Saturday, October 31, 2009


[ aka - an unplanned adventure for the weekend ]

I think by this point, I should finally make a blog-label that categorizes posts here on Blogger and make one that groups together ' Times that Chris Crachiola has been lost somewhere in Europe '. As much as I try to orientate myself to end up in the right place, somehow a great story emerges from my unfailing ability to end up south when I was supposed to be north, and then not knowing the right vocabulary to get myself back to where I need to be.

Well, this past weekend, some friends and I wanted to plan a little trip together. We all have the semesterticket which is part of our Student ID's and it allows us to travel to many major trainstations in the entire Bundesland of Niedersachsen for free on the Regionalbahn [ the slower trains with many stops ]. The trains may take twice or three times as long to travel to a destination, but with friends, and no charge, it is really great and a lot of fun.

In any case, we all decided to use our free weekend and make a 2 day trip to Hannover, one of the larger cities in northern Germany. The trip would take a little over two hours north, and from there we would begin our little adventure.

This is precisely where our adventure took an unexpected turn... before we even got off the train. Our group was a mix of 2 Italians, 3 Spaniards and myself representing America. One of my Italian friends said that she knew the train that went to Hannover, so we all followed and got on.

It may have been the right train... but only for a few stops, since we later learned that there was a crucial change onto another train to go north.

Well, we all enjoyed the journey on the train, laughed, had some snacks, and a little over two hours later, got off the train when it stopped... but quickly realized that we were no where near Hannover.

In fact, we had gone over two hours west, not even remotely near Hannover. The station attendants instructed us to the correct train to get to Hannover, but after waiting for the longer train ride to then go north-east, it would take hours out of our weekend. So we changed plans.

What is near to hear?

Well, there is a little city called Paderborn... it might be nice.

[ The Paderborn Horse [?] Welcoming our arrival! ]

And there we were, a few more stops away westward and we were in the tiny city of Paderborn to attempt and salvage some fun and adventure for the weekend. Everyone was laughing and making light of the situation since, realistically, when else would we ever go to... Paderborn?

Entering the town, it seemed that we had a little bit of luck. The city seemed nice and cute, and it also had a festival taking place, filled with many food stands, attractions and rides.

We enjoyed walking around, seeing the sites as well as all the typical German comfort foods that were being cooked around us, and even tested our stomachs going on some pretty dizzy rides.

The city of Paderborn seemed to have a perfect representation of a small German city, complete with churches, a small downtown, a market square as well as a nice Rathouse as a central meeting point.

Once we got to the Rathouse, we realized we were all really lucky, because for some reason, this particular weekend was also a big chocolate exhibit in the city, and the Rathaus had dozens of stands giving out samples of many different gormet chocolates. With the Italians leading the way, we made it our mission to sample every chocolate available to us!

We ventured some more, checked out the beautiful churches, enjoyed our time together, and the day was nearing an end. We decided to make the weekend trip only a day trip, but no one was complaining. Our little mistake with the train turned out to be a really great day of fun. Even so, we promised ourselves that next time we actually would end up in Hannover! [ but now all of us can say proudly that we have visited Paderborn, Germany!]

Deutsch Einstufungstest

[ German Placement Exam ]

As I mentioned from my first few days in the University I had to register for my German placement exam in order to be eligible for Deutsch als Fremdsprache classes. I thought that it was a little redundant since I had my certificate from the Carl Duisburg Center that clearly stated my level and proficiency in German that matched up with the course listings, but the offices still advised me to take the test, so I figured I had nothing to lose.

Divided into two sections, the tests were held on an early afternoon and I found the lecture hall for the test with dozens of other foreign students filing into rows. I was actually quite surprised how seriously the test was taken, since no students were admitted to sit next to each other, there were checks for pocket dictionaries in the rows, and on top of all of this, there were a LOT of students - many more foreign students learning German than I initially perceived at the University.

When the exams were passed out, I knew I was in for a challenge. It was very simple - 5 paragraphs in German, and many of the words only had the first letter and a bunch of blanks. Essentially you had to complete the paragraph by filling in the right words which proved your expanse of vocabulary and your understanding on when to use the right grammar [ essentially der/die/das in akusative, genative etc. for those who know some German]. These were my weak points by far... I sat, and laughed to myself, and really started just inventing German when I didn't know the answers. I was a goner, and figured I would be placed back in the newbie course.

I was very surprised how many students were taking the exam, and looking at everyones faces afterwards, I think everyone felt the same. We just needed to wait a few days and the postings in the language offices would tell us our placement.


[ Freebies ]

For those who know me, when there is free stuff being given out somewhere, odds are I am scoping out the scene. One day this past week, I was heading up to the Mensa - the main student cafeteria on Campus - to meet up with some friends. In the main vestibule was a large crowd of people, stacks of boxes, and more people happily walking away digging through a bag filled with free stuff.

I didn't have to hesitate, I got in line, received my bag, and only then took a moment to realize what it was for.

I am pretty sure the free bags came from a local book store or other business since there were coupons and other ads inside the bag. There was also a trial shampoo -always nice - a chocolate bar - another bonus, and ...

A bottle of beer?

What?! [was I supposed to show my ID somewhere? ]

Now, this wasn't normal beer, but some lime mixed beer drink - and I checked that the alcoholic percent was a bit lower than normal beer - but nonetheless, this was given out for free.

It doesn't matter in the states if it is only a few percent of alcohol, you will still be carded at a store to prove you are over 21 years old [ a concept that I have received a lot more comments about here in Germany than I was anticipating ]. It is generally understood that alcohol is not necessarily carded as heavily here in Germany, and tolerance for young adults and teens making purchases is higher, but this situation with the freebies took me by surprise.

It most definitely is something I think only an American can really be shocked about, but no ID- checking aside, this alcohol was just handed out like candy. I know for a fact that something like this would never be able to be distributed publicly at UofM or another American University, even if it is just a few percent alcohol content.

With little surprises like this, university life, even in these early first few weeks, is already proving to be more different than I first anticipated.