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Run, Run, as Fast as You Can

Picture it: A 180-year-old church; the palace of Frederick the Great; the cutesy charm of local European markets. And it almost didn’t happen – well, at least for me.

Do you know which city I’m talking about? If you guessed Potsdam, Germany, you probably paid too much attention in history class. But hey, you’d also be correct!

Universität Leipzig has a group for international students called WILMA, which stands for “Willkommens Initiative für in Leipzig Mitstudierende AusländerInnen.” I know that’s a lot, so please don’t hit the escape button.

Every so often, WILMA will take weekend day-trips to the surrounding cities of Leipzig, giving students the opportunity to explore said cities for a couple hours. Students are given an unofficial tour of the city on foot, then are set free to scare the locals (may or may not happen each time).

This was my first trip with the group, and of course I was excited because I was finally getting the chance to see a little bit of Europe without it costing an arm and a leg. Plus, I knew it would be a great chance to meet/hang out with people I’ve come to know over the past couple months.

Okay. So. Wake up super early on a Saturday? Check (worst part). Arrive at the main train station to meet WILMA? Check. Board local train with WILMA to Potsdam? Check. Okay, everything seems to be going well.

The weather’s kinda bad. Wait. The weather is actually really bad – raining, cold, lots of wind. The only thing missing is..ope, no, I said it’s raining, we’re good.

Aside from the weather, everything is going..wait. The train has just stopped, and we’re waiting.

And waiting.

And…waiting.

And…you get the picture. But why have we stopped? Turns out, we were waiting for another train to use the track we were on, but of course didn’t know when that train was coming. So, we wait for over an hour.

Not a problem. Our plans are now altered a little, but that’s okay. Train is movi…okay, NOW what?? The train stops again, but this time, the conductor comes barreling out of his cabin and heads straight for the bathroom.

Look, I get it; when you gotta go. No, THIS time, someone was SMOKING in the bathroom, which is a big no-no. Now I’m thinking we’ll never get to Potsdam. Little did I know..

So, with all these unexpected interruptions, naturally some rearranging has to happen. We’ve already missed the other train we were supposed to catch to Potsdam, so the only thing to do is wait for another one to come.

We end up having a “layover” in the city of Magdeburg, and we’re told that we will have an hour before our next train comes. Great! This will be a good opportunity to eat/restroom/explore.

Magdeburg!

One thing about trains: It doesn’t matter where you’re going. What matters is deciding to get on.

Just kidding, that’s a quote from “The Polar Express” film. But the thing about trains is, if you’re late, they don’t care. That statement almost became a reality for me. Almost.

So, I decide to go off with two people I had met earlier that day to see what we could get ourselves into. We pass some shops (*looks at phone for the time). We pass some historic-looking architecture (*okay, getting closer to having to leave). Oh, look the Elbe River! (*very-nervously thinking we need to get back to the station)

^Oh, look the Elbe River!

Our train leaves in seven minutes, and the bridge we are on taking pictures of the Elbe in the rain is definitely more than seven minutes away from the train station. Meanwhile, WILMA does not take a head count and will not politely ask the train conductor to wait.

The question now is not “if” we miss the train, but “when” we miss the train, WHAT WILL WE DO? We subconsciously agree that the only thing we CAN do is (insert my least-favorite three-letter-word here).

I kid you not, I am running so fast and so hard that I am having horrific flashbacks to middle school. It was like running the mile all over again, only this time, I had a backpack on and it was raining. Remember the awesome weather I mentioned above?

We are RUNNING through crowds of people, RUNNING through the busy train station, RUNNING up flights of stairs. My body has never felt more like jello than it does right now. At this point, I don’t even care if the train leaves, so long as I can catch my breath.

But by the grace of all that his holy, our train, for whatever reason, hasn’t left. We quickly get on board, and in all honesty, we don’t even know if it’s our train. All we know is that it’s better than nothing. (It was our train.)

We collect ourselves, catch our breath, and drink some water. The trip is still a go! And aside from that incident, the terrible weather, and the long delay, Potsdam proved to be enjoyable, not so much because of the sites (come back in the spring/summer when everything’s in bloom!), but because of the people I got to spend time with.

Check out some of the photos I took below when I wasn’t trying to cough up a lung!

 

Tschüss!

A look inside the 180-year-old rebuilt St. Nikolaikirche
Looking out from St. Nikolaikirche
Sanssouci, the summer palace of Frederick the Great (also wishing it was summer in this picture)

Vince Woods received his Bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance. He is currently a sophomore at UMKC, pursuing a second bachelor’s degree in Education with the intention of teaching German. Vince is spending the semester abroad with the MAUI-Utrecht Exchange Program in Leipzig, Germany.

Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.

