Weeks 4-7; Freiburg again, then Frankfurt to Brussels.
Back in Freiburg, and into the routine. Classes were in full session, and every day proceeded like every other. Mondays, 10:45 – 1:30. Tuesdays, 10:45-6:00. Wednesdays, 10:45-12:15. Thursdays, 10:45-1:30. Fridays, 9:00-1:30. Not to say the days were monotonous, of course, but things have started to take a regular cycle, of which I could easily get used to. Between classes and homework, weekends are a chance to take a day trip to Colmar or Strasbourg in France, or Basel in Switzerland, or anywhere else our regional ticket provides access. The more audacious take a weekend out to Amsterdam or Milan, but I suppose I’m just biding my time until my Eurorail ticket is validated in late March. Europe remains as beautiful and unchanging as ever, but I do suppose the romance of it has worn off. After all, there are only so many cathedrals and castles you can visit before they start looking a little too similar to one another. Don’t get me wrong—the Notre Dame Cathedral in Strasbourg was incredible, more ornate and intricate than the Minster in Freiburg, but it just didn’t quite have that same feeling as looking at the Freiburg Minster on my very first day in Europe.
But as if in response to my continuing adaptation to my surroundings, just as I was beginning to be able to have some grasp of the language in Germany, I was thrown on another trip around Europe.
A 5:30 AM wake-up call for a 6:15 AM bus ride to Frankfurt am Main, Germany—dressed in business formal. We were to visit the European Central Bank to hear some speakers. The speakers themselves were okay, but I’ll save the gory details. The first presentation was more like an information session about the workings of the ECB, and the second presentation more like hearing a lady try to give a presentation about a topic she simply wasn’t familiar with from a powerpoint presentation prepared by someone else. Frankfurt itself was a very strange mix of modernity and antiquity. A small group of people and I were afforded the chance to take an elevator up to the top of the Eurotower, where an observation deck provided a 360 degree view of Frankfurt from some 54 stories high, where we could see the many skyscrapers peaking high above the Old City center. Appropriately nicknamed “Bankfurt” or “Mainhattan,” most of the skyscrapers were financial centers. Detusche Bank here, Volksbank there, Commerzbank over there… And after a short afternoon in Frankfurt, we were put back in the bus for a trip to Brussels, Belgium.
The biggest shock about being in Brussels was the language. Of their three official languages, German is not one of them. Instead, nearly everyone speaks French; when I went to the bar and tried to speak German, I was greeted with a strange look and a response in English. Strangely enough, being in Belgium reminded me of the first bit of shock upon arriving in Germany. A sense of non-belonging and foreignness, I simply felt like a tourist. Then I decided that it wasn’t such a big deal, and simply decided I would enjoy my time, even if it meant that I decided to act like a tourist. After all, it was my first time in Brussels.
So I went to the infamous “Delirium Cafe,” with their extensive collection of Belgian beers (the menu rotates every week, but I believe the total is some 2,000 different kinds) and the fountain with the peeing baby (“Manneken Pis”). The fountain was pretty disappointing. Where I was expecting an enormous fountain in a city center of a urinating baby, it was closer to the size of an actual baby. But then, I suppose it’s a good thing that it was the size of an actual baby. The Belgian waffles were delicious, but I unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity to try the french fries… which were actually invented in Belgium. Aside from the waffles, beer, and peeing babies, I also visited the European Commission with the program, as well as the European Council the day after. Then our short three days were over as quickly as it had begun, and suddenly, I was back on the bus.
And now, as I’m on the highway en route to Paris, all I can say is this:
German beer is still better than Belgian beer. Au revoire, Brussels!