My Last Days in Konstanz: Part 4

Okay, the title is a bit misleading. It says Konstanz, but I actually spent one of my last days wandering around Meersburg, soaking up the last of the good weather that we had before I had to move out of my student housing and leave the beautiful Bodensee.

I was really fortunate to have such good weather after quite some rainy days. I could even see the mountains on the Swiss side of the border as I crossed the lake on the ferry.

Looking forwards, I could see the lakefront village of Meersburg. One benefit of the student transportation ticket that I purchased through the university each semester is that the ferry ride was included in the cost. Looking back, I realize that I should have been more thankful for that student transportation ticket. If I want to get a transportation ticket in Munich, I pay more in a month than I did for the whole semester in Konstanz.

Getting back to Meersburg, I walked into the old town as usual and started winding my way up the paths. The village is built on the slope from the water’s edge all the way up to the top of the hill. It can sometimes feel like quite a hike wandering around there.

I first passed by the fortress. It’s quite large and impossible to miss. For a price, you can go on a tour and see the inside, but I’ve never felt the need to do so.

It was sunny on this particular day, but imagine how it must look on a stormy night. I always thought of this fortress as being a possible stand-in for Dracula’s home or some creepy movie set.

You can especially see the age of this fortress if you go around to the entrance side. Often, there’s a man dressed in full armor, so bring your sword if you’d like to challenge a knight to a duel.

Meersburg also has quite a few nice shops and restaurants. It’s a great place for shopping if you’re looking for unique handmade gifts, or want to bring home a Cuckoo clock for that eccentric relative. This little village does a good job of retaining a historic feel while also offering a variety of goods that are both traditional and straight-up modern.

In case you don’t want to do any shopping, the architecture is also quite interesting. Many of the older structures don’t stand up quite straight, and you can see the lean in them.

While you’re exploring, you’ll also be treated to some lovely vines and flowers growing throughout town, plus some fountains. Be warned though – one of the fountains is ornery and likes to squirt water at passersby.

Higher up in the city you come to the palace (Neues Schloss). It has a lovely outlook over the lake and lower part of town. You can also check out a beautiful chapel directly next to the outlook.

Once you’ve had your fill of the palace, head down the hill past the grape vines. I went to the harbor to enjoy one last look at the strange art there.

Peter Lenk, the sculptor behind the Imperia statue in Konstanz, has also left his mark in Meersburg. He has a knack for incorporating history, rudeness, and absurdity into truly provocative works. I’ll let you search for more detailed photographs on your own if you’re interested, but here’s just a taste.

After a full day of wandering, I usually walk along the lakefront back to the ferry. There are more shops and restaurants here of course.

If you’re in the area, Meersburg is a must-see. It was definitely one of my favorite little villages on the lake to visit during my time in Konstanz.

I can’t recommend the Bodensee highly enough, and visiting Meersburg during one of my last days really rounded out my experience. I haven’t been to the Bodensee in quite some time now (well over a year!), but I hope to visit again once the pandemic is over.

Cheers!

Germany Thus Far: 5 Years

As the sun sets on the day that I write this, it has been a full five years since my flight touched down. It was my first time in continental Europe, in Germany, in the land that I planned to spend the following two years studying without any trips back to the States.

In the past five years I have held multiple positions as a student worker while completing my coursework, completed my Master’s degree, held three different positions at two companies, and achieved permanent residency (plus a German driver’s license, for what it’s worth). I’ve learned quite a bit about myself, reckoned with some of my past, and recognized that there is still so much more to release as I pave my own path forward.

Alongside my own seasons, the world around me changed just as quickly, if not more starkly by comparison. It feels like a distant memory, but the last summer I spent in the US was marked by the laughable Trump campaign for US president, the heart-wrenching refugee crisis which is still not properly resolved in the EU, and numerous wars and attacks on democracy around the world. I felt, at the time, that we were living in a dark period of modern history. Today I would laugh if the thought of how much worse things have become did not make me despair.

