Cambridge

driving through England

[…] nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower”
-Wordsworth

England flowers

Hi guys! It’s, um, been a while. I just kept putting off writing for the blog until I thought I’d never post again, and then I ended up writing a report for a newsletter and decided to write this post after all. It’s a bit of a whopper, and I’m going to come right out here and say that after this I’m going relapse into being a terrible blogger again. But if you’ve borne with me for this long, you might as well stick around (and I am grateful for it!).

So, the last week I was in Cambridge (I’m not going to say when that was, because then it will become so apparent how long I’ve waited to do this- but alright, it was mid-June), I spent mostly preparing to go back to Berlin, which included sorting out items to donate or sell, trying to sell those items (the bike being a biggie and the biggest failure), trying to gather the remaining research and figure out how to pack it all or digitize it to spare suitcase space. My suitcase still ended up four pounds overweight, but that somehow got ignored during check-in (thankfully), and I came back to Berlin with most of my stuff, an hour of jetlag, and a lot of memories.

I used my 5 hour layover in Cologne to write my official reports about my experiences for Erasmus and my Uni, and here is a redacted version, plus the recap of my England trip with my parents.

As I’ve posted already, running around Cambridge has introduced me to a lot of the surrounding countryside: Grantchester, Waterbeach, Horning Sea, and Lode, with these explorations ending on the day before the trip home with a 23 miles round-trip visit to Anglesey Abbey. Anglesey Abbey is a country house, formerly a priory, in the village of Lode, and the beautiful house and grounds are owned by the National Trust. I wish I had planned more time to visit, but it was a good experience for my last day in England.

Anglesey Abbey

But traveling beyond Cambridgeshire all through England has given me deeper insight into the political, literary and social history of the country, and being near London allowed me to visit thrice, two times for research and once for fun. I had used running a marathon in Blackpool as an excuse to visit a friend in Newcastle, and gotten to know a little of England’s north. I learned even more by going back a second time and seeing more of it, this time with my parents.

For the end of May, a week after my parents landed in Europe, my parents and I had planned for a trip together that was to start in Edinburgh and end in Cambridge. Originally, we were going to spend one night in Edinburgh, two nights in Windermere, one night in Nottingham, one night in Bath, two nights in Looe, one night in Brighton, and two nights in Cambridge. We ended up skipping Brighton and spent the night in Shrewsbury instead of Nottingham, skipping the Peak District (driving through the hills/mountains of the Lake District was harrowing enough!), and spent the extra night we saved from skipping Brighton in Cambridge. It was a whirlwind of a tour, and very literary (both my mother and I are English Lit majors, so you know we visited all the places we could).

I wish I could give the rundown of the trip in a way that is both detailed and entertaining, but I’m going to settle with “complete.”

Edinburgh gave my family a taste of Scotland, and driving down to England allowed us to see the lowlands, take a stop in a quaint Scottish town, and also see Hadrian’s Wall, which, as I’ve mentioned before, was built by the Romans to keep the northern Ancient Brits out of their lands.

The first stop of our journey was Windermere, which is the name of the town on the largest lake in England (it’s not very large looking on a map, but its length makes it pretty big). Getting there was quite an adventure, as Scotland and northern England are very hilly, and the Lake District especially so, and the roads there are very narrow. Add to all that the fact that my father was driving on the left-hand side of the road, something he hadn’t done in thirty years, and you can imagine the rate of all the hearts in the car.

Windermere is a lovely town (filled, of course, with tourists) that was near Beatrix Potter’s (author of the lovable Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle-Duck, and other tales) home across the lake in Hawkshead, but also to the famous Romantic poet William Wordsworth and his sister, who was a poet in her own right. We missed a few of the attractions in the area, such as Dove Cottage and his grave in Grasmere, but we didn’t miss Rydal Mount and the walk to Ambleside, which was also William and Dorothy’s favorite walk.

After spending a pleasant non-driving day in the Lake District, it was time to drive down to Nottingham. Except my parents decided they’d rather drive less than more, so we drove more directly south to Shrewsbury, which was a beautiful little town that was also home to Charles Darwin at one point (he was born there). Our stay there also marked the first of many days in English rain. On the way to Shrewsbury, we decided to stop in South Port, which, as it turns out, is just within sight of Blackpool. My parents weren’t that impressed with South Port, but maybe because they compared it too much to our north German sea-side cities.

Dorothea and Shakespeare

Dorothea and Shakespeare

Shrewsbury put us about in the middle of west England, and Day Four was going to be a long day of traveling, driving over Stratford-upon-Avon through the Cotswolds (absolutely beautiful! one of many tips for this trip from Mike at Alittlebitoutoffocus) to Gloucester (not so much), through the Forests of Dean (again, beautiful) to Tintern which, you should know, is home to Tintern Abbey (there are no words, or perhaps 1229 of them, this poem). I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that seeing the abbey in the stone was one of the highlights of this trip.

