring Vienna with a few of our friends who are also studying at the University of Aberdeen this term. The main highlights were Schönbrunn Palace, the Vienna State Opera, St. Stephan’s Cathedral, and the food, and they were all incredible! But, I will let the pictures speak for themselves. (I forgot to take pictures of the schnitzel and the käsekrainer, so you will have to take my word for it on those).
Then, it was off to Budapest and Prague for the final stretch of spring break.