Thursday, January 28, 2016

Everyday Life in the Wolf

Because I suspect some of my friends and family wonder what I do all day every day, I decided to write a post about my typical day here in Wolfenbüttel. So welcome to my routines! I must say, after traveling so much in October and November, it has been a welcome routine of predictable days and familiar faces!

During the week, I get up and eat breakfast (usually consisting of fruit and yogurt, or bread and various jams) before heading to the office at the Anna Vorwerk Haus. I always stop at the full length mirror in the hallway to make sure I'm looking good before heading out, because I don't have a full mirror in my room... The walk from my flat at the Feierabendhaus to the office only takes about three minutes, and takes me past several charming half-timbered homes.

I usually help myself to coffee in the kitchen at the AVH (Anna Vorwerk Haus) and then go to work in my office. Our workspaces are shared, and my office mate is Sunne. He is an earlier riser than me, so he is usually already in the office by the time I get there. Our office connects to another room where Jonathan and Sophia have their desks. We have a great work vibe there-- sometimes we all work in silent contemplation, sometimes we all chat and laugh, and other times we all talk to ourselves while working through complex research questions. We all work on different topics, so there is a nice variety.

At 1:30 on weekdays, all of the fellows and guests and library employees meet for coffee. This is a time to chat with friends, meet new arrivals, discuss our research topics, and (for me) practice German. If you listen carefully during coffee you can hear conversations in German, English, and even Italian. This is an important ritual because it brings everyone out of their offices and away from their work for thirty minutes to an hour, which is a necessary break to stay sharp and fresh. It also builds a great sense of community.

After coffee, I sometimes go to a cafe for lunch or just pick up a sandwich from a bakery and bring it back to the office. The most common vegetarian sandwich in bakeries includes a slice of cheese, lettuce, tomato, and cucumber on a "brötchen" (literally "little bread") which is a typical white roll. Rather than mustard or mayonnaise, these sandwiches usually have either butter or remoulade. I usually opt for butter because I find remoulade totally gross and eggy-tasting.

So during all my hours at the office, there are a number of things I work on. This week, I wrote an abstract for a conference in August. I chose one of the topics that will be in my dissertation (the embroideries from Kloster Lüne in Lüneburg, in this case), did a little reading and brainstorming, and wrote an abstract about what I'd like to say.

I spend a lot of time reading far and wide about my dissertation topic, and this includes slowly working through books written in German. It's slow work, but the more words I look up in the beginning, the fewer I have to look up as I go. It's been a great way to build up my vocabulary and get a feel for grammar.

I am also looking at some of the medieval manuscripts they have in the library here. I can go to the reading room in the Augusta and request to look at an actual medieval manuscript in person! Some of them are digitized on the library website, but there is just no substitute for turning through the parchment pages of the original! They have several manuscripts that were written or illustrated in the convents near here, so those are the ones I find most interesting. There is one in particular with an embroidery on its cover; I was able to look at this one very closely, and even talk to the conservators about how the binding was made!

I usually take a late afternoon coffee break to get out of the office and perk up. There are several places in town, but my favorite is a roaster down the street called Treccino. Many German coffee shops use fully automated machines-- the espresso is quite weak and the milk is too thick (most don't have a skim option). Treccino roasts their own beans, uses a manual machine, and makes strong espresso! They also have chai lattes, which is one of my favorite things.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I take a German class from 4:30-6:30 at the Volkshochschule in town. Volkshochschule doesn't really have an exact American equivalent, but it's basically a community center/night school. During our German class, there are also community art classes, children's music lessons, and a "Silver Sneakers" exercise class. Sophia, another American fellow at the library and one of my office mates, told me about the class and we go together. It's a pretty small class, so there is plenty of individual attention. The class is entirely in German, and the other students come from all over the world! We have engaging discussions, learn German, and get to know different kinds of people.

In the evenings, I make myself supper (more often than not it involves pasta or potatoes and an assemblage of whatever vegetables I picked up at the store or market). With no microwave or oven, my limited cooking skills are often challenged. But so far, I am managing to not starve. I don't have a dishwasher and only a limited supply of dishes, so I basically have to do dishes immediately after eating. Poor, poor, pitiful me.

Jeremy and I usually Skype while I eat supper and he eats lunch, so it's convenient that the times match up! It took a while to get into a routine, being eight hours different, but this has really been working. This is also the time I would normally skype with Pam or with other friends.

