A Sort Of Homecoming

The day after returning from Sarajevo, my parents arrived for their visit to Vienna. Being the wonderful son that I am, I elected to roll out of bed early to meet them at the airport and guide them to their hotel. Unfortunately, my parents elected to bring typical North Carolina weather with them. After months of consistent spring weather, the day my parents arrived, the weather abruptly reverted to winter form (and now that they’ve left, it has abruptly returned to spring-like weather). Despite the lousy weather, I started to show my parents around the city in order to attempt to show off everything I had been learning in my Cultural Heritage of Austria class. Unfortunately, my knowledge seemed to be rather selective. As a result, I was only able to give great insights like “someone important is buried here” or “something important happened there.”

The next two days were also spent visiting places that I had previously been to. While I’m sure you’d love to hear about Schönbrunn for the third time or the Imperial Treasury for the second time, I’ll instead skip ahead to when I actually did something new. For the last day of my break, I went with my parents to yet another well known and very popular tourist destination: Bratislava, Slovakia. Bratislava and Vienna are the closest capitals in the world so it only takes a one hour train ride to get from one to the other. Of the obscure capitals that I have visited, Bratislava takes first place for least to do. After only a couple of hours, we had seen basically all that there is to see. A couple of churches, a couple of old buildings, a fancy new bridge, and a restored castle is all there is to the city.

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After Bratislava, it was back to reality. I had classes to go to and my parents went off to the middle of nowhere Slovakia and to Budapest. Even with my parents in another country, I was still subjected to visiting things for the second time. This time my Cultural Heritage class visited the Natural History Museum and while it was basically deserted when I first visited, it was packed with very loud, elementary school aged children this time. Our tour guide was also rather old and soft spoken so I can’t say that I understood much of what was said.

Not much else of note happened this week. On Thursday, my parents returned to Vienna in time to have dinner before they flew back to the US. Thursday also marked the beginning of my final month abroad. Hopefully, the pressure of time running out will serve as great inspiration towards doing things that will make for great stories on my blog!

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Shadows and Tall Trees

As mentioned in my last post, I have this week off of class for spring break. Much like my last long break, I decided to visit another popular tourist city: Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. You are probably wondering why I would choose Sarajevo as my destination, to which I would say that I’m wondering why as well. The only reason I even knew the city existed was thanks to the U2 song, and by extension, the only thing I knew about Bosnia was the war that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia. Despite that, Sarajevo was one of the first places I looked at visiting and when it seemed like the most worthwhile trip, I decided that any trip I made needed to include it. I looked at including another Balkan capital, but Bosnia’s infrastructure still hasn’t been completely rebuilt, so it really only made sense to only visit Sarajevo.

My flight into Sarajevo arrived fairly early in the afternoon, so I was able to spend several hours just exploring the old town part of the city. Sarajevo is often considered to be the point where East meets West and within only a few minutes it was rather clear why that is. After only a couple of minutes of walking, I passed a mosque, an Eastern Orthodox church, a synagogue, and a Catholic church. There is also a very clear point where all the buildings switch from a typical Ottoman style to an Austro-Hungarian one. Eventually my meandering through the streets took me to the Yellow Bastion where I was treated to a nice panoramic view of the city.

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At the end of the day, I got my first taste of what is probably now my favorite group of foods. For every meal, I ate Bosnian food and everything I tried was amazing. Sarajevo Sahan, Cevapi, Burek, you name it, it was delicious. Also, not only were the portions on par with what you would get in America, everything was super cheap. My most expensive meal, including a drink and a tip, was 11 Bosnian Marks, which is about 6 dollars.

