I am studying German this semester in Marburg, Germany. Marburg is a college town an hour north of Frankfurt. Philipps-Universitat has been around since 1527, making it one of the oldest universities in the world. Marburg houses about 87,000 people, 20,000 of which are students. Marburg is really hilly and is famous for all the stairs built around town. Apparently when the Brothers Grimm visited, they said there were more stairs outside the houses than inside the houses. There is a castle in the town, up on the biggest hill that overlooks the city. I actually get to live near the castle, which is awesome, because the view is gorgeous and it only takes about five minutes to climb up to the castle. However, it feels like it’s a bad thing, sometimes, because every night, I have to climb up the hill to go home. I guess, I’ll just have finely toned legs by the time I return to Bozeman. I’d be okay with that.
I’m studying with a program called, IUSP, or International Undergraduate Students Program. It’s a group of about 40 students from all over the U.S. with a smattering of students from Canada, New Zealand and Australia. We all have to take intensive language, conversation and culture classes for the next six weeks, and then we will start regular classes with the rest of the university in October. As a group, we also take a few trips to different cities around Germany. Last week, the day after we all arrived in Marburg, our program sent us to Berlin. For such a big city, the streets were unusually quiet. It didn’t feel like a terribly tourist town, and I really liked that. We took a city tour and a tour around the Stasimuseum. It’s amazing how many buildings Berlin has rebuilt since WWII. Whole plazas and palaces have been remade, and most of them have been made to look like the original, so if I hadn’t been told, I wouldn’t have guessed that they were only 20 or 30 years old.
I think one of the most powerful places we visited in Berlin was probably the book burning site. The memorial they put there is very simple: a glass pane in the ground revealing an empty underground library. The bare shelves and forlorn atmosphere made a great impression on me.
Some friends and I went to sites where the original Berlin Wall still stands. One of those sites sits on the property of the “Topography of Terror,” the site of a building where political prisoners were tortured during the Third Reich. It was amazing to examine the wall and see all the notes and graffiti people had left behind, but also pretty sad. My friend and I were taking pictures of each other, and I felt so weird smiling next to the wall. It felt like such an oppressive symbol, and I was grinning, posing with my CatCard. I don’t know. We decided if we managed to make it to a concentration camp, we wouldn’t take any pictures with people in it, because we wouldn’t know what to do.
Historic sites weren’t the only places we visited while we were in Berlin. Some friends and I also visited a chocolatier. It was like being in Willy Wonka’s Factory. There were giant models of buildings made from chocolate around the walls. There was a glass elevator in the back of the store that took people up to the cafe upstairs. And there was just chocolate everywhere. It smelled so good, I just had to get something. Now, I am lactose intolerant, and even though I use Lactaid pills, I don’t like to use them too often; but this was so worth it. Emily, a friend from the program, and I bought a sampling of truffles together, and it was just heavenly.
We returned from Berlin on Sunday, and then we started classes the next day. I’m still getting acquainted with Marburg, but so far, I’m pretty pleased with it.