At night I plow through Netflix, sometimes watching in German to practice and other times just binge-watching various American shows or movies. As always, I stay up later than most people... But eventually I go to bed, so I can get up and do it all over again the next day!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

My Belated New Years Post!

Is it just me, or is the New Year flying by already?  I can't believe we are almost halfway through January!  So, even though it is very belated now, I thought I'd write about how I brought in the New Year.

I bought a train ticket to Hausen for New Years before I even came to Wolfenbüttel, so I knew that was my plan all along.  Corine and Volker were flying back to Germany from Arizona on the 31st, so we would all meet back up in Hausen to ring in the New Year!  When making our plans, we discussed that they would land in Frankfurt around 7:30, so I bought a ticket that arrived at 9:30.  So my train was supposed to leave here at 5:50.

The Great Train Debacle

On the morning of the 31st I woke up around 10:00 (perfectly normal time for a self-respecting academic) to get started packing and picking up my dorm before my train that evening.  I noticed that I had missed a skype call from Corine, and my phone was off because the battery had died.  I called Corine back on skype and realized she was sitting in her office in Hausen!  She said, "Are you not coming today?"  And I responded, "Yes, but not until this evening, remember?"  "Are you sure?"  I double-checked my ticket. 5:50 departure and 9:30 arrival.  Then I realized my mistake.  Because I am in Germany, the ticket would have read 17:50 and 21:30 if it were in the evening.  Ugh.  They were worried because Volker had gone to the train station to pick me up and I wasn't on the train.  Then I didn't answer my phone (because it was dead).  So I'm a terrible person!  

I had bought the train ticket because it was such a great price at 20 Euros.  It must have been so affordable because it was outrageously early in the morning.  Hindsight is 20/20.  Discount tickets are non-transferable, so my options were limited: buy a new ticket (last minute, would cost a fortune) or travel on the incorrect ticket (an offense for which they can fine you).  After the people at the ticket desk in the train station didn't have mercy on my soul, I decided to try the latter.

I was so nervous!  Most of you know that I am a strict rule-follower.  So when the woman came down the aisle checking tickets, I had my ticket in hand and was ready to spill my guts and beg for mercy.  She was checking the ticket across the aisle from me when she looked over, we made eye contact, I smiled and nodded my head, and she proceeded to walk right past me and check the ticket behind me.  I couldn't believe it.  I had been pardoned by the gods!  She must have thought she'd already checked my ticket!  I remembered an old teaching that my father had instilled in me from a very young age: look confident, make eye contact, act like you're supposed to be there, and no one will ever question you.  He was right!  It worked!

Four hours and two trains later (all without having my ticket checked) I arrived in Limburg, and Volker picked me up to take me to the house in Hausen!  

New Years and Hausen

After all the drama of the train, we made it to Hausen.  We had plans to make fondue and party with the neighbors for New Years.  Great food and great company, and an amazing firework show in town!  In Germany, all the neighborhoods do fireworks at midnight.  And they don't hold back-- It was quite an impressive display!  It was a foggy night, but the fireworks lit up the whole sky, diffused through the fog.  

On January 3, we went to nearby Limburg to visit the shops and the cathedral.  What a neat little town!  Elaborately painted half-timbered businesses line the streets of Limburg-- we went to a chocolate shop and a gummie bear store, because we have the right priorities!  

The cathedral is amazing!  It was built at the beginning of the thirteenth century, and completed rather quickly (unlike most other medieval churches of this scale), which Corine pointed out is why the architectural style is more uniform than is often the case.  

Limburg Cathedral on the Lahn River

Back in Hausen, I tried to win over Corine's cats (Willi and Wuni) who had just come over to Germany from Arizona.  They were a bit shy at first, but by the time I left they had warmed up to me ever so slightly.  Maybe next time they'll actually be my friends! 

Back to Wolfenbüttel

I decided to actually purchase a valid ticket for my train ride back to Wolfenbüttel, which is good because it was checked several times during the journey.  The entire train ride was snowy and pleasant, and it was even snowing here when I got back!  It snowed all day and the next day too, but hasn't since then.  This town looks even more adorable in the snow, if you can even imagine!  I can't wait until it snows more and I can get out and take photos around town to share.  Stay tuned.

2015 was an incredible year, and I'm counting on 2016 to keep the ball rolling!