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Monthly Archives: October 2012

The civil war in Syria seems to occupy the headlines today, again. This made me recall the euphoric enthusiasm with which the world embraced the “Arab Spring” not so long ago, one which seems to have gone round Syria. I was once asked by a professor in Freiburg to share my opinion on the issue. Given that I am outright clueless when it comes to Middle Eastern politics, that’s what I had to say.

In Italy, in the years of the Italian campaign of 1796-1797, young Napoleon Bonaparte was received as the missionary of the French Revolution, a liberator of the people and an enemy of the tyrants. Regarding himself as a liberator, Napoleon launched the Egyptian campaign. Yet the man who came to restore the rights of the oppressed and punish the tyrants (Denon and El-Gabarti 1998) soon discovered how little his words meant to the Egyptians. Napoleon counted on the support of the local population but he was struck by the political backwardness and the low level of social development he found in Egypt, a miscalculation which eventually ended up costing him the campaign.[1] Today, more than two centuries later, the question seems more current than ever: is Middle Eastern soil finally ready to sow and grow the seed of Freedom?

The expression “Arab Spring” refers to a wave of demonstrations and protests which has been storming across the Arab world since late 2010. Although with significant reservations, the international community welcomed the upheaval as the long awaited awakening of the Middle East in a pursue of democracy. Today, however, these feelings of optimism seem to have given way to an emerging skepticism. In the year and a half since the first outbreak of the protests, some long standing rulers, namely those of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen have been forced to step down from power. But what changed? Is it safe to conclude that we are witnessing a democratic transition in the Middle East?

Let us recall the event that ignited the wave of protests throughout the Arab world. It was on the 17th of December, 2010, when the young Tunisian graduate Mohamed Bouazizi, selling fruits and vegetables for a living, set fire to himself in protest against what seemed to be everything (Blight et al. 2012). His example was followed by Senouci Touat, Mohsen Bouterfif, Aouichia Mohamed, and according to the BBC in Tunisia alone, during the first six months of the “revolution”, more than 107 people set fire to themselves in protest (Goodman 2012). On the one hand, one cannot remain unsympathetic to this sacrifice. On the other hand, however, on the surface inevitably appears the question whether such form of protests can lead to democracy. These self-immolations are a vivid representation of the fatalist spirit of the Arab world, its emotionality, spontaneity and unpredictability all of which are rather a challenge to the emergence of a stable, free and democratic form of government.

A great thinker once said that human history is a progress in awareness of freedom. And so we too must evaluate the events in the Middle East according to their approach to freedom. Although it is too early to come up with an adequate prognosis of the political situation in the Arab world, it is nevertheless possible to briefly sketch a general overview of recent and current events and their meaning. Indeed much has changed in the course the last year and a half, but can we say that this change is fundamental with regards to freedom? It seemed that Libya had to dirty its hands with the blood of Muammar Gaddafi so freedom can finally come, yet what we see today in the country is Islamists and tribal leaders in a race for power (Byman 2011). Egypt, once celebrating and harvesting the fruits of the Arab Spring, the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, is now in the hands of the military, with the Muslim Brotherhood in the background working its way towards power (ibid; Bradley 2011). The upheaval in Bahrain last November was put down with the help of Saudi troops’ “excessive force” (DeYoung 2011) while Yemen was straight on waging a civil war (Byman 2011). But none of these examples is as explicit as the current events in Syria. According to Agence France Presse (2012) for the past 13 months the country’s unrest took the lives of more than 11, 100 people.

The extent of violence in the Middle East and the enthusiasm with which ordinary citizens take part in the violent clashes with authorities represent their determination, but also raises questions about their ability to coexist and tolerate the pluralism of a democratic environment. Furthermore, an even greater threat is seen in the rise of the Muslim fundamentalism (Bradley 2011). Being officially recognized, the Muslim Brotherhood is slowly but surely making its way to power (ibid.). There is no question that the compatibility of Sharia law and liberal democracy is impossible. All this makes us approach the so called “Arab Spring” with serious reservations. Whether the Arab World has gotten any closer to freedom is yet to be seen in the upcoming years and decades. Meanwhile, one must not save his support and willingness to assist the Middle East in reaching this noble goal – Freedom.

