Last Saturday, some other RISE students and I checked out what has come to be known as the legislative capital of Europe- Strasbourg! Ahmad, Charlie, Cheng, Josh, and I were able to get there for only about 15 Euros each by splitting a Baden-Württemberg-Ticket,which is good for groups of up to five throughout the German state, then paying 3,90 essentially to cross the border into France. A lot has been said about the “futuristic” trams that run in and around Strasbourg with comfortable seating, expansive windows, and a sleek design. I, however, was just extremely annoyed to be packed in with about a hundred other people on the 2-3 car long vehicles. Would it have been that difficult to keep the fancy design AND make them long enough to accommodate a regular load of passengers? Once we arrived of course, the fresh air and wide open park in front of the central train station were all the more welcoming. It felt good to be in France.
After snapping a quick group photo in front of the futuristic-looking train station, we headed straight for the city’s historic city center- a UNESCO site (so it has to be good!). Beautiful old European architecture, including some pretty white-timber framed buildings filled the island that made up the old town. Charlie, Josh, and I got lunch at a restaurant on the riverside while Ahmad and Cheng did some wandering. I had one of the best and definitely the most expensive cheeseburger in my life. Still not sure if it was worth it, but hey, the French know food and I’m sure it will be a while before I make it back to France. Reunited with Ahmad and Cheng after lunch, we visited the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg. It’s said to be one of the best Gothic cathedrals in the world and for a while, it was even the tallest building in the world (from 1647-1874). Next, we walked north to check out some grandiose government buildings. The stuff near Place de la République was all pretty nice, but the best and furthest away were definitely the European Parliament buildings way up near the NE-edge of our map. We saw the colossal Palace of Europe and abstractly-designed Hemicycle (the blue sheep I mentioned in a previous blog post were also here). Afterward, we made our way south, hoping to check out the botanical garden, but we were greeted instead by a pointy fence. A wrong turn did lead us to stumble upon Rue Beethoven (Beethoven street). As a mediocre violinist, I found that pretty cool, but was shocked to learn that SOMEONE in the group did not know who Beethoven was! Kids these days . . .
So, we kept walking south and eventually made it to the highly-anticipated Citadelle. Only the Citadelle was really just an ugly fort by the river that no one bothered to tear down, so that was kind of disappointing. The park surrounding the eyesore was pretty nice though. I especially liked seeing basketball courts and what was essentially an outdoor gym. There was an elliptical trainer and even several pull-up bars! I have this weird obsession with searching for structures that I can do a couple of pull-ups on after completing a run, so I was happy to see that the French share this eccentricity of mine. At this point, we only had about two hours left to spend in Strasbourg. This time was well spent stocking up on some French goodies at a grocery store we found on the way back to the train station. To our chagrin, the “futuristic” ticket machines at the train station only accepted credit cards, so we had to run to the ticket office before it closed to buy our train tickets back to Deutschland. I kind of see the value in encouraging a complete switch from cash to credit (less chance of armed robbery, etc.). At the same time, however, a currency system that relies entirely on computers doesn’t seem that reliable to me. But enough negativity, all in all it was a great trip. Strasbourg has even been a sister city with Boston since 1960! The Esplanade is an amazing park back home, but did you know the name comes from the French word for an open field in front of a citadelle? Now you know!
I should end here, but I want to spend at least a little time talking about Mannheim, a city just up the river from Heidelberg. The same group of students went, just subtract Charlie and Josh and replace them with my pals Ilyas and Lorenzo. The tour of the city started with a visit to the Wasserturm (watertower), which was constructed back in the 1880s and today is a symbol of the city. We then walked over to Paradeplatz (Parade square) which had a nice monument in the center, followed by the Schloss, a former castle now used by the University of Mannheim. Next up was the Jesuitkirche (Jesuit Church) which had a very ornate interior. Then, we walked over to Schillerplatz (Schiller square) where I translated the words on a memorial for the Trümmerfrauen(“rubble women”) who cleaned up the rubble stone by stone after WWII and helped to rebuild the city. At the end, we took a nice stroll along the Neckar and explored Luisenpark a bit before heading back to Heidelberg.
I know, this short summary really doesn’t do justice to Mannheim. I have a feeling I’ll be back in Mannheim quite soon, however, stay tuned! Danke fürs Lesen und bis nächstes Mal!