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Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

Day 8: Passau

The last day – finally! By this time, I was pretty tired and ready to return home. I tried cycling again, and although the knees were better, there was ever the faintest reminder of discomfort. (This was to remain for about two weeks after!) Although Passau was but a mere 50km away, I decided to do perform the by now all too familiar ritual: catching a train. Luckily, Passau was to prove fully able in filling the “extra” hours gained by a train ride. For one thing, it was a challenge (again!) to reach the youth hostel – situated, as I have now come to see as quite natural in South Germany, on a mountain. This one’s location, however, was certainly the highlight of my trip. (Here’s a picture taken from below:)

The youth hostel was an old castle – part of it is now a museum. (Which is well worth visiting. I got a free ticket to a cake and coffee in the museum coffee shop – and shamelessly claimed it.) The youth hostel and its surroundings affords great views on the city of Passau:

One also has a great view on where the three rivers (Danube, Inn, Ilz) come together – which not only  made Passau a very important trade city back in the day, but is also simply quite scenic:

Walking around Passau was a pleasure. Of course, there are churches to visit (aren’t there always!?), and no visit to Passau would be complete without taking a look at the world’s biggest church organ (OK, to be honest, no visit would be complete without actually hearing the world’s biggest church organ. Which makes my visit incomplete, unfortunately.)

The old city isn’t that big, so I soon found myself strolling along the rivers, reflecting on my whole experience. In short, it was fun; but it is always a good idea to have a plan B. Even more poignantly impressed on my mind, however, was the fact that it was always a good idea to travel with someone. Although an introvert, I did find parts of my trip – well, tedious, even though I was surrounded by such amazing scenery. Had I a travel buddy handy, the experience would quite probably have been very different. Not that I am in any way regretful of the whole tour: it was indeed great, and I enjoyed the biggest part of it. Most of the parts I visited are to some extent “off the beaten track”; at least, with regard to tourists from outside Germany. Which was rather refreshing. They were all quite spectacular, too; some sights I will never forget.

On the last day, I rose before dawn to catch my last train – back to Münster. Aah! Münster! What a beautiful city! To top it all off, I had two friends, a Lecker pizza and a new apartment waiting for me. And a bunch of adventures, which I will share, all in good time. (At the moment, I’m behind with both a tour to Greece and to Switzerland. Oops.)

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Day 3 started out really, really cold. I practically flew down the hill on which the youth hostel was situated to get to the river. I stopped every 500m or so; to make sure my bags were securely fastened, or to take a picture, or to look intensely of something. See the gallery below for some of the products of my attempts to avoid freezing to death.

I also saw my first non-captive swan.

Yes, I barely avoided frostbite. Nevertheless, I soon starting sweating under the jacket. What a strange sensation! Finally, the weather cleared up and I’m glad to report that the rest of the day was fairly sunny.

Cycling lets one see pretty much all the smaller cities along the way. Needless to say, this results in a criss-cross pattern rather than a straight line – this day leaving me with 30km more on the odometer than planned. (On arrival at the youth hostel, my odometer stood on 230,66km). Trouble is, too, that I tended to lose my way whenever I reached a city. The bigger cities proved to be more problematic, of course, but even small cities could throw one off the track. I lost my way in Riedlingen (which is, apropos, a breathtaking city) and this resulted on me having to drive on the highway.

Driving with a bicycle on the highway in Germany is not a good idea.

In fact, it is as scary as it is dangerous. Luckily the stretch between Sigmaringen and Ulm wasn’t that busy, but it was a hair-raising experience nonetheless; especially around the numerous sharp bends in the round. Finally, by chance, I stumbled upon the marked trail of the Donau Radweg again. From this point on it was thankfully mostly downhill. That is, until I got to Ulm, where the youth hostel is situated – oh, why! – on a hill. I struggled up this one, but threw in the towel when I was not even a quarter of the way up.