Bibliography:

Agence France Presse. 2012. “More than 11,100 killed in Syria in 13 months: NGO”. Accessed May 6, 2012. http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hV12mi9lkDgV9J4-R-k5C4TkWgzw?docId=CNG.b3a51da26e7e858e1c7f73c604cd63e3.6d1.
Blight, Garry, Sheila Pulham and Paul Torpey. 2012. “Arab spring: an interactive timeline of Middle East protests”. The Guardian. Accessed May 4, 2012.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/interactive/2011/mar/22/middle-east-protest-interactive-timeline.
Bradley, John. 2011. “Arab Spring? This is turning into the winter of Islamic jihad”. Daily Mail, November 22, 2011. Accessed May 5, 2012. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2064503/Arab-Spring-This-turning-winter-Islamic-jihad.html.
Denon, Vivant and Abdel Rahman El-Gabarti. 1998. Sur l’expédition de Bonaparte en Égypte: témoignages croisés et commentés par Mahmoud Hussein. Paris: Babel.
DeYoung, Karen. 2011. “Bahrain admits to ‘excessive force’ against protesters”. The Washington Post, November 21, 2011. Accessed May 5, 2012.  http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/bahrain-admits-to-excessive-force-against-protesters/2011/11/21/gIQANEqAjN_story.html.
Goodman, David. 2012. “Spate of Self-Immolations Reported in Tunisia”. New York Times, January 12. Accessed May 4, 2012. http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/12/spate-of-self-immolations-reported-in-tunisia/.
Gourgaud, Gaspard. 1823. “Letter from General Bonaparte to the Executive Directory” In Memoirs of the History of France during the Reign of Napoleon, 345-352. London: S. and R. Bentley.

[1] See Napoleon’s letter to the Executive Directory, July 24, 1798 published in Gourgaud (1823) for his account on the political culture of the population.

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A Visit to the Baden-Baden Casino
Third and final part

Two weeks later, a friend of mine from Vienna came over for a visit. Needless to say, Baden-Baden was on our list. Now, my friend, I., is really not the gambling type, so it took me quite a while to persuade him of the historical significance of that casino. We had dinner at the Lowenbrau, threw our blazers on and headed to the casino. It was the weekend, the weather was good, the city was packed: there was some sort of open-air concert and an exhibition. Confident from my last visit to the casino, this time with an audience by my side, I stepped inside the building with anxiety. This time, I wasn’t going to play with small 2 Euro bets, so I bought chips for 200 Euros, “for starters” I told my friend. Unlike the last time, the casino was full, there were probably between 15 and 20 people per table. I told I. about my strategy and placed my first bet on red. Minus 20 Euros. “Now I’ll simply double my bet” I told him and placed 40 Euros on the same color. I lost again. A little less confident, yet still loyal to my own strategy, I told him, “It’s alright, it’s all under control” and an awkward smile ran through my face. I put 80 Euros on red again. It was a black number for the 7th time. Three spins and I had lost 140 Euros. Ideally, I should have bet 160, but I only had 60 left. So I bet 60 on red and finally won. I collected my chips and left that table. After this not so successful gambling raid, we decided to grab a drink and relax on one of the red couches with golden armrests.

“You still haven’t made a single bet?” I asked.
“ Nope. And I don’t think I will. In fact, I think I’ll head back to the hotel, I am a little tired” I. replied.

I convinced him to hang around for a little longer and to even try his luck. I suggested we separate so we don’t distract each other. So we did. I picked a new wheel and began analyzing the last 10 numbers, like if that was going to make any difference. Because the table was too crowded, I stood a few meters behind, when I noticed on my left, at one of the bar tables, an attractive woman counting her colorful chips. She looked like she was somewhere in her mid thirties. She was tall, with long brown hair, quite attractive really. She was sitting on that bar table alone, concentrated on counting and sorting out the chips, occasionally sipping on a glass of white wine. I was convinced she was Russian, yet I wanted to hear her place a bet, or say something, so I could be sure. And here came the waiter to ask her if she needed anything and she replied in German, with that accent only Russian women have, aware of itself, calm and confident. I was standing there with my drink, somewhere midway between her and the wheel I was about to bet on, thinking less and less about my bet, more and more about this woman, already building a sentence in Russian in my head. A man approached her table and covered my view with his back. She smiled and he quickly walked away. “The husband” I thought.

