Day 1: Feeling Very American

5 May 2019

As I walked out the plane and looked out the windows of the five star Munich airport at the city, I was instantly amazed. I would hear about how pretty, particular, classy, and elite Munich is (and visit it in a week), but admiring the cleanliness of the city and the aesthetics of all the surrounding buildings certainly imprinted a lasting impression on me. 

There was a slight bit of miscommunication with the bus driver on pickup location, so we were allowed to spend a half hour exploring the Munich airport. The first thing I noticed was the accents and tones of the native people around us; I had been plagued with stereotypes and thought Germans had harsher tones and more piercing accents, but I was proven gravely mistaken when I heard my first ‘Hallo!’, a soft, sweet greeting. I knew we were in a different country that spoke a different language, but I was still taken a little aback when everyone around us wasn’t speaking English: for the first time ever I realized I wouldn’t understand a lot of the common conversation around me (I know, how American of me). After admiring my surroundings for a little bit, I went to the bathroom because the four times on the plane clearly weren’t enough: it was so clean and quite an upgrade. I received my first internal infrastructure shock when I tried to dry my hands — the paper towel dispensers were cloth towel dispensers. And they didn’t dispense. When you slid your hand under the dispenser, a bit of a towel was released and then a little while later, the exposed part of the towel roll was rolled back in and a new part would be ready for someone else’s use. I went to the bathroom with a friend who was a mechanical engineer and had a really intriguing conversation: what did the sanitation for the used part look like, was it even reused or simply done for the aesthetics and elimination of trash (and is that really cost effective?), and was there a purely monetary incentive to this system or was it also environmentally driven — the Germans are very aware of their environment. This system is pictured below and we actually ended up seeing it in more high end places and buildings, such as the Hirschvogel bathrooms. 

As I stepped onto the bus, I was instantly surprised with the interior: it was gorgeous. And it wasn’t like we were special and had a fancy bus to take us home; public transportation is just a lot more sophisticated and heavily invested in in Germany. Below is an image of the interior, with curtains to block the light from outside, chairs that both reclined and slid side to side, ample leg room, and little expanding tables from the back of chairs for really comfortable transport.  

The actual bus ride to the hotel was a bit of a blur since I was experiencing a deadly combination of sleep deprivation and cozy setting that I kept phasing in and out of sleep. I did pick up on one thing though: I happened to randomly open my eyes during a part of the trip when we were crossing countryside and found that there was a solar panel farm amongst vegetation (picture below). 

This is actually kind of a big deal because that would rarely be found in the US. Typically solar farms are only created where there is no directly useful space, so deserts and rooftops. This made me think of the geography and politics of Germany, because I wondered if there was any desert or essentially ‘useless’ land or was it all greenery, and I also thought about the environmental efforts the German government and citizens pursued. I looked up some facts at the hotel that night, and found that about 26% of all power generation in Germany is renewable, which is significantly more than the US. 

When we got to the hotel, we were allowed to move in and refresh and went to the local bakery to get some food to eat. I pointed at something I wanted and apparently the way I pointed (still not sure what I did) implied I wanted three (Dr. Feick came to the rescue otherwise I wouldn’t have had space for dinner). This is the first time that the language barrier really hit, because I couldn’t order my food properly, but it also taught me there are so many other ways of communicating with people than words. 

After we got back to the hotel, we had an orientation where Sonya, the German staff from the University of Augsburg, gave us papers and bureaucratic documents, 120 Euros, and an introduction to our 2 week stay in Germany. I was really pleased with the level of organization they had: we each received a bag with all the important things we needed. 

We immediately headed out for a tour of Augsburg, given personally by Dr. Feick. I should’ve listened to Arielle who suggested to bring an extra jacket because it was freezing and drizzling, but the beauty of the city went long ways to distract me from the weather. We first went to the city center, which was past Koingsplatz — a central train station near our hotel. Dr. Feick showed us important Roman Statues and Ruins, emphasizing the influence of the great empire on the city. It really underscored how old the city was and the far reaching power of the Romans. We then visited the cathedral that was built over hundreds of years with different architectural styles and priceless stained glass windows. The ceilings were so high, the cathedral itself so massive, and the stained glass so intricate, (pictured below) that it made me wonder how such a feat was accomplished without the aid of smart technology.

We then went to the town hall that was reconstructed after world war 2, since the bombing had destroyed the first one, and visited the assembly room — an impressive area with amazing artwork coated with a slight layer of gold (pictured below). 

During this tour, I noticed two main differences from back home: first was the cobblestone streets and second was the safety and alert signs. Since America is so young, everything there is at most a few hundred years old and a majority of cities and towns are rather modern – like the smooth roads. In Augsburg, there were cobblestone streets that were different (more difficult) to walk on and made up a majority of the roads. Since there were some smooth concrete roads, I’m assuming that the cobblestone was laid much earlier than concrete road technology was developed. Additionally, the alert signs, such as exit and AED (pictured below) are colored in green. 

Green Exit Signs!
Green AED Signs!

As an EMT, I found this really surprising, since I always associated red with alertness and any sort of emergency. It made me think of how some things we just assume to be universal are really just conventions that vary with environmental influences. 

To wrap up the city tour, we went to the Fuggerei, which were the first social housings to exit in the modern world. They were created to support the ‘deserving poor’, people who worked hard, but needed some support before becoming independent. It was really interesting because I was able to learn about pre-industrial economics, trade, religion, social attitudes, and political philosophies of Germany, which is something I had never before encountered. 

We immediately went to our first fancy dinner at a typical Bavarian restaurant where we met some of the German students that we would be working with the next few weeks. Here I specifically sat with Laura and Noemi, who would become some of the my closest friends in Germany. We talked about all the differences we faced as students and as teenagers (more on that next blog!). The food was really different, and I’m not quite sure how to describe what I had (besides it being really good!). I don’t think I’ve ever had anything quite distinct as the white wine and cheese sauce that I tasted. 

Overall, it was a really intense day, full of so many differences that I could barely process, and exciting prospects of what I would see, encounter, and experience the next few weeks. Most of the students on the trip headed out with me after program to get some dark chocolate, and that’s where my blog ends today — see you tomorrow! 🙂

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