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Remnants of the Bosnian War were everywhere and impossible to miss. Almost every building that existed during the war is still peppered with bullet holes. You can still see places where mortar shells landed (although is on purpose as they’ve been painted red and usually have a plaque in honor of those killed by the shell). The first place I visited on my second day in the city was Gallery 11/07/95. This museum is primarily about the Srebrenica Genocide. On July 11th, 1995 Republika Srpska (and Serbia) conquered the town of Srebrenica, which had previously been declared a safe zone by the UN. The forces of Republika Srpska then began the systematic murder of more than 8,000 Muslim Bosniaks and forceful removal of the remaining 25,000 – 30,000 citizens of the town. This all occurred while the international community, more or less, closed its eyes and pretended nothing was happening. In an effort to hide the genocide, the bodies were buried throughout the country, particularly in places where they could try to pass them off as casualties of the fighting. They would also use machines like bulldozers and front end loaders to bury the bodies and as a result most of the victim’s remains were found mixed with others and often in multiple mass graves. In one example given, there were the remains of one victim found spread across three mass graves over 30 kilometers apart. There have also been cases of the mass graves being laced with landmines. Despite this, over 6,000 of the victims have been identified and given a proper burial. Unfortunately, some of those buried are only a couple of bones because the parents of the victim don’t believe that they will live long enough to see their child’s entire body found.

 

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Eventually the museum turns to Siege of Sarajevo, in which they have the Miss Sarajevo documentary playing on a continuous loop. The film is interesting because it isn’t about the war, but rather the people. A group of children playing pretend in a car that was destroyed by a mortar while you can hear machine guns in the distance, a dance club in someone’s basement, or an underground beauty pageant were all things shown during the film. It is also quite the experience to watch someone run from sniper fire on the very street that you were walking on a few minutes earlier. Interestingly, the end sequence of the film was used by U2 as their music video for their song of the same name.

After getting the rather depressing view of humanity, I elected to go back to exploring the city. I visited the site of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and the small museum about the Austrian rule of Bosnia. Following this, I climbed up a nearby hill to visit the ruins of an Ottoman-era fortress. Here I was treated to yet another panoramic view of the city as well as a view of one of the neighboring towns. I planned to do further exploration of the hill that I was on, but it started to rain and so I elected to return to the city and eat some more cevapi.

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For my final full day in Sarajevo, I took a tour to many of the sights that are not easily reached by foot. After starting at the Yellow Bastion, the tour went to the Tunnel Museum. During the war, the only way to get into or out of the city was through a tunnel that was dug beneath the airport runway. Thanks to the tunnel everything from food and medicine to gasoline and liquor was able to be brought into the city without having to risk crossing the wide open expanse of the airport’s runway. The next stop on the tour was yet another reminder of the war. The road up the mountain we were on was lined with signs warning about the minefields that were on either side of the road. Next was the abandoned ski jump and podium from the 1984 Winter Olympics. Thanks to this stop, I can now add “stood on top step of Olympic podium” to my resume. After eating lunch on the podium, we visited a hotel that had been destroyed during the war and is now used by what is essentially the Bosnian SWAT team for training exercises. Following this was a drive to a different mountain which had the (mostly) abandoned bobsled track. The second to last stop was at what was once a sniper’s nest for Republika Srpska during the war. Unsurprisingly, this gave me yet another panoramic view of the city. The final stop on the tour was at the main Jewish cemetery. After the Jews were expelled from Spain, Bosnia was one of the few places to allow them in. Because of this, many of the grave stones were in Spanish, even after several hundred years.

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My last day in Sarajevo only left me with enough time to eat one last meal of Cevapi before heading to the airport. Being the frugal flier that I am, I ended up with a decent length layover in Belgrade. I was starting to get hungry so I decided to exchange 5 Euro for Serbian Dinar to get a snack. I wasn’t really aware of what the exchange rate was so you could imagine my surprise when I received almost 600 Dinar. Interestingly, Nikola Tesla is on the 100 Dinar bill as well as the equation that defines the unit Tesla. As a physics major, this more or less solidified the 100 Dinar bill as my new favorite piece of currency. On the flip side, I also received several 1 Dinar coins, which may actually beat the penny in terms of general uselessness of a piece of currency.

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Things to Make and Do

After my trip to Bucharest, I only had two weeks of class before I got another week off for spring break. In a stunning turn of events, the weeks did not drag by (in fact, the whole month of March seemed to not even exist). This was probably thanks to the fact that I actually did things that broke up the monotony of classes.

