A week in the life of a visiting Cambridge student: Friday (Burns Night edition)

A few more lectures. But I forgot to take a picture of one of the unique lecture hall bench rows. Sigh.

As I mentioned yesterday, these lectures are given for 50 minutes, but they often run over that. Yet, after a few days of experiencing this and rushing off to the next lecture, often in another building because I am visiting both MML and English lectures, I have discovered that these times are not strictly held and my commutes between lectures are now much more relaxed.

Again, I had a panini in the Buttery for lunch, which is a new (dangerous) habit, after the two lectures I visited today.

And then, although I did this last Friday and not this one, I’m going to talk about laundry. I don’t know how laundry is done in every College–

–I interrupt myself to make a note about Colleges in Cambridge: Cambridge University is actually just a conglomeration of 31 autonomous colleges, each with their own histories, reputations, and funding. It makes for a strange distribution of resources and I haven’t quite figured out the ethical logic of it all, but oh well. I’m only sticking around for so long, so I guess one can tell me it’s not really my business.–

–but in my College, which has the billy goat as a mascot, one has to buy tokens to use the laundry machines. A washing token costs 2 pounds whereas a drying token costs 40 pence, but one usually needs a least two to get the clothes dry. Washing and drying both take about 40 minutes each, which is quite decent compared to my 3-hour eco wash in Berlin and drying everything in the frigid air out on the balcony.

Besides laundry, there are other, better ways to spend a Friday evening.

As I also mentioned yesterday, the afternoons at Cambridge seem reserved for independent work and supervision sessions- meetings with the people for whom the undergraduates have to write their weekly essays. But these afternoons are also reserved for graduate seminars, which are often meetings for graduate students to present their work to one another, much like the colloquia in Germany. The nicest part about these seminars on Friday, though, is that people tend to go out to a pub or restaurant afterwards and get a few beers and split something like a yard-long pizza.

quay punt

The Punt, which is quayside in Cambridge, serves these pizzas that are a yard long and comfortably feed six people. (image from their website)

Then, there are the musical events at Cambridge, which are composed of by many students who have musical talent, training, and experience. I’ve only ever had somewhat compulsory training myself, but I can appreciate good music. These are a nice thing to go to in the various spaces of the college, and the concert I visited tonight by the CUJO (Cambridge University Jazz Orchestra) was exactly what I needed this second week of figuring out Cambridge and actually, finally getting into serious work again.



But the real bees’ knees on this Friday, 25 January, is that tonight is Burns’ Night. And somehow I missed the memo, but I could have had this for dinner:


Haggis is made from a mixture of sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs and mixed with oatmeal. It’s usually carried into a hall on a silver platter and with much pomp and circumstance, sometimes bagpipes playing, and a reading of the Burns poem. CREDIT: VISITBRITAIN/BRITAIN ON VIEW/GETTY

Instead, I had the microwavable version on a bed of lettuce, which was also quite nice.

For those not in the know (and I honestly wasn’t until my PhD supervisor brought it up in our graduate seminar a year or two ago), the poet Robert Burns (who would have been 260 today) is a part of the narrative of Scotland, and his “Address to a Haggis” is a favorite. I give you the English translation, since I’m sure the rarest reader of my humble blog will understand the Scottish dialect. (Alright, I’ll leave the first stanza, just to give you a taste)

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.


My favorite line is “great chieftain o the puddin’-race!”

Address to a Haggis Translation

Good luck to you and your honest, plump face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.

The groaning trencher there you fill,
Your buttocks like a distant hill,
Your pin would help to mend a mill
In time of need,
While through your pores the dews distill
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour wipe,
And cut you up with ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like any ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm steaming, rich!

Then spoon for spoon, the stretch and strive:
Devil take the hindmost, on they drive,
Till all their well swollen bellies by-and-by
Are bent like drums;
Then old head of the table, most like to burst,
‘The grace!’ hums.

Is there that over his French ragout,
Or olio that would sicken a sow,
Or fricassee would make her vomit
With perfect disgust,
Looks down with sneering, scornful view
On such a dinner?

Poor devil! see him over his trash,
As feeble as a withered rush,
His thin legs a good whip-lash,
His fist a nut;
Through bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit.

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his ample fist a blade,
He’ll make it whistle;
And legs, and arms, and heads will cut off
Like the heads of thistles.

You powers, who make mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill of fare,
Old Scotland wants no watery stuff,
That splashes in small wooden dishes;
But if you wish her grateful prayer,
Give her [Scotland] a Haggis!

I know, I know, the poem makes haggis sound absolutely revolting, but the point is that here the myth of the strong, stout warriors of Scotland is created, and they keep their strength because they eat haggis, not some ragout like the French. (sorry if you’re French and were offended. I really do quite like French food and think it has made quite a respectable race… I really don’t know why the English, Scottish, and other British Islers rag on the French so much… it must be the ragout).

– Cheers! Dorothea


Things to do on a Friday night in Hamburg

On a Friday in Hamburg, there are several routes to take:

The Cultural Route or

The youthful/social Route

I’ve done both, and both are enjoyable for multiple reasons. My second weekend in Hamburg, I took the social route and went out to the Sternschanze quarter in Hamburg. During the day, this looks like a rather run-down area , rather boring actually with some kiosks and greasy fast food closets. There are a lot of bars, but they’re usually empty during the day. In the evening, this is the “happening” place for the less well-to-do people of Hamburg. The “well-to-do” head over to Hafen-City and get to sit in fancy white lounge chairs with blankets and watch the ships roll by on the water. Us students and left-wing idealists head over to Sternschanze and drink a few beers, attending open air concerts or the occasional evening demo. After that, some people head home while others make it over to Reeperbahn (the “red-light” district”) or some neighboring city centers where there are clubs and parties. I haven’t explored either of those yet, and I may never, because I’m a Victorian (not necessarily Oscar Wilde\) at heart, but they’re a good way to round out the evening. There’s also house and dorm parties put on by students to attend on the weekends as well, and all it takes is to bring along a bottle of wine to be warmly welcomed, meet some new people and have a pleasant evening.

