Toreros’ tales of traveling abroad: Germany


Photo Courtesy of Hannah Talpash

Photo Courtesy of Hannah Talpash

After living in Southern California my entire life, I chose to experience a culture other than Mexican food and the beach 24/7. I chose to study in the small town of Freiburg, Germany, which borders France and Switzerland and has a population of 200,000 people. Although I came to Germany to experience a culture shock, I came in with expectations about people who value beer drinking, wurst eating, and organization. Little did I know Freiburg is where the average hippie meets traditional German culture, creating a unique mix.

When I first arrived, I was eager to see my new living situation. As I got off the tram stop for the first time, I realized I was not in stereotypical Deutschland anymore. The dorms are adorned in paintings of flowers and bunnies. Hanging above doors are white banners with the words “Refugees Welcome”. To my right I saw people in parachute pants with dreadlocks, chilling around a campfire. Volkswagen vans and random shacks surrounded me in what appeared to be a junkyard, but are actually homes for the local hippie commune.

Finally, I arrived at my flat where naturally there was a couch on the patio blocking the door. I cautiously stepped in, and saw the walls were orange with paint and graffiti all over, some which read “Abolish capitalism”. There were lights, a ladder, and vines hanging from the ceiling. After listening to this description, many people may think I am living in Berkeley, CA. In reality I am living in Vauban student housing, where the greenest of the Green party members live in Freiburg.

As a result of living in the Green City, I have adapted to many simple uniquely Freiburg customs. The city itself is traversed by way more bikes than cars. Back home when I cross the street I naturally look out for cars, but now I must look for cars, trams, and bikers. Needless to say, I have been almost run over multiple times.

In the states when I am finished eating a banana and granola bar, I walk to the single trash can and throw away my food. In Freiburg, however, there are four trash cans. One must throw away the granola bar wrapper in the plastics trash can and the banana peel in the compost section. I still find myself sometimes blankly staring at the trash for five minutes trying to determine where each piece of trash goes.

But the most valuable lessons here come from political discussions with my flatmates. Many of them are from the socialist party in Germany and are very left-wing, in contrast to my professors who tend to be pro-European Union and Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. It is refreshing to hear about other democracies and the German perspective of the United States.

Although Freiburg is a free-spirited culture, it still embraces some of the German stereotypes. For example, the extremely aggressive, harsh sounding language. Someone might be saying “I love you” but instead it sounds like “Get out of the way, before I rip your head off.” It does not help that as a culture they do not smile while speaking. It makes you feel like they are always mad at you, when in fact they might really like you.

Also, the stereotype of German efficiency is real. If you are on time, you are late, even in the laid-back town of Freiburg. Multiple times I have sprinted toward the tram to get to school because the tram came a minute early. Even grocery checkout is efficient, with the checkers scanning food so fast you barely have time to take out your eco-friendly bag, before they are already done with scanning all 20 of your items.

Upon arrival I thought I knew everything about the world and myself, but within the first day I learned I knew very little about both. The sooner I embraced this concept, the more I enjoyed each city I visited because I would come into a city with a blank slate.

Putting aside the stereotypes has allowed me to form my own opinions and thoughts on new cities without having too high of expectations.