First, I made my second visit to Schönbrunn, this time to actually go inside. Unfortunately for the quality of this blog, pictures inside were not allowed, so if you want to know what it’s like inside, you’ll just have to visit yourself. Unlike my first visit to Schönbrunn, the ground wasn’t a literal sheet of ice, so I was able to walk up the hill behind the palace and take a nice picture to make up for the lack of pictures from inside.

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My visit to Schönbrunn was not made out of my desire to feel like a tourist. Instead, as part of my Cultural Heritage of Austria class, I had to write a paper on my impression of my visit to the palace. We were told to use a German language audio guide as part of our visit, so being one to follow unenforceable rules, I asked for a German audio guide. A bit to my surprise, I realized that I was actually understanding what the audio guide was saying. This realization was the beginning of a two week epiphany that I’ve gotten rather good at understanding spoken German. It wasn’t that long ago that I would struggle to just pick out words in German news broadcasts and now I can watch a Formula One race in German and actually understand what the commentators are talking about. I’ve also gotten better at understanding songs, which has led to a couple of funny realizations of what songs I like were actually about (luckily no bad realizations [I would occasionally wonder if I was actually listening to Pegida hymns or something], mostly just realizing that the song has a silly premise). Despite my progress, there is still one area where my listening skills are basically useless. Whenever the subway driver (conductor? engineer? pilot?) makes an announcement, it just sounds like random noise. Not one to be discouraged though, I just blame my inability to understand the announcements on the speakers.

The next place I visited was another repeat visit. As part of my Political Geography class, I took a tour of the Austrian Parliament. Having already visited to sit in on a session of Parliament, it was rather cool to be able to actually visit the actual area where the representatives debate (and sit in one of their seats). Unfortunately, I don’t have much else to say about Austria’s Parliament building. Luckily, I am bailed out by the fact that they do allow photos to be taken and so I can make this paragraph look bigger by adding some photos here!

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As part of my Cultural Heritage class (apparently classes are the only reason I do things nowadays), I visited both the Imperial Treasury of the Habsburgs and Schloss Belvedere (yet another place that I had previously visited). Apart from the normal crowns and robes of former Austrian rulers, the Imperial Treasury has some rather strange treasures. For instance the horn of a unicorn which is actually the horn of a narwhal. How someone got the two mixed up a couple hundred years ago, I can’t say for sure, but I imagine it went something like this: “Sir, I know we found this while on a boat in the Arctic, but it totally has to be the horn of a unicorn!” Schloss Belvedere is a former palace that has been turned into a museum of Austrian art. It is here that you can find Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss, which despite my general disinterest in art, was rather cool to see in person. Unfortunately, much like everywhere I’ve been visiting lately, photos were not allowed inside, so I have no interesting pictures to share from here either.

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Stranger in a Strange Land

As I mentioned in my last post, I effectively had this last week off of class since my last final was on Monday. To take advantage of this extra break, I decided to travel to the city on the top of every person’s must visit cities list: Bucharest, Romania. For whatever reason, whenever I told someone where I was going, the first thing they asked was always “why” to which I always cunningly replied with “why not?” To actually summarize my thought process in planning this trip, the idea began to brew when I saw that there were cheap, direct flights from Vienna to Bucharest. This reminded me of an episode of Top Gear that was filmed in Romania. After rewatching the episode in question, I was basically sold, so long as it was easy to get to the city from the airport and that I didn’t need a visa to visit. With affirmative answers to all of my important questions, I booked my trip.