It’s Christmas Time in the City

Ring-a-ling! That’s right, it’s that time of year again when the streets are a little busier, the atmosphere becomes a little more joyous (depending on who you ask), and on every street corner you hear…

It’s Christmas! And the Germans do not disappoint when it comes to this holiday.

I’d like to the think the Germans go all out for Christmas because they haven’t had a holiday in a long time. (Think about it: Columbus didn’t discover Germany)

That means the Germans are waiting with bated breath to whip out the trees, the holly and, of course, the world-famous Christmas markets.

Let me tell you, I was getting a little tired of walking through town everyday in the grey and cold weather. But once I was exposed to the Leipzig Christmas market, it was as if someone handed me my missing pair of rose-colored glasses and slapped them on my face.

Most major cities in Germany have their own Christmas markets. Each market is relatively the same, with some minor attractions or booths that make each market individual.

Leipzig has a particularly large Christmas market, which makes the possibilities of food, Glühwein, and crafts nearly endless.

There are also many attractions for families and children, such as a giant ferris wheel and a Märchenland (lit. fairyland), which is an area that displays classic scenes from fairy tales.

These markets can become very crowded, but fortunately for you, the markets open in the afternoon and run through the evening.

So many smells, so many sights. A favorite food of mine that I always enjoyed at the market was this roll/bread-like-thing (great English) that was stuffed with cheese and bits of ham, garnisheed with a dollop of sour cream and diced yellow and red peppers.

^If anyone knows the actual name of this food, please shoot me a text (and help me find a better word for “bread-like-thing”)

Another favorite, and this goes without saying, were the waffles. I could eat waffles literally everyday, and the German waffles at the market certainly helped fulfill that need.

Waffle goodness

Each waffle is customizable, in that you can get it “stuffed’ with certain things. For example, I had my waffle filled with a type of cream, but you could also have it filled with Nutella, among other things.

If you ever do come to Germany during the holidays, I would suggest packing light; you’ll definitely want to fill that extra space with all the crafts, trinkets, and Glühwein mugs you bought!

Over the Christmas season, I had the chance to visit four different markets in four different cities. And I must say, each city was successfully able to bring out the Christmas spirit in me. Or…was it the Glühwein?

Check out these sights that I captured from Leipzig’s Christmas market!

Tschüss!

For more on “Feuerzangenbowle,” copy + paste: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feuerzangenbowle (Hope you aren’t afraid of fire, or the credibility of Wikipedia)

Happiness comes from here
Entrance to Leipzig’s Christmas market

Vince Woods received his Bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance. He is currently a sophomore at UMKC, pursuing a second bachelor’s degree in Education with the intention of teaching German. Vince is spending the semester abroad with the MAUI-Utrecht Exchange Program in Leipzig, Germany.

Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.

Fire, Fire, Everywhere

Normally when there is a large fire of sorts, people aren’t whipping out their phones and taking pictures of it (unless you’re under 19, in which case you’ve probably already thought about what Instagram filter will complement the flames best; X-Pro II, anyone?)

If you find yourself at Leipzig’s “Lichtfest” (“Festival of Lights”) this year though, you likely have a very good reason to be snapping photos of the fire on display.

That’s because every year since 2009, the people of Leipzig have gathered in the city center with candles to commemorate the peaceful protests that occurred in the fall of 1989 against the East German government. And as history would have it, these protests were one of many contributing factors to the fall of the Berlin Wall later that year.

But this night is all about remembering, and a little bit of celebrating. People have gathered in the city center, just as they did 28 years before, this time to place their tea light candles in the shape of the number “89.”

The night is crisp with a little hint of fall in the air. If you look around, the streets are quiet with no running trams hustling by. The only lights on are those of surrounding businesses, the candles in people’s hands, and the number “89” illuminated by lights inside Leipzig’s Panorama Tower. 

Leipzig’s Panorama Tower in the distance

It’s a great night to be outside, and I don’t want to miss a second of it. I make my way near the stage so that I can catch a glimpse of everything. But wait! How can you participate in “Lichtfest” without even having a candle?

I remember seeing a large table of candles at one end of the event, but think surely there must be another table of them somewhere else. After all, the point of the night ~I thought~ was for everyone to have a candle in their hand.

So, I do some wandering, and I find the two large tables that are in the shape of the “8” and “9” near the stage. The table in the shape of the “8” doesn’t have a lot of candles on it, so I think to myself, “Oh, they’re going fast! Better grab one.”


I grab one, taking it with me for a ride back to my spot near the stage. The event begins to start with a four-piece band and some guest speakers. There are video montages and some live performers doing their thing; it’s going well, and I’m impressed by how organized and professional the whole event is.

