Finances Abroad

Live Update from Berlin: home of the Berlin Marathon 

(That title seems a bit unnecessary… obviously the Berlin marathon is run in Berlin… I’m not very good at titling today).

This is the first time I’ve lived in a marathon majors city. It’s obvious that this is bigger than most other marathons and a bigger deal for the citizens of the city it’s happening in. Literally all of center Berlin is shut down. People that have to get places are complaining, obviously, but it’s so cool to see the whole course being prepared for the runners.

 It’s also probably the first time I’ve been somewhere and everyone wants to talk about a marathon, runners and non-runners alike. I’m a bit in-between this year, seeing as I am not running, but totally get the ethnusiasm and have a purpose on the race course. I get to give out bananas at Km 30! 

What I haven’t quite figured out is my relationship to the racers coming from all over the world. The streets are crowded with tomorrow’s runners, who are struggling to resist the lure of a city to explore the night before a 26.2 mile run. I want them to like Berlin! I want them to see how cool this city is! At the same time, I feel a kinship with every runner I see… I think about how they must be nervous about tomorrow, anticipating the race and its challenges. I also am jealous that they get to run and I don’t, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it in another way. I’m also worried that they won’t get the city and what it has to offer, since they’ll be so engrossed in the race, preparation and recovery. I’ll admit, it’s not perfect. There’s construction, borderline no-go zones, and the Berliners are a bit gritty and snarky. There are moments where an unhappy runner and the city may clash. But I hope not, and there will be a friendly Berliner wanting to help a runner out! 

People from around the  world, Berlin is excited for you, welcomes you, and can’t wait to see you run tomorrow! But don’t forget to be gracious guests and try to collect memories of a city full of history and general awesomeness outside of this race.  

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Transportation within Germany

I spent some time a while back expounding on the transportation options within cities in Germany. Stockerkahn rides in Tubingen are just another option.

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I love these colors. Of course, Stockerkahn is really only available in Tuebingen, but it’s use for mobility justifies inserting it into this post

However, now I want to devote a few words to the options for traveling between cities in the country.

Until a few years ago, the Deutsche Bahn held the monopoly on long-distance travel throughout Germany. This meant that things like organized carpool (made more possible by social media nowadays) and trek busses were not authorized. Instead, one could choose between riding, driving, or flying… of which riding the train was most usually the least expensive and most convenient option. Virtually every city is connected by train in Germany, and most small villages (literally one-road towns in the rural areas of Germany) are within a half-hour bus ride to a train station. However, with the expiration of the Reichsbahn came the introduction of “Fernbussen,” often much less expensive than the rail tickets. With different lines in competition like Meinfernbus, Flixbus (now joined with meinfernbus), Postbus, Berlinbuslinien and others, whose rates can be compared at busliniensuche.de, the prices range from 8-30 Euro for trips from Hamburg to Berlin or Hamburg to Munich.

However, riding with the rails can be inexpensive too if one times it right and is able to take advantage of special deals. For example, most standard trips have savings-prices (Sparpreise) that can make a trip that usually costs more than 100 Euro cost 29 or 49. There are also “Laendertickets” that are valid for travel for five people within the German Land. This ticket is most practical if you’re traveling with others and don’t mind using the Regional Bahn, as opposed to the famously speedy ICE. It’’s a nifty ticket if you’re also planning a day-trip somewhere within the Land, since it works for the entire day, including return trip. If you want to travel with multiple people throughout Germany, there is the “Queer Durchs Land” that costs a base amount, and then a small up charge per added person on the card. This ticket also makes the most sense when one has a group one is traveling with and wants to travel through more than one Land via RE.

Finally, there are the discount cards one can apply for. Costing upwards of a hundred Euro, the Bahncard 25 and 50, priced respectively and awarding discounts of 25% or 50% are a good investment if you plan to take multiple trips throughout the year and would like to take advantage of the quicker trains like the IC and the ICE.

Having traveled throughout Germany a decent amount now, I can’t say that I favor rail lines over bus lines, but traveling individually, the bus may be more comfortable (especially since it often has free Wifi and adjustable seats). On the other hand, trips mit der Bahn and with multiple people provides a good deal of memorable experiences. The landscape views are also usually much better on routes accessible by train alone…

The scenic Rhine Valley train line in Germany runs between Koblenz and Mainz and offers views like these. If your #Eurail pass is valid for Germany, you can also use it on this track!: Europe, Eurail Pass, Valley Training, Offering View, Charms Riverside, Rhine Valley, German Wine, Valley Route, Charms Town

Two (to Three) Weeks in Hamburg

What? These past two weeks have been some of the longest in my entire life. There’s something to be said about the conception of time and how some people will tell you that the more different things you undertake, the slower time seems. Conversely, routine is the quickest aging mechanism, and yet, surprisingly it is routine that keeps most of us sane and gets us through life, so I won’t say that any method is more desirable over the other.

I will say, however, that different days everyday are unavoidable when moving to another country. Just the act of seeing new things everyday, even if it’s not the last time you see them, makes everyday seem new. Also, one does a lot more getting lost, and thus more seeing new things. Over the past three days, I’ve gotten lost thrice and seen new buildings, coffee houses, and bell constructions (there’s a bell series on the facade of one of the buildings in the Hanse Viertel that plays the “Ode to Joy” refrain on the hour; that was a nice surprise).

I really can’t list all the different kinds of things I’ve seen, but I wish I could because Hamburg truly is a city that one can fall in love with.

It’s balanced by a fine northern German bourgeoise attitude though. Since I usually spend my time in former East Germany and/or in Berlin, I am used to people being much less “nobility” conscious. I realized yesterday while “getting lost” that I live in a rather well-to-do neighborhood, and that the people who live here driving Feraris and BMWs are probably thinking of me as the “poor student.” This attitude carries over when I ask people for a little direction help in the street or on the bus and I feel patronized a lot more than I am used to in the States.