While Bucharest has a rather extensive public transport system, it was designed more with the city’s citizens in mind, rather than tourists. Because of this, other than taking a bus to and from the airport, I walked everywhere. Luckily, the weather was exceptionally nice and everything worth seeing in Bucharest is fairly close together. The only thing about this trip that was unlucky was that because it wasn’t tourist season in Bucharest, almost every museum I was interested in seeing was closed for renovations. Since walking around a city doesn’t lead to that interesting of a narrative, I’m just going to dump a bunch of photos here:

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One museum that wasn’t closed was the National Museum of Old Maps. When I arrived at about 2 pm, the doors of the museum were open, but all of the lights were off and there was nobody in sight. For whatever reason, I decided to walk in and was almost immediately stopped by a security guard. He only spoke Romanian, so he told me to wait while he got someone else. The second person also only spoke Romanian, so she told me to wait while she got someone else. Luckily, the third person spoke English. After I paid him the entry fee to the museum, he went and started turning on all of the lights. Despite being the only person in the entire museum, the security guard didn’t follow me around, like I was expecting him to. However, when I was leaving the museum, I realized that there was somebody following me around, turning off all of the lights once I was done with a room. I suppose this is how I know I have rather obscure interests.

Another place that was open was the Palace of Parliament. For the equivalent of about 4 dollars, I was able to take a tour through what is the fourth largest building in the world by volume and the heaviest building in the world. It was started by Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu in 1984 and enough of it was completed before his ousting that the new Romanian government decided it would be cheaper to mostly finish it and use it for both houses of Parliament rather than to tear it down. One last interesting fact about the building is that almost the entire building is made from materials from Romania.

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Although I was only in Romania for a couple of days, on four or five different occasions someone tried to ask me for directions in Romanian. This amused me since I hadn’t made a particular attempt to blend in, but apparently I looked Romanian enough. Also, in the couple months that I have been in Vienna, I have yet to be approached by an Austrian for any reason. On my way back from Bucharest, I was asked by a Turk for help navigating the trains to get from the airport into Vienna. Since we were going to almost the same place I got to talk with him a bit and I discovered that he is a professional mountain climber who has summited Mt. Everest. So if you ever feel stupid for being unable to navigate a city’s metro system, just remember that even someone who navigates mountains can have trouble navigating through a metro system.

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The Wanderer

According to WolframAlpha, Thursday marked the halfway point of my semester abroad. It was a bit surprising to discover that to be the case, but the math checks out. Of course, reaching the midpoint of the semester also means midterms. Unlike Wofford, midterms at IES are treated as a much bigger deal. There are no regular classes for a week, instead most classes just meet once to take the midterm. By some amount of luck, I will be done with my midterms on Monday, which means that I will have an entire week off of classes.

Thanks to hitting the midpoint in the semester, My thoughts have been a bit reflective. As such, I have started to think about the things that I miss about living in the United States. One thing that living in Europe has taught me is that the world (or at least the part that I’m interested in) runs on EST. Being 6 hours (or 5 since the US starts daylight savings two weeks earlier) ahead of the east coast means that most everything interesting starts at or after midnight here. Another thing I miss is the existence of low in quality, but high in quantity fast food (read Cookout). Overall, I’m a bit surprised by how little I miss about the US. I think this is because living in Vienna hasn’t been all that different from living in any other city in the US. It’s almost been disappointing how little culture shock I’ve experienced.

Long term reflections over, let’s reflect upon what I’ve been up to since I last wrote a blog post. As part of my Culture Heritage class, I’ve continued to visit many different sites around Vienna. One place was the currently under renovation Karlskirche. Thanks to the renovations, it’s possible to take the temporarily erected elevator to the top of the dome. I also visited the National Library of Austria. I unfortunately neglected to take a picture while there, so you will just have to take my word for it, that the building was rather impressive. The last place we visited was the Imperial Crypt of the Habsburgs. This was probably the strangest place I visited in Vienna, probably because it’s not everyday that I’m surrounded by more than 140 dead bodies. Continuing the theme of seeing strange things, as part of my theater class, I went to a performance of Der Talisman. I believe that the best way for me to describe what the performance was like, is to say that I had many of the same thoughts while watching the play as I did watching the movie Airplane. That is to say that the majority of my thoughts during the play were along the lines of “what is this play even?”

