We’re still going backwards in time here, hopping back through my first month in Germany. It’s revision, let’s say! This will be on the test!
Apart from Prague, most of my time has been spent in some of the most beautiful and interesting towns and cities in Germany, so they definitely deserve a mention.
The weekend before I headed to Prague, the Rhein-Neckar region was the place to be. It was party weekend for sure.
On the Friday I travelled about 50 minutes by tram to the wine producing region around Bad Dürkheim to attend “Wurstmark”, the biggest wine festival in the world apparently! The whole thing was like a min-Oktoberfest crossed with an American fair on steroids. It was packed, rippling with people both drunk and sugar-filled.
I remember being both overwhelmed by the bright lights and noise, but also giddy with excitement like a kid in a candy store. I sat with “Schatzi” in beer… uh, I mean, wine tents listening to some ridiculous dad-rock band in lederhosen, drinking Riesling (mixed with sparkling water) and just soaking up the vibes. It was great! At least, it was less busy and bustling than outside.
Wurstmarkt is, as you’d expect, full of delicious foods… that I can’t/don’t want to eat. You can’t go more than 100 meters without running into a Schinken or Hänchen grill of some kind. Of course, you could easily survive on sweets, but it wouldn’t be a good life. The chocolate covered fruit stalls all over the place were fantastic. My excuse was that “hey, this is fruit, it’s healthy.”
I regret to inform you that the tram ride home and subsequent morning was less than fabulous… for reasons.
The next night, after I’d recovered from my Riesling fuelled adventure through hell and back, I went out to Mannheim’s prime event: Schlossfest! The baroque Schloss and University is essentially gutted and reborn into a prime party location and art festival. There’s photographic art all over the walls, live Jazz, DJ sets, food trucks and, again, lots-a-booze! Everyone’s a bit more controlled and orderly in the Schloss, though, which is nice. It’s as if the castle imposes some authority on the revellers. It’s out of respect, ya know?
Schlossfest was great, and an awesome excuse to meet interesting people. I did end up hanging out with my normal gang of Aussies, Americans and Latvians for the most part though, just digging the vinyl scratching booth super hard. It was, as they say, my jam.
Schlossfest finished up with fireworks (that I kept unfairly comparing to the Sydney New Years works) that signalled a sort of high point of this glorious weekend. With an explosion of fire and gunpowder, my excitement for life peaked.
And so the next day, the Sunday, I returned to Wurstmark, this time during the day and with only my Aussie pals in tow. It’s actually incredible the difference is between night and day here. Everything seemed less energetic, a bit run down and tired, but still trying to fire on as many cylinders as it could.
Don’t get me wrong, it was still fun. We sat and ate nice grub, had a bit of a beer… and then got bored. So instead of hanging around the Markt, we decided to have a slow walk through the town.
Bad Dürkheim is quiet, at least it seemed quiet during the festival, and beautiful. It’s what you’d expect of a spa town, with a feeling that sunniness is normal here. The streets are half-cobblestone, half cement and the buildings themselves seem to be in a battle against modernity. It’s green and colourful and nice, what else can I say? Here, have a few photos to soak it in.
My kingdom for more castles!
I’ve already written about my first trip to Heidelberg, the Aldstadt next to Mannheim that, unfortunately, puts the old ‘Heim to shame. It’s what tourists think Germany should be, brought to life. If only it had some snow on it’s Gothic spires at the time I went, it would have been perfect.
But here’s the thing… I’ve been back!
The second trip to Heidelberg was just as beautiful as the first. I mean, we didn’t do the trek up to the castle again or anything like that, but we managed to take a few nice photos of the sunset along the river, have an absolutely amazing dinner (I broke down and had to eat fish… but damn), and then “touch the monkey”.
If you’re wondering what I mean, Heidelberg’s Alte Brücke has an interesting little creature living on it: a bronze sculpture of a monkey by Professor Gernot Rumpf. It’s a strange looking thing, designed so that it’s head can be used as a mask for passing tourists. It carries a mirror, holds it’s fingers in a sign to ward of evil and overlooks some small brass mice.
The legend says that depending on where you “touch the monkey” you will get different boons. Touch his fingers and you will one day return to Heidelberg (well, I’ve got that in the bag… I’m like 15 minutes away!), touch the mice and you will find yourself fertile and virile, touch the mirror and you’re guaranteed wealth. Guess which part I touched?