As we say in South Africa, I was totally paste. Yet, I wanted to see Ulm – so I bought a bus ticket and ventured into the city. I still had an hour or two of daylight left, so I walked around quite a bit. I stayed until after sunset, fighting off the urge to go sleep in the youth hostel – I was here, after all, to see places. (See the gallery below for some pictures of what I saw.)

I might have had the fitness of a relatively relaxed tree sloth, but I was as hungry as a wolf. My post exercise fuel intake included a Döner, a McDonalds burger (Fail!) with a big packet of chips (Fail!), a big packet of chocolate raisins and – I can’t remember what I still had left in my bag, but that was definitely consumed as well.

Exhausted, I managed to make my way back to the youth hostel and totally snubbed the people I shared a room with by going straight to bed – and falling asleep instantly.

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Thankfully, it didn’t rain on my second day of cycling. This isn’t to say it wasn’t wet – I was carrying my own little portable ocean in my shoes – and I had to negotiate some pretty awful terrain. Well, OK, saying I “had to” is in fact a disguised way of seeing I got pretty lost. Of course I had Google Maps to guide me, so I at least travelled in the right direction, but I wasn’t really following any road as such. Which kind-of led to this:

Somewhere between Singen and Sigmaringen

(In case you were wondering, that’s a corn field just next to a golf course. And yes, I was under live fire.)

The Google Maps application, when set on “roads”, also does not take into account any canals, or streams. Which meant I either had to ford it, or drive along one until I found a bridge – which sometimes took quite a while!

Finally, I got back on a tarred road – after about 20 kilometers of bundu-bashing. And got lost again, spectacularly:

At last I got to a point where there pretty much was only one road leading to Sigmaringen – and was, of course, confronted by a yellow sign reading “Umleitung“. I had a vague idea of what that meant, but decided to ignore it – as if by claiming linguistic ignorance I could avoid the blocked road. But my metaphorical bucket didn’t hold any water, unlike my shoes. So I had to take an even longer “Umleitung” – which resulted in me cycling about 15 hilly kilometers more.

I took two long breaks: one break to eat lunch, which I bought the day before (bread and cheese),Lunch break!

the other break because I was totally tired and simply couldn’t cycle any more. I simply got off the main road, stretched myself out on one side of a side-road running parallel to the main one, looked up at the sky, and dozed off. At some point a car passed; I turned my head and there was it’s wheel, close enough for me to touch it – don’t know what the people must have thought. If they thought I was dead – they were not far off.

When I got up, finally (at least I had only about 15km left, and about 3 hours of sunlight), I was rejuvenated enough to at least reach Sigmaringen – but quite unprepared for the fact that the youth hostel was pretty much situated on top Mt Everest. There was no one there, too; everything was locked, so after just sitting around for a while, I went back to the city, to see one of the most amazing castles:

Schloss Sigmaringen

After panting my way up The Hill again, I pretty much passed out in the youth hostel. Luckily, I was the only guest in the whole hostel, so I received a leader’s room with my own shower and everything!

My odometer was standing on 116.18km. About 25km more than I expected to cycle that day. The next day was supposed to be 80km – but at least I was done with hills, for the moment.

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As the train rolled into the station at Konstanz, I finished reading the last page of the Terry Pratchett book that I was reading on my Kindle. Yes! I was about to embark upon my very first week-long bicycle trip in Europe – from Konstanz, on the edge of the beautiful Bodensee, where Germany rub shoulders with Switzerland, right to the other corner of Germany, where it touches Austria. Why? Simply because I had the exact amount of necessary time, a bicycle, and the required amount of Wanderlust.

In case my finishing a book at the exact moment of arrival at Konstanz Hauptbahnhof might seem like a wonderful auspice, I should introduce in the narrative two facts as counterpoint: 1) it was raining. 2) I had the chance of getting off at Singen (Hohentwiel) – I even considered this, but then again … what would be the point of traveling all this distance and then NOT seeing Konstanz or  NOT cycling?

