Mark Twain was travelling through Heidelberg on his journey across Europe. In his travelogue “A Tramp Abroad” (1), he describes Heidelberg as follows:
Behind the Castle swells a great dome-shaped hill, forest-clad, and beyond that a nobler and loftier one. The Castle looks down upon the compact brown-roofed town; and from the town two picturesque old bridges span the river. Now the view broadens; through the gateway of the sentinel headlands you gaze out over the wide Rhine plain, which stretches away, softly and richly tinted, grows gradually and dreamily indistinct, and finally melts imperceptibly into the remote horizon. I have never enjoyed a view which had such a serene and satisfying charm about it as this one gives.
I don’t know how I ended up in a town that was so unfamiliar to me, yet it keeps surfacing everywhere I look. Maybe it’s just selection bias (2).
My first month in Heidelberg has been a blast. I want to keep some sort of log about it and share it here. It’ll be nice to have a memory about this time and what my thoughts were.
Oktoberfest in Stuttgart
In the Autumn, beerfests are happening across Germany. One of such is also in Stuttgart, called the Cannstatter Volksfest (3). The experience, however, is supposedly even better and more pristine than in Munich, where the original one takes place. So I heard from people, who went to both.
I’m thrilled I had the opportunity to go there and never experienced anything like it. Beer is served in 1L glasses. Waiters are carrying around 10 or more litres of it at once. Thousands of people in large tents dancing on the benches to German “Schlager” music. They even played a folk Slovenian song, “Na Golici” (4). That’s actually the second time I heard it in Germany, the first time being in Cologne at the basketball game against France (this was not surprising).
The only downside is that I got COVID-19 shortly after.
I became a proud(er) Slovenian
I’m ashamed to admit it, but I tended to dismiss Slovenian culture in the past. In the last few years, and especially since starting the exchange in Germany, the opposite is true.
It seems to me that in Germany, the basics are all taken care of like they’re supposed to (I like order). Take public transport for example. Although the Germans are always complaining about it, there are enough regular buses and trams, the railway stations are all orderly even in the smallest villages. Usually, they’re also on time. There’s proper infrastructure for cyclists. Overall, it seems that public transport here just works.
It’s somewhat bothersome because Heidelberg is comparable in size to our capital city, Ljubljana (5). But I don’t see traffic jams here, and there are always enough buses - even on the weekends.
However, I’m always proud to introduce myself as a Slovenian. I stand firmly by our food, music, traditions and beautiful nature. I found myself listening to Slovenian folk music on several occasions, which I never did before. The exchange so far has definitely made me prouder and more patriotic.
Getting out of the bubble
Studying in Ljubljana has been nothing but great so far. Apart from a few illogicalities that happen every year and that I’m sure happen at every university.
On the other hand, it’s such a good feeling to go out of that bubble, get a different perspective and expand my network.
My perspective about Slovenia has changed - as I said, I became prouder. This is a direct consequence of living in a new environment. The same goes for what I now know should be working in Slovenia (but isn’t).
The second part is expanding my network. Erasmus exchanges are perfect for meeting new people. I see the value in having a wide network of people all around the world. And this just might be the most valuable thing I’ll get out of this exchange when it ends.
This has also been a significant step out of my comfort zone for me, as I’ve always been more introverted. And I like it.
The second step out of the comfort zone is the German language. Although I’ve been learning it for more than a decade, having to function in it is something entirely different.
German doesn’t present me significant problems in everyday life. I got better at both understanding and speaking.
However, I still need to improve the medical language. Understanding lecturers takes more effort than I anticipated, but that's not such a big deal. A bigger problem is speaking and asking questions in the medical language.
One interesting detail I noticed is that the law of diminishing returns is at work here (6). Someone with an entry-level German makes more significant progress quicker than someone at a high-level of proficiency. That’s why it sometimes seems to me that I don’t make much progress, while in reality, it’s just going slower.
And if I learned one thing, it’s to seamlessly switch between two or three languages. With Erasmus students, it’s constantly English or German. And if a Slovenian happens to be around, that makes it three.
- A Tramp Abroad is a work of travel literature, including a mixture of autobiography and fictional events, by American author Mark Twain, published in 1880. The book details a journey by the author, with his friend Harris (a character created for the book, and based on his closest friend, Joseph Twichell), through central and Southern Europe. Read the rest on Wikipedia.
- This bias refers to the way individuals notice things more when something has happened to make us notice that particular thing more—like when you buy a car and suddenly notice more models of that car on the road. The car has simply become part of the individual’s observations, so they tend to observe it more elsewhere (also known as observational selection bias). Read about the other 13.
- Volksfest means “people’s party” in German.
- Germans (and Austrians) are big fans of Slovenian folk music.
- The population of Heidelberg is 159,914. The population of Ljubljana 295,504.
- The law of diminishing returns (also known as the law of diminishing marginal productivity) states that in productive processes, increasing a factor of production by one unit, while holding all other production factors constant, will at some point return a lower unit of output per incremental unit of input. Read the rest on Wikipedia.