School… and a Little About Oktoberfest

School is finally underway here in Germany. While my fellow students back in Oklahoma began their midterms, I readied myself for my first class.

University studies in Germany are a weird concept for me to comprehend. For most classes, there is only one meeting per week, of about one and a half hours. Some go more, some less, but I would say that 1 1/2 is the median. So, with such little instructional time, it is imperative that the student spends a substantial amount of time learning outside of the classroom. The suggested course bibliographies are pages long, and “only brush the surface” of possible texts that we can find in the library. So, I have been visiting the library on most days just to see what I can find. So far, I have found a couple of books that should help me on my term paper.

Riding off of the ending of the previous paragraph, some classes only have one grade. A term paper. This paper is a far more stressful way of grade giving than in the US. Without tests, quizzes, short essays, and participation grades, there is no room for error.

Now, the lighter part of this post. In my previous post, I mentioned that I had a layover on my way to Italy. Well, that layover was in Munich. I found my favourite beerhall, as the last time I was in Munich I enjoyed Hofbräuhaus’ beer. (Also, it is the quintessential German beer brand… in my opinion. Not the Paulaner, Warsteiner, or the innumerable regional beers aren’t amazing.) I ordered a maß and joined the crowd singing the traditional German beer songs. In addition to the already fantastic atmosphere, Chancellor, Angela Merkel decided to have a beer in the tent as well. So, upon her entrance, cheers, chants, and the sound of hands slamming the wooden tables rung out across the hall.

(I did venture outside of the Oktoberfest grounds to explore Munich, but I won’t go into that. Munich is pretty, large, and exciting city, but manages to keep the charm of a smaller city. I know that sounds strange, but I suppose you’ll just have to go to Munich to see if you agree with me!

 

Viel Glück

Italian Adventure

As today is the first of November, October has come and gone, and I have another month of living abroad under my belt. Over the first week and a half of October I journeyed down to Italy.

To start off my journey, I went to Rome. As they say, all roads lead there (: Despite Europe being generally being called “small” or “condensed” by people from the US, I can vouch that the train ride from southern Germany to central Italy is not the shortest undertaking. (Though, this is largely due to my inability to sleep on trains…) Anyhow, about 15 hours, and one layover later, I arrived in Rome.

Despite allotting three days in Rome, I feel that I covered the city very well. Walking 12+ miles every day allowed me to see the city better than any bus, train, or car will ever do. Museums, the Vatican, the major ancient sites, the piazzas, additional touristy places, and even the nice area of Trastevere were covered in my Roman romp. (The Roma Pass that I bought was nice, but would be better utilized by people who intend to use public transport. I only took the bus once, and that was to the Vatican.)

Next on the list was Florence. I bought the Florence Card, which, while daily expensive, would allow me to skip the queues at most museums. If you don’t remember to book your tickets to the Uffizi and/or Academia Galleries, then this is the cop-out, as both of the museums are included within the card. Covering lots of ground in Florence as well, I saw the art I wanted, went to Dante’s house, walked in the footsteps of the Medici, visited the Galileo Museum, payed my respects to the famous Italians at Santa Croce, climbed the bell tower, walked the bridge, and saw the classic scenic overview at Piazzale Michelangelo.

I also opted to take a day trip around Tuscany. Seeing Pisa, San Gimignano, and Sienna. San Gimignano was my favourite, and also included a lunch at a winery. I was able to sample three wines, one of which was a relatively rare product from the surrounding area.

Lastly, I went to Venice. Venice didn’t blow me away in the same way the Rome and Florence did. In fact, I didn’t find it overly fantastic at all. St. Mark’s Square and the things do see inside of it were ornate, but left more to be desired. Venice ended up feeling like a city to check off the list, rather than one that I want to come back to as soon as possible.

After Venice, I boarded the train (s) back to Heidelberg, and reflected on my amazing trip.

PS. I tossed a coin into both the Trevi Fountain, in Rome and the Boar, in Florence, so should be guaranteed a return to both of the cities some day in the future.

Local myths aside, I definitely plan on going back. Italy is amazing. Just watch out for the traffic in Rome.

600 Years of Wine

A few weeks ago, Germany played host to the Dürkheimer Wurstmarkt festival… for the 600th time. Held in the small city of Bad-Dürkheim, it is the largest wine festival in the world. Getting to the festival isn’t as simple as one would think, and definitely not for those of us not familiar with the train system. Anyhow, after three switches/2 hours later, (for what is supposedly a 45 minute car ride) I arrived at the train station.

The walk to the festival was simple, and not overly crowed. After another fifteen minutes, I stepped foot into the festival grounds. A note on the security, there was not much. Although I’m not one to let this ruin my outing, I can say that there was a lingering worry in the back of my head.