Tintern Abbey 3

That long day of traveling ended in Bath.

Bath, named after the site of ancient Roman Baths and also home to Jane Austen, at one point, was worth a visit and we enjoyed our morning there.

But we were anxious to settle into our next multi-night home, so we booked it through south west England through Exeter, which was another pleasant surprise (and my only exposure to a non-Oxbridge university in England) to Cornwall. Cornwall!

Exeter

Cathedral Church of Saint Peter in Exeter

My mother and I were really excited about Cornwall, since it is supposed to have some of the most beautiful sites in the UK. But it turns out that Cornwall is very big, and the beautiful cliffs, blue skies and green grasses that Cornwall is famous for aren’t on all sides of Cornwall. But they are easy enough to find. And Looe, as an old fishing port had a charm that was all its own.

Looe

But while Looe was not an Area of Outstanding Natural beauty, AONBs were within a few hours’ drive, and having had Tintagel recommended to us by the nice landlady of our B&B, that’s where we went. (I forgot to mention this earlier, but we had a wonderful time in B&Bs… the only hotel was the one in Windermere, since that had been a bank holiday and it was all that was left, and my parents stayed for cheap in one of my college’s guest rooms in Cambridge.)

Tintagel is the purported birthplace of Arthur, yes the King Arthur of all the legends, and it is beautiful place to hail from, to be sure.

Walks and delicious meals filled our time in Cornwall, until it was time to leave, heading for Cambridge as we had decided when we all decided we wanted a few days of rest and no driving.

So after a day of driving through the parts of south west England we hadn’t seen before, as well as those we had (stopping again in Exeter), we barely missed the cut-off time to stop in Amesbury to see Stonehenge, which was – other than a lot of rain days, the only real disappointment of our trip (for the record, the cut-off to visit is two hours before closing time, which is 5pm), but we still made it to Cambridge before it got too terribly late.

And then it was two glorious, sun-filled days of showing my parents around Cambridge. I showed them the famous library in Trinity College–the Wren Library, home to Winnie the Pooh rare editions, Newtonian notes and poet manuscripts– the University Library (of course), my working spaces, King’s College and its chapel, the whole of town, part of the Grantchester Meadows walk, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s grave, Jesus Green, and we heard evening mass in St. John’s College, as well as a lot more that I’m sure I’ve forgotten.

In fact, you can be sure there’s a lot I’ve left out of this report, but you’ve now got the general gist. It was 10 days of English, Scottish, and Welsh history, culture, literature… a trip of a lifetime for not only me, but my parents as well, and it was really special to also share it with them.

p.s. While being a goof off the web, WordPress celebrated my fifth year of blogging. I guess that’s a bit of a milestone!

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Tradition! or things I only got to know about Cambridge by living here (end of year edition)

When I was first telling people that I’d be in Cambridge Spring 2019, people who didn’t really know Cambridge usually said, “oh, how nice” thinking of an old  village with beautiful sites and the university. People who did know the university told me it would be a great time, but most important was that I keep an open mind and embrace the opportunity to learn about its customs and traditions, even if I found them weird.

So here we are, 5 months later, and I’ve found a lot weird but mostly had a good time. I have decided that the danger of being in a place long enough is that you forget how to look at things with wonder, but thankfully I wasn’t here long enough for that to happen. I can still appreciate the way tourists scramble all over the sidewalk to get shots of the iconic architecture (even if they are sometimes too many and quite annoying), like the way the sun shines on the neo-gothic tower of the St. John’s chapel just so after a rain shower, or I smile at the cow that ambles over the field it shares with runners, revelers, picnickers and small children playing.

roses

and I can really appreciate the way the English roses bloom in June. I’ve never seen anything like it! And I thought Germany was a rose paradise

I also like learning new things about the colleges and the town every day, and I tried to take advantage of opportunities as they presented themselves. Most of the time, however, I was working (which is a very good thing! and I credit a productive atmosphere for that), and I have to say that I wasn’t nearly as productive with my own work these last five years as I have in the last 5 months.

I was here for the Lent and Easter terms, which are the second and third terms in the Cambridge trimester system. Each term is 8 weeks with a month or more between the terms for  study, internships, and vacation. Here’s a breakdown for the 2018/19 school year:

Michaelmas Start
Michaelmas End
Lent Start
Lent End
Easter Start
Easter End
2018/19 2 Oct 2018 30 Nov 2018 15 Jan 2019 15 Mar 2019 23 Apr 2019 14 Jun 2019

However, while supervisions (the tutor/fellow and a few students class sessions) occur year round, lectures only happen during the Michaelmas and Lent terms. Easter term is primarily for exam preparation (or revision, as they say here) and/or paper writing and/or dissertation writing (which is the same thing as a thesis [like an MA thesis]. I don’t know why the English switched these two terms around). However, since PhD students are just expected to get done what we need to get done by a certain date with our own schedule (or that of our supervisor), we don’t abide by the term schedule or really get breaks. This means that for us, the end of the term isn’t as special as for the undergrads or master’s students.

