When my mentor told me her seminar class was going on a weekend excursion to a farm in Dortmund, I thought it would be a fun experience to meet new people and see the country life of Germany. While all of those things ended up being true, my weekend farm trip also included the challenge of overcoming hay allergies and two days of rain and wet shoes. Friday June 27th we arrived to the “Lernbauernhof” or learning farm, a farm specialized in teaching students and adults about farm life and sustainability.
The first step was to set up our tents, which somehow is always more complicated than it should be.
After our tent triumphs, Elmer, the owner and head farmer, challenged our group of clever university students with a scavenger hunt that is usually intended for children. Each team was given a puzzle piece that represented one part of the map of the farm with a red do on it. Our task was to go to the red dot where we would find the next puzzle piece and so on until we had collected and correctly assembled all pieces.
Afterwards, we all climbed into the second story of the barn and sat on hay bales while Elmer gave a presentation on the history and mission of his teaching farm. Did I mention the hay…allergies…not fun.
After the presentation it was finally dinner time. Elmer showed us what our daily chores would be. The main tasks included taking care of the animals or cooking.
The menu for the weekend was strictly vegetarian, which we all discovered when our BBQ consisted of grilled tofu, mushrooms, and feta cheese. While I thought the Germans the concept of s’mores, I learned about “stockbrot”, which is raw dough that you wrap around a stick and bakes while you hold it over the fire.
The day was not complete with a rainy tour of the fields. Although I appreciated learning about crop rotation and seed diversity, my soggy shoes were not very pleased. The next day we had a yummy assortment of cheeses and breads for breakfast and got to work taking care of the animals.
The seminar class split into groups and each group had to come up with a teaching concept relating sustainable development to a specific topic. The group I was with was assigned soil. Unfortunately, I tried my best to relay what I had learned from soil mechanics in German. In the evening each group presented their ideas and the whole class had a meaningful discussion about how to teach sustainability in schools, something that I think would also be useful in the USA. Next we prepared dinner (all huddled up around the only laptop streaming the world cup game of course) feed the animals, and scooping up horse poop…in the rain again.
The night ended with a fun group activity called “Werewolf”. The concept of the game is similar to Mafia in a way. The next morning we said our goodbyes and as much fun as we had on the farm, everyone was desperate for a warm shower and a nap.
The next fun part of my week was going to the DAAD Conference in Heidelberg on Thursday July 3rd. Four of the other DAAD scholarship holders in Marburg and I met at the train station and made the two hour journey to Heidelberg. The city is similar to Marburg in a way. The same formula for any good medieval town in Europe: Castle on top of the hill, historical city, at least one church, the river, and a bridge, surrounded by the modern city sprawling around it.
Like any student conference hosting 300 students, the entire weekend was filled with a lot, and I mean a lot, of repetitive introductions. Of course, I was exciting to hang out with Canadians, Brits, and Americans, that have been working and researching all over Germany as well.
Heidelberg has a lovely park along the river, the perfect place to relax and get to know new friends. Public parks and transportation is something that Germans are definitely doing right. Also, their play grounds are insane: a six person seesaw, a two person metal tire swing, and traditional swings that never go out of style. Friday morning was filled with a series of short presentations of different research, industry, and academic opportunities for students interested in working and studying in Germany later on. Then we all went downtown again for a guided tour of the city.
Our French tour guide seemed to know everyone in town and with the France v. Germany game looming on the horizon, he didn’t hesitate to give all Germans a hard time about their loyalties. Heidelberg was invaded by the French, burned down and rebuilt. This created an interesting combination of architectural styles on the castle.
While the Marburg castle remains in one solid united piece, the Heidelberg castle reveals a combination of Medieval and renaissance influences. Oh yeah, it also houses the world’s largest wine barrel ever filled.
On our way back down, our guide pointed out mansions that are actually fraternity houses. And while they also apparently drink a lot of beer, the stand out feature of any good frat boy in Heidelberg is a suit with a sash and a scar on his face. Said scar is acquired from fencing with another fraternity without a mask and salting the wounds immediately after to proudly demonstrate your scar as some kind of mark of honor…whatever floats your boat right?! After rushing back to the hostel for the game, we did not forget it was 4th of July. And what better way to celebrate than with a traditional German BBQ and soccer match?? After the victory, we were treated to a juggling demonstration (because apparently for 300 college students a children’s party juggler is the appropriate type of entertainment). The soccer watching halls quickly converted into a dance floor in the evening and we enjoyed the night with a live Brazilian German band. The following Saturday, several students gave insightful and interesting presentations on their research topics. Although the conference was officially over, at least 80% of the students had booked an extra night. In any case, Natalie and I hiked up to the “Philosopher’s way” on the opposite side of the Neckar river with stunning views of Heidelberg.
After cheeseburgers and fries on the main square we made our way back to the hostel. Heidelberg with its historical flair and beautiful landscapes is a very popular wedding destination. Another fun German tradition is for bachelors and bachelorettes to roam the street and sell little trinkets and candy to collect money for their upcoming wedding, often with a party spirit and costumes. The next day was actually sunny and while we had already seen all of Heidelberg, I found new DAAD students to walk around the town with again, eat lunch, and relax along the park river before heading back on the train to Marburg.
This week I have focused my attention back to work. Of course World Cup fever has not left Germany and now with the finals looming, I am hoping for a fun upcoming weekend.