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One final story I have to share occurred while I was walking through a train station. Someone came up to me and asked if I spoke English. I said yes since I’m a nice person and would like to help out a lost tourist. Unfortunately, this man was not a lost tourist. Instead of asking where his train is or some other touristy thing, he started talking to me in a mix of English, German, and Hungarian (or at least I think it was, he said was from Budapest, but I don’t actually know what Hungarian sounds like). So here I am, in a train station, with someone changing languages with almost every word. I must have looked rather uncomfortable because a police officer walked up behind the guy talking to me and started listing in. Unluckily (or luckily) the police office just shrugged and walked off, leaving me to continue to think about how to end a conversation with someone who I don’t even know what he’s saying. Luckily for me, the guy eventually just stopped talking, shook my hand, and left. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Speed of Life

It feels like just yesterday I was writing about my excitement to start regular classes and now I already have three weeks under my belt. One thing that everyone seems to forget to mention when talking about studying abroad is that fact that you still have a normal school workload. I expected this, but it’s still a bit difficult to keep the romanticized version of study abroad out of your head. Between this and the relative ease of the intensive German period, it’s easy to fall into a mindset of thinking that this semester will be a complete breeze. As such, the biggest challenge of the last few weeks has been trying to catch up to the speed of life.

Luckily, the classes at IES haven’t been too different from what I would expect at Wofford, so getting into a nice rhythm hasn’t been too difficult. The professors here are just as happy to assign homework as they are at Wofford. The ones I have are particularly in favor of assigning a decent length reading plus writing a short paper. While this normally wouldn’t be too bad, it’s a bit of a different game when it’s done entirely in German. It’s also tough knowing that if your mind wanders for just a second during class, you’ll have very little chance of figuring out what’s going on until someone else says something. The bright side of this struggle is that success feels that much better. Also, it’s becoming a near daily occurrence of noticing how much better my German is getting. I recently made brownies using instructions that were in German without having to translate anything. My sense of accomplishment has never (literally) tasted so good!

So far Viennese Theater has been my most difficult class. As expected, the class involves a lot of reading and since the plays weren’t written for kids, they are a bit of a challenge to read. We then analyze the texts in class, which isn’t a strong suit of mine when done in English, so it’s an extra challenge to try to do it in German. The class is rewarding, though, when we go to an actual performance of the play and I don’t have to stare at the English supertitles in order to follow what’s going on.

Another class worth writing about is my Cultural Heritage of Austria class. This class meets once a week for three hours. The first half is spent like any other class, but for the second half we visit various sights around Vienna that pertain to our in class discussions. In the three weeks of class we have visited ancient Roman ruins, several churches, two monasteries, and a house that Beethoven once lived in. One of the monasteries that we visited is called Schottenstift, which, if translated literally, means Scottish Monastery. You’re now probably wondering why it has such a name. Strangely, the reason is that the original monks of the monastery came from Ireland. Try figuring that one out.

Verduner Altar at Stift Klosterneuburg

Verduner Altar at Stift Klosterneuburg

My Business German class is considered to be a language class, so it’s been fairly similar to my regular German class. It has involved more reading and writing than regular German, but it’s a 300 level class so it hasn’t been too hard compared to my other classes. In an unsurprising turn of events, my easiest class, so far, has been my only class English taught class. The only interesting thing I have to share about this class is that I keep expecting it to be in German. There’s been multiple times that I’ve found myself trying to figure how to word a question in German before remembering that I’m supposed to use English.

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Return of the Stingray Guitar

I have made it through the first week of real classes abroad. Unfortunately, I also spent the week feeling sorta, kinda, almost a bit sick. Thanks to that, I don’t believe that I got a good idea of what my classes were like, so I’ll give it another week before I got into much detail about them. This also spares you from reading my descriptions of the gallons of snot that evacuated my body during the week.

Not every day was spent feeling poor, so I was able to accomplish a few fun things. For the past eight years I’ve played guitar and during that span I had never gone longer than about ten days without playing something. As you might guess, this started to bother me as I started to get close to the one month mark without even touching a guitar. To remedy this, I began to search the Austrian equivalent of craigslist for a decent cheap guitar. When I found one that met my requirements, I realized that I’m pretty bad at sending people I don’t know messages in English and now I needed to try to buy something from a stranger using only German.

