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Heidelberg, Germany

Max Weber Haus in Heidelberg, Germany

Where it all went down.

Once upon a time, I made the mistake of putting myself on a mailing list.

Not the kind where you type your email address into the computer at the register at DSW and the girl assures you, “ALL we send are coupons, I promise,” or the kind where you get a Hulu Plus account (finally, after “thinking about it” for like a year) and then you get emails that say unnecessary things like “John, Catch the Latest Fall TV This Week.” Not that kind.

I mean the kind where you write your email next to your name on a piece of paper on a clipboard, or taped to a table, or getting passed around the room. Kids, never do this. Ever.
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Originally published on the College Voice‘s Abroad Blog, Fall 2009.

Like many people with no one to answer to, I’ve been pushing the envelope on what I’ll let myself get away with. Laundry tossed unfolded into the dresser, empty but un-disposed-of food boxes, and a collection of beer bottles behind the door that’s beginning to impede its ability to open are symptoms of my decline. My aversion to the trash situation here in Room 207 is but one, loosely heaped piece of a larger puzzle.

At the root of this particular heap is a mix of fear and confusion on my part (confearsion). Germany’s commitment to recycling, much like many of its hairstyles, is both severe and modern. Paper, plastic, green, brown, and white glass, compost, and regular trash are separated and collected on an alternating weekly basis. I think the compost really gives the system that “wow” factor.
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Originally published on the College Voice‘s Abroad Blog, Fall 2009.

Sometimes the moment a problem is identified is the same moment in which it becomes a problem. This was true in September when I walked into my friend’s apartment, looked at the ceiling and mused, “Is that light fixture off-center?” (It was like the electrician threw a dart to determine where the wiring should exit the plaster.) It was also true when the same friend said in October, “I haven’t seen a single bagel place in Germany.” Problems are everywhere, as it turns out; we just need to look for them.

They do have croissants here, which they call Hörnchen, a name that isn’t as pretty. My friend Mark tried for weeks to convince me of the existence of a sort of “German bagel.” This, according to him, is something called belegtes Brötchen, which is a halved roll, filled with lettuce, tomato, cheese, and some kind of meat. This is a sandwich. I tried to explain this, but he said simply, “We don’t really use that word.”

The Christian name of this apparent specialty comes from belegen, to fill or occupy (see: “beleaguer”), and the diminutive of Brot, meaning bread, which translates loosely to “breadlet.” There is no such thing as a German bagel. There is only bread, occupied by sandwich ingredients, constituting something other than a sandwich – an occupied breadlet.
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Originally published on the College Voice‘s Abroad Blog, Fall 2009.

This is the part of the vacation where you start to wish you’d brought different clothes. You say, “I hate this shirt. I have other shirts. Why did I bring this?” Decisions that once seemed straightforward and logical now seem just foolish. This is also the part where you really just want an onion bagel with veggie cream cheese, or a peanut butter and fluff sandwich, or a hot dog—familiar food that doesn’t mock you with inaccuracy and star-spangled wrapping like “Mike Mitchell’s Real American Cakes,” which are chocolate-chip muffins the size of teapots. The veneer is chipping away.

At times like this I play a game I like to call “This Is Why We Left” with American friends. Every frustration we have becomes an explanation for European immigration to America. “The dryer in our building has been broken for two months – this is why we left.” Of course, it’s wildly historically inaccurate, and indeed indicative of the impatient, self-absorbed attitude of which “Ammies” are typically accused, but some days enough is enough.
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Originally published on the College Voice‘s Abroad Blog, Fall 2009.

One of the best things about being on an exchange program like mine is the chance I have to live with other international students. I live in a single apartment in a building of about 20 single and double rooms. Half of my housemates are German, and the rest are exchange students from more countries than I have fingers. A solid grasp of English is common among most of us, but some of my friends speak better German than English, which is always an exciting challenge of communication.

We have to meet on some lingual middle ground, starting in less-than-perfect German, sometimes translating from English to German through French or Spanish (or both, depending on the company), and ending with a few revisions for grammar’s sake. My neighbor, a German fluent in English, French, Italian, Arabic, and who can read and write Latin, claims language comprehension is best between 2 and 5 beers. I suppose he would know.
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