Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Mannheim: die ersten Tage // The First Days

Das Schloss that houses the Universität Mannheim

Endlich bin ich in Deutschland! It's been nearly a week since I left America and I'm starting to get the hang of Germany. Everything is almost the same as America but with enough differences that I trip myself up quite a bit. The currency is similar but different (their 5 cent coin is the same size and colour of our penny, and instead of 1€ bills they have 1€ and 2€ coins), their grocery stores are much cheaper but much smaller, stoplights are on the side of the street instead of on top, the cars have no trunks, the customer service workers are helpful but not very personable, and if you don't ask for "still water" you'll get sparkling water, to name a few things. And of course, everything is in German. So far my German is good enough to make it through basics like ordering food and shopping, but I certainly have plenty of room for improvement. I'm so thankful to have travelled with Cara Beth, a girl from my home university, so we can figure out the city together. 

The first two days were pretty awful as I went without sleep for 34 hours during my traveling, during which one of my suitcases was lost in transit, I missed my apartment check-in appointment and had to re-schedule with a very grumpy old man, and my remaining suitcase locked and jammed itself shut and I spent (literally) hours trying to open it. The day after that (Friday), I met a few other students that also came early for the Winter Academy program and realised that I was not the only one struggling, which made me feel a lot better. I spent Friday and Saturday doing some boring but necessary work - opening a German bank account, attempting to confirm my health insurance, buying a transportation pass and some groceries. 

Sunday was the true start of the fun. I went with a group of Winter Academy students to see an ice hockey game, which is a much bigger deal around here than I would've thought. We thought the game started in the early afternoon so we met around noon and took the tram over to the arena. Once there, we realised the game didn't actually start until nearly 6pm, so we took the tram back into the city and split up to get food while we waited with the plan to meet back up later. My group, three Canadians plus myself, went to Cafe Vienna, a popular student place to eat on weekends. The Sunday brunch spread was fantastic, with a mix of classic American breakfast foods and an assortment of German favourites. The coffee was especially wonderful. We did eventually make it to the game and we got the full Mannheim experience; we stood in the section with the insane fans that didn't stop yelling the entire time. We never quite got the cheers as there were so many of them, but we did enjoy drinking the bier and watching the crowd.

Monday was the first day of the Winter Academy. I'm in the B1/intermediate group, which so far is the perfect level for me. It runs for four hours each day/5 days a week, during which no English is allowed. It's only been two days but I already feel like my grasp of the language is stronger and I have no doubt that at the end of the month I'll have an excellent understanding of the language. The program lasts through the first week of February, and there are also many fun trips I have planned for the month, including trips to Heidelberg and Rothenburg. 

So far this trip has been one of the most challenging times I've put myself through, but I'm starting to enjoy Mannheim city life and it's been much easier now that I've made some more friends. I still have nearly six months to explore everything and I cannot wait to see what else this country holds for me.

London at 5:30a
Taking advantage of the free wifi
My neighbourhood

The city is dead on Sunday mornings as nothing is open all day.

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