You could be mistaken that you were back in the North East of England – confronted with an old arched bridge, a castle on a hill and an abundance of cobbled streets. However, on closer inspection you would realise you are very much in the heart of Germany, Heidelberg to be exact.
Pädagogium putting me through my paces
In order to kickstart the German segment of my Year Abroad, I decided the best plan of action was to sign up to a month-long intensive language course at the Heidelberger Pädagogium. On a similar line of thought a friend decided to do a course too – you could say it was double trouble from Durham. Neglecting the one occasion my teacher made me cry about German prepositions, I felt I really benefited from the full on daily four hour immersion. My classmates came from Turkey, Sri Lanka, China and Italy so I automatically became the spokesperson for all cultural British things, no pressure, right? Each morning as a warm up activity we had to bring along a current news story. An unavoidable topic was the dreaded ‘B’ word aka Brexit; I felt like I was preparing to become a diplomat trying to express the dilemma from both perspectives, when I was grilled on Britain’s political situation.
Culture shock? Or just German directness?
I wouldn’t say I experienced culture shock per se. Preconceived ideas that Germans are only cold and unfriendly were definitely debunked. For example, on the daily commute to the Pädagogium, I occasionally experienced some friendly chit chat and German grandma’s commenting on the weather. However, I wasn’t quite prepared for quite how direct Germans can be. In the supermarket my friend got tapped on the shoulder and lectured on the fact she had accidentally forgot to put her mask on.
Beers on the banks of the Neckar
Heidelberg has got to be one of the prettiest places I’ve visited in Germany; no wonder it is such a popular university town with natives and internationals alike. One of my favourite places has to be the castle, especially in the evening just before the sunset with a couple of Radlers in hand, as if to blend in with the local population. The castle has survived the ravages of war as well as multiple lightning strikes and its sandstone façade still stands proudly in front of the Königstuhl today so it would be rude not to pay it a visit.
A definite German trend I observed was people just having a couple of beers on them at all times. Sitting on a bench in the midday sun… slip out a beer; a group of friends in the park… simply pull out some beers from their satchel bags and on top of the Philosophenweg’s observatory point … of course a beer on a bench.
Another German cultural phenomenon I encountered was their love for bicycles. A true cycling culture seems to exist. This was exemplified by the well-established cycle path infrastructure and a whole cross-section of society using their two wheeled contraptions from: toddlers using balance bikes to octogenarians effortlessly weaving through the streets.
Heidelberg highlight reel
I took full advantage of, in the nicest way possible, my new foreign friends from the Pädagogium, particularly Antonio the Italian. We went from customising frozen Lidl pizzas with our own toppings to tasting authentic homemade Italian pizzas. Who knew that potato on pizza just works?
By some miracle it only rained on my arrival and departure from Heidelberg and the temperature remained around a balmy 30 degrees. One day we decided to take a trip to Wieblingen to an idyllic meadow, frequented mostly by locals, to swim in the clear waters of the Neckar. My pale Cumbrian complexion actually gained a healthy European glow.
Heidelberg truly took a piece of my heart; I didn’t want to leave. Its lasting impact on me was evident, by the end of my stay I could almost recite all the tram stops from our accommodation to the centre of town. If you are debating about where to go in Germany for your abroad, you will not be disappointed by the delights of the Germany’s romantic city has to offer. If nothing else, it provides the perfect year abroad backdrop for your social media feeds.
By Sarah Paterson