Stupid mistake.

Except for about 20 minutes, the rain came pouring down the full 34,67km to the youth hostel. The little that I saw of Konstanz, though, was worth it – so too the road along which I cycled to get to Singen, although I had to stop intermittently and check my position on Google Maps to avoid cycling more than I have to in the wet cold. (This had to be done crouching with my upper body over my phone so as not to get it soaking wet.)

Still – I was there! I was finally doing it! Just me and my bicycle, fitted with panniers and a campus laptop bag (that doubles here in Germany as my … well, just about any use you can think of for a bag). The air was ablaze with promise – and, did I mention the rain yet?

I was thoroughly DRENCHED when I arrived at the youth hostel. By this time, I was pretty much transfixed by the water spouting up from my front wheel, which was visible in the glare of my bike’s lamp, hoping that there were no potholes in the road, which was not visible. My waterproof jacket was holding up pretty good; my waterproof shoes – well, they were waterproof, true, but they were filled up from the inside by the water streaming in through my socks, which pretty much served as water conduits. Moving around was pretty much accompanied by a slosh-slosh-slosh sound. The challenge now would be to get the water out of them:

Luckily, I had the whole room in the youth hostel to myself – so I could fully unpack everything. At least everything was in plastic bags – I did at least beforehand contemplate the idea that it could rain. By the way, this is what I took along:

Still, if this was going to be as wet a trip as this day would suggest, I was pretty sure to bail out. 30km isn’t that bad – but the next day, the plan was to do 70km. More about that in the following post!

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Something loud and lively was happening in the hallway. Something cheerful and friendly. People greeting each other with gusto. It felt like I was home!

At a recent meeting of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) in Bonn, I had the pleasure of meeting other students (read: scholars) from Africa. Yes – what a privilege! For what I found there was more than mere camaraderie: it was, I am sure, part of the future of our continent. Discussions ranged from theology to politics to art (both literature and visual arts), and in more than one case, I was totally blown away!

What I experienced there is hard to explain, so what follows might seem like a strange analogy, but I would like to make it anyway. The past two months or so I have been reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars-trilogy, a story deeply concerned with building a new society. One encounters multiple meetings, or conferences, or whatever it might be called, where people talk long into the night, totally immersed in both the challenges and the hope with which they are confronted. Hope – yes, hope! Amidst a myriad of opinions, amidst a host of key characters, the story spirals onward. Although the characters and parties involved are diverse, a common goal is imagined and achieved. No one character dominates in this story; everyone is important, but something bigger is happening than simply one person: a move towards something better.

This, I think, is sort of what I experienced – or at least perceived, last week. For although we all came from different countries, and shared differing points of view, we could speak of a common goal. And I have to add: a common willingness. Time and time again I was struck by the willingness of the people I spoke with to sacrifice for their country; and indirectly, for their continent – but without losing their identity. A realistic hope. If the people I met is a representative sample of what is happening in Africa, I am proud to call it my continent.

Speaking about being from Africa: as a whitey, I’ve sometimes wondered about my right of saying this. Am I from Africa? I’m glad to say that I was accepted in this group without question. And if you ever wondered if one could speak about “a” South African culture; we South Africans certainly were glad to find each other, and certainly were different in the sense of being, well, “South African”. (Yes, I know everything is much more complicated than I’ve set it out here, but please take it for the bona fide quick reflection that it is.)

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Goodbye, Dortmund!

In a short while, I’ll leave for Münster – and will have to wave Dortmund, my home for the past four months, goodbye. How fast everything has blurred past! I can’t even begin to recap.

So, what to tell? The first thing that springs to mind is the multitude of people that I met while at the Carl Duisberg Centrum, where I took part in a German course. These folks came from all over – Europe, off course, but also Latin America, different parts of Asia, Africa. What a lot I learned from them – about their countries, cultures, religion, and lots more! My only regret is that I didn’t spend even more time with them.

