Saturday, July 05, 2003

Discovering my dissertation research

Day three: Mannheim and Heidelberg

I awoke by 8:30, just about when Uli was about to leave for work (he has been helping his advisor edit an article about Waterloo–a “student job”, as he put it.) We planned to meet later in the day and head off until Mannheim; in the meantime I would explore Mannheim on my own.

Mannheim, as I have said before, is an overly orderly city. It was the height of eighteenth-century city planning, with streets laid out in a grid pattern so that they were very square, and a ring street that circles the around the inner city and avoid foot traffic. Instead of street names, each block is labeled with a letter and number according to its position in the grid: the streets on the western half get the first half of the alphabet as they go north; the number increase as one moves away from the city center. Many of the building are very new and modern looking. The downtown area features elegant shopping, especially for a city of its size (about 300,000 people, including parts that were annexed by the city from across the River Neckar.) While that would sound convenient, the orderliness is eerie. It appears, somehow, too impersonal. Furthermore, there are few convenient shortcuts that allow one to cut across town if one is on foot.

I wandered the city, looking at the things of interest. The first thing that I did was walk all the way across town in order to look at the Rhine (the city sits at the confluence of the Rhine and the Neckar.) While the Neckar, next to which Uli lives, is not that interesting, the Rhine side is highly industrial, with old factories and barges. Hardly a picture of beauty, but I found it interesting.

It started to rain while I was at the bridge. I decided to make my way to Uli’s office: he would tell me when he would get out of work, I would check my e-mails on his office computer. Along the way I took pictures of some of the interesting buildings in Mannheim. The baroque church, which I had seen on my first visit, was undergoing renovation. Just as I got to Uli’s office, which was on the far west side of the old city, I saw a rabbit that was sitting on the tram tracks. It ran away as the sound of the tram approached.

Uli was hard at work? Almost, but he stopped to talk to me for a while. I told him that I would head back out into the downtown area and give him a call. I walked over to the Wasserturm and took some pictures of it. I had not noticed the surrounding gardens the first time. It has beautiful walkways that are covered by vines. I wasted the rest of my time looking at CDs and books (all my weaknesses), but buying nothing.

I met Uli back at his office. A colleague of his, Andreas, told him about some great “antiquarian” (either used or old) bookstores in Heidelberg. He even drew a map to show us where they were, although the map was not too helpful. We took the tram, which runs between the cities within the “Dreiecke” (an agglomeration of three cities that share public services and have common transportation systems.) It took us about 45 minutes.

Heidelberg is still the quintessential university town (thanks, Mario Lanza) with students from everywhere. It is much more attractive than Cambridge in Massachusetts, although it has a similar atmosphere. I bought two books, one which was that discussed the first decade of the FDR and that was newer and more readily available, another about the city of Dusseldorf and its politics that was probably uncommon but only costed 8€. Uli found nothing that he could afford: the things that interested were overpriced. We ate at a restuarant several blocks down from the university library: spatzle with cheese and pils. It was not too expensive, but it was really filling.

We ended our visit by climbing up to the Philisophenweg (Path of the philosophers, renowned as the hiking path of many of the great German writers took while debating with each other.) The path is across the Neckar River, and it is very steep. I was out of breath by the time we reached the path. However, it has an exceptional view. I was able to take some pictures of the castle/palace. We walked further down, but eventually descended to go back into Heidelberg rather than follow the path to its end.

In Mannheim, we went to a café to drink coffee and chocolate. We were both too tired to talk, but the caffeine helped us to be more active. We returned to his appartment. We drank a bottle of wine while we talked about this and that (you know, the nerdy stuff that students only care about.) We finally we to sleep around 1.30.

Day Four: leaving Mannheim for Cologne

Uli would have to work again, and I would have to leave before he was free again. We planned to meet at his office before I left. I would be able to sleep in late.

Uli’s floor was too hard for me to continue to sleep on. He was nice enough to give me a pad and a sleeping bag, both of which I used as a mattress, but I could only get so comfortable. I tried to sleep for another hour but succeeded only in lying on the ground with my eyes closed and cutting off the circulation in my limbs.

I took the tram to the train station and bought my tickets. I quickly went over to Uli’s office. I had only planned to stay there for a short time. However, we got to talking, and we were joined by one of his colleagues, Daniel, who seemed too well informed about politics in the US (he cited lots of recent and specific political issues that had been in the news; I think that he reads the New York Times religiously.) He was kind enough to drive me to the train station (I would be late for my appointment in Cologne, but my ticket did not have a specific time attached to it.)

The train ride was uneventful. It was on the Inter-City Express, which travels too quickly to make the scenery interesting. Uli had told me that the specific line that I traveled had been controversial. It would never make back the money that was put into it, and it was built to service an elite clientele–a “bankers’ express” rather than a needed line.

I arrived in Cologne after 4. My landlady met me at the train station on her bike; we would walk over to the apartment together. The apartment is one block north of the ring street (not within it as I thought previously.) The area has many outdoor cafes, and the apartment is not far from one of the portals of the defensive wall the Romans had originally built. The room is in the landlady’s apartment. She lives there and has one other boarder, a man who has lived there for some time (he works in the city, then travels back to his home town each weekend to be with his family.) I have not met him yet. The landlady herself came to Germany from Argentina. The apartment itself is cramped. I have the largest of the three rooms, which is much more than I would need. I think that the landlady is something of a pack-rat. She simply has too many things. The kitchen and bathroom are small but adequate.

Lastly, I went to buy basic groceries before the markets closed. The carts at the market require a deposit to use. I did not have the right coins, so I had to carry around all my selections (nothing special: some rice cakes, sparkling water, orange juice, gouda, carrots, and raddiccio.) I also did not bring any bags with me, so I had to stuff my food into the case with my laptop.

There are pictures, but I am having trouble uploading them

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