But let me tell you, while Cambridge students know how to work hard, they can also play hard.

Exhibit A: ‘trashing’

trashing by the lawyers

view from the graduate office at the newly minted law-examined

This tradition entails friends/fellow students spraying students coming out of their exams with champagne or other fizzy alcoholic (and sometimes non-alcoholic) beverages. Often glitter (or other sticking items) are tossed at the soaking student and it creates a mess that the poor custodial crew have to pressure-clean away (you can see them already set-up here). Let’s not forget also how it generates a lot of noise that the poor PhD students and those studying for other exams/writing papers have to live with as well. For these reasons, the university actually tried banning this practice, but it seems the students don’t mind a £ 175 fine in exchange for whatever joy they get out of this. And I do not begrudge them their fun, since the exams are difficult and the months preceding them are intense for the students. I swear, you could cut through the anxiety/stress atmosphere with a knife the week before exams started.

In order to wind-down after this period, a host of events are held for students, such as a wine-and-cheese night with the college’s Barbershop septet and their female counterparts, the Sirens novem.

As the term came to an end and most of my deadlines were met, I’ve had more time this past week to partake in the social and other events happening at Cambridge: the wine and cheese and listening thing, formals, May Bumps, and garden parties. I learned a few new things along the way that I wanted to share, as they may interest you or just come in handy during trivia pursuit someday.

As readers may recall, I visited a formal during my first weeks at Cambridge. It was the welcoming formal and included an aperitif aka pre-drinks, the meal with wine served, and post-drinks brandy, fruit, coffee and tea. Apparently, that was a special formal. Most formals are just fancy-set, served meals. If you want wine, you bring it yourself. You still dress up and wear your Harry Potter gown, but it is not compulsory and the whole affair is a bit more relaxed. Not knowing the thing about the wine caused me unwittingly to ask my neighbor to pass me their wine. Oops. Not that I’ll be in that situation again anytime soon, but it’s good to know.

Another fun thing to know is the history about May Balls. As with many other things in Cambridge (remember blazers?), this tradition also originated with rowing.

May Balls

The first May Ball ever held was actually a rowdy celebration in a bar after the first and third boats of Trinity’s rowing team won their races in the May Bumps (more about the May Bumps below). The next year, the boat team decided to rent a place to have a party, and it continued every year to turn in to the event known today as the May Ball, with the other colleges catching on and hosting their own balls with details that make them unique and the tickets for those college May Balls in demand.

With tickets costing anywhere from £85 to £320 for an individual, often having a compulsory +1 option, May Balls are fancy-dress parties held at over 10 of the colleges (some colleges will host one every two years) that are pretty exclusive affairs (yes, even more exclusive than Cambridge is in general) and involve night-long food and drink options–sometimes punt boats filled with ice and champagne– music performances by world class performers, fireworks, and even hot-air balloon rides. It’s a bit like prom, but much more elaborate and for adults.

preparations part ii

Here’s a view of the north bank of Trinity Hall’s gardens and the set-up for the 2019 May Ball

The balls operate a strict dress code. Magdalene and Peterhouse Colleges insist on white tie (basically what you would wear for a state dinner with the Queen), which is recommended but not required at Trinity, while all the others are only black tie. Asides from the cost of the ticket, I imagine the personal budget to attend a ball to be at least £300 pounds, if not more. Considering I debate if it’s worth getting the more expensive item on a dinner menu, hate having to get dressed up, and generally am not much of a party person anyway, it’s a good thing there are alternatives to these balls like June Events and Garden Parties. In fact, Fitzwilliam College’s Garden Party is free for students and I’m curious to see what is offered.

All these events (as the name of the June Events tells you) are all held in the middle of June. This is because colleges wait until after exams to host the parties. It used to be that the May Bumps and the subsequent May Balls were held in May, before exams, but clearly someone realized it was a terrible idea to have these kinds of events when students were losing their hair (and maybe minds) over exams. The name was retained even after the date move because, you know, tradition.

May Bumps

As for the history of May Bumps, it’s the pinnacle intercollegiate race at Cambridge. Most of the Cambridge colleges have at least one rowing team, if not three, and these rowers will race against each other in a series of four races called bumps during Bumps week, which is the week before May Week (for the reason explained above).

The basic gist is that boat teams are ranked within their divisions, and they need to prove that they can beat the team ahead of them in the division. This involves lining all the boats up against the bank of the river and firing a canon (literally- a lot of smoke is generated). The boats start off and the goal is to pull away from the team behind you and catch up to the one ahead of you. Boats aren’t actually supposed to bump, but come level enough with the boat in front of them for the cox (the person in the back of the boat directing their rowers, who can’t see anything because they are facing away from the direction they are going) to notice them and put up their arms.