But then the thought occurs to me as I look around, “Boy, not a lot of people have candles in their hands.” Maybe we aren’t suppose to be holding the candles from the table?

Performers onstage

The program continues, and in between acts, live video feed of the candle-lit “89” tables are being projected onto the screen behind the stage. Instead of the number of candles on the tables getting smaller, however, the numbers have increased – significantly. So much so that the tables are practically full.

And then it hit me: I had a grabbed someone else’s candle that had already been placed on the table! Without being too obvious, I walk back to the “8” table and nonchalantly put the candle back, as if it were my first time visiting.

To seal the deal, I take another picture of the now-glowing table so it looks like I have never seen the display before. I’m SURE I fooled everyone, especially the old woman who yelled “candle thief” at me in German (that didn’t happen).

A much fuller-looking table

What did happen was an evening I won’t forget. It’s weird to experience the celebration of historical events that you a) did not live through, and b) experienced in a country other than your own. But that’s exactly what happened here, and I have no regrets (other than taking that poor person’s candle).

Tschüss!


Vince Woods received his Bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance. He is currently a sophomore at UMKC, pursuing a second bachelor’s degree in Education with the intention of teaching German. Vince is spending the semester abroad with the MAUI-Utrecht Exchange Program in Leipzig, Germany.

Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.

How’s This for a Second-Day Experience?

“Germany, you’re full of surprises!” I thought to myself as the doctor began to sanitize my wounds.

There I was, lying face down on a medical bed with my right pant-leg hiked up; I was becoming a little too comfortable with the German health care system earlier than expected.

Let’s back up a few hours though.

There I was, lying face down… oh, right, because I was asleep. But after that, I was hungry and knew I needed to hunt for food. I had just survived a nine-hour plane ride, a three-hour train ride, another train ride and some walking. It was time to face my fears and go… grocery shopping.

Now, if you’re like me, I find grocery shopping somewhat enjoyable because it means I have nourishment for at least six more days. But grocery shopping in Germany is another thing: It can bite you. (Note to readers: The Aldi supermarket I went to did not bite me and give me the aforementioned wounds.)

It’s what lurked outside that did.

But wait! Don’t you want to hear about my experience inside? Of course you do!

The Germans are very smart when it comes to eco-friendliness and efficiency. Word of the wise: bring your own reusable shopping bag and some sort of coinage to the supermarket.

Bringing a reusable shopping bag eliminates the paper and/or plastic element (you knew that, right?), while the coin-accessible shopping carts, linked together in front of the store, keeps them from loitering out in the lot and rubbing shoulders with your car.

So, I’m walking through the motions, trying to play it cool like I’ve done this before. I grab what I think I need inside, put my items on the belt, and wait for the madness to ensue. Faster than you can say this sentence, all my items are checked out, and it’s time to pay while simultaneously filling up my reusable bag.

Then a yogurt container hit me and I needed stitches. (No!)

I proceeded to walk outside Aldi with my head held high, knowing what I just did took guts. But I wasn’t the only one feeling gutsy that day. Outside the store, I spot a large dog tied to a tree (you see where this is going?). I glance at the dog, the dog glances at me, and that’s all.

But not for the dog.

That dog must’ve thought my groceries looked pretty good, and possibly me. Before I knew it, the back of my leg became a nice piece of meat for a dog who must have been hungrier than I was.

Oh boy, was I surprised! Never in my life had I been bitten by a dog. And here I was, a newborn in a foreign country who already had their first boo-boo. (Note to readers: My injuries were not life or death, but were still worth seeking medical advice over.)

Unsure of what to do, I contact my Airbnb host. Very generously (and intelligently), she and a friend offer to take me to the “Notaufnahme” (German for “emergency room”). How can this be happening to me? I haven’t even gotten the chance to say “Guten Tag” yet.

Also word of the wise: know your bank account information (account number, wire transfer routing number, your bank’s SWIFT Code, and an address for the bank), whether it’s connected to your credit or debit card. This will come in handy because, as I understand it, the value of your stay/treatment at the hospital (depending on your treatment) won’t total up to be the amount you initially pay. That’s right, they’re giving you that money back, but only if you know that information.

Don’t be me, however, because I wasn’t the person who knew that information. Please be the person who knows that information.

I’m quickly released from the hospital, with a tear in my eye, a newly-sterilized thigh and a prescription that needs to be filled.

And this was only the second day.

If you get a chance, say a prayer for me. Actually, say a prayer for that dog, so that he might get something a little tastier than the back of my leg.

Tschüss!


Vince Woods received his Bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance. He is currently a sophomore at UMKC, pursuing a second bachelor’s degree in Education with the intention of teaching German. Vince is spending the semester abroad with the MAUI-Utrecht Exchange Program in Leipzig, Germany.

Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.