TSU AEGEE-Mannheim: Breaking German stereotypes

By | October 6, 2014 at 6:00 pm | European Events, Summer Universities | Tags: , , ,

On the 4th of July our Travel Summer University (TSU) started with 24 participants from 12 different nations, who were eager to find out whether common German stereotypes held true or not. The best way of getting to know a country profound is by crossing it from one side to another, so we started our trip at Lake Constance, which forms the border with Switzerland and then continued all the way to the Baltic Sea.

Let’s start from the very beginning in the city of Constance: some participants were already there to watch the quarter-finals of the football World Cup with us, and others joined later. Surprisingly, the first evening we had Kebab for dinner, instead of the expected German sausages.

The following day, participants had the chance to get to know each other and had their first workshop on cultural differences, held by Julia Fuss. In the evening, we filled our stomachs with a more traditional German dish: Käsespätzle (egg pasta with cheese).  Afterwards we went clubbing, and to cool down from dancing, some took a refreshing midnight-swim in Lake Constance.

With the help of sponsored Red Bull, everyone was able to get up early the next morning – and thanks to the sponsoring of Deutsche Bahn, we departed for Mannheim by train. During the train ride, participants had the chance to establish their first real-life contact with Germans. Equipped with a questionnaire, the participants could find out what Germans consider to be typically “German”, and what they think about the participants’ respective countries. This interaction lead to some interesting encounters. For example, one of the fellow passengers was so inspired by the AEGEE spirit, that she made a spontaneous donation to support our work – very much to the delight of our treasurer, Jan-Christian Fey.

In Mannheim we spent four full days on thematic work about stereotypes in general, and those specific to Germany- but of course there were also a lot of leisure activities.

 

A highlight was definitely the day trip to the beautiful city of Heidelberg, where we visited, among other sights, the Studentenkarzer, which used to be a prison for misbehaving students decorated with old-style graffiti by the former inmates.

The day in Heidelberg ended with a visit to a karaoke bar, where we had a great time watching amazing performances, such as the one by our main organiser Philipp zu Hohenlohe. Philipp took the challenge of having to interpret Justin Timberlake‘s song Sexy back with dignity and earned himself not just the admiration of the audience, but also a cool hat – which accompanied us from then on. Equally unforgettable was how the so-called Spanish mafia animated everyone to dance Macarena.

A “typical German“ dog

By the way, the participants got a booklet with some German phrases, the most popular ones being Du hast eine sexy Stimme (you have a sexy voice) and Mein Hund hat Durchfall (My dog has diarrhoea). The first one came in quite handy on karaoke night, since we had some really talented singers in our group. The latter did not come in handy in any situation, thankfully, but still we had great fun saying it, and even translating it into other languages.

As for culinary delights, we finally fulfilled the expectation of serving German sausages in Mannheim: we had the typical Bavarian Weißwurst with Brezeland sweet mustard, but of course only after a proper introduction to the many possible ways of eating it. Furthermore, we were very lucky to get some delicious free ice cream at the Italian ice cream parlour Fontanella in Mannheim. “Italian ice cream in Mannheim? Turkish Kebab in Constance? Did the organisers run out of ideas for original German food?” you might think – but the answer is that they did not: they just wanted to raise awareness of the fact that Germany received a lot of immigration from other European countries during the economic miracle of the 1960s.  Therefore, parts of foreign culture were integrated into German culture over time. When we travel, we do it with the expectation of getting to know many new things, but sometimes the greatest surprise is to find something very well-known far away from home.

Having an Alsterwasser (beer with lemonade) in the river Alster.

Of course, we did not spend the whole TSU eating, but we also did some challenging sport activities like waterskiing. I think the best way of describing the experience of wearing a wet suit for the first time in your life is the following anonymous quotation from one of our participants “I feel like Superman, but it’s a little tight in some parts!

However, there is one crucial thing for a German TSU I haven’t mentioned yet. Yeah, it’s beer. So of course the visit to the traditional regional brewery Eichbaum was obligatory. German beer made a lasting impression on the beer-drinking habits of our participants. This even led to some serious reintegration problems after returning home. One of the first messages that reached us after the TSU was the following: “I just drank one beer yesterday, it was s***: I was used to yours!”

 

Last but not least, we had the European Night in Mannheim, including many delicious dishes and drinks such as the extraordinary Hungarian Letscho. Followed the next day by the suggestion that from now on, the Hungarians should always cook for us. As I was part of the cooking team myself, I would have felt personally offended if I did not have to admit that it was really incredibly tasty… The German sherbet powder “Ahoi Brause” mixed with Vodka was also very much enjoyed, and shall from now on be known under the name of “shake your head”.

Can you tell the German organisers from the participants?

Since participants took over the German values of discipline and punctuality, we managed to be on time for the train to Cologne, even after a tough European Night. Right next to the famous cathedral we enjoyed some pizza, but on the way to the gym, it turned out that although Germans like to plan everything, there is one thing which is unplannable for them – the weather: unfortunately, we were accompanied by a thunderstorm, and everyone became soaking wet.

Next day we had an interesting discussion with professor Elvert from the faculty of European history, and afterwards a cool role-play organised by Thomas Leszke. Although Thomas only joined us for a small part of the trip, our ladies were very impressed by him. If you are reading this Thomas, I would like to let you know that you gained quite some votes in the category of sexiest man.

As we continued our trip further north, even the unplannable weather helped us to break German stereotypes: the normally rough and rainy city of Hamburg welcomed us with bright sunshine. Our first evening in Hamburg was also the last evening of the World Cup. We watched the finals in the Hofbräuhaus, a restaurant inspired by the famous original in Munich. Drinking the typical Bavarian Weißbier in the capital of Northern Germany is a good way of breaking regional German stereotypes.

It was a lot of fun to see that our international group was the one supporting the German team with more noise than the rest of the crowd. Being in Germany when the German national team won the World Cup was definitely a unique experience. In the end, even the big football sceptics like me could not help but feel the magic of the moment. Afterwards we went to the Reeperbahn – the famous party street of Hamburg – to celebrate becoming Football World Champions. Watching football inspired us to do some sports ourselves, so we went for a bicycle rally to discover the city, and chilled out afterwards at the beach of the river Elbe. The next day we went for a canoe-tour on the canals of Hamburg. During the guided tour through the harbour city – a new district of Hamburg – participants could see German punctuality and planning in practice: the centrepiece of this district is the not yet finished, but already famous opera house Elbphilharmonie, which was due to have opened years ago.

Italian ice cream in Mannheim.

On the last day of our TSU, we went to Lübeck, which used to be a member of the former trading union Hanse just like Hamburg. Saskia Heller guided the group around and briefed them about this together with many other facts. In the end there was the possibility to taste the famous Niederegger marzipan – or due to the good weather – the ice cream version thereof. Ice cream weather also means beach weather, so we headed straight to Lübeck-Travemünde and enjoyed a swim in the Baltic Sea: a great end for a great event.

As for the title of the TSU, I leave it up to the readers and more importantly to the participants to decide which German stereotypes they would consider broken, and which proved to be true for them. But no matter what your decision may be: I would like to take this chance to thank all the participants and organisers for being part of this event and turning it into an unforgettable experience!

Written by Sarah Kalkowska, AEGEE-Hamburg

Fotos by Philipp zu Hohenlohe


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