The further details are a bit too complicated (and boring, even for me), but the fun part is that if a team bumped another boat, they have won their race and get to row down the rest of the stretch of the river with bits of shrubbery (bank grass) in their hair, like laurels, with everyone lined up along the banks applauding them, of course with those team supporters cheering the loudest.

If a team bumps on all four days of the races, they get an even greater honor: they row down the river with their flag. And they get blades. Literally, they get a rowing blade with their school’s colors and all the names of the team written on the blade. These are displayed in conspicuous spaces in the college (Fitzwilliam has theirs above the bar) and individuals can also buy a blade for something like £ 250. Still too much for me, but apparently it’s quite coveted.

Pimm's Party

Here’s the bank side of the viewing party, put on by the Fitzbillies, the Fitzwilliam Boating Society. Our mascot, obviously, is a billy goat.

Pimm's

Source

This was the first rowing event I attended. Throughout my time at Cambridge, I’ve seen the teams up at 6am, when I was out for my run, getting the boats in the water. I’ve raced a few along the bank, and a lot of my housemates are involved with the rowing teams- in fact, the men’s and former women’s captains are my neighbors, so I was bound to at least visit the May Bumps. And since it involved unlimited Pimm’s (a gin-based fruit cup that many consider a liqueur. One mixes it with soda water, orange and cucumber slices, and mint leaves. , I ended up having an even better time than expected.

The Sunday after Maybumps is also traditionally a cardboard regatta race. Here, students make boats out of cardboard and race them on the Cam along Jesus Green. It almost seemed like more people came out to watch this than Bumps. Of course, given the inevitable falling into water, that’s part of the entertainment. The name for this Sunday is a bit controversial: Suicide Sunday, based on the double marker of a) having survived exams without causing any self-harm and b) describing the very real danger of people succumbing to the anxiety of not knowing the results. I agree with those who want to call it something else, but unfortunately this is another tradition that sticks, even though one could very well get rid of it.

Still, the race was fun. One can tell that these students knew what they were doing. Some of these boats were legit with four (or more!) people in the boat!

suicide sunday cardboard regatta

As for the rest of my week here, I already mentioned the garden party. I still have one more academic obligation- a meeting with my supervisor, and ideally I’d get to copy the notes from the library books I still have in my possession. I want to visit the Fitzwilliam Museum, either St. Ives or Anglesey Abbey, and just enjoy the rest of my time here, but it will be a bit tight and I still have to pack and wrap-up selling my bike.

Oh well, more soon, probably, especially since I still have an 8-day trip through England with my parents to recap. Stay tuned!

Hope life is treating you well,

-Dorothea

p.s. if there’s something that you could do while at Cambridge, what do you think  that would be?

Don’t mention the war, er… BREXIT

There used to be only one topic in the UK whose mention would immediately raise the volume in the room and the blood pressures of all those present…

First of all, a disclaimer about my relationship to British politics. I’m currently living in England, but I don’t plan on staying and no one knows when I’ll be back for more than a visit (not saying it wouldn’t be cool, though). This is the first time I’ve lived somewhere where I have no citizenship rights (other than being a member of the EU- which is a bit ironic in this case) and therefore am less personally involved in the politics here. However, I’ve got ears and eyes and I’m not a stranger to heated arguments after an event or show with a few pints in the system, so I am involved in a small way. I still only have slightly-more-than-rudimentary knowledge about the whole constitutional monarchy thing and devolution. I also inevitably compare everything to what I already know in the US or Germany, so my knowledge is equalized, at best. Still, since I’m here and since it’s a major topic, I figured I’d finally address the elephant in the room.

Though, you know how you mean to do something for such a long time, and you finally get around to it and realize- oh, that moment has passed? For me that moment was writing about Brexit, but luckily there’s nothing more conveniently late to post about than Brexit.

Here we are, nearing 3 years after the original referendum David Cameron proposed to have the constituency vote whether the UK should leave the EU (23 June 2016) , and although the vote was in favor of “leave” 51.9% to 48.1%, the UK is still in the EU. As Daniel Dosenbier (ha ha, probably a pseudonym as I doubt anyone would really be called “canned beer”) put for the Urban Dictionary, Brexiting is like “saying goodbye to everyone at a party and then proceeding to stick around.”

Brexiting

Well, I was sure my moment had passed when Parliament made its decision on the 29th of March,  but since the next chaotic sessions are just around the corner as the 22rd of May approaches, I am technically now ahead of the game.

