Warnemünde in the evening

Reflections #10: Hanse Sail und Aufwiedersehen

I knew this trip was going to come to an end sooner than later, but somehow it still shocks me when I realize that I’ve spent three months in a different country and now I’m about to set foot on a plane that will take me far away from what I just adjusted to. Time goes by fast when you’re having fun! Although this must have been the rainiest summer Germany had experienced in a long time, those rare days of sunshine became that much more rewarding. Even on stormy days, I found other things to do than to travel from city to city or to go to the beach on the weekends. The best example would be this past week. Every day someone would say…”yup today the weather sucks, but have you heard about tomorrow? Tomorrow it’s supposed to be much better!”. In our case up North, those rumors never turned into reality. Most of the time, the weather was much worse on the days that followed.

Weather

I decided to make good use of the rain and storm—I took up Scuba diving. As a diver, it could be pouring in streams up above the surface, but deep in the ocean, you don’t notice a thing. When you have a clear view of the life at the bottom, all you really notice is the peace and silence of the ocean. It’s exhilarating to me! Monday was my first day of lessons, and since I’m a pretty quick learner and could demonstrate all the skills perfectly not just in theory, but in action in the water, I was able to become a certified SCUBA diver in a week. It was definitely a week I’m glad I spent in the water rather than on land. We had rain every single day, and on Thursday it stormed so badly, ships that were running into our harbor announced their arrival for the next days because they couldn’t fight the strong winds.

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From August 11th until the 14th, another big event hit the port city of Rostock. It was the 21st anniversary of “Hanse Sail”. Many native Rostockers mark these days in their calendar because they hold high promises of amusement, fun, and action in the water, on land, and in the air. The Baltic Sea is known as the “Ocean of the traditional sailboats”. As the name proclaims, flocks of these beautiful sailboats travel to and from the harbor in Rostock and Warnemünde…especially during the Hanse Sail. On the day leading up to this event, a sailing regatta travels from the Danish Nysted to Warnemünde. Some sailboats dock in the city just for show, but others will even give the curious tourist or natives a ride for the afternoon. Many famous traditional sailboats find their way to Rostock during this week. For example, the 100 year old PASSAT (Travemünde) and the GORCH FOCK I (Stralsund)—theGORCH FORK (1958) is the schooling ship of the German Marine. Other big ships that were expected to come for the Hanse Sail, were the BOUNTY (1961, from the USA), the GREIF, and the STAD AMSTERDAM (2000).

It was fascinating to see the mass of people at the docks. I tried to keep my distance from the crowd as much as possible, because it was overwhelming how many people blocked the streets. If you can believe it, you basically were steered along the dock by an invisible force, a force so great, you didn’t have any control over the direction you were about to walk. Instead of putting up with unwanted pushing and shoving, I stayed on the safe side of Hohe Düne. There were still all sorts of things to see and do on this side. From the beach I saw the German Marine helicopters send off their parachutes, I saw most of the ships enter and exit the harbor, tried some new “organic ice cream”, had a peaceful tea-time at the Yachthafen Residenz Hohe Düne, I delivered my “thank you” cake to the divers at the Dive Center Hohe Düne, and finished reading a German novel. What else could I have wished for?!

Nevertheless, this trip has come to an end. Thursday is the day I must say goodbye to my German friends, co-workers, temporary basketball teammates and coaches, family, and the seals. This summer was definitely an adventure of a lifetime. I want to thank the DAAD for enabling this opportunity and for creating this blog so we could all tell our stories to the world. I learned a lot about how research is conducted in the marine sciences on board the “Lichtenberg” Research Institute and now have more of an idea of what to expect from upcoming masters and PhD research. Even the trip to Heidelberg taught me that there is such a wide spectrum of how and where research can be conducted these days. I’ve had the chance to reconnect with my homeland, my heritage, and unlike what I had expected; I could definitely imagine living in Germany again.

Vielen Dank für das Abenteuer meines Lebens. Auf Wiedersehen!
Hanna

Seehund Time

Reflections #9: Diving with the Seals

Spending parts of my life in the golden state of California, I’ve come across lots of surfers, swimmers, and divers. The Monterey Bay Aquarium was always one of my favorite places to visit as a kid. Even now, as an adult, it fascinates me to see all the different types of career paths you can take as a biologist–especially when working at the aquarium. From a researcher to a SCUBA diver, there’s something for every type of biologist. I’ve become very attached to the ocean, but never would have imagined to get the chance to go SCUBA diving in the Baltic Sea while I was here for the internship. Yesterday was the day! Every Sunday we have the divers from the Dive Center, Hohe Düne, come to the MSC for an afternoon dive with the seals. While talking to one of the diving instructors, I asked if they had plans to go diving that afternoon. Although all dives had been canceled on Saturday due to the weather, everything was back on track on Sunday. The instructor asked if I’d be interested in joining them in two hours, and although this was really spontaneous, I couldn’t say ‘no’.

Training day with the seals
Training day with the seals
How high can you jump?
How high can you jump?
Henry the harbor seal
Henry the harbor seal
Taking a short-cut across the channel
Taking a short-cut across the channel

We went diving by a wreck, about 15 minutes away from our harbor. It was a fantastic experience. The water was a nice 18 degrees Celcius, it was sunny, and all the other divers (we consisted of a group of 8 divers) were just as happy as I was to get in the water. I even found a mysterious jaw bone with a couple teeth still attached–I’ll hit the books later to figure out what exactly I found on my dive! Isn’t it great that as a diver you’re not just splashing around in the sea, you’re actually diving into the mysterious biological wonders of the world!? There’s just as much (if not even more) biology to explore in the depths of the ocean as on land.
Today (Monday), was another fun day in the water. Alyssa Marsh (the other intern at the MSC) and I went for a swim in our enclosure with Henry, the harbor seal. From wet seal kisses to almost throwing our intern advisor into the water, there isn’t a better way to spend your early morning aboard the Lichtenberg!

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
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