Luckily, the emails were easy to read and write and we agreed to meetup to complete the sale. Unfortunately no amount of German was able to prepare me for actually meeting someone at their apartment. When I got to the person’s building, I pressed the button to call the guy’s room and then I hear the buzzer for the door go off. Naturally, I go to push the door open, but nothing happens. I tried pulling, turning the nonexistent knob, and buzzing the guy’s room again, but I could not figure out how to work the door. So I sent the person I was meeting a message that their door doesn’t work. He ended up coming down to let me in which lead to a very awkward ride in a very small elevator to his room. He didn’t seem to interested in making small talk and I wasn’t about to test my German if I didn’t have to. When we reached his room, he let me test the guitar, which furthered the awkwardness of the encounter since I have almost no idea about how to test a guitar and I had a month’s worth of rust to shake off. I believe that my playing convinced him that I couldn’t play guitar because he then started to demonstrate his own skills. Not wanting to say anything stupid, I let him play and just stood there thinking “just let me pay and end this awkwardness!” In total, the whole encounter lasted maybe two minutes, but it was two minutes filled with the usual craigslist “am I meeting a murder” question as well as the “do I know enough German to get through this without looking stupid” question. Luckily the answers were no and yes, respectively, so now I have a guitar to annoy my roommates with my endless playing of U2’s entire catalog. Hopefully I don’t fall in love with the guitar because it would likely cost more to it back to the US than I originally paid for it.

Continuing the musical theme for the week, on Sunday I ventured out to see Two Door Cinema Club in concert. Every concert I’d been to before this had been a big arena production, so I had no idea what to expect. I showed up a few minutes after the doors opened to the venue and ended up exactly where I hoped, in the first row on the side of Sam Halliday (the lead guitarist). The first band to go on was Parcels, a disco(ish) band with an excellent triangle player, who I would recommend if you like Two Door Cinema Club. The second opening act was Blaenavon, who the internet claims is an alternative / indie band, but they were significantly different from the other bands in the lineup. They were very dark and angsty, which created a strange juxtaposition of bands (perhaps this is actually an intentional act of art). Then Two Door Cinema Club performed, to which I sung my heart out for the entire set. Also, I spent much of the concert taking mental notes about Sam’s performance. These notes were things like the fact that he almost exclusively uses the neck pickup on his Jimi Hendrix signature Stratocaster or the fact that he used two identical Hendrix Strats, as well as not so strange things, like the fact that the outro to their song Lavender is a tapping solo.

Sam = Bae

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Zoo Station

Much like Tom Brady’s Super Bowl victories, this blog post comes to you in five parts.

Part One: The Super Bowl! For those who didn’t know, I grew up in Massachusetts, so naturally I’m a Patriots fan. As such, I was determined to watch the Super Bowl live, even if it was scheduled to start at 12:30 Monday morning. One thing that surprised me was that Austria had their own coverage of the game instead of simply just having a simulcast of the US broadcast. This was great because it meant that I didn’t have to spend several hours listening to Joe Buck. It also meant that there were fewer commercials since the Austrian commentators would usually continue to discuss the game during the breaks. It was also a bit funny to listen to German commentary because so many of the terms used were just the English words, so it often sounded more like Denglish than German.

Part Two: Traveling. As I mentioned in my last post, I had this week off as a break between intensive German and regular classes. To take advantage of this, I booked a trip Berlin. Throughout this trip, one thing I couldn’t stop thinking about was Berlin’s public transportation system. A list of things that are easier to understand than Berlin’s public transport includes Quantum physics. Berlin has buses, trams, an U-Bahn (subway), an S-Bahn (trains), and local trains all covered by one ticket. Of course some of the subway lines were above ground and some of the trains were below ground so I’m not convinced I ever figured out what the actual difference between the two were. The whole system was so convoluted that Google Maps wasn’t always correct about what trains to take. For example, it would say that I have to take this specific train line to a certain station, but when I would get to the first station, there would be four different train lines that all go to the same stops. To give you an idea of the difference between Berlin’s and Vienna’s public transport options, I’ve included a slideshow with maps of both systems.

