Thursday, July 25, 2013

Leipziger Top 11

Whoa, time flies! This has been an unforgettable and incredible final few weeks in Leipzig. I feel very blessed for this entire opportunity. With final exams, my bucket list for Leipzig, time with friends, and random fun, I have not found the time to update this blog; I shall dedicate time to catch up when life on my end calms down. 

This post will highlight my greatest experiences from my semester in Leipzig, Germany. One may define "greatest" in a variety of ways - for my criteria, I have selected eleven experiences/events/adventures that stand out for their uniqueness or capture the essence of Leipzig for me. Some may be familiar while other experiences will provide a preview to the upcoming posts. As challenging as it was to select a "Top Eleven," it would be impossible to rank them. Thus, I shall provide them in chronological order. 

  • April 23, 2013: Moni's Birthday
(Left to Right: Marco, Me, Benni, Moni, Moniek, Amber)
Within my first week in Leipzig, I literally stumbled into a great group of friends after a tour of the local BMW Factory. A few weeks later, we surprised Moni for her birthday with Leipziger Lerche (a Leipziger bakery specialty - professionally baked by Marco) and a trip to Dresden. It took until June to find an open weekend to spend the day in Dresden, but everywhere in between it was a blessing to converse, laugh, and share a variety of hilarious stories with such a unique and fun group of people. 

  • May 3-4, 2013: Budapest, Hungary
I had a rather relaxed schedule this semester. Europe's Labor Day fell on a Wednesday this year, canceling my academic marathon for the week. It proved to be the perfect opportunity to travel to see a few new corners of Europe. Ready for an independent adventure, I spend a week traveling through Vienna, Austria, Budapest, Hungary, and Bratislava, Slovakia. I learned from locals, met a fascinating spread of people, reunited with some old friends, and saw three awesome capital cities. Budapest was a rather spontaneous decision that pushed me outside of my comfort zone. Not only was it absolutely worth it, Budapest has earned a top spot in my personal list of favorite cities of all my travels - simply a pristine, hidden gem of Eastern Europe. Click here to read more about my Budapest adventure.

  • May 23, 2013: Students Cook for Students
(Left to Right: Moni, Marco, Moniek, Amber, Me)
120 Burritos in 4 hours. That is certainly an accomplishment in itself, but the tension, stress, and fun in between makes this evening beyond unique. First and foremost, I have a new respect for cafeteria employees. It was an intense experience that supported a great organization, Wilma, that mentors/entertains the international students in Leipzig. I enjoyed the company and teamwork of "Team Burrito" - Amber, Moniek, Moni, Marco, and myself. An even fonder memory for me is the amount of support we received as our friends came to enjoy the food and desserts we prepared. 

  • May 25, 2013: Beer Relay
Swimming did not consume my life here, yet it was refreshing part of the overall Leipzig experience. I loved every moment (minus the concrete sleeping conditions and the lack of food) of the German intercollegiate swim competition, the Deutsche Hochschulmeisterschaft (DHM). For me, the relaxed atmosphere of fast swimming made me feel right at home. The pinnacle of the meet was the beer relay. A prime combination of the German culture and the sport of swimming, we were six ambitious swimmers. The task: Sprint the width of the pool; hop out and chug a beer; swim back. The aftertaste didn't hit me till I gasped for air upon completing my leg of the relay. It was entertaining to watch the other teams with funky swim gear and the cheering support of the spectators. We did not advance to the semi-finals, but watching so many drunk swimmers compete was good enough for me. The finals were intense as the Technical University of Dresden out-touched Münster University.

  • May 28 - June 4, 2013: Ashleigh's Visit to Germany
I am happy to say that I greatly enjoyed my travels and, even more the visitors, who came to see me in Leipzig. Hands down, Ashleigh takes the cake for coming all the way from New Jersey! Our "monster program/itinerary" was more than exhausting as we covered Weimar, Buchenwald Concentration Camp, Leipzig, Dresden, and Berlin in seven days. Ashleigh was a great sport and even better travel companion. Honestly, I couldn't be luckier to have such a great friend! 

  • June 16, 2013: Bike Tour to Halle with Sara
In a few words, I would describe Sara as a "creative adventurer." I thought she was crazy for wanting to bike 28mi/45km from Leipzig to Halle: Wouldn't the train be more convenient? Thanks to Sara, I am über glad that I came along. The landscapes along the Elster River highlighted the green countryside. Plus, riding bikes (in good weather) never seems to get boring, especially when you sing and converse with Sara the whole way. Halle was a quaint city full of charm and the home of Anna, Sara's dear friend and our extremely hospitable host for the day.