The 22nd of the month of May is when PM Theresa May (I’m sure I’m not the first to find the name a little confusing this month) wants another chance at getting her deal for Brexit to pass, because May 23rd is the date of the 2019 European Parliament elections (advertisement for it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3tErFvAgag; still haven’t decided how I feel about it– the ad, not the elections). Ideally, the British Parliament would pass the May’s deal, not take part in the EU elections, and leave, and life could move on. However, most likely, there will be no agreement, and the UK will either have to decide to leave without a deal by June 1st or vote in the elections and stay and see whether they can still get a deal by 31 October.

Here’s a rather nifty flow-chart put out in the article by Peter Barnes for the BBC explaining the possibilities.

Allowing what can really only be termed political shenanigans to get as far as they have is possibly just a matter of the possibilities defending  their so-called honor at this point. Or maybe it even has something to do with democracy and respecting the rights of the people. But really, all the politicians have to do it fess up, admit they made a mistake in organizing a referendum for which no plan was in place to carry out all possibilities of the vote, and then propose a new plan with a new referendum (which may be the post 23 May plan). Though who am I kidding? I write “all,” but it’s probably the last thing they would do.

Anyway, having a reelection doesn’t solve the situation that more than 6.7 million Britons have issue the EU, and these can range from conspiratorial fears about open borders to legitimate concerns of distribution of wealth and product management. After all, the UK’s entry into the European Economic Union (precursor to the EU) in 1973 resulted in thousands of changes to administrative tasks and realities for the British people’s everyday lives and economies, whether they are aware of it or not. One could say one of the failures of the EU was not being transparent enough about its role, allowing for the media to create narratives that the people believed instead of really understanding what their representatives were voting on for them in Brussels. Furthermore, there is a continuing reality that many people in the EU continue to consider their allegiance to their national-state before looking towards the EU.

I learned a little more about the situation when I visited a talk the night before the last Parliament vote was supposed to take place called “The Lessons of Brexit.” A new locale meant I got to know a new part of Cambridge and it would be good to get some more informed perspectives on the topic, since pub talk can really only get you so far before you’re repeating yourself or the other person.

Readers can actually watch the panel event themselves by clicking the link here or the video below, but my main takeaways were: Brexit has caused us to question democracy, even if it also helps show the strengths of having a democracy, and that maybe the British should pay a little more attention to the people who are unhappy and try and understand why they voted the way they did rather than writer them off as ignorant or ill-informed.

I found it interesting how a vote about staying in the EU could reveal so many other issues the UK has had since WWII, for one a deeply woven prejudice against working-class people in Britain, especially in Britain’s north. Everything that non-leave voters accuse “leave” voters for: narrow-mindedness, xenophobia, isolationist tendencies are traits the “cosmopolitan” (I put this in quotes, because it’s not the cosmopolitanism I believe in) bourgeois and academic class have accused the working class of having for years. Much of the peace Europe experienced since 1945 is because of the EU, and many of the benefits of what has become a welfare state are intertwined with EU policies, however the scales are bound to tip as the last of the generation who lived during the war and are still alive to talk of its lessons pass away.

I say don’t mention Brexit, because most people I talk to now are weary of it- I am too, but it’s a situation that involves questions that should not be ignored.

On a complete aside, but slightly related in this sort of moody post, in “Burnt Norton,” the first of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, I get a very strong time-machine vibe, and not just because Eliot goes on about the past and the future being present in the present.

I invite you to read these excerpted lines from 1936 and then tell me whether they seem eerily applicable to today’s mediated world. I think so, and I’m not all that surprised, since all media are just remediation anyway.

Emptying the sensual with deprivation
Cleansing affection from the temporal.
Neither plenitude nor vacancy. Only a flicker [Flickr?]
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before and time after.
Eructation of unhealthy souls
Into the faded air, the torpid
Driven on the wind that sweeps the gloomy hills of London,
Hampstead and Clerkenwell, Campden and Putney,
Highgate, Primrose and Ludgate. Not here
Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.

Scarily appropriate, even today.

Finally, stay tuned! Like a boss, I’ve actually got two more posts lined up for this week. Hope you like them!

a(n) (unfair) comparison between Cambridge and Berlin (part 1)

Despite being  unqualified to comment on differences between Berlin and Cambridge, since I’ve only been here for a month, I figure that’s more than a lot of people, so I’m going to go ahead and do it. Also, it may seem unfair comparing a small university town in England to the capital of Germany- but there you go, those are already the first differences.

I was asked yesterday what my favorite part about Cambridge is and after thinking about it for a second answered: how close everything is.

Now, don’t get me wrong- the public transportation in Berlin is amazing and for every point of departure and destination, there are at least 3 options leaving within 5 minutes or so. However, the city is quite large and the commute times can be a bit rough. My brother had an hour long commute for a year and mine to the university are always at least 35 minutes (if the connections are all perfect). In comparison, almost everything within Cambridge is within 1.5 miles and a 10-minute bike ride. I go home a lot more in-between classes, library work, and evening work or activities, which is a nice lifestyle change.