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Part Three: Sightseeing. Two of the days I was in Berlin, I spent going to the many different sights there are to see. According to my phone, on my first day of sightseeing, I walked for about 15 miles to the many ‘must see’ sights. Because that doesn’t sound to exciting to describe in much detail, I’ll instead just share some pictures of the things I saw. The second day that I spent sightseeing, I went to some more niche places. One was the Archenhold Observatory which has the world’s largest moveable refracting telescope. I then went on a bit of a ‘U2 in Berlin’ tour. The first stop was the East Side Gallery, which an art gallery painted on a stretch of the Berlin Wall. For reasons I still haven’t figured out, U2 showed many of the works during the intermissions of their last tour. After that, I payed a visit to Hansa Studios, where U2 recorded their album Achtung Baby, and Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten which inspired the first song on Achtung Baby, Zoo Station. In what is probably the greatest coincidence of all time, the U-Bahn line between Hansa Studios and Bahnhof Zoo is the U2.

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Part Four: Museums. The other two days I was in Berlin, the highs were below freezing and the winds were rather high. As a result, walking outside felt like death and so I spent my time in museums. The first museum I visited was the Museum of German history. This museum was massive and I spent over four hours walking through it. I am, basically, an expert in German history now. I then went to the DDR Museum. Despite being the only crowded museum I visited, it was by far the most forgettable one. The next day I went to the ironically named Neues Museum (New Museum), since all of its artifacts are older than Germany. There were several exhibits in the museum where the signs said something along the lines of “we used to have the originals here, but Russia stole them after World War II and won’t give them back!” I found this a bit ironic since the museum’s most famous artifact, the bust of Nefertiti, was [kind of] stolen from Egypt and Germany won’t give it back. I also visited the Natural History Museum, which had the world’s tallest dinosaur skeleton on display and one of the most complete T-Rex skeletons. The final museum that I visited was the Stasi Museum, which is located in the former Stasi headquarters.

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Part Five: School. Tomorrow the regular semester starts. I’ll be taking five classes, four of which are taught in German. Somewhat surprisingly, all of my classes are very small. The only one that has double digit enrollment is my actual German class which has 13 people in it. If you’re wondering what the other classes that I’m taking are, allow me to list them. The English taught class is the Political Geography of Europe. I then have Viennese Theater in which we will study a play and then see it performed at a local theater. I also have the Cultural Heritage of Austria in which the first half of class is spent learning about something and the second half we take a field trip to the thing we were talking about. Finally, I have a course titled Wirtschaftsdeutsch / Let’s Talk Business which I don’t know much about about other than it’s taught in German.

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Another Time, Another Place

I have officially made it through the intensive German period for the semester. Now, I get an entire week off of class before regular classes begin. Overall the intensive German period felt a bit like interim, which makes sense since it was one class, five days a week, for three hours. Of course there was a bit more pressure since I get an actual grade for the class, rather than just a pass or fail. While it was nice to only have one class at 12:30, I’m looking forward to getting a bit more variety in my classes.

In the two weeks since I last wrote a blog I have not done much to report back about. I made a visit to the Naturhistorische Museum (literally: Natural History Museum) which was only just worth the price of admission. One floor of the museum is dedicated to models of current day animals. The other floor had a couple of more interesting exhibits. There was room full of meteorites, including meteorites that originated from the Moon and from Mars. There were also a couple of dinosaur skeletons on display.

Today I woke up to discover that the current temperature was nearing 50 degrees. This is of note because there have only been a couple of days so far which had a high above freezing. To take advantage of this, I went to walk around Schloss Schönbrunn (the former summer residence of the Habsburgs). Since Vienna had gotten several inches of snow just a few days before, the ground was covered in massive puddles and the hill that I intended to climb was closed due to ice. As such, I took a picture to prove that I have been to Schönbrunn, walked around a bit, and then headed back home. To make this adventure a bit more disappointing, when I got on the subway, the driver made an announcement that there was an issue and so everyone would have to get off at the next stop. At the next stop there was an announcement that the subway line was shut down between the stop I was at and the stop I wanted to get to. Luckily, I happened to know that I could walk to the next stop and take a different subway home.