  • June 22, 2013: Holi Festival of Colours
Holi, the Indian holiday, has been adapted into a music festival with color! It has spread like wildfire through Europe; the euphoria of bright colors showered us at the top of each hour as we danced to a variety of DJ's. It took a while to get the powder out of a few nooks and crannies, but this day of pure fun made it all worth it. Even better, I got to share this time with fellow TCNJ International House members from Frankfurt, Liss and Wilke, along with my Leipziger friends.

  • June 27-30, 2013: Reunion with Lucka in the Czech Republic
We met through AFS, became close friends during our exchange year in Germany, reunited in New York in 2011, and now met up again in Lucka's home territory, the Czech Republic. It was a spectacular weekend, in which I toured Prague and Pilsen, met Lucka's friends and family, and caught up with my Lieblings-Lucka. The time flew by as I tried countless Czech beers and meals, and observed (in amazement) the hospitality, beauty, and uniqueness of the Czech Republic's people, culture, and sights. 

  • July 6, 2013: Benni the Buddy
I can't even imagine what my experience in Leipzig would have been like without Benni. We were introduced through the Buddy Program. As many other exchange students also had some pretty interesting/cool buddies, Benni has excelled into a class of his own. We have become as thick as thieves; we met up so frequently, it was strange when a day went by without seeing or communicating with one another. From the German language tips to the emergency bicycle repairs and our ever entertaining conversations (in the cafeteria, over pizza or a döner, or with a beer, etc.), Benni, without question, has earned a top spot in the Top 11. I cannot express my gratitude for his dedication and patience as my Buddy and friend.

  • July 9, 2013: Tuesday Brunch
I purchased rolls from the supermarket that needed to be baked prior to consumption; I, however, have no oven in my dorm. A few weeks later, Sara had just moved into her new dorm (on a Friday), equipped with an oven. She hadn't even completely unpacked, and I was there for Sunday brunch. Go figure that my naïve purchase and her spacious kitchen was the formula that commenced our weekly brunch tradition - Tuesday mornings at 11am. 
Throughout the weeks, brunch grew from two to anywhere from four to ten people (some became regulars, whereas others came and went). Everyone brought something to eat or drink, and we would chat and eat until each person was overstuffed with a food coma (as in, we couldn't eat anymore). As the weather improved, we moved the brunch outside to Sara's balcony...technically a fire escape. Either way, it was full of good food, people, conversation (ohhh, the jokes from brunch!), and views! We dined "buffet-" and "picnic-style" with specialties from our home countries - I contributed with french toast and Kugel. I would also like to give a shout-out to the "Putain c'est bon - im Bett" cake series. :)

  • July 14, 2013: Hike through the Sächsische Schweiz/Saxon Switzerland
When I saw a photo of these sandstone rock formations piercing through the rolling hills of forest greenery, the Saxon Switzerland flew to the top of my list of places to visit while in Leipzig. Due to the extreme flooding in Saxony at the beginning of June, it was too dangerous to hike for a few weeks. Sara was just as eager to explore this unique preservation of nature. As her flatmate, Tina, joined our team, we were golden. It was a marvelous day of hiking, picnicking, and stunning panoramic views that displayed Mother Nature at her finest.
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This Top 11 certainly captures a variety of unforgettable times in and around Leipzig. I have tip-toed to the end of my semester, eking out each and every moment, slowly completing my Leipziger Bucket List. Nonetheless, time has flown by as I've had all that fun, and today I depart from Leipzig, my home for the last four months. I have no regrets, and can only express my gratitude for the people I met and the time we shared.

Leipzig is a wonderful student city that surpassed all of my expectations; I loved studying in the oldest university in East Germany (founded in 1409). Yet, when you ask me what I will miss the most, my answer will be "the people." My travels and visits were wonderful, but my day-to-day life in Leipzig was ever more extraordinary. For example, this consisted of unproductive studying the library, chatting between classes in front of the Sparkasse, the movies, BBQ's in the park, trips to Cospudener Lake, and beers on the Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse (a.k.a. Karli). The countless (late-night) conversations with Marco, Moni, Benni, and Sara continue to stand out as my best memories. Overall cliché but true about study abroad, I have learned more about myself, friendship, International Relations (from a multi-cultural perspective) and so much more that would create a long, descriptive list, for which I don't have the time at the moment.

Packing is almost finished, and a few more "see you later" farewells are on the agenda. I know I will depart from Leipzig with a mixed feelings - happy for the experience and the amazing time spent here, but sad to close this chapter. From Leipzig, I will be making my way to Brussels, Belgium - country number 30 - to visit my friend, Marie (from my exchange year in Krefeld, Germany). Afterwards, I return to my German home turf of Krefeld for a week to see my host family and friends before I return to the US of A.

Well, Leipzig: it has been amazing. Thank you for the unforgettable experience, memories, and people! In fact, a year ago today, I was preparing for my flight to Argentina - what a year abroad it has been.

Mach's gut,
Matt