Although the wintry weather shows no signs of stopping, the Wintersemester at the FU has officially come to an end. One obvious advantage of this is the beginning of the Semesterferien, a 2-month break providing a fantastic opportunity to enjoy Berlin without the pressure of any academic commitments. However the downside of term finishing is that the students who are only spending half of the year here are now beginning to head back to their home countries. ‘Goodbye’ parties have become a weekly occurence and several good friends have already left, including my two flatmates. We’d only known each other since October but had formed such a close friendship that I’m already planning my trip to Belgium to see them next semester. With so many people having to leave, I’m very aware that I’m lucky to still be here, with 5 months of my Berlin experience left.
It was a relief to finish my exams this month, although I must admit that, compared to uni at Edinburgh, a lower standard of work was expected of us and the exam period here was an altogether less stressful affair than anything I’ve experienced there. It was also a novelty to be allowed a dictionary, which came in handy at several mindblank moments. The exams I sat seemed to ask for little more than a summary of what we’d studied over the semester with no deeper analysis required – that was simple enough but the tricky part was trying to get all the information written down within the 1.5 hours that we were given. I was impressed at the speed at which the exams were marked (Edinburgh, take note!) – living up to the German efficiency stereotype, we got our grades back within a week. Now I can proudly say that I’ve already got more than half of the ECTS credits that I need to take back to Edinburgh, which to a certain extent lightens the load for next semester.
It is safe to say that I don’t wish to sit on another train in Germany any time soon. Two weekends ago, a friend had suggested that a group of us get together and head to Cologne for the famous annual Köln Karneval. Rather than forking out 160€ for the ICE premium train service, we thought we’d cheat the system and travel using a Schönes Wochenende Ticket, which allowed us to get there for just 14€. A bargain, yes, but the catch was that we were only permitted to travel on regional trains, which led to a rather interesting (if not unnecessarily lengthy) route. For your amusement, here is a map charting said route:
It was a crazy journey that involved changing trains 5 times on the way there and 6 times coming back. Basically, we did 24 hours of travelling for a 9-hour stint in Cologne – not particularly good stats, I think you’ll agree, but it was worth it for the experience. The Karneval was really unlike anything I’d ever attended before and I feel it is best described as a combination of Hallowe’en-style dressing up (with costumes ranging from frogs to monks to full-on body suits emblazoned with Kölle Alaaf!, the carnival cheer for Cologne – where did they buy them and can I get one for myself?!), the beer-swigging Oktoberfest and the music, dancing and general festiveness of a traditional carnival, with a good dose of freezing thrown in (really, whose idea was it to have a carnival in February?). We danced on the street to a French brass band, made friends with several costumed Cologne residents, entered several gay bars and a very intimidating looking beer hall, but by the end of the night, bed seemed much more appealing than beer. Continuing the general haphazard theme of our trip, we hadn’t booked anywhere to stay for the night so after being awake for over 30 hours it certainly was a relief to finally arrive back in Berlin.
Lesson learned: if you’re really serious about travelling across Germany, it’s probably worth purchasing a proper ticket but if you’ve ever fancied a tour of all of the regional train stations then I can wholeheartedly recommend our journey to you.