Five is an arbitrary number, but it is a way by which I can mark the passage of time and the progress that I have made in my own life. I rejoice at the educational and professional successes I have had in the past five years, while also mourning the loss of time with my grandparents in their twilight years as well as missing out on important events in the lives of family and friends. Last year I imagined how much more I would achieve in 2020 and how joyous this arbitrary marker would be, but as the past months went by, well, things didn’t exactly go that way.

This year my grandfather passed, a pandemic put the world into lockdown, and the pandemic caused most of this year to be spent in a home-office set-up. Even my escape of traveling was thrown out the window as vacation plans were cancelled, and new ones were made in a pandemic-friendly manner before needing to be revised several times. It’s hard to say that this year was particularly successful or exciting, but I guess it was a nice dream to have had.

In any case, here are some take-aways, arbitrarily presented in groups of five for your reading pleasure.

Frauenkirche in Dresden
Frauenkirche in Dresden, with the statue of Martin Luther out front.

Five new-to-me places in Germany I’ve been in the past year that I can recommend

  1. Heidelberg: Very cool city. Went to the weirdest bar, but had the best time.
  2. Steineberg: It’s a mountain. Walked through a lot of cow pies to get there.
  3. Wolfratshausen: Surprisingly nice old town. Went by bike from Munich as part of a longer tour. Maybe will go by car next time.
  4. Bad Tölz: Stunning historical city center. Was also part of the bike tour. Definitely going by car next time.
  5. Dresden: Surprisingly nice city, despite everything the Munich people say about the East. I can honestly say in a non-sarcastic way that I really liked it.

Five things about living in Germany that I still can’t let go

  1. Getting a driver’s license is so complicated. Just converting my US license to a German one was already 20 times more of a pain than getting a driver’s license in the first place in the US, and I apparently had it way easier than someone getting a new license from scratch.
  2. Separating trash: It’s such a complicated system. I think it’s already been beaten to death by other expats on the internet, so I’ll let you Google this mess yourself if you don’t know what I’m talking about.
  3. Rundfunkbeitrag: Every three months every household has to pay this fee for publicly-financed radio and TV. At first I was annoyed, because I didn’t listen to German radio or watch German television, so why the hell should I pay for it? Now I am wondering, why do Germans have this low-cost on-demand version of German publicly-financed wannabe Netflix, but Americans get charged exorbitant rates for commercial-riddled cable TV? I’m both annoyed and in awe now.
  4. Everywhere you go, the birthday song is sung in the native language – except in Germany. They sing “Happy Birthday” in English. Why guys, just why?
  5. The ungarisch (“Hungarian”) potato chips one can purchase at the grocery store are just so good. I guess I will never outgrow some junk food obsessions as an American, but these potato chips are amazing. Hungarians might say it’s not Hungarian-flavored, but whatever it is, I like them.

Five ways I’ve changed since coming to Germany

  1. I don’t drink soda much at all anymore. And I eat healthier. And I am healthier. Maybe it’s just a side effect?
  2. I’m quieter. Operating in an environment where the language isn’t one you speak confidently seems to have a dampening effect on your enthusiasm to be social, or at least it does for me.
  3. I cross the street correctly now. I never really lived in a city before, but now that I’m here I’ve learned the German way of always crossing at a cross-walk and waiting for the light to change. And if you break the rules I have to glare at you because you’re setting a bad example for children. Very German of me to be so judgemental, isn’t it?
  4. I don’t overwork myself. American culture gives us the idea that we have to be available for work 24/7. I certainly tried to start simulating that at university in the States already. Now, I just say that I work my 40 hours a week as long as there’s no deadline that required overtime (which is rare). I can highly recommend not checking email outside of work hours as a way to improve your sanity.
  5. I talk funny. For real. Germans have told me that while I have an American accent, I don’t exactly sound like other Americans. Meanwhile, people from Missouri tell me that I “sound funny.” It seems that my accent has washed out over time, and my grammar is sometimes influenced by German grammar (which I suck at, but some of it has rubbed off on me anyway).
A tunnel in the trees

