Posing in front of the Universität Heidelberg

Reflections #8: DAAD RISE Scholars meeting in Heidelberg

It’s come and gone! This entire trip to Germany seemed to have reached its climax last week, but nevertheless, I still remain in GER. Most of my co-workers here at the Marine Science Center went on a week-long conference in Bonn, and then it was my own time to go to a meeting in Heidelberg. I was very excited to meet the other interns who are working as physicists, chemists, biologists, and in other fields of the natural sciences across the land in Germany for this summer.

Posing in front of the Universität Heidelberg
Posing in front of the Universität Heidelberg

What I didn’t expect was the huge mass of interns who actually attended the meeting. We consisted of a total of 306 interns who had found their “ideal” placement at various prestigious universities and institutes through the DAAD. I had no idea what the DAAD had accomplished since its beginning in 2005. Back then there were a mere 100 scholars carrying out research in Germany through the program. Today’s interns come from the USA, UK, and Canada and the entire RISE and DAAD measures up to being one of the most successful international exchange programs.

For the three day conference, all interns stayed at the Jugendherberge on the Uni Heidelberg campus. It was the perfect place to house all of us, since the Mensa was large enough for such a huge crowd (of course not everyone ate at the same time), there is a bus stop directly alongside the building to take us to downtown, there’s a pool a couple meters down the street, we’re obviously not far from all the lecture halls in which the opening and closing ceremonies would be held, and for me it was great because I have a friend who lives not too far away from the youth hostel enabling me to stop by for a visit.

Getting to Heidelberg was crazy! Since I’m all the way up north along the Baltic Sea, I had to plan my trip perfectly in order to arrive in Heidelberg on time for the check-in process. Check-in occurred from 11:30-15:00, so for that to become a reality for me, I left our ship at 3am. My sister had stopped by Warnemünde for a day to say bye to the seals (and to say hi to me of course), after her wonderful experience all over Europe this summer playing basketball for the U20 German National Team, and so she accompanied me on the long trip to Heidelberg. At the Hamburg train station we devoured a “Mohnschnecke”, “Rhabarberschnecke”, and a Laugenbrötchen–just enough to last the remainder of the trip. By the time we reached Heidelberg we had definitely built up our appetite for lunch!

Altstadt von Heidelberg
Altstadt von Heidelberg

After most RISE students had arrived and checked-in, we departed in three or four city buses for the opening ceremony at the Zoology lecture hall. My favorite part was listening to a former RISE intern, Emilia Wilk from Canada, and her partner from California; perform a skit about the crazy wonders of the German culture. It was hilarious!

For dinner we went to the Schwetzinger Brauhaus. The food there was outstanding and it was the best way for all of us interns to interact and meet each other. I instantly had new friends from all over the place: Mexico, California, Colorado, Canada, the UK, and Germany. There’s no better way to enjoy a good buffet and network than with a big glass of “Apfelschorle” (yeah, I’m obviously no true German :) ), “Spätzle”, and ice cream.

Friday was our company visits day. Together with Michaela Gottschling and a few others from the RISE team, I went on the Frankfurt KLIMATOURS. It was a very long, but interesting day. Our first stop was at the MHKW Müllheizkraftwerk Frankfurt. We were able to see the step-by-step process of breaking down (sorting & burning) our daily wastes from households, airports, and other facilities to create the energy that would in the end supply entire areas, such as Riesberg, with electricity and heat. I loved looking into the fire chamber!

For such a long day, lunch was key…and it was excellent. We toured the environmentally- and family-friendly neighborhood of Riesberg, got a tour of the famous Senckenberg Museum of Natural Sciences (including an exclusive visit of the archive of preserved specimen), and then ended our day at the headquarters of the Commerzbank Frankfurt.

The Commerzbank’s history stretches back 140 years! It was founded back in 1870 and has flourished ever since. Not only is the headquarter building majestic and a jewel in any banker’s eye, it is also the tallest building in all of Europe (or second tallest if you count the skyscrapers of Moscow to the bunch). It was designed by the famous English architect Lord Norman Foster. The building forms an equilateral triangle with a triangular atrium. Standing in the center of the lobby, I could see all the way up into the blue sky! On nine different levels, there are gardens that stretch across four floors. We were told that these gardens help create a natural flow of air throughout the building, increase the amount of natural lighting, and make every coffee break enjoyable! We even went up to the roof and had a fantastic view of the city. At about 8pm our day was over and everyone was free to do as he/she pleased.

