I had so much nostalgia while writing this post because so many new memories were made in my favorite German city. The story began three years ago when I visited Heidelberg with a group from my high school. Lenape Valley teamed with Walldorf Gymnasium for an exchange program where we met the lovely Hannah and her family! This first trip was a very big selling point for studying abroad in general, but unfortunately Heidelberg had opportunities solely for research students. My family and I have been so blessed to have kept in contact with the Becker’s over these past few years and I was fortunate enough to get to visit them again while abroad. Here are our new adventures…
Welcome to Heidelberg- the coolest, most authentic German city that I have ever laid eyes on! You could weave in and out of the main street all day and to make things better, there is a castle on the hill (because every cool European city needs its own castle). We spent a solid day being tourists even though Hannah is quite familiar with the area. My favorite part of the city is most definitely the castle (except for the hike up to it!). It was so strange to be back in Heidelberg because it was my first experience ever with European culture.
That night, we planned on driving up to the unbelievably breathtaking Königstuhl overlook. We were not stopped by the drizzling, but once at the top, we were in the middle of the craziest downpour! Umbrellas and raincoats did absolutely nothing to stop the rain and we were soaked to the bone! Although we got no pictures of the event, I will have no trouble remembering it…
Before the weekend started, I challenged myself to speak in only German for my stay, and I did! Yes, I live in Salzburg and speak German while out and about, but I have English classes, American friends, and travel on weekends, making it not my most used language this semester. I did not expect to have much improvement over the course of only three days, but my thought process was definitely more automatic. It was not necessarily that I learned too many new words and phrases, but rather that I exercised the knowledge that was not usable for me beforehand. I became so used to the more difficult Austrian dialect this semester that the standard German was exponentially easier to understand. I still have quite a ways to go and am certainly not fluent, but I could see that my German at least improved since the last time I visited. Also, why are the words for government and cleaning service so similar?
Hannah took me to see the famous Schwetzingen Castle and gardens. The pictures speak for themselves, but in my opinion, this is one of the most beautiful gardens in Europe with its many twists and turns. You could easily wander for hours. Hannah and I spent our time catching up while wandering the various pathways.
During this weekend, Hannah and I also took a day trip to Strasbourg, France which I was not expecting! Our French excursion will be covered in a later blog post, so stay tuned!
By far the best part of my Heidelberg weekend was staying with Hannah’s family. They showed me even more of their culture through their hospitality, daily lives, and food. They patiently helped me practice my German, showed me a classical film, and taught me how to make some traditional meals. There is no better way to experience a foreign country than to literally be immersed in it. I do love the city of Heidelberg, but it would not be the same without the Becker family!
Want to Visit Heidelberg?
- For the best views of Heidelberg, be sure to do the Philosophenweg hike (I did this the last time I visited, but not this time around).
- Be sure to try some of the region’s famous spargel (white asparagus). You will have no trouble finding it in the early summer months. Considering that Schwetzingen has an entire monument dedicated to spargel (no joke), it’s definitely worth having.
The Refugee Crisis
Because of some train trouble, I was stuck at a German station for more time than planned. Despite the initial frustration, I became excited because I had visited Stuttgart previously and decided to take a stroll down memory lane. Upon exiting the main doors, I was shocked by the number of refugees taking shelter on the main square. This was the first time that I have come in contact with this large of a group and I was not mentally prepared. Masses of people were taking shelter under store overhangs, on sidewalks, and basically anywhere there was space. Kids were innocently entertaining themselves on benches in the train station. These are people trying to provide for their families in a situation that most of us would never find ourselves in. Countries with less than 10 million people have taken in significant percentages of their populations, and it is evident that they are bursting at their seams. More action must be taken by the countries that are able to assist, as there are just not enough resources or spaces with the drastic jump in population. This is should never be regarded as an avoidable hot-button debate, but rather treated as the severe humanitarian crisis that it is.