Sunday, 22 September 2013

Arriving, exploring and settling into my new German hometown, Bayreuth.

Despite the fact that I've been living here a mere three days, it feels like I've been in Bayreuth for aaaaaages. I'm hoping that's a sign of how well I'm settling in, and it really has all gone a lot more smoothly than I'd been anticipating. There have been no teary Skypes back home nor any curling up in the foetal position under my duvet. It's all, well, been great thus far.

The Hofgarten
Richard Wagner Festspiele
Bayreuth is a small city in northern Bavaria. It has a university (pleasingly), a spa, lots of shops, restaurants, caf├ęs, bars, museums, a cinema, palace (classic Deutschland), opera house and a beautiful park, the Hofgarten. Bayreuth is most famous for being the home of Richard Wagner, so I'm going to have to visit the museum all about him at some point. Although apparently there's a typewriter museum somewhere here too, so really, my friends have plenty of reasons to come and visit. Am I right?

When I arrived at the station on Thursday afternoon, my school mentors were there to meet me and take me to my flat. Every German person I've met has been so helpful and kind, and my teachers made me feel like nothing was too much to ask of them, which was really nice. Having both been language assistants when they were students, they knew how I was feeling, and understood that all I really wanted to do was move into my flat, sort my life out and rest.

It isn't always easy to find accommodation for your year abroad, let alone good accommodation, but I appear to have really lucked out. In Germany, most students live in Wohngemeinschafts (WGs), and, naturally, there are a lot of really efficient websites for advertising when a room is up for rent. 

Earlier this summer, in a fit of panic, I spent days trawling through the internet in search of somewhere to live. Some people didn't reply to me at all, others said I would have to see the room in person (awks), but one group - a lovely trio of female students - offered me a Skype interview instead.

One stilted (from my end) German conversation later, I'd met my future roommates and they'd chosen me to live with them. I was so very happy! The pictures looked lovely, the rent was ridiculously cheap compared to Bristol and most other European cities, and the location seemed perfect.

However, I didn't want to get too too excited until I got there - it all seemed too good to be true! Readers, it truly is as great as I'd hoped.

The girls I'm living with have been amazing so far, and left me bedlinen, towels, MY OWN TV, hangers, all my furniture, speakers, stationery, pots, pans, plates, cutlery, a bike and all sorts (I'll probably do a hole other post about my new home.)

 Perhaps the most exciting factor, for me, is that THEY HAVE BAKING UTENSILS! And I'm talking lots of baking utensils. So many of my fellow year abroaders don't even have ovens, so I am very excited indeed. The German baking aisle in the supermarket has yet to be fully explored, but don't worry, it'll happen soon.

When I arrived in my flat, my first instinct was: tea and wifi. So, that happened. And it occurred to me that tea and wifi are sometimes all I need to feel settled. 

On my first evening in Bayreuth, my wonderful fellow language assistant, Emma, who'd already been here for a week or so, showed me round the town. Oh my word, I LOVE it!

Bayreuth is utterly charming! It's not the biggest of cities, but it's beautiful and traditionally German, which I adore. Cobbled streets and classic buildings always go down well with me.

As we wandered round, we were approached by two guys with a video camera who proceeded to interview me, auf deutsch, for their church. That was interesting (and potentially embarrassing) but good German practice I guess. My motto for the past few days has been warum nicht? (That's 'why not?', in case you didn't know.)

Emma and I decided to go for a really traditional German dinner in an equally traditional Bavarian restaurant, so Schnitzel mit Kartoffelsalat it was! And it was gooooood.

As we walked back home afterwards, I already felt like I was going to have a great time here. That said, it was all a bit overwhelming. More tea, Skype with the mother, a shower, GBBO and bed was the order of the day night.

Over the past few days, I've explored the town and started sorting out all the necessary adminny bits and bobs with my new German friend, Tanja, and I know I'm really lucky to have her here helping me with everything. Maybe if I was trying to do it all alone, the aforementioned teary Skypes would have occurred. Almost definitely, actually.

Germany seems a bit like France in that they have bakeries round every corner. And I'm certainly not complaining. So, yesterday morning, Tanja and I walked the 30 second trip to our nearest bakery and picked up some fresh German pretzels and bread rolls to have with homemade jam and nutella for breakfast. Mmm.

Then, we pootled off to the supermarket to stock up my kitchen cupboards. Don't you just love looking round foreign supermarkets? They have so many different things, and I find it really interesting. (Please say that's not just me...)

The best Ritter Sport. I'm excited to try this Lindt stuff. FINALLY I found peanut butter!

Continuing my initiation into the German culinary world, we had traditional Bratwurst for lunch. I liked Bratwurst. Tanja then took me round the town, helping me search for a Dirndl (not cheap!), find the best SIM card deal and pointing out the best shops, restaurants and clubs.

Bayreuth isn't the liveliest of cities, but it was really bustling yesterday thanks to it being Interkulturelle Woche (Intercultural Week - see, German's easy, right? Wrong.) 

A new Italian clothes store had just opened, and they were enticing customers with yet more traditional food and drink. It's safe to say it worked on us, and I sampled some Bayerischer Zwiebelkuchen (Bavarian onioncake - delish) and drank a glass of  Federweisse. It was delicious - sweet, like cider.

So, sufficiently fed and watered, we continued my private tour of Bayreuth before cycling back for some pre-night out R & R and more traditional German food for dinner in the shape of Maultasche - sort of giant ravioli pasta parcels, filled with meat, onions and the like. A delicious deutsch dinner. Food here is goooood.

Tea and cake, German-style. Mmmm...
And oh yes, I've had my first experience of German nightlife. Just like in the UK, the night kicks off with pre-drinking. I felt I should probably try the local beer, but between you and me, I didn't totally love it. Ssshhh. 

Next, our little group cycled through the chilly night air into town, and if it's this cold in September, I'm not looking forward to January.

It was nearly midnight, but apparently that's not yet clubtime - we paid our entry fees and got our stamps, but then went off for cocktails elsewhere. And oh my word, I had a good cocktail! It was Malibu and Baileys and pineapple juice and I'm not even sure what else, but it was pink and sweet and half-price. Alles gute.

I was just going with the flow (yolo), and after a cocktail each, we had a round of a very strange concoction - it was like a big shot of coffee-ish liquor and creamy stuff, set on fire. So yeah. That happened.

Then, it was club time. Now, I'd heard about German clubs before - odd-looking men and cheesy Europop were to be expected - and I have to say the reputation prevailed. I'm not sure if it's because it was a 90s themed night (yup, we had Backstreet Boys and Barbie Girl along with a load of German songs I'd never heard) or because it was a Saturday, and, naturally, that's when all the locals rather than students go out, but there were a lot of, well, old people in the club. Young people too, natch, but never before have I been in a club with so many over the age of 35 (no offence, oldies). They were clearly all having a ball though.

Although I didn't really know anyone or many of the songs, it was interesting and fun. When you're in a new country, everything is new and thus fascinating. Well, maybe not everything, but most things. 

But even fascination can't keep me awake all night, and I was happy to go home when we finally did. Readers, we didn't get home till 4am! And that is super late for yours truly. I'm middle-aged like that. 

I suppose I should think of it as my 21st birthday night out, seeing as it's my birthday tomorrow and all. That's weird. It doesn't feel like my birthday eve at all. In fact, I keep forgetting, which is very unlike me. But whatever tomorrow, next week and the rest of my time in Germany shall bring, I'm determined to embrace it.

Sure, I still have a lot of difficult, annoying things like registering at the Einwohnermeldeamt and opening a bank account to deal with, but WE'LL GET THERE. And I know there are still going to be moments where I get suddenly struck with a pang of homeseickness. It all takes time, this settling in malarkey. But I have a feeling it's going to be a cracking six months. And remember, warum nicht?

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