I had some visitors in town, whom I was happy to share dinner with. My uncle came from France to spend the day with my sister and in the evening we all ate dinner in the Altstadt of Heidelberg. Yummy!! I had Kartoffelpuffer with Applesauce…it was incredible.
Saturday was another busy day, including the final ceremony, talks from several interns in the various fields of sciences, lunch at the Uni of Heidelberg, a group picture, and a tour of the Heidelberg Altstadt. There was soo much to see. My group’s tour guide gave a phenomenal tour, elaborating just enough to keep everyone attentive, but never pushing our attention spans to their limits.

Altstadt-Tour_7-23-11-41

Overall, Heidelberg is a great city and anyone who visits Germany should stop by to see it for him- or herself. Thank you DAAD for making it such a mind-blowing visit!

Flags and kites

Reflections #7: Warnemünder Woche

With all the excitement from the Warnemünde Woche now finally dissipating, it’s about time I recall all my wonderful memories and tell you about them. The Warnemünde Woche, as you could probably guess, takes place in the busy tourist town called Warnemünde each year. Warnemünde is an active city anyways, but during this special week, there’s even more to see, do, and new things to try (on the culinary-side).

Giant wheels of cheese
Giant wheels of cheese

The action all begins July 1st . The beginning of July marks the grand opening of the so-called “Bummelmeile” ( “stroll mile”) along the historic “Alter Strom” (a small, busy channel that cuts into the mainland creating a harbor for small fishing boats, boat tourism and a highway for small shops and vendors along the waterfront).

Busy Ostmole
Busy Ostmole

My friends from the MSC (Marine Science Center–my work) and I crossed the River Warnow with the ferry on a daily basis to make our appearance at all these exciting events. Each day there was a new band performing at the stage beside the lighthouse. On Monday night we enjoyed the musicianship of the “Pirate Band”, AARRR!! None of us knew what to expect, but it all turned out to be pretty entertaining.

MSC chicas dancing to the "Bad Penny" band songs
MSC chicas dancing to the “Bad Penny” band songs

Another band we would recommend was the groups called “Bad Penny”. This band of local artists played German rock and some of the most popular English hits, creating the perfect environment to sing as loud as you wanted and to dance to the sounds. It probably seems funny to all the young folks in town, but all the music has to end by around 10pm here. This is a rule set by the local inhabitants, or so I heard. This is all because the majority of the people with permanent housing along the beachfront and old downtown are of older generations and have lived here the longest, which gives them seniority and more say in local decision making. I think many of the younger people in their early twenties and late teens, became a bit annoyed by this rule, since the music would often be over long before the evening sky actually turned dark. Warnemünde is so far North, the sky doesn’t turn dark until close to midnight during the summer. This has lots of pros, but also a number of cons. One big benefit I find is that you’re able to make the most of the day by spending as much time outside as possible. Even in the late evening, the city is busy with night life. Most bars around here have live music until early in the morning, some cafes and restaurants are open past the usual closing hours of 8pm, and in a city like Warnemünde, there’s always something to do along the beach.

Other exciting events to see at the Warnemünder Woche were the skydivers, sail boat races, dragonboat races, street performers, beach handball tournament, and other musicians and dancers. There was often so much going on at the same time, it was hard to decide what to do or see first.

Dragonboat racers getting ready for take-off
Dragonboat racers getting ready for take-off

There were hundreds of street vendors along the promenade each day. Some were local Imbiss booths, others were from far away. We tried “Langos”, a Hungarian specialty, crepes, German Bratwurst, candied almonds, Döner from a vendor from Turkey, real German beer and many other German delights.

Overall, I really enjoyed this eventful week. It was too bad that some of the events were canceled because of the weather. Had the weather been less stormy during the first couple of days, maybe it would have drawn even more visitors from Rostock and neighboring cities.

Festival der Kulturen

Reflections #6: Berlin–City of action and history

This past weekend I wanted to travel a bit. So I jumped on the next possible train to Berlin to see my family and to experience the “Festival der Kulturen”. It was a wonderful trip overall.

