I’m sitting in my sticky room, barricading myself against some gross smell that has come over the whole of the housing complex, coddling a headache and a bit of a sour mood today. After a good two weeks of bright blue skies and heat, the little bit of grey and sleepy miasma floating through the air has bought on a wave of light depression… I guess in ye olde days they’d call it “melancholy”, and then give me leeches or something like that to get rid of it. Sheep’s brains for me, please!
So I thought I’d write about the sudden drop in my mood. It all starts with something beautiful though, a golden time that has rusted and dimmed since.
Everyone who’s lived in Mannheim for some time will surely know about Heidelberg. In fact, a lot of Germans from further afield have heard of Heidelberg, just because of its beauty. Situation on the Neckar river and covered in beautiful architecture and dominated by an ancient and crumbling castle. Like a crown on the head of a beautiful queen the castle shines, attracting the eyes of every visitor. I mean, just look at the painting by Carl Blechen to the right. Even in its destroyed state, it is still absolutely gorgeous.
I took the short trip to Heidelberg (only about thirty minutes at most and completely free for Semester Ticket holders!) with a group of new and old friends last Saturday. We arrived early in the day for a Street Food Festival that turned out to be quite disappointing. It was expensive, hot and lifeless. I mean, the beer, tea and vegetarian cuban burger I had were all great, but you couldn’t gorge yourself like we all wanted to on our student budgets.
We left and journeyed, again by tram, to the “Aldstadt”, or “Old Town”, the heart of Heidelberg’s tourism industry. Boy-howdy, it was packed! After coming from a near empty-parking lot (with some pretty mountains around, I might add) to the bustling cobblestone streets of Old Town was almost a shock! Everyone moved about carefully and quietly in the heat of the day, looking down alleyways, window shopping for fine goods, enjoying ice-cream and deserts and just, ya know, generally enjoying the whole experience of going back in time while holding on to all the modern luxuries we are used to. I mean, no Heidelberger would have had America Sweet Tea in the afore-mentioned ye olde times, but it did come as a welcome relief from the sun.
The main attraction of the city (though I’m sure there will be heaps and heaps more to explore when I head back soon) is definitely the Schloss. This castle, destroyed by the French, is a romantic dream made into a castle shape, presumably by giants commanded by German gnomes. Apart from a few ruins in England, I don’t think I’ve ever before been in any castle so spectacular. We don’t have them in Australia, for obvious reasons.
From the castle you can see the entirety of Old Town and a lot further. With the sun still blazing, we sweated it out on the parapets and walkways, getting a good look (and some good selfies) before walking back down, down, down, a long way to the centre of the town.
Heidelberg’s secretive and pretty alleyways and meandering streets are so different to what I’m used to its hard to describe it. It feels so much more organic, full of history, mouldy, breathing, alive than any planned city or carefully paved cement jungle. It’s exactly what I pictured the archetypical German town to be, and somewhere I’m definitely heading back to explore as many times as I want!
This has been a very quick week, but also a slow one. Time has entered the event horizon of some ungodly huge black hole and torn my brain apart. It feels like just yesterday I was in Heidelberg, but also like it was months ago. I guess paperwork, shopping and cleaning of our previously horrendous kitchen (a piece on student accommodation to come, by the way) really take their toll. I mean, I’ve been having a lot of fun in the meantime with my new friends, and even went out last night to a “Stammtisch” last night to meet people and drink beers, but today I just feel a little… bluey grey.
The weather doesn’t help, or the smell, but heading into the uni today really shocked me. Instead of being relatively empty, like how I’ve known it so far, it was swarming with students who were all speaking German. I felt alone, isolated and withdrawn. Never since arriving have I felt so much the reality that I was in another country, basically on my own, a less-than-firm grasp of the language and about to start university again.
I spent ten minutes in the city and escaped back home while the rain started to fall. I don’t really know what came over me. So far I have been reaching out of my shell, quite effectively, and finding new people to talk to and be friends with but this time…
I put it down to being a bit tired and worn out. I’m sitting here, almost nodding off really, waiting for my laundry to tumble dry and preparing to leave this grey day behind and start fresh tomorrow.
I have to repeat to myself, that I will maintain a calm, confident and cheerful state of mind at all times. This little mantra become reinforced the more you say it, until eventually you start believing it. I can tell you from EXTENSIVE first hand experience that letting the negative of life come into focus is the first step on a dangerous, downward spiralling road. And I don’t want that.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t feel a little bad now and then. That’s part of life as well. We need balance in everything. I remember being told that your exchange will come in a wave similar to a W shape. First, you arrive feeling excited and positive, then feel down again after realising the enormity of what you’ve done and where you’ve gone. I think that’s where I am at the moment. I’ve suddenly realised that I’m not at home, that I’m not in any sort of comfort zone and that it’s going to require a lot of work to make the most out of the experience.
I’m looking forward to the next bit though, the next peak of the W, when you get back into the swing of things, start to love your uni, meet new people and begin exploring. I’ll leave the last ditch (the sadness of departing) and the last rise (the joy of returning home) until another time…
While I think that’s a good model, it definitely doesn’t apply to everyone. I think my own experiences have taught me that life is less of a W curve and more of a WWWVWVWWBBWWDFAFGGASDICLOWNW one.
Sure, there’s fear, but there’s also hope that my flair for schoolwork will come in handy over the next semester. Here’s hoping that the start of the semester brings with it all the joy and excitement that previous exchange students have told me that it does. I’ve had a small taste, but I need more. More, more, more.
The best way to escape a slump, as I’ve told many dear friends in the past, is to force yourself out of it. I’ve let my Deutsch slip by being around so many English speakers, and I’ve almost forgotten schooling exists because I’ve been out of uni for so long. But it begins now. The next rise in the curve is just around the corner.