The adventure begins!
After a slow start at MSP Airport my travels went without a hitch or delay. The 8-hour transatlantic flight was actually rather pleasant, all things considered. One of the complementary movies one could watch on the plane was Mad Max: Fury Road, which I saw for the first time and enjoyed heartily. They were also very diligent with supplying us with food and drink, the former of which was surprisingly tasty and filling. The worst part by far was having to sit down without being able to sleep for nearly 8 hours straight. That reminded me of taking long-distance road trips as a kid and teenager, which I always hated for exactly that reason.
One of the more surreal bits of the trip was coming to the Amsterdam airport, where I had last been about 15 years prior. I remembered nothing about it before, but as soon as I landed and went through the passport checkpoint it all came flooding back to me. This stop was uneventful, though I found it astonishingly difficult to figure out where my flight to Frankfurt was departing from (I eventually had to ask an employee). The 50-minute flight to Frankfurt was so short it hardly felt worth the bother, but we still got a free sandwich and soda out of it.
Finally landing in Frankfurt was elating. It was just a hop and a skip from baggage collection to the Frankfurt Fernbahnhof (long-distance train station), which I found beautiful in a very European way.
Here I gave speaking German to natives my first shot, where I tried to order a chocolate pastry, but I had no idea what to call it, so I just started with “Ich möchte…” and gesticulated in a very American way. The guy informed me it was called a “Schoko-Croissant,” which I found adorable. Schoko doesn’t really have an English equivalent, but it’s shorthand for Schokolade, or chocolate. This interaction wasn’t very impressive on my part, but I was glad I tried.
After fretting for an hour that I was in the wrong place, I boarded what I hoped was the correct train and was on my way. I really, really wish America had trains like these; the thing was clean, ran buttery-smooth, was nearly silent, and hit all 4 stops on the two-hour trek within about a minute of each one’s ETA. I wouldn’t have minded spending 8 hours in one of those instead of an airplane.
Here I had my second experience speaking German, when two people sat near me. One was wondering if he could use my battery pack to keep his phone from dying, but I quickly learned we had no languages in common. The third guy helped us get it figured out, and I talked for a bit with him. He was on a vacation from Spain, hauling sports equipment around. He was very friendly, but I quickly realized I was too tired to speak German for too long, so we chatted in English for a bit. After fighting sleep for the next hour, I arrived in Freiburg and checked into my hotel for the night.
Here, I fully intended to check into my hotel in German. I waited in line at reception, got up to the front desk, and opened my mouth only to realize I didn’t know how to say “check-in” or “reservation.” Admitting defeat in my exhaustion, I asked if he spoke English, and we transacted thusly. I resolved to look up the vocabulary and check-out in German the next morning, which I did manage to do. I hope that this event sets the precedent for the rest of the trip; not one of total perfection, but one of growth and learning.
After checking out, I walked over to the IES Abroad Center; my program’s headquarters. Hauling luggage across cobblestones sucks. The people there were very friendly and accommodating. They gave me my keys, had me sign a few forms, and put me in a taxi to my apartment. Being a bit more rested the morning after my trip, I actually had the energy to chat with my (non-English speaking) taxi driver. After learning that I was American, he had a few choice things to say about our current administration. Seemed like a friendly guy, though.
Since then, I’ve been in pure survival mode. My apartment is located very well, right near a lake with a park, a shopping street with restaurants and supermarkets, and a tram station that goes right to the Altstadt (old city; also the city center in Freiburg). I’m still assembling my basic amenities and figuring out how the apartment works. All the doors open the opposite way from how I’m used to, the light switches are buttons, toilets keep flushing until you press the flush button a second time (so that you only use as much water as you need, but I think I’ve wasted more water figuring out how the damn thing works than I’ve conserved so far), all the lights take ~5 seconds to flicker before turning on (even in the hotel). My apartment has 8 people living here, each with their own bedroom, sharing a common dining area, kitchen, and 4 bathrooms (with 2 showers). I’ve shared dorms and apartments my whole college career, but I’ve never been in an arrangement like this before. I wouldn’t choose it for myself (I was assigned to live here), but it’s certainly a learning experience.
The last few days have been drowning me in orientation, city tours, and endless bureaucracy (which would be confusing enough if it was given to me in English, but it’s not!). On top of shopping for necessities, finding my way around the city, and beginning the pre-semester language course, I haven’t had the time to breathe, let alone write. But now that I’m getting situated, I hope to make updates more frequently. Next up: about Freiburg itself.