Schönbrunn

Schönbrunn

I have not only been visiting places on my own. As part of my German class, we have taken field trips to the Leopold Museum, to Austria’s Parliament building and Vienna’s city hall. The Leopold Museum is a modern art gallery and as such, I did not find it interesting at all. At the Parliament building, we sat in on a session of Parliament. I could follow along well enough to say that the leader of the Green Party said some things about Donald Trump which must have rustled some jimmies because some members of Austria’s super right-wing party started giving yelling out unsolicited comments. After listening to the Parliamentary session for a bit, we then took a tour the City Hall next door in German. The building was pretty impressive and included an old elevator which doesn’t stop. Instead you just jump on and off as it passes the different floors.

Parliament

Parliament

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Magnificent

I’ve successfully survived my first week of intensive German class. To celebrate, I actually did some things around Vienna! The first place I visited was the Neue Burg Museum. Housed in a part of the Hofburg Palace, the Neue Burg is home to three completely unrelated museums: musical instruments, Renaissance era weapons and armor, and artifacts from Ephesus. I either came at a weird time (Saturday morning) or the museum isn’t that popular because I only briefly saw one or two other people who weren’t security guards in the two hours I was there. Visiting this museum was the first time that I was glad that I know a decent amount of German because there were only a few pieces that were labeled in English. Amazingly I was able to understand most of what was written on the placards, so I had a better idea of what I was looking at rather than just thinking “hmmm, yes that is an old piece of armor.”

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My ticket to the Neue Burg also got me entrance into the Kunsthistorische Museum (literally Art History Museum) that was across the street. From what I’m aware of, this is the place to visit if you find yourself in Vienna. Despite what the name implies, the museum had more than just art. There were (rather unexciting) exhibits on old coins and the Habsburg’s rule in North Africa. The main exhibit of the museum is paintings from the Renaissance. While I’m sure to many people this is a magnificent exhibit, to me it was rather dull. Luckily, on my way out, I noticed one more exhibit that I hadn’t seen on my way in. This final exhibit contained ancient Egyptian and Greek artifacts. While it seemed a bit out of place in an art museum in Austria, it was interesting to look at things that were several thousand years old. Of course, looking at writings from several thousand years ago got my mind churning. Perhaps several thousand years from now some scientist will recover my blog from some hard drive and use it as a peak back at what humans were like in the 21st century. If so, I hope they are pleasantly surprised by my foresight.

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An old blog post perhaps?

One thing about both museums that I couldn’t help but notice, was just how often the buildings they were in were just as magnificent as the exhibits they held. While the Neue Burg was originally part of a royal palace, the Kunsthistorische Museum was purpose built. Despite that, both buildings were extravagant displays of the Habsburg’s wealth. There were more a couple of times when I’d take a step back from the exhibit and just be stunned by the room that I was standing in.

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Museums were not the only thing that I visited over the weekend. On Sunday I attended a professional basketball game. The game was between Vienna’s team and nearby Klosterneuburg. Since this was the first European basketball game I’ve ever been to, I can’t comment on whether the closeness of the two teams lead to a larger and more energized crowd, but the fans for both teams were more into it than I was expecting. The style of play seemed to be somewhere between college and professional basketball in the US, but the quality was rather poor. While the two teams are at the bottom of the standings in their league, it now makes more sense to me that college teams can play pro teams in Europe and win handedly. One thing that made up for the lack of amazing players, was the fact that there were no media timeouts. The game was not broadcast on any form of media. No radio, no TV, no internet stream. Thanks to this, the pace of play was amazing. The game was the same length as a college game, but finished in an hour and a half. This is despite it being a close game for most of the fourth quarter.

I promise there are more people here than my picture suggests

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