This week, I took the cultural route.

After plans I made with a good friend fell through, I was forced to reconsider my plans for my Friday evening. Originally, it was going to be: go to a museum with my friend until the museum closes at 1800, then head over to her place for supper, conversation, and some Tatort. Tatort is probably the most unifyingly German thing. It’s a household name for a show that follows police detectives investigating a murder in one of many featured German cities. A different team/city is featured every week, and an original episode appears once a week, every week [except during the Sommerpause] on Sunday at 2015. I was looking forward to it, however, when I got the call from my sick friend, I spent a little while in the school Mensa on my iPod with a cappuccino, and thought about what I could do that would be equally enjoyable. I decided to visit the museum anyway, and as a follow-up, take full advantage of my Uni Frei Karte. I’ve had this for the past two weeks, but it took me a while to be in the mental space to figure out what to use it for. Snapshot_20141025

The Universitaet Hamburg (UHH) offers a cultural treat for the first three months of first time studies at the university. Basically, anyone just starting at the UHH is encouraged to take advantage of everything Hamburg has to offer, culturally, to its residents. This includes theater, music, art, museums, and ballet. The Frei Karte works with a valid UHH student ID to get into most Hamburg museums for free, and into most performances/events for free if there are tickets left half an hour before the show starts. Sometimes shows are sold out, and then one goes home slightly disappointed (or just heads over to Sternschanze), but most of the time, there are very good seats left. In fact, the play I decided to attend today at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus still had enough tickets an hour before the performance that the lady at the Kasse (ticket office) just gave me a ticket… eighth row, near the middle. It was a perfect spot!! It was a ticket that usually would have cost me 50 euro, and I got it for free. That alone was enough for me to enjoy it.

But let me backtrack to what I did before that.

The cultural route for me last night included a visit to a museum (the Voelkerkunde Museum) and a play. The Hamburg Voelkerkunde Museum (museum for ethnology) is actually the fourth largest of its kind in the world. It’s a beautiful museum. It goes through the early civilizations of the whole world, including New Zealand and Tibet, and it’s impressive in the amount of detail that goes into the displays. Entire gates and buildings are constructed to show how the people once lived and how the cultures survive today. I was able to sit in a Maori meeting house, Native American saunas… so much that I can’t list everything here. I was allowed to walk through worlds that I’ve only ever read in books and it was a wonderful experience. I didn’t get to go through all the exhibits in the 1.5 hours I had, but since the museum is not far from the UHH, I can return at any time.


I would visit this museum even if it wasn’t free, but the fact that it was made the experience even sweeter. I should mention that I didn’t even need to show my Frei Karte, since Hamburg museums are ALWAYS free to EVERYONE on Fridays after 1300. I know what I’m doing after my Friday seminar from now on.

Not only is the museum fantastic, the building itself is absolutely beautiful. This is the lobby.

After visiting the museum, I spent some time in the lobby deciding what to do next. I was hesitating about doing something else, wondering if I should have a quiet evening at home and get a head start on preparing for classes next week, but then I just decided to head over to the Deutsches Schauspielhaus, which, with its location near the Hauptbahnhof was the closest and most easy to find theater, and see if there were any tickets left for Wassa Schelesnova. I could have headed over to the Thalia Theater and seen Jedermann, but I didn’t feel like spending a long time to find the location. When I arrived at Hauptbahnhof, I spotted the Deutsche Schauspielhaus right away.

This is the facade of another beautiful building with an interior that reminded me of the past. The high ceiling of the theater had a painted mural of a god in a chariot rolling through the sky. There were reliefs on the box sets and curtain frames. It was beautiful just to look at this from the red velvet covered seats.

I stepped into the ticket office and asked how the Uni Frei Karte would work. The man behind the desk looked to see if the performance last night was accepting the Karte (something I hadn’t even considered would be a potential obstacle), confirmed it was, and then told me I would be able to show my card half an hour before the showing and pick a ticket up, if there were any left. This was about 1830, so I decided to bridge the time with a pretzel and a beer (a wonderful combination) and a walk. I saw the other side of the Hauptbahnhof (not the nice shopping district leading to the Alster), but rather the gambling, foreign food market, sex-shop side. I decided this wasn’t where I necessarily wanted to be on a dark Friday evening, and only spent a little time exploring, opting to go into the theater early. Turns out, as before mentioned, getting a ticket was no problem and I was able to attend a wonderful play.  I’d like to be able to see more with the same actors, and for the next two months, I can.  I also want to attend a ballet or two, some orchestra productions, and a lot of different museums. This weekend I’m making a plan for how to do this.

Finally, for those of you who were concerned that I am too much of a cultural snob, I did spend the rest of the evening after getting home around 1030 celebrating a dorm-mate’s 18th birthday. In Germany, 18 is the legal age for everything, including driving by oneself, drinking hard liquor, and signing all ones documents. I joined in on the party and got to know some of the people I live with here a lot better. It was a great way to end a good evening.

So that’s that. Another long post, sorry. But I think I’ve slowly covered all the main aspects of life here as a foreign-exchange student. Things are starting to settle down, and I am developing routines. A big positive smile from me to you this Saturday morning. Hope you have a good weekend.