Thursday, of course, was the American Thanksgiving, and EAP Berlin had a potluck dinner to celebrate. I had made Stollen, a traditional German Christmas bread with candied fruits (think fruitcake but not nearly as dense, since you can't use stollen as a makeshift hammer), and everyone seemed to really like it. I'm glad they did, since it was my first time making it and I had to convert all the measurements from volume to mass, so I was a little worried of how it would turn out. I even impressed the Germans with it, so I'd say it was well done.
I couldn't spend too long at the Thanksgiving dinner, though, since I still had a list of things to do: call my parents, call my brother and his girlfriend, and then pack for a weekend trip to Nuremberg and Rothenburg! This was a trip planned by the exchange student office at Free University, cost only 90 euros for transportation, food, housing, and all the tours, and sounded like it would be a lot of fun, so I signed up.
We headed out and amused ourselves for the next 6 hours. Finally, we got to Nuremberg. The very first thing we saw when we arrived was a castle.
We split up into groups for the rooms, and the five of us in our room headed upstairs to our room to put the sheets on our beds and just get settled in. I stayed with Marta; Milane from Alberta, Canada; Oxana from Russia; and Saki from Japan. We also found out the girl from Russia doesn't speak any German except for a couple key phrases, and the girl from Japan only spoke slightly more English. While I was slightly surprised by the lack of English, just because 95% everybody I've met here speaks English, I was more shocked by the lack of German. After all, this was a trip for exchange students, so I figured we'd at least have simple German as a common language.
We headed downstairs for coffee and cakes and meeting the others on the trip. The trip was put together specifically for non-ERASMUS students, so direct exchange students like me, which means we didn't have too many people from Europe, although there were a couple from France and a girl from Belgium. After talking to them and trying my first Milch-Kaffee ever, we spent about 45 minutes walking down to the Weihnachtsmarkt and walking around there, before we met back up for our tour through Altstadt.
I was very happy to realize that I could understand the tour guide quite well when I paid attention to what she was saying. Considering my last German tour was in August for the Berlin Tunnels, where I couldn't understand anything the guide said, this was a great relief. However, I wasn't actually paying much attention for a lot of the tour, since I was still way too excited and taking a ton of pictures of the snow with Marta and Ryan. Oops. Since it was the first weekend of the Christmas market, we got to hear a little bit of the Christ Kindle welcoming ceremony, which included hearing a little kids choir singing "Stille Nacht." Our tour ended at the restaurant where we had dinner, and since the program covered our dinner and one drink, we all decided we would take advantage of this and order the "best" stuff there, which meant a Maß of dark beer and the roasted duck for me. (Somebody then pointed out that we should have taken this opportunity to order water.) Dinner ended and we had the rest of the night to ourselves to walk around the market more. I went with Kailen from Canada, Alex from Minnesota, Milane, Marta, Ryan, and the coordinators, who spent the night telling us of different German traditions and why the Nuremberg market was so famous, and we all enjoyed a glass (or two or three) of Glühwein. I bought myself a nutcracker there too, one that looks like Sankt Nikolaus (St. Nicholas), since I figured if I was going to get a nutcracker from somewhere in Germany, it was most appropriate to buy it at the original Christmas market. The group then went to a bar while Marta and I headed back to the hostel to try to get some sleep.
Saturday morning we went to the Reichsparteitagsgelänge, where Hitler held his rallies every year. Here I was able to pay a little bit more attention, although the tour guide really had very little personality. We then got a total of a half-hour in the museum, just enough time to see what was there but not enough time to actually learn anything. After lunch (chicken with cinnamon and orange, not as good as it sounds), we hopped back on the bus for our hour and a half trip to Rothenburg. The tour guide met us outside the bus and the tour immediately started. Unlike the tour that morning, this guy was great. Even though he had a very thick Bavarian accent, he spoke slowly and clearly enough in high German that we could understand, and never got frustrated when we asked him to clarify something. (Only once did he revert to English, which was ironic, since it was an answer to a question Saki had!) He was also very funny. "The original fort was only this big (pointed on a map), which was nowhere near big enough for the inhabitants. Such began the tradition of bad city planners."
We got an hour to wander around the city, and I bought a Christmas present for someone (not going to say who or what it was, since they read this blog), and we tried "Schneeballen," a pastry that tasted like not-quite-fully-baked pie-dough covered with powdered sugar, a regional specialty. After an entire day speaking German, we went to dinner, where I sat at a table with two other Americans, a Canadian, one of the coordinators, and a guy from China who didn't speak any German. It was almost a relief to speak English again. We boarded the bus again afterward and made the trip back to Nürnberg, and the girls of our room invited the guys of one of the other rooms to come up and continue our discussion from the bus. This meant once again that we didn't have any common language, so we spent a lot of time translation German and English, but that ended up not being a big problem. We spent hours talking and even ended up teaching the non-Americans and -Canadians the Chicken Dance.
Sunday we woke up and went to check out of our hostel, and that's where my room had a bit of trouble. Our room had a total of 3 keys for the 5 of us, but we only handed in 2. We had a complete search of our purses, the room, EVERYTHING, trying to find the last key, but we had no luck, so we each had to pay 5 euros. Granted, that's not a lot and really not a big deal, but I was a little upset by it because I never even took one of the keys, yet I was still expected to pay. But we had already kept the group waiting for half an hour past when we should have left, so I felt bad and decided not to make a big deal about it. The coordinator paid for us and told us we could pay her back later and to just head to the bus. After delaying everyone for so long, we finally headed out to the Germanische Nationalmuseum, which was kind of like an art history museum. In checking in our coats and bags, Milane found the key in her pocket. Fortunately this meant we no longer had to pay the 5 euros for the lost key.
It was a great trip, filled with magical scenery, great experiences, and lots of new friends. And, as an added benefit, one of the coordinators is also my contact at my university in case something goes wrong with my registration, grades, or anything else EAP can't help me with. Not only does she now know me by name (granted, that name is Judith, pronounced "Yoodit"), but she also said that I can "dutzen" with her, meaning I'm allowed to speak informally with her and call her by her first name. This probably means that, should I need any help, she'll be more willing to work with me and solve the problem quickly. I consider this basically the equivalent of going to a professor's office hours back in Davis in order to let them get to know you.
All in all, this was quite possibly the best weekend I've had in Europe so far, and easily the best money I've spent.