At the festival, there were amusement rides, little store selling all sorts of various trinkets, tons of food, and, of course, a seemingly endless assortment of places where one could buy alcohol. For the first hour, we (Kelsey and a girl named Rebecca) walked around. Taking in the sights, we were amused by how many rides had US flags on them. As if it was the only country that contained rollercoasters and thrill rides, haha! Eventually, after witnessing so many people eating and drinking, we succumbed to hunger.

First, we ordered food. I got a 1/2 metre-long wurst, and Kelsey and I both ordered a small wine, which was still substantial! (25 ml)  We sat ourselves down on a long bench inside a tent, and talked about nonsense while taking in the atmosphere. People were singing, glasses were clinking, and alcohol was flowing.

Finally, we got up and started to walk back to where we would catch the train home. But, before we did that, Kelsey and I wanted to ride the giant ferris wheel. And we did, for five Euros, the views payed for themselves. We could see the world’s biggest wine fest, the world’s largest wine container, and the surrounding area. It was spectacular.

After that, we went home, only having to make two stops this time. For those of you still reading, if you ever have the time/opportunity to go to this festival, I recommend it.

 

Getting Started in Heidelberg

Ok. So, I’ve now been in Heidelberg, Germany for three weeks. Getting used to everything/finding the things necessary to make me feel comfortable has been an interesting experience. First of all, the shopping in Heidelberg was difficult. The prices for basic things, such as pillows, sheets, were exorbitant, but necessary.  And having to pay thirty Euros for a small pillow was painful, but not as painful as sleeping without one.

The next big shock was, the split personality of Heidelberg. While in the Altstadt. (Old City) the buildings are beautiful and old, but, when I head home, the buildings become modern, and the skyline goes up. (Although, truth be told, Heidelberg is not a city of high-rises.) Every morning I drag myself out of bed, and attempt to prep myself for the four/five hours of German that I will be learning today. I get ready, leave my apartment, board the bus that takes me through the modern centre of Heidelberg, and then hop off when I arrive in the old town. From there, I walk across the beautiful bridge to my class, which is held in the Max Weber Haus. (Overlooking the Neckar River and the Heidelberg Castle.)

The final major acclimation to my life in Heidelberg, was the set-up of the university. I can be on one side of town for a history course, but then have to take thirty minute bus to my German class. Honestly, I don’t know if I will get used to that. At OU, all the classes are easily accessible. I can walk to each class, and not have to worry about bus schedules and distances.

All-in-all, Heidelberg has taken some time to get used to, but I can tell that I will enjoy my time here (:

North vs. South

These two cardinal directions of England vary greatly. In the South, there is London, and copious amounts of pretty, light stoned buildings throughout the various cities and towns. In the north, there are cities that hold their industrial revolution history dear. Manchester, Leeds, and many other cities are grand, dark, and imposing buildings. Not as easy to look at as the south.

Starting from the south, London is in a league of its own. As a major port in its own right, along with being the centre of commerce for the English, it contains every type of architecture in England. However, traveling outside of London shows a different part of England. Bath, for example, is a stunning city. With magnificent whitish/yellowish stone buildings, the light shines off the buildings in a way that makes ones jaw drop. The south feels wealthier, and less working class than the north, and as a result is more expensive.

In the north, using Manchester as an example, is not a pretty city. Sure, there has been recent remodeling of the city, which has led to it becoming a popular place for people to go clubbing, but it is not a pretty city. Manchester is proud of its heritage, and lets it show. The buildings, as I mentioned earlier are darker, and many used to be large factories. Things are cheaper, the people are generally more working class, and also, people are generally more friendly.

Both parts of England are amazing to visit, and I recommend going to see both. If there are any questions in regards to England, or this post, please feel free to comment, and I will answer back.

To view my pictures from England, please check my Instagram.

Ben_Levenson_

 

London Calling

For the past two months I have lived in London. Not only was I in London, but I had my flat located within Kensington; the most affluent area in all of London. Ever morning, I would get up, get ready to head out for the day, and be greeted by Aston Martins, Ferraris, and every other kind of fancy car in the world. Eating out was expensive, and even simple British luxuries, like a good pint of beer generally exceeded five pounds. Until I got out of the surrounding area, I didn’t see much colour on people either… As London is one of the most diverse places in the world, I wondered if I was living in the least London-y place in London.

During my time in London, I was interning as well. I worked with Karen Buck, the Member of Parliament from Westminster North. Our constituency office was located in a Middle Eastern hotspot of London. There were Middle Eastern restaurants all over the place, people spoke Arabic to one another, and there was not abundant wealth. Essentially, this was the London I was expecting more. But after reflection, I realised how stupid I was being to want one part of London more than another.