This little pilgrimage was an almost perfect night out. It’s nice to have something so beautiful so close. We also managed to meet a cohort of about 20 students from Pepperdine, California, who had all come on exchange together to the University of Heidelberg. Wow. Imagine that, coming with a group so large. How would you ever find time for yourself?
The first thing they asked me when I told them I was Australian was the classic question I always seem to get “how are the waves? Good surf in Australia?” Sorry to disappoint you, pal. I much prefer kangaroo racing and boomerang sports to surfing.
The last place to mention in this ridiculously long post is the Schloss in Schwetzingen, just south of Mannheim, that I took a short trip to with a bunch of random friends from the uni one weekend.
Schwetzingen is, again, lovely and quiet. It’s got this sort of cotton-candy, Barbie princess feel that I can’t deny. Only when you get to the train station and see all the graffiti is the illusion ruined.
The castle itself isn’t as impressive as Mannheim’s baroque Schloss, in my opinion at least, but woah, the gardens are something else. Still bearing it’s original design and layout, this is a place you could easily get lost in. If you’re a fan of flowers and colours, you’ll likely never leave. In the main stretch, there are blankets of flowers and fountains, to the rear, there are almost maze like hedge structures, and in the very back is a series of lakes and rivers leading to all sorts of amazing statues, structures and castle-y flourishes.
My favourite part of the castle was the bird sanctuary, a series of cages full of birds (including many Australian species) and decorated with all manner of brass Vögeln.
I really valued this excursion, as it was the first time I actually said “alright, fuck it, I’ll come”. Invited by my new Slovakian friend from down the road, I met with a bunch of interesting people, Mexicans, Norwegians, Germans, Guatemalans who were all super accepting and lovely. I haven’t seen many of them since then, unfortunately, as we’ve all been scattered to the wind but, if you’re reading this, come hang out!
It’s important to take up any opportunity for adventure you can. Old James would have been too nervous, to stressed that there could be awkwardness between me and these new friends, but New James, James 2.0, is more than willing to expand his horizons. The only way you can fail is, like many have said before, to not try.
Of course, there’s a lot more I could write about this lovely area of Germany. I mean, I could even add some negatives if I wanted to! But I think I’m going to have to leave this here. It’s a sin of blog-posting to go too long after all!
Overall, I feel really lucky to have picked Mannhiem, for it’s centrality and groups of amazingly interesting people. I’m also incredibly grateful that life has worked out so well so far to lead me to this point. Although I used to be jealous and think that “everyone” had these experiences and that I was just missing out, I’ve come to realise that I am incredibly fortunate. Thanks, Universe!
It’s making me wish I didn’t have to leave after six months!
I had a rough night last night. Not sure if it was the red wine of some form of home sickness or just another dip in the W of experience, but I’ve woken up with some sort of grey burning inside me, something I felt back at home when I was stuck in my room with nothing to do except constantly refresh Facebook and Youtube.
It’s not a nice feeling, and it’s something I’ve been trying to outrun. I can’t let it catch up to me again! I won’t! I’m here and experiencing life and it’s all the better because it’s not the life I’m used to.
I had a dream a few nights ago, after returning from Burg-Hohenzollern, I was actually back home and dealing with stress of friends and family and boredom, that actually made me start grinding my teeth. I’ve decided I’m happy here, and I have been happy for a long time! But behind that is a slight fear that it will go backwards one day…
I mean, as I said, it’s just another part of the W. I’m definitely in the phase of exchange were I now feel like this is my home, it’s normal, and that means I’m getting bored and restless if I don’t move about.
So I have to keep moving forward. I have to look forward to trips to Munich, Berlin, to Paris, to Spain and to the UK. That way my blood stays pumping. That way I can keep being excited by life.
Truthfully, I don’t know what I’m even worrying about. It’s a good thing that I now feel at home, that’s why I’m writing this little series of posts about the state, and there definitely isn’t any rarity in things to see and experience here in Europe (and in life in general).
I need to remind myself to live in the moment, to mindfully meditate and realise that just because I’m in a dip of W tonight, tomorrow morning I’ll wake up and feel 1,000% again (unless I drink a lot of beer tonight, which is likely). That’s the exchange thing, isn’t it?
But anyway, I didn’t think I’d ramble on like this, or be so negative! I am happy, honest. I’m super grateful for everything that’s led me here and also just more positive about life in general. Even if I can’t control everything, I need to remind myself to embrace the positive while I can and then remember it fondly, without regret, afterwards. There’s always tomorrow! Hell, I even feel better after writing this down. A bit of exercise tap-tap-tapping away on the keyboard is good for you.