Five things I’ve learned about myself

  1. I’m surprisingly totally fine with this whole not-seeing-many-people thing. I thought I would go nuts, but I’ve settled into my routine at home. As long as I get to go outside at least once a day, I’m quite happy.
  2. My body can do some things. This past year I completed a 30-day yoga challenge, gave myself a month-long running challenge (which I failed but still got further than I thought I would), gave myself a month-long swimming challenge (which I rocked despite not liking water), and cycled a good chunk of the Isarradweg on a four-day cycling tour. I never thought I was particularly athletic, but wow.
  3. I suppose I can file this one under “relearning,” but I have discovered the joy of reading again. I used to read quite a lot before university, but I had forgotten my capacity for sitting down and just reading for hours and hours. Let’s see how much I can manage to read in 2020 with all this newfound time at home.
  4. At some point during university you think, “Yep, I was pretty stupid in high school.” I thought maybe it was just a thing that happens once you transition into the so-called “real world,” but no matter how old I get I realize that I still have so much more to learn. Future me will likely think current me is dumb, too.
  5. That perfect dream job most likely isn’t something you will end up doing. If you asked me during university what I thought I would do for work, I would have never guessed product management. Over the past few years, I realized that people don’t work those dream jobs. People just find a job that you have the skills for and for which someone will pay you. Cynical maybe, but I admit that I feel lied to by the American system.

Five hopes for the coming years

  1. I really hope I can attend the graduation ceremonies of both my little sisters, as they’ll be finishing their Bachelor degrees in the next few years. Good thing they weren’t graduating during this pandemic year, or I would have certainly missed it.
  2. I’ve been wanting to go to the Faroe Islands almost as long as I’ve been in Germany. Every year I think it will happen, but it doesn’t. I just hope that when the pandemic is over and it’s responsible to do so, I’ll get the opportunity to finally go and lose myself in the landscape to my heart’s content.
  3. I’d be fooling myself if I didn’t say I’m looking forward to finding a bigger flat some day. If anything, I need more space for all my plants. Can anyone else relate? Proper bike storage would also be appreciated.
  4. Paying off my student loans: I think I can do this in the next 2-3 years if I continue to manage my finances strictly. This is maybe something that people from almost any other country can’t understand, but anyone who has attended a US university without a significant amount of privilege knows how much stress this can put on you and how many things you pass up just to be able to make these expensive payments.
  5. Lastly, I hope that I finally get enough of a fire in me to push through and get a grip on German. It’s something that I didn’t focus on so much since I started working, but I know I need to.

I suppose that’s enough from me.

Cheers, to five years!

My Last Days in Konstanz: Part 3

In case you missed the previous posts in this series, you can go back and read Part 1 and Part 2.

In the first post of this series I had mentioned going to Hus-Haus, a museum in the city center that is all about Johannes Hus, a Christian reformer who was imprisoned and later burned at the stake in Konstanz.

Today, I want to share two more museums and another historical church with you that are perfect for a rainy day in Konstanz. I don’t usually go to museums when I travel. I rather prefer to be out and about most of the time. However, given the time and right circumstances, I think visiting a museum is a good way to pass the time and learn quite a bit, especially if you’re interested in history.

Rosgarten Museum

The Rosgarten Museum is also located in the old city center of Konstanz and features the history of the city as well as the surrounding region. This is a good one to visit on Wednesday afternoons after 2pm or on the first Sunday of the month when they offer free admission. Otherwise, it’s still a quite low price at only €3 per person or half that for students and children. Be aware though, photos are not permitted (or at least they weren’t in 2017 when I last visited).

After arriving, I stored my things in a locker (bags are not permitted in the museum), and took a look around. The age of the building itself lends quite a lot to the exhibits. While looking at objects that are hundreds of years old, I got the feeling that they could have even been used in the very rooms where I stood. The woods floors, intricate paneling, and stone window frames portray a lively sense of time compared to the sterile feeling I often get in modern museums.

Before I went, I knew that the museum highlights Konstanz in the Middle Ages, how the city developed, Reformation and Counter-Reformation times in Konstanz, and art from the 18th and 19th centuries.