The Muegge Family on the Berlin side of the world
The Muegge Family on the Berlin side of the world
IMG_5336-300x225
Die Hakenburg

When I visited my grandparents’ house in Lichtenrade the weather couldn’t have been any better. My grandma and I went on a scenic bike ride along the “Berliner Mauerweg” (The Berlin Wall Trail/Path) and we almost made it to Potsdam (which would have roughly been a complete trip of 50 miles). Instead our trip was only 27 miles long…which was long enough. It was quite the rough ride since many of the paths are made up of the uneven, bumpy Backstein Pflaster. My grandma and I had a blast though.
I was able to take a picture of some old remains of the Berlin Wall, the Hakeburg, and some impressive memorials at the Südwestkirchhof (a large graveyard in which some of Germany’s famous writers, nobles, and other nations heros rest in peace).

Reflections #5: Interesting Innovations

Sandburg

I have heard and seen robotic vacuum machines, but never have I
seen this–a robotic lawn mower! After a long day outside, eating another Mohnschnecke, enjoying a scoop of gelato, going to basketball practice with Dirk Stenke, going swimming in the ocean, and looking at the artistic sand sculptures at Pier 7; I finally made my way back to Hohe Düne.Robotic lawn mower


Taking a different route back home, I explored the “Hohe Düne Hotel” complex and found, to my amazement, multiple robotic lawn mowers speeding across the grass on site. It’s pretty facinating to see them in action. I believe they can sense when and where the lawn stops and if there is something (an object or animal) in its anticipated path.

I was also happy to find a work-out or fitness parkour on the complex which I’ll be sure to use this upcoming week. It was another great day overall. Almost a little bit too warm for my taste, but as long as I could cool down in the chilly ocean water, it was pleasant.

Wavebreaks

Reflections #4: Taste the Happiness

German culinary art is outstanding. People come from all over the world to try some of Germany’s most admired cultural venues. I most admire the baking tradition here. It is hard to miss the “Bäckerei” or “Café” signs at almost every street corner. Here, people can satisfy their appetite by trying the more tradition breads (Vollkorn-, Dinkel-, Weißbrot etc.), rolls (my favorite are Laugenbrötchen), and then there are the pastries. Yesterday I tried a “Mohnschnecke” and brought it down to the beach for a sweet afternoon snack. It was absolutely delicious. It’s a dessert that contains a poppyseed filling and has a sugar glaze on top. The one I tried yesterday was a bit dry, but I’ve had numerous other ones that were made to perfection (sweet, light, and containing just the right amount of moisture so you didn’t need an additional drink to accompany the pastry).

Mohnschnecke
A delicious Mohnschnecke. Took 5 minutes to buy, 1 minute to devour.

As mentioned, I spent most of the afternoon along the ocean front. Here the locals flock the beach starting as early as sunrise, the tourists take wind- and regular surfing lessons, and others simply enjoy the weather with their friends and family. The fun lies in catching the waves! The water fronts here are fairly calm (probably due to soft and hard armoring along the coast), without big waves that you can use to surf. Nevertheless, people wait along the shore until the occasional wave hits.

Scandlines cargo and passenger ship
Scandlines cargo and passenger ship

This happens everytime a big freight ship or cruise ship enters or exits the harbor close by. As soon as one wave breaks at the beach, a mass of surfers runs into the water. It was pretty entertaining to watch. What I also liked as I walked along the “Promenade” that stretches parallel to the beach, were the numerous kites flying up high. People here really take advantage when a day of nice weather reaches Warnemünde and the surrounding towns.

Flags and kites
Flags and kites
beautiful sunset

Reflections #3: Ferry this, ferry that

Traveling by boat sounds time consuming, but really it really isn’t in this niche of Germany. Although I live in Warnemünde (GER), the only way to quickly get to downtown Warnemünde, is by boat – specifically by ferry. At first I thought buying the occasionally ferry ticket would be enough, but I’ve come to realize that I’m better off buying a pass for the entire month, which also covers the bus system and S-Bahn system in the entire area considered part of Rostock. On a regular basis, I take the ferry across the channel to the other side, where all the action is.

Today was an exceptionally beautiful day here. We had an average temperature of about 73 degrees and only a slight breeze. On my way home, after going to go workout in downtown Rostock, I took some fantastic pictures of the horizon as seen from the ferry. It was absolutely stunning.