But I don’t blame people for labeling me as “poor” or “helpless,” because that’s how I’ve been/am. After arriving in the country with about 500 Euro and receiving my first scholarship stipend of 600 Euro, 300 were paid right away as collateral for the state of my room. Then 100 for “moving-supplies” (read, a mini-spree at IKEA–but I really needed a good lamp, yo!). I paid 200 for BahnCard50 and a train ticket to Dresden for the official VDAC opening seminar (that will be reimbursed hopefully soon). I also paid my Studium-Geburen (student taxes that are a joke of a tuition) of 250 Euro. Are you following with the math? I had 250 Euro left after those important purchases. Then, I used about 100 Euro for a new pair of running shoes that I DESPERATELY (you have no idea) needed:

These don't look like they've seen 605 miles, but they have.

These don’t look like they’ve seen 605 miles, but they have.

And 90 Euro for, wait, what’s that thing called? You know, one of those things that you need in winter in Europe but would look ridiculous wearing in Florida, even if it’s their coldest day? Oh yeah, a good “fall/winter” coat. Yep.

So how much money does that leave me with?

Not a lot.

Good thing food in Germany is very inexpensive. Some of the interesting conversations I’ve had with “natives” and other “foreigners” are about the price of food in Germany compared to in the US, and how this balances with the price of rent. It turns out, you can eat really well in Germany and still be homeless, but you can have a huge house in the US and still be starving.

That being said, I’ve had to really watch my food budget. Basically, I worked out that I can spend 2 Euro a day if I spend about 20 a week on basic groceries like apples, oats, yogurt, carrots, ham, cheese, some other fruit source, and occasionally some lettuce. 2 Euro sounds like nothing in the States, but here I can get a decent meal in the Mensa for 2-3 Euro plus a coffee in the student run cafe on campus (that I may, or may not, have been going to a lot; it gives me some sense of familiarity in my day), plus! I can also get a roll for dinner to have with my ham and cheese.

This miserliness is hopefully only temporary though. Next month, I pay my rent (wonderfully subsidized by the local German-American Women’s Club) of 125 Euro and then I basically have the rest of my stipend to save for travel and have a little more luxury with my budget (read: the occasional beer, perhaps?).

I’ve heard it’s bad manners to talk about money

Pretty sure talking about money is up there on the list with standing on your chair while drinking iced tea.

but I figured that it’s definitely part of the student experience and the study-abroad experience. Money is especially an issue when you are cut off from quick funds at the ATM machine (walking for hours to fund the ATM that has a partnership with you bank is not quick; also, note that Bank of America ceases to have a good relationship with Deutsche Bank, so it really isn’t more helpful to open an account with them before coming to a place like German. I have to pay a charge plus the exchange rate when extracting money now). Not to mention, if you’re not familiar with the exchange rate of the currency you’re using, it can be a bit of shock to see how much purchasing power remains the same despite paying five dollars for every four Euro. So finances are an issue while abroad, and it’s something to be prepared for when going.

But my life has moved beyond the realm of the free-observer of German culture and life and into that student-life, particularly.

I had been attending the orientation seminars the first two weeks and been among students. I also had been going out in the evenings to some of Hamburg’s best “pub”-quarters like Sternschanze or some pubs near the campus. [note: I’d like to write about the German “pub” culture sometime and how it’s much more similar to Britain’s than something like the “party-culture” in the U.S. is] Not to mention, I was in the process of submitting my MA thesis prospectus, so I was definitely academically involved. I just hadn’t been going to classes.

This week was the start of classes (again, my tardiness in posting means that I’m already into my third week here, but you don’t mind, right?)

Damn. It’s weird to sit in rows with other students facing a teacher or professor who will be the task-driver for the next few months. I haven’t done that since May, so I think, besides everything else I need to get used to, I need to get used to this again as well.

I was surprised to notice that classes are structured much like they are in the US graduate classes. The professors gave us a chance to introduce ourselves and our reasons for wanting to be in the class. Then organizational matters like online-webboard logins and class structure/layout were discussed. I don’t know why I expected something else to happen (maybe because I was in Germany or something) and I thought I’d have to get used to how things were done here, but really, I think I can handle this. I think the one major difference is that there’s less work expected during the semester from the students. I’m used to having a term paper be the main evaluation of a course, but that has been combined with weekly assignments or sets of annotated bibliographies or projects on the side. Here, unless one has to do a presentation (Referat) as part of the participation for the class, one is not responsible for anything except keeping up with the reading material and writing the paper at the end. Of course, one is expected to contribute to class discussions, but how to prepare for that is left up to the individual.

Only one of my classes is a “Vorlesung,” lecture. So I only spend my time in one of these for about 1.75 hours a week. The rest of the time is standard class setting with tables and chairs.

Another difference between classes here and the US (which I had been told about but actually only came across in two of my seven classes [no! that’s not a lot of classes. It’s only seven meetings of 1.75 hours once a week, so it’s not like seven classes in the U.S]), was the fact that teachers ask for input on how to run the course and which works to read. I’m used to having professors tell me “read these three works by the middle of the semester.” I’m not used to them giving me the freedom to suggest another work that may work well with the subject of inquiry. I think that student-input requires a trust that the students here have a better base knowledge of all subjects, which supports my theory that Germans generally leave school with a better Allgemeinbildung (general education).

Despite mentioning two big differences, I’ve already mentioned a lot of other smaller ones and could continue discussing them. But there’s time. 🙂 I’m here for another ten months. I also have some work to do, despite nothing being due next week, so I’m going to get on that as well.

First, another long-ish run on the Elbe is in order.

Happy Weekend!