What I was surprised to find (I had missed it on the website and never heard about it) was a section in the upper levels all about Konstanz in the era of National Socialism. I was somewhat surprised to come around the corner and see all these items with Nazi symbolism. Seeing photos of areas of Konstanz that I know well with Swastikas was rather surreal.

Germany has done a lot of work in the reconciliation process since the times of Hitler, but it’s not something that I think about every day. I am usually focused on studying / work, cooking meals, enjoying myself out in nature, and generally living my life. Being confronted with the fact that the place where I had been living for two years was one site where Nazis oppressed and eventually arrested Jews and others that they claimed were evil is a different feeling. Seeing the stumbling stones always leaves me with an odd feeling, but seeing the photos and Nazi paraphernalia was like looking through a window into the past.

I am probably more cognizant than others when it comes to putting where I am into historical context. It gives me a thrill to think about who might have been in the places I visit, what the buildings may have looked like, and how people may have lived their lives hundreds of years ago. Aligning that same historical context with such a dark period of recent history instead feels like a cold stone dropping into your stomach.

Dreifaltigkeitskirche

Dreifaltigkeitskirche, or “Church of the Holy Trinity” in English, is just down the way from the Rosgarten Museum. It was originally built in 1268, with Baroque styling added in 1740.

If you like the paintings and Baroque styling, then you’ll definitely enjoy stepping into this church.

My tastes run a bit different, and what fascinated me was the peaks at the edge of the structure that allowed for a glimpse down into the earlier history of the church. There is a sort of gap where you can look down and see the original stone, and a headstone to up the contrast the the sophistication of the rest of the interior.

I think I spent almost as much time checking out this gap as I did looking over the rest of the interior. I may be odd, but to each his own.

Archaeologisches Landesmuseum Baden-Wuerttemberg

The final place I’d like to share with you today is one that I had looked at from the bus stop across the way for two years. It wasn’t until my last week that I decided I was actually going to enter.

The Archaeologisches Landesmuseum is located near the bridge where the Rhine meets the Bodensee next to the old city center. I had always been a bit curious based only on the little lego-style statue standing guard on top.

If you’re interested in going here, be warned that this museum can easily eat up an entire day of your time. At €6 for the entrance fee, it’s a steal. Just take some water to stay hydrated. If you want to learn more about the museum, check out their website.

Now, to some highlights!

The area of the museum that I was always looking at from the bus stop was actually one of the first that I visited. Inside, there was information about the boats used on the Bodensee and trading around the lake hundreds of years ago.

If you were traveling by something that looked like a canoe, I hope that you went on a day with good weather. That canoe did not look too big. Granted, it was a quite worn down one as it was so old. I still wonder how it managed to carry people, let alone all of the goods that they wanted to trade.

More fascinating in the ships that came later. For some reason, I did not imagine that there was any kind of larger boat on the Bodensee until more recent history, but of course there was.

Model for reference
Some of the recovered hull, as I couldn’t manage to fit the whole thing into one photo

I have a bit of a phobia when it comes to bodies of water. I’m not so sure that I would have wanted to take a ride on this ship either. It’s amazing though looking at the ship and thinking about how they built it.

If you’re wondering what they were able to transport in this ship, here’s a rather large barrel that perhaps carried wine. Doesn’t exactly look watertight anymore though.

Moving further through the museum, I came to an exhibit about early settlements (approximately 3500 BCE) on the lake and Rhine River in the area. They used to build their homes over the water. If you’re traveling around the Bodensee, there’s even a life-size model that tourists can visit today.

Pizza anyone?
Fashion, or something like it

Of course, it’s Germany so there was also quite some exhibits about more recent times, from when the Romans were in the region up to medieval times.

Reconstructed kiln

Some of my favorites were the exhibits about life in Konstanz during the medieval ages.

Dice from the medieval era
A medieval toilet seat, lest you think they were uncivilized back then

Hopefully you’re at least mildly entertained by now, so I’ll end it there. Really though, there’s plenty to do if you find yourself on a rainy day in Konstanz. I’d recommend visiting all three if you have the time and are interested in history.

Cheers!

My Last Days in Konstanz: Part 2

In case you missed it, go back and read Part 1.

It was a day with beautiful fall weather when I decided to explore the cemetery in Konstanz. I may have mentioned before that I enjoy cemeteries. Something about the feeling of calm serenity mixed with history and a sense of mortality is very appealing to me, not to mention the aesthetic draw of the headstones and flora. (I know; I’m rather strange.)

Entering the cemetery, I first passed around the main building at the end of a few long sidewalks perpendicular to the road. At the back side of the building, you finally reach the actual cemetery.

As always, I was struck by how the German cemeteries are so well cared for. There are some beautiful flowers and curious monuments to see, along with some older, worn headstones that are at least 100 years old. Considering that Germans recycle cemetery plots (as does much of Europe), it’s fascinating to me to see the older graves.

If you’re not sure what I mean by “recycling” plots, here’s the basic idea. People are usually buried in a quite natural state (meaning they aren’t pumped full of chemicals for embalming) in a wooden coffin. Those coffins are not sealed inside concrete or anything, but are rather meant to decompose. You only lease the plot for your relative for 15-30 years, after which you can renew the rental or the plot will be dug up and leased to a new family.

This is why you’ll not find graves older than about 30 years except for graves of those who died in military service (which are usually left indefinitely to my knowledge) and historic cemeteries.

In this particular graveyard, there is something additionally special. After I explored the general Christian and mixed sections, I made my way to the Jewish section in an area towards the front and to the right of the entrance.

There are a few monuments, and a stone from a synagogue which was burned by Nazis in 1938. There were also quite a few older headstones in this part of the cemetery, some were even starting to be overwhelmed by small trees that rooted between the rows.

I followed the Jewish section for quite a while, taking in the mix of Hebrew and Roman script as well as the dates which told their own story about how this part of the graveyard formed.

After a while, I went further towards the back of the cemetery. This is a small gate through which I exited the cemetery and started walking up the hill past the fields of grape vines.

As I followed the path, I spied the hilltop chapel in the distance that I sometimes walked to from my student housing. It was the first time I had seen it from far away like this.

A short walk later, I arrived at the Bismarckturm, or Bismarck Tower (one of many built across Germany to honor Otto von Bismarck who was Germany’s first chancellor). During specific summer days of the year it is possible to climb to the top of the tower, but the season had already passed when I was there and I never did have any luck to go in the previous summers at the right time.

The tower is a very relaxed space to sit down and enjoy the view. From there you can look over the vineyards to see the old and new parts of Konstanz, plus the lake and a separate part of the lake which is connected by the Rhine. I can also recommend to check this place out at sunset to see a beautiful sky.

Approaching the Bismarck Tower from the side
The front of the Bismarck Tower

Eventually, I went further down the hill. With a looming storm, it was best to get home to a cozy cup of tea.

In the next post I’ll tell you all about some indoor activities that are good for when the rain sets in.

Cheers!

My Last Days in Konstanz: Part 1

For two years I lived in the lakeside city of Konstanz while working on my Master’s degree. I had decided to move there without ever having set foot in Germany before. Having come out the other side, I can safely say that it was a good choice, and I’m quite sad that I don’t still live there.

Back in September of 2017, I handed in my thesis, had a final interview round with the company that ended up hiring me for my first “real” job post-university, and packed up everything to move out of my student apartment. During all of that, I also took some time to explore some parts of the city I had never visited, and I revisited some of my favorite places.

It’s these adventures that I now want to share in this space. Since there is quite a bit that I want to share, I am going to split the information up into several posts.

To provide some context, it had been a very hot summer in which I remember sweating through writing my thesis, hiding in the library when my room began to feel like an oven, and taking a break most days to go for a dip in the refreshing water of the lake. After my thesis and job interviews were complete, the heat broke and rain showers took the place of the sun.

I was quite pleased that the weather chased away many of the tourists and allowed me to explore the streets with relative peace. I had wanted to walk the streets and dedicate some time to take a look at the historic buildings, and then I had the perfect opportunity. Many of the old buildings have a name and building date on them. Some of those dates go back to the 1200s and 1300s.

Zur Mugge, 1422
Zum Leopard, 1399
Zum weissen Bär, 1523 and Zum weissen Adler, 1489
Haus zum roten Korb, Anno 1384
Zur Wage, 1273

It’s nice that these features still exist on the buildings, and you can often see the unevenness of the roofs and different levels of the buildings. If you really want a great view of the Old Town streets, then you can go up the tower of the church there.

The Konstanz Münster (Münster Unserer Lieben Frau) is a church that dates back to about the year 600 CE, though it was destroyed and rebuilt over many centuries. It hosted the Council of Konstanz in 1414-1418 which was the only conclave to be held north of the Alps. It remains one of the largest churches in this region of Germany.

During the warmer months of the year, it is possible to climb the church’s tower for a few Euros. Unlike some of the other church towers I have climbed, the stairs are quite spacious.

There are a few levels to reach. At first, you reach a sort of base of the tower which already affords some nice views of the city and harbor. If you go further, you can reach another level in the tower, with a final option to climb up to the highest indoor part of the tower. Be advised that at the very top you can only see out of some windows (thus, the blurriness of some photos).

While inside the tower, you can also see some of the bells with their historic designs. If you happen to be inside the tower when the bells ring, you’d better cover your ears. As I ascended the tower, it was deafening to hear the bells ringing.

Heading back down the tower, I decided to explore the church one last time, although I had been through it dozens of times in the past. I am not religious, but there is definitely a sense of tranquility and historical significance as you pass through the different areas of the church.

Out by the harbor, you’ll find the Council Building, which is where the actual voting in the papal election took place. Today, there is a restaurant in the lower level that offers seating with views of the lake. On the day that I was making this small tour, the clouds were quite moody although I got a hint of a rainbow.

Speaking of the Council of Konstanz, one of the historical figures during that era was Jan Hus. He was a Czech reformer who was targeted as a heretic and burned at the stake in 1415 in Konstanz. There is a museum dedicated to him called Hus-Haus. I spent about an hour exploring there one afternoon, and can recommend it to anyone interested in history. Bonus: Entry is free, and the exhibits are in German, English, and Czech.

Not too far away from the Münster is St. Stephan’s Church. While it’s not as grand as the Münster, it has it’s own charming qualities and a gorgeous painting on the ceiling. Along with the Münster, it is among the oldest and largest churches in Konstanz. If there are a lot of tourists in the city, this church is a good option to step into somewhere quiet and calm while enjoying the surroundings.

Another interesting place in the Altstadt is the Rathaus. (For those who don’t know, a Rathaus is kind of the equivalent of a town hall.) The exterior is covered in paintings, and it has a castle-like appearance to it. You’d almost expect Rapunzel to come to the window. You can step through to the courtyard if you want to explore a bit.

Konstanz is filled with artwork in general. You’ll find paintings on the side of buildings, sculptures, and beautiful architecture all around. Unlike many other parts of Germany, Konstanz avoided heavy bombing in World War II by leaving their lights on at night and pretending to be part of Switzerland. Since it is at the border and a Swiss town bumps right up against Konstanz, they were able to successfully fool the bombers. As a result, much of the historic city remains intact today in ways that you don’t see in all German city centers.

That’s not to say that the Nazis were not active in Konstanz. You will find “stumbling stones” with the names of murdered Jewish citizens throughout Old Town, and there are also monuments to the victims of the Nazi regime such as this one:

Luckily, that dark period of history is gone from Konstanz, and the city has a modern feel mixed in with its historical features. The newest example of modernization before I left Konstanz was this “Way of Live Calculator” (not a spelling mistake). It is an art installation by Andreas Sarow (2017).

With that, I leave you to calculate your life. More about what I explored during my final days in Konstanz is soon to come.

Cheers!