London is a diverse, cosmopolitan city. There will be pockets of wealth, and pockets of poverty. White faces, and those who aren’t white. Expensive parts, and less expensive places. (London will never be cheap.) I enjoyed myself, and cannot wait to come back soon.

Back-to-Back

This summer will be a great time. I get to go to London. However, this trip ends in late July, and my next trip begins fairly quickly after. In early September, I will be flying to Heidelberg, Germany. (This trip is actually in addition to even more travel, as I will be going to St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago, and New York between this time. Oh, and back home to Norman.)

After a couple of days in New York, I will fly out of JFK alongside my friend, Kelsey. Together, we will land in Frankfurt, Germany, and then take the train to Heidelberg. Upon arrival, we will have to go to our student apartments, and put our stuff away. Given that we arrive at around 11:00 in the morning, we will have a decent part of the day left.

Our plan is for us both to shower and put on new clothes. Then, we will go into the city to explore. (The first thing that I will be exploring is somewhere to eat. Airplane food is not my favourite.) Hopefully we can see some of the cool stuff that Heidelberg has to offer. I’ll be there an entire year academic year, so there is no rush.

I will take the majority of my courses in English, but I plan to take one or two in German. When in Germany, I feel that one should push their German skills! I’ll also try to journey around Germany and some of Europe. There is so much to see, that I haven’t had time to figure out a game plan.

Regardless, I know that it will be fun. And I can’t wait to share this year with everyone.

A Journey to London

This summer, I will be going to London, UK! From the 25th of May, to the 27th of July, I will be studying and interning. One of my classes is on contemporary British politics. This is really interesting, given the current political climate within the United Kingdom. I will also be interning. Most likely, I will be working with the Conservative Party. Given that the election is going to take place while I am working with the party, this is really an unparalleled experience.

In addition to my work, London, and the rest of the UK, are great places to explore. One of the things that I really want to do is see a  show at the West End. I think that I will see The Phantom of the Opera. (Fairly inexpensive as well!) I will also see a play at the Globe. Tickets start as low as five pounds!

London also has plenty of other things to see! The Churchill War Rooms, Parliamentary Buildings, Buckingham, St. Paul’s, and many other places. I will do my best to visit as many as I can, so I can share some pictures with this blog!

I will also endeavour to show that the UK has other fantastic places, and cities outside of London. I will visit Manchester, and likely a few other places, although I won’t be spoiling the surprises on this post.

I can’t wait to go to London, and I hope that through my posts and pictures, I can share my journey with everyone else.

International Group #2

This year has rushed to a close. As I sit here writing this post, I have under a week left of freshman year. I am happy to have been a member of OU Cousins from the start of my first semester. This semester, I had no official cousin, but managed to attend some events anyway. The final event of the year really stuck out to me. We went to a ranch! I had never been to a ranch, and thought the idea of visiting one was unbelievably exciting. We were given cowboy hats, which I immediately put on wrong. Then, we filed into a barn, the barn was stocked with food! Baked beans, meat, brownies, and soda. I was content. A live band played country music in the background. After about 15 minutes of eating, our company was requested, and a copious amount of the Cousins filed onto the floor for square dancing lessons. I will not lie, I was too shy to join. In hindsight, I regret this a little bit, but I know that I will have another opportunity.

OU Cousins provided me with a year of new experiences. Whether it be carving pumpkins, or visiting a ranch in Noble, Oklahoma… I met new people, people from all over the world. I had never thought people from Nigeria, Slovakia, England, and Brazil would come to Oklahoma to study, but I’m glad they did. As this academic year ends, so does the OU Cousins year. I will definitely be a part of OU Cousins in the years to come.

International Event #4 (Second Semester)

A final international event that I went to was the showing of Remand. This movie was about the Ugandan jail system. By Ugandan law, all people who were arrested, on any charge, were to be sent to jail. Unfortunately, the jail system could not hold this many people. One prison, built for 600 people, was housing over 3,000 inmates! Prisoners in remand were kept in the same prisons as murderers and people serving life sentences.

Children were also kept in remand. These concrete rooms were quite tiny, and would hold 20 children. The sleeping arrangement is pads on the floor.

Now, every year, Pepperdine law students go to Uganda where they intern, work on a prison project, visit an overcrowded prison, interview inmates, search for documents, (that continually get misplaced/lost) and work on establishing plea bargains for prisoners. Some prisoners admit to crimes that they did not commit in order to bypass the trial, because time on remand counts towards the sentence.

This is an interesting fact to think about. Cultural exchanges are not only from sharing different dress styles or music. In Uganda, our legal system is being shared. This is an ideal example of globalisation. Whether it will prove to be a positive example is up in air.