A Tale of Two Continents: Taylor Steele
I find it difficult to write these articles. I’ve been in Germany now for three and a half months—almost exactly half my time here—and so far it has been a pleasant trip utterly devoid of drama. Of course, I like it that way. It just doesn’t lend itself well to interestingly written reflection.
Have there been remarkable moments? Naturally. Spring break would be the first example that comes to mind. Paris, Venice, Milan, Barcelona, and Brussels: that was just the itinerary. I did a whole lot of the touristy things in most of those cities—Paris especially. Yet even then I felt I was moving at a, well, European pace, I woke up when I wanted, I ate, I drank, and mostly, I walked. Bummeln, is what the Germans call it, that kind of aimless walking.
Last weekend is another example. I visited a friend of mine who’s been studying in Cologne for the semester. We spent most of Friday and Saturday in various states of inebriation, so there’s not much to say about those days, but on Sunday we went on a boat cruise down the Rhine. It’s a beautiful region—the river runs through a valley, and vineyards sprawl up the mountainsides on either bank. A beer, a pretzel, a seat on the top deck…three hours passed with pleasant equanimity. What else can I say about it? Only that I hope you get the chance to visit some day.
And then there’s Regensburg itself. Lots of good food, lots of good beer, and a whole summer to look forward to. The academic semester just started—we had a two-month language-intensive course beforehand—and, though it’s challenging sheerly because the classes are in German, the workload is quite different (i.e., lighter) than at Wesleyan.
So I have time on my hands. I’ve read more than a dozen books for pleasure; I bought a grill so we can go to the Jahninsel (it’s an island in the Danube. Think Foss Hill, only flattened and surrounded by water) and cook food, drink beer, and pass afternoons. All of us in the program spend a lot of time in the Altstadt, the old city, where most of the bars and restaurants are. It’s easygoing, it’s enjoyable—in short, it’s simply nice.
A final note for all my devoted readers: while I’ve loved being in Europe, I have also missed Wesleyan, and especially the people there. It’s been unutterably strange to watch a semester pass via Wesleying, even more so because the semester schedule in Germany is shifted so far from the American one. It’s hard to imagine approaching finals, or Spring Fling, or graduation, hard to imagine finishing classes and spending spring days on Foss.
One of the other striking differences between German universities and their American counterparts is the lack of centralization: there is no on-campus housing here, and there is no central administration—instead, each of the departments functions independently and parallel to the others. There are many great people here, but there is not the same sense of community as at Wesleyan. Here, I am a member of Regensburg first, the university second. I think many German students feel the same way.
There are certainly some benefits to the German system, but experiencing it has given me a new appreciation for the cohesiveness at Wesleyan. I am loath to get preachy (especially from across the Atlantic), but there is a special community at Wesleyan, and I hope there have been moments this semester when that simple fact has struck you.
Well, that’s all from Germany! I wish you all a wonderful summer.