I looked back at the screen – 2 more numbers had fallen out creating a series of 3 consecutive black numbers. “Entschuldigung… Sorry… Pardon” I made my way through the crowd to occupy a spot right in front of the table. I almost came as a rescue to the man on my left, who seemed to be waging a war against gravity, leaning on my shoulder. His eyes were half shut as he was reaching into his hip bag, filled with 250 Euro chips, throwing them at different numbers around the table. As the croupier yelled “Nichts geht mehr, rien ne va plus!” he kept pouring his chips all over the place, some even falling outside of the numbered area. The few indignant exclamations quickly ceased as he turned around to say “Wha-a-a-t?” with an evident discontent. I still remember the number from that spin – 36. His bet was four 250 Euro chips on 36, which made 35000 Euros. Everyone seemed to be impressed but him. The croupier was still not done paying him out, when the lucky winner grabbed a handful of chips and threw them almost directly at his face “That’s for you” he said, obviously tipping him in a generous yet not very polite manner. He kept on playing, and just in 2 or three spins the same thing happened again. I, on the other hand, had gone from 120 Euros to 90. The man was stuffing his hip bag with the chips he had won, leaving a few 250 Euro ones behind, when an honest German lady collected them and with great concern gave them to their owner. I went looking for I. to tell him about this guy and at the same time hoping that he was still in the mood to go back to our hotel, so I could have a decent excuse to leave before I make another losing bet. I found him in one of the other rooms, just looking at some people playing.

“Did you win anything?” he asked.
“Nah. Lost 30 Euros. You?”
“I bet 2 Euros and lost. This is so stupid.”
“Let’s get out of here” I said.

Although we both agreed to leave, we weren’t moving but just standing in front of the table. The ball was already spinning in the wheel, when I quickly looked at the last 3 numbers (which were black), reached into my pocket and threw all the chips I had on the red rhombus. “Nichts geht mehr!” yelled out the croupier. I. just looked at me without saying anything. He saw me betting, but I don’t think he knew I had bet everything I had. The ball bounced around a few numbers and finally fell into a black pocket.

“That’s it” said-I with a smile from which you couldn’t really tell was I upset or amused “I lost everything”
“Everything?” I. asked me.
“Yes. So should we go?” and I headed to the door, suppressing my thoughts and those desires that were pushing me to tell I. that I’d meet him back at the hotel, while I stay and buy more chips, to keep on playing until I recuperate my pathetic losses.

As we were walking down the hall I noticed the same woman I saw earlier. She was talking to that same guy who had won, or lost whichever way you want to put it, all those chips. From their brief, but familiar exchange, I thought they were somehow related. I. was either asking me or telling me something, which I wasn’t listening, my eyes were fixed on that woman. As she walked by, she smiled and looked down. I smiled back.

Two weeks ago I had walked out the same casino feeling happy. This time, I can’t say I was sad; in fact, I was almost amused. I had deliberately broken every single principle I had set out to myself on my way back home from my last visit. How true, that we’re free only insofar as we draw our own limits, our own principles… otherwise we leave ourselves to the decision of a tiny ball, jumping up and down the spinning wheel.

 A Visit to the Baden-Baden Casino: Part I

A Visit to the Baden-Baden Casino: Part II

A Visit to the Baden-Baden Casino
Part II

I walked around all rooms; there aren’t so many tables,  which is good; it creates a more casual atmosphere where you can hang out, relax, talk to someone, or even watch the football game at the bar (mind you, it was during the Euro and Italy was playing the Netherlands that night). Finally, I decided to try my luck. I picked a table, not too crowded, yet not too empty either and threw a 2 Euro chip on red as the last three numbers were black. Here is the thing about European roulette: unlike the States and Canada, European roulette only has one zero, which significantly decreases the risk when playing on colors. An even better alternative is to play the sitting tables, where even if zero comes out, your bet is only “frozen” for the next spin, and if your color comes out, you recuperate all of your money instead of paying half your bet. And that was my strategy – play simply black or red… and occasionally cover the zero. Simple? Naïve? Oh, it gets even better! The mathematician I am, I figured that I’d wait for the same color to fall out 3 or 4 times and I would bet on the opposite one. