Hi Everyone. Wishing everyone a happy Monday from Munich now that I am back in my home away from home after a busy, but eventful week and wonderful weekend in Amsterdam.
Since I have last written to you, many things have transpired. Starting with last Tuesday, I had an interesting schedule, as my morning lecture was moved to the evening because we had a guest speaker. The greater part of my day was consumed by homework, but then from 6-8 I had this guest lecture for my class about European integration. He discussed many theoretical approaches to determining just how integrated/ skeptical different EU countries are, and while his material was rather dry and theoretical, ultimately I have to admit my class about EU integration has taught me unique and useful information, that I would not have received from the same perspective at home.
Throughout the week we also filled out course evaluation forms for professors, which is pretty standard. However, I did think it was amusing/ unusual that one of the questions on my forms at the German university asked if I felt I was unfairly treated because of my gender. I guess I should respect that they are at least taking preventative measures against gender inequality at the university level, but I can’t help but wonder what could have prompted this question, landing itself on our evaluation forms though to be honest.
Wednesday following my grammar course, where we have been preparing for three stressful, and separate final exams: reading/listening, grammar, and writing, a group of friends and I walked to a nearby cafe. We discussed plans for Amsterdam, the trip I went on this weekend, and stayed and did homework for a while. I managed to finish my first Hasuarbeit, or large research paper you work on throughout the semester and hand in after the semester is over. In order to ensure enough time for a thoroughly researched, and supported paper most professors at the LMU have set deadlines fort these papers at the end of February up til the beginning of March. However, as I am heading home soon, my program has made it obligatory form e to finish all three of these massive papers before my return to the states. While two remain, I shall stay positive and say that at least one thus far is completed. I also have been trying to prepare fort the series of exams that have infiltrating the entire week here!
After returning home Tuesday, I managed to clean and pack up one entire suitcase, just so I could gauge how much space I had to work with form my other bag. Those of you that know me well enough, know that packing everything for 5 months into two measly suitcases, proved a challenge as difficult form me as an in depth physics problem. However, we will make it work somehow.
Speaking of packing, after a rather uneventful day of three classes, with a lovely lunch break with some friends on Thursday, I came home and rushed to get everything ready for Amsterdam. My class ended at 8, so I got home around 8:30 or so, and had just a few hours to get everything set. Our flight to Amsterdam was at 6, so we took a Taxi at 3:45 in the morning. Despite the lack of sleep, as soon as I saw all of the beautiful canals and waterways lit up in the dark sky, out of the window on the plane as we inched closer and closer to the airport, I knew I couldn’t waste any time in this beautiful city on sleep no matter how tired I was.
Once of the plane, we headed to the tourism counter where we purchased the I am Amsterdam travel book and pass. You can buy the books starting at 40 Euros for one day, 50 for two, and 60 for three. They contain your public transportation card, as well as information on the city restaurants, attractions, museums, you name it. The book also gave us entrance to many of the museums in Amsterdam, and really helped us make the most of our short but wonderful stay.
Typical, yes, we had a bit of a confusing journey to our hotel, a Best Western just a tram ride out of the inner city. After a brief nap to make up for the largely sleepless night, we headed out for breakfast at a Dutch restaurant called the Pancake Bakery. Despite its simple name, this bakery boasted a menu of some of the most unusual, but delicious pancakes I had ever seen. I opted for the Canadian Pancake, which had mushrooms, ham, and cheese. Other options included more desert like pancake varieties, but they certainly had something for everyone’s taste.
After brunch we took a nice walk along the canals in the city and eventually we ended up in the midst of a medieval torture museum. However, this museum was interactive, with actors, a mini-roller coaster at the end and several other creepy haunted-house like elements. Despite the scares, we learned a lot about the history of medieval torture and had fun while doing it. The pace at which the actors could speak in Dutch and then switch to English was also remarkable.
Once we were back into the daylight after the torture museum, we had a tour of the city on the waterways it has become famous for. While the tour commentary itself was provided by a nap-inducing tape recording, the sight of the lights that adorn the edges of the canals was certainly a sight that fought off the lack of sleep from the night before.
After our canal boat ride, we headed to an international Tapas restaurant in the city, and enjoyed a variety of small specialties. My favorite was definitely the African stuffed peppers, because the rumors about Dutch cheese are true—it is delicious.
So at this point we were all going on about 20 or so hours sans sleep. We headed back to the hotel and get some rest for an early morning. After a nice (American style!) buffet in the hotel, we took a train to “Zaanse Schans” a small village about 15 minutes away from the inner city. There we saw an array of beautiful windmills, of all different shapes and sizes, and adorable little houses that look like they came out of a picture book. Inside the village we also visited a wood worker, where we saw all of the different styles, shapes, and variations of the famous wooden shoes from Holland. They also had other wood works, like hand painted tulips, wooden shoe key chains and bottle openers and much more. My favorite part, even if it is touristy, was the large shoes placed outside of the shop for pictures. As you can see above, we had a lot of fun with them.
On the way home from the village we stopped at the Heineken Brand store, where they have their symbol embossed in ice on the wall, and a map of the Netherlands created from beer bottles. We also got bottle openers with our I am Amsterdam cards, and one of my friends bought this goofy hoodie with the pockets that are usually down at the bottom of the sweatshirt for your hands, all over the shirt, and meant not for hands—but for beer cans. I really hope she never ends up wearing that in public ;)
Around 5 o’clock when it started to get dark outside we made our way to the yes, you read this right, the Prostitution Information Center. Given that the Red Light district is notorious throughout the world for its many coffee shops, sex shops, and the girls in the windows we got our own tour of district. The woman who started the Prostitution Information Center was a former (they say “sex worker” because I assume it is the more politically correct term for prostitute), herself. The tour began with some brief city history, and throughout the tour we learned that the Red Light District, due to the fact the prostitutes too have equal rights and recognition by the Dutch government and that it is a safe area with 3 police stations, it is a much coveted work environment for those that choose the world’s oldest profession. We also learned that contrary to popular belief the sex workers can deny potential “clients,” for any reason of their choosing, and they are their own bosses. While it was disturbing for me slightly to see women willing to sell their bodies, and what I would assume also any semblance of a normal life, given that they literally stand there in the window in almost nothing and wait for leering customers to rent them out (with costs starting at 50 Euro for 15 minutes according to our tour), I did not regret the tour in the slightest. They usually make at least $100,000 a year without a college degree. There are very few professions anymore where this is possible, and while personally this would not be my route, learning about those who chose it was an interesting cultural experience.
After walking around the infamous Red Light District, we headed to dinner at an Italian Pizza place, complete with Amsterdam Heinekens. After a long day we had an enjoyable night walking around and experiencing the lit up city by night. When I think back to Amsterdam, this image is what will come to my mind.
Sunday morning we reserved tickets at the Anne Frank House. By the time we left around noon or so, there was a gigantic line wrapped around the building, so I was pleased with our timing.
However, the museum itself was very sad to go through. What was hardest for me, was watching the video of Anne Frank’s father after his release from Auschwitz. Shortly after he learned that his entire family had died, he spoke about how he made publishing his daughter’s journal the bane of his existence. He just looked completely dead and lifeless as he was talking. It was also extremely disheartening to know that the reason the Frank’s were found by the SS in the Netherlands, was because someone betrayed the family and gave up there whereabouts—most likely someone within the house itself, so someone they trusted. Still today they don’t know who did it. Regardless of the gloomy mood centered around the museum and what happened there, it is an important part of history. Being in the place where Anne Frank herself wrote a book that impacted the world was an experience I am glad to have had.
Following the Anne Frank House, we made our way to the Van Gough Museum, which was thankfully, a lot less depressing. My favorite part of the museum, was the section where they compared the remakes Van Gough re-painted in his style. The original would be a dull colored print, and the juxtaposition with Van Gough’s work was remarkable. Had they not been side by side, I would not even have noticed they were the same picture. Also, I love the painting of the Irises in the pot, and the original painting was in the Amsterdam museum. Two paintings had signs indicating that they were currently located in an art museum in Philadelphia. While Pittsburgh is clearly the better city in PA, not that I am biased or anything, it was funny to see my home state present in some way in the Netherlands.
After the Van Gough museum, and gift shop where they had so many beautiful things printed with Van Gough’s art, we made it to a cool display of the I am Amsterdam logo, where you could pose with the letters. We also got to see the inside of a house boat, which are boats made to look like and function like houses on the water. They range from the basic where it reminds me of a mobile home type set up, to the extravagant million dollar modern styles, with every luxury one can find on land.
After the house boat we made our way up several flights of stairs to a panoramic restaurant, which had an amazing view of the entire city. I could not have thought of a better last lunch than one looking out over everything. Of course, I had to order a sandwich with Dutch cheese, one last time before heading back to Munich.
The Amsterdam airport is also one of my favorites. Huge and filled with all kinds of little, entertaining exhibits, modern art pieces, restaurants, cafes, stores, etc I felt like I was more at a nice shopping mall than at an airport. Our flight landed in Munich at 11:30, and despite the drowsiness, our night was made when a Dutch man complemented our German. We were practicing for a test and speaking together, and then when we switched back to English he asked us where we learned German like that.
Even if I am incredibly stressed for all of my German finals and papers, at least I have fond memories like this with the language.
Amsterdam was something I was looking forward to for quite some time. Now that it is ever, I am beginning to feel the stress to get everything done and ready to end life here in Munich and transition directly back into the American university system. While this is proving difficult, and undoubtedly stressful, I would not trade my time here for anything. I have learned so much and am looking forward to what these last few days have in store for me.
I will be in touch with a final blog or two. Sending love from Munich.