Travelling made up a big deal of my time here in Dortmund. In Paris, we had the privilege of being shown around by a British lady who had lived there for quite a while. Here I was also forced to buy a shirt in order to visit the Moulin Rouge (obviously, the cheapest decent shirt I could find, but which I think has since become my favourite). In Amsterdam I found the grave site of some of my relatives; visited a church service in the Keizersgrachtkerk, simply enjoyed the beautiful city, and had a mouthwatering cheese-fest, probably adding half a kilo in weight on the spot. I presented my (seminal? hopefully) paper at the SBL conference in Tartu, Estonia, and I got some good critical feedback. I also had a joyous reunion with my friends and colleagues from the University of Pretoria’s Department of Ancient Languages. During a trip to the Schwarzwald, I felt the cold creep up on me for the first time. Nevertheless, we had a great time – eating black forest cake, of course, and afterwards having dinner in the rain. (We refused to move, so we could have a view on the lake. Was worth it.) I met with a friend in Cologne, after cycling there via Wuppertal. Another time, a group of us South Africans (we travel in packs) simply stopped over there on our way to Aachen – also a worthwhile experience!

Of course, I did a lot of cycling in- and around Dortmund, too. Cycling is quite a solitary exercise, and perhaps that’s why I enjoy it so much. Of course, it’s much better still if you cycle with someone, but even then, you’ve got lots of time to mull over things. And mulling over I did! Cities close to Dortmund were my first target – those that impressed me most being Soest and Haltern-am-See. I visited a bunch of museums, including the most impressive Bergbaumuseum (mining museum) in Bochum and the DASA (German Occupational Safety and Health Exhibition) in Dortmund – twice. Worthy of note is also the Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, where one of the biggest finds of gold coins from the Roman era is on exhibit.

Naturally I travelled not only by bicycle, but also by train. Not all experiences on the train were so great; at least once, in trying to navigate during ExtraSchicht, a most wonderful cultural happening in the Ruhrgebiet, I got totally depressed.

I remember another time when I travelled with a (male) friend, and we ended up in Essen, during a gay festival. My friend, being from Iraq, was at first quite unsuspecting – I found it rather funny, especially when a more-than-drunk man complimented my friend on his shapely legs. The night ended in another highlight, namely, an Iraqi restaurant. (Well, the cook was from Iraq, anyway.) Good food, good times! I especially liked the drinkable yoghurt.

Another special night was when the Mongolians arranged a dinner party. What a great night! I had been learning about Mongolia all the while, 7 of the people in my class being from Mongolia, but this night was really special. We ate Mongolian food (OK, it was Russian food, mostly; real Mongolian ingredients are hard to come by in Germany, but it was good nonetheless) heard a Mongolian poem, a Mongolian song, and generally basked in the friendliness of the people of Mongolia. They are so proud of their country – as is most ambassadors here at the language course – that I involuntarily had to think about what makes me proud of being South African. (Another day, another post.)

There are a number of other experiences that I could relate, but these will have to suffice. One more needs to be added, though, as an afterthought. Last week, I met with my “Doktorvater”, Prof Gert Steyn, along with one of his other doctoral students, Peter Nagel, in Münster. Three years ago, I wouldn’t have thought this would be possible – but there we were!

Yes, I am very excited to start my studies in Münster. Thus far, I have been a bit lazy – just soaking up what’s happening in Dortmund and Germany. (And reading. Oh, my goodness, did I read! German books, mostly, but also some English books. My must-read list expanded considerably; it now includes Dostoyevski, Oe, Rafik Shami, Galsan Tschinag, Nâzım Hikmet, Can Yücel and Goethe).

From now on, it will be back to the (academic) books. First, however, I’m going on a cycle tour. Here’s a map, if you want to have a look. I’ll blog about my experiences when I get back; but for now, I know it’s going to be cold and rainy. Looking forward already!

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