Big ship

Tomorrow is a special day over at the docks. Once in a while when multiple big cruise ships leave the harbor, there is a type of “going-away” celebration at the harbor front. Mostly there are lots of small food stands selling Bratwurst, beer and ice cream (or so I have been informed), but there will also be some fireworks later on in the night. One of these huge ships was anchored in the harbor all afternoon, and although I didn’t think it would leave so soon, it departed by the time I returned to Warnemünde.

I’ll keep you posted if I end up going to the Board Party tomorrow. For now it’s, Gute Nacht (good night) und bis Morgen (’til tomorrow).

Copenhagen_garden

Reflections #2: Getting there isn’t always as easy as it seems

For those of you who travel a lot, you will easily be able to relate to my experience. Even those who don’t travel, yet have a busy schedule based on specific appointments, meetings, and events, you will also be able to know how I felt on my trip from San Francisco to Rostock, GER. It had all been planned out perfectly: fly from San Francisco to Chicago, from Chicago to Copenhagen (Denmark), and lastly, take the ferry from Gedser (100km from Copenhagen) to Rostock (Germany). However, this plan did not go accordingly. It was edited multiple times before my plane ever took off from San Francisco, and even while I was in the air, changes continued to be made. Here’s my advice to fellow travelers: always be prepared for the worst and value changes as opportunities, not predicaments.

First off, being prepared can save you time and trouble. My family is used to preparing for long trips. So, before saying my goodbyes I was handed a huge Ziploc bag full of chocolate goodies, cut apples and carrots, and a warm mug of tea to take to the airport. I’d never think this snack bag would come in handy, but it actually saved me from times of despair. Due to weather problems over the Chicago airport, my flight that was supposed to leave from San Francisco at 10:20am ended up boarding, and being delayed for 3 hours. Since I hadn’t been able to check-in to my connecting flight in Chicago, I was getting a bit uneasy as the minutes kept ticking away, and one delay announcement followed the next.

Finally, I couldn’t stop worrying about potentially missing my flight, so I spoke up. Communication is the key. Talking to the stewardess initiated other ideas…like, why don’t the pilots get another snack. As a result, the crew announced that all passengers had the options of deplaning and since I wasn’t able to get Wi-Fi on the plane, I gladly jumped on this opportunity to check-in to my next flight. By the time our plane actually took off, I had called my next airline provider, checked-in online, eaten all of the chocolate treats, sent out a few emails and felt very accomplished.

Talking about changes in planes, the worst was yet to come. Realizing that Gedser was too far away from Copenhagen to allow me to catch my ferry on time, I had to make a quick decision–it resulted in canceling my ferry reservation and booking a flight from Copenhagen to Berlin. Flying to Berlin meant that although I would arrive in Germany, I’d still be a bus ride and train ride away from my final destination. All went well though, and talking to people who were experienced at the airports helped get me from one transition point to the next.

Also, whenever you travel, make the most out of each opportunity given to you to explore a new place, do something out of the ordinary, or learn something about the people and the cultures around you. Before I even set foot on the plane to Chicago I learned something everyone should know about San Francisco’s airport: the people there are genuinely nice. That’s a characteristic not every airport can boast about. Not only were the people at the gate happy to assist me by printing my next boarding pass, they even gave me suggestions while I was frantically trying to find the toll-free number for my next airline provider.

If you’ve never flown with Virgin America, I’d like to suggest trying their services next time you book a flight in the US. They had excellent service and the most comfortable seats I’ve ever sat in on a plane—now, now…of course I’m not talking about flying first class!
Try to avoid the Chicago O’Hare airport if you’re flying in the Midwest. The chaos you’ll encounter is normal there but it’s very difficult to find good affordable food and the corners that have free Wi-Fi are hard to find.

Traveling in Europe is easy—both physically and as well as it’s easy on your wallet. One of the nice things about flying within Europe is that they don’t usually charge you for checking in your first piece of luggage. If you travel by bus in Germany, you’re almost guaranteed to get where you want on time. This also holds true for the train system in Germany. Everything is wonderfully punctual.

Taking a short-cut across the channel
Taking a short-cut across the channel

Overall, I’m glad I safely made it to Warnemünde, Germany (it is a city on the outskirts of Rostock). I’ll keep you posted about the life of marine biologists here at the Marine Science Center and about the culture of Germany and the people of the Baltic Sea!

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