Another thing I really like about Cambridge is how everything feels like it’s designed to take care of as much of the extras of adulting as possible. People who live on campus in the US know this feeling of having meals and some housekeeping taken care of, but in Berlin, this is not a thing. I can have amazing meals in the Mensa (cafeteria) during the day, but on days I don’t go to the office or classes, I’m on my own. Even though I like preparing my own meals, if I didn’t I would still be much better taken care of in Cambridge.

That being said, the prices here take some getting used to. Maybe it’s the conversion that’s just making me anxious,  but after coming from Berlin, I feel like I’m spending twice as much a week on groceries. Thank goodness for Aldi, because that at least balances out 12 pounds spent on the cheapest entree and a beer at any pub around.

At the same time, in Cambridge’s favor (and being a student here), I do appreciate the housekeeping. Initially I thought it would be weird to have someone come in my room once a week to clean- I mean, my mother taught me better! I can do it myself! But now I do appreciate it. I don’t have to think about it and can focus on work- which is the idea, of course. I also am grateful that the communal kitchens are cleaned, because from experience I know that the chore charts only work as long as EVERYONE follows it.

Alright, that last one wasn’t Cambridge proper, mostly just dorm life, but since the life here seems to revolve around students (and tourism), it’s not a far stretch. That’s something I miss about Berlin- the diversity of people and diversity of the things people do. It’s the center of political and cultural life in Germany, and since those are two of my priorities, I feel quite comfortable and always engage in a lot of intellectual conversation there. Here in Cambridge, a lot of people do things other than studenting- there are tons of music and sports groups- but it feels like everyone has to do everything so well and people take themselves too seriously. They tell themselves they don’t take it so seriously, and try to be tongue-in-cheek about it all, but then they do seem ind of disappointed if you didn’t take it seriously. Furthermore, Cambridge gets a lot of credit for being an intellectual hub, but it’s like they only know how to be intellectual in theory. They’re missing some of the practicality of life getting in your face that I’m so used to in Berlin. Still, it seems like Berlin is facing its own challenges with increasing hipsterfication and gentrification, so who knows how long it is before I’m complaining about this in Berlin as well. I will say that for its small size, Cambridge offers more than its share of theater and music.

Let’s see; I’ve covered food costs, student life, intellectual life- I guess what remains to comment on is the feel of the city and its architecture and green spaces.

I can say that right now I appreciate Cambridge and Berlin equally- Berlin has so much innovation in its architecture and the mix of old and new just hits me every time I see it, but there’s something ultra charming about the old English houses and I also just keep stopping and snapping a photo when I see a new angle on one of the old colleges, or go down some new cobbled street. I so often feel like I can’t take a breath that’s not imbued with history. And don’t get me started on the Cam River- how clean everything feels- or the pretty flowers that are appearing everywhere.

it’s beginning to look like Spring. back end of King’s

I guess, as a runner I’m also grateful for the proximity of Cambridge to seemingly endless fields. I say seemingly, because as I discovered during my first runs in Cambridge, there are a lot of private fields and, in general, just a lot of fences in Cambridge. Colleges are closed off from one another with them, streets often end in more fences. It’s a bit frustrating, since even though Berlin is a concrete jungle, I can just keep turning another corner and almost never end up in a dead-end. Furthermore, Berlin has the Grunewald and the Tierpark and various other green spaces. Cambridge’s green is around the city- still very green, but you have to find it first. And it’s not many trees- just a lot of open fields- which is lovely until you’re trying to get across in 25 mph winds.

But I’m not complaining. I’m quite happy here and I’m getting done what I came here to do, so that’s the most important part.

On that note, here’s the lecture hall photo I promised. It doesn’t seem as novel as it did the first time I saw and sat in it, but it’s still pretty cool.

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Cheers, – Dorothea

 

A week in the life of a visiting Cambridge student: Tuesday and Wednesday

I really should have tried to post yesterday, because the Wednesday bit deserves its own post (I’m cheating by mentioning what I did last Wednesday, which marked my official matriculation to the University of Cambridge. Why I have to matriculate even though I’m only here for six months, beats me. But I rolled with it.)

But first, Tuesday:

woke up, fast forward through a few hours at the desk, fast forward lecture, fast forward more hours at another desk, fast forward to interval practice with the Hounds and Hares, where I got my pride handed to me on a platter to swallow, once again (and this was a taper workout, since the H & Hs are preparing for BUCS on Saturday). But it’s getting easier each time I go. My expectations now are way down, so after 2 sets of 3′, 2′, 1′, with 30 seconds between each rep and 3 minutes between the two sets, when I was in the middle, and not the end of the pack for the 200s (which goes to show, I’ve got the fitness, just not the speed over short distances), I felt pretty good. I also ran into the professor who is supervising my work while I’m here, and felt a bit guilty for not working until I realized- wait, he was in the gym, too.

But the life of a CU student isn’t all work and running. I happened to walk by the ADC Theatre during my first week and picked up their program list. I saw that the next play they were doing was the Michael Frayn adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Wild Honey, and so I went online, booked the ticket and forgot about it until Monday evening.

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my push pins just happened to be bees.

Wild Honey, also called Platonov after the title character, was Chekhov’s earliest known completed work and this production of the ADC was quite good, and I would have enjoyed it very much had it not decided to rain on my way over to the theater (which was only a mile away, but still) and gotten me soaked. After shivering through until the intermission, I conceded I should probably head home. Good thing too, because in those 1.5 hours the rain had turned into snow. Thankfully, I didn’t wake up with a cold this morning.

Wednesday:

My actual Wednesday today wasn’t exciting at all. As I mentioned, it sprinkled snow overnight, which made my morning run exciting (read: exhausting) and biking to get groceries a bit of an adventure. It also made for a nice view from my spot in the library.

But otherwise, it was a really quiet day. Not like last Wednesday where I was invited to both a Formal Dinner and a Ceilidh.

Random fact, but did you know that the word “blazer” actually originated in Cambridge? Once upon, the Lady Margaret Boat Club (ooh fun fact within a fact: rowing is one of the few sports at which Cambridge students compete at an elite level) had scarlet jackets that they referred to as blazers. Sports clubs in Cambridge continue to distribute blazers (usually blue) to the successful members of their teams.

I learned this when I was looking up the dress code for a Formal Dinner, and this is something I’ve been quite anxious about, already thinking about it in Berlin while packing. Turns out, there are varying degrees of “formal” at Cambridge, and a Formal Dinner is usually just “smart” (basically anything goes except jeans, sneakers, or flip flops) with the wearing of a gown.

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please excuse my very blase look and lame background. I didn’t think I’d share these with anyone except my parents and now I no longer have the gown (rented it), so this will have to do.

A gown, you ask? The men wear them too?

Yup. You didn’t hear the Hogwarts students complaining about their robes, did you? Except maybe Ron Weasley and his dress robes. The gowns are part of the academic dress of Cambridge University and there are a few rules as to who (with what academic degree) wears what gown. And they, for all their pomp and circumstance, are comfortable enough and make one feel wizardly and foolish at the same time. A few of my fellow students and I agreed that probably everyone realizes it’s a bit silly, especially for something like a dinner, so we’re all just participating in this joke of tradition. Or something.

The dinner itself was a three course meal with the three knives and two forks and two spoons and two glasses and just way too much going on. But it was a nice experience, and the professors I ended up sitting next to and across (apart from a debate that hovered dangerously around violent about Brexit) were pleasant and made sure I got up when I was supposed to and kindly looked past the fact that I managed to spill wine all over the crisp, white table cloth (in my defense, I was sitting where two tables were unevenly joined).

After successfully making it through dinner, and post-dinner drinks, there was the ceilidh.

Pronounced more like “kaley,” the ceilidh is another example of spelling not quite matching up with how it’s pronounced. Since being here, I’ve learned that in words that come from Scottish Gaelic,  an “mh” is more like a “w” or “v” sound while the “dh” is a “ch” or “gh” sound. That is why ceilidh is also written ceili and the name Niahm sounds like “Neve”. I still don’t know what to do with “bhfuil”, which is supposed to sound more like “well,” but it’s a good thing I’m not here to learn Gaelic.

Really, though, the ceilidh is a social event that can involve music, storytelling, singing, and dancing. Last Wednesday it was a dancing ceilidh organized and hosted by the MCR, which does this annually. MCR, which stands for “Middle Combination Room” is a collective name for graduate students, fourth-year undergraduates and postdocs at the college– basically a graduate student society. Imagine a barn dance or square dances or any other organized dancing event where someone at the front tells everyone what to do from traditional dances and then everyone just has fun, that’s what this was.

It was a lot of fun, and a pretty good way to end the week.

And thus endeth this mini-series in my life. Now I’ll return to my regularly scheduled programming of random posts and observations.

 

 

A week in the life of a visiting Cambridge student: Monday

Although, as I’ve mentioned, the week here doesn’t “officially” start until Thursday, it doesn’t make getting up Monday morning any easier. However, it helps to have the obligatory lecture to get one out and ready long before noon.

Today I visited a lecture on colonialism and anti-colonialism, a history with which I am fairly familiar, but can always use a brush-up, especially by scholars who have devoted much of their careers to researching and understanding the topic. It’s a bit surreal to talk about British imperialism and colonialism from within Britain, whereas I’ve always talked about it from an outsider’s perspective, either the U.S. or Germany. I also visited two talks in a research group I’m participating in (on Nationality Construction and Identity, I think you can kind of start to get an idea of what I’m interested in for my PhD). They were in Gonville and Caius College, and I’ll give you three guesses on how to pronounce Caius. Much to my surprise, this is the “Gonville and Keys” everyone was mentioning my first week here. Why “Caius” is pronounced like those things you use to get into your car or front door has to do with the vanities of an Englishman from the 17th century. It’s not a lot different than Hyacinth Bucket trying to get others to call her Mrs. Bouquet in Keeping up Appearances, mind you.

Name aside, the college is old- almost as old as Trinity. And maybe even more beautiful because of its relative smallness.

And today helped me begin to understand why Noël Coward sang “”Only Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.” Since being here, I’ve only properly seen the sun twice. One of those times was today- and oh, what a sight. It made me want to stand in its full strength and just let it warm me up- which, in 3 degrees Centigrade is quite a feat. It also made me want to take pictures of places I’ve been talking about:

The University Library, lengthwise and vertically to try and give an idea of how impressive this building is.

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The river Cam, with a few people getting punt rides (I’ve yet to go on one of those- or do rowing, for that matter)

and

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The back of Clare College

The crazy thing is, these sites are all within 5 minutes of one another.

For dinner I had reheated noodles with pesto and cheddar cheese, so that pretty much tells you how exciting the rest of my day was. I’ve been here for two weeks now! So, I think one can say I’ve pretty much moved in.

Side note: I will reply to the comments to yesterday’s and today’s posts tomorrow! I just wanted to get this post out on its proper day, but I really should be finishing something else first. Thanks for your replies, though! I do appreciate them.

A week in the life of a visiting Cambridge student: Sunday

CUHH

Cambridge loves its acronyms, and this one stands for the university-wide Cambridge (cross country) running club: The Hounds and Hares. I’d scoped out this group already in April last year when I found out I was coming to Cambridge, and one of the first things on my list since arriving was joining a group run. The captains of the men’s and women’s teams put out weekly running meet-ups and they were quite easy to email with, but the group is incredibly competitive. Last Sunday when I went to meet-up for the group run, I was left behind within the first mile, getting too lost to ever have a hope of catching up to the group. This Sunday, I came with a little more speed and gumption, and the course was more straight-forward along the Cam river, so I managed to not quite stay with the main group (who went out for 12 miles at 7mpm or faster), but I managed to stick to the smaller group that went 8 miles at a more reasonable pace after losing the main group (it was still around 7:40 mpm). Needless to say, being at the back-end of a pack of runners and still doing sub- 7mpm was a huge slice of humble pie. It was a definite character builder these past two weeks.

Brunch

Brunch is a staple of the weekends in all the colleges, but it’s also a post-run tradition- and a nice way to socialize with the others. Each week a different runner hosts it in a different college, and this week it happened to be Trinity which was… woah. It was a surprise. Already waiting for the others at the Great Gate of Trinity College was a treat.

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Quite the meeting place, huh? (Source)

Here’s a map of the grounds by David Logan from 1690:

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(Source) This will have to do until I make it over back again to take pictures.

But that didn’t even properly prepare me for the dining hall. The founder of Trinity College, Henry the VIII, presided over it and I was getting huge Hogwarts vibes. I could barely contain myself, but I of course had to act cool around the Trinity students and other runners.

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Dining hall during the day (Source)

Oh! And because some may find this interesting, brunch in Cambridge can have waffles and/or pancakes, but it also consists of black pudding, eggs, sausage, baked tomatoes, and baked beans. It initially sounds quite odd (and some of the things look a bit off-putting), but you can’t judge it until you’ve tried it! While I didn’t really like the black pudding, I liked the beans. That could become a good, hearty (farty) -ha ha, sorry!- staple.

Having a run at 10 and then brunch at noon means that I didn’t really get started with work until 2 PM, but the nice thing is, if I hadn’t done my shopping yesterday, I would have been able to today- but only until 5 PM. Unlike Germany, England has its stores open on Sundays, but unlike the US, these hours are fairly drastically shortened. On this note, a small comment on the service culture here, which includes all sorts of verbal niceties like “alright there, love?” “cheers.” I still haven’t figured out the appropriate response to “cheers,” so I’ve just been saying it back.

Chapel

 

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After a few hours of laundry and library (I KNOW; my life is so interesting!), I headed over to the College Chapel for an interdenominational church service. Considering that I’ve been baptized and gone through confirmation, my relationship with the Christian religion has been a bit shaky since high school. Part of it was convenience, and while I know that going to church should not necessarily be convenient, having a chapel on campus is really helpful and I think visiting the Sunday evening service could become a habit. I enjoy the singing of the hymns, listening to the sermon and the choir, the organ music, and the shared dinner together afterwards.

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If anything, it’s an hour of introspection and talking to myself, if not to God. Since my college is one of the newer ones, I also hope to make it over to King’s College or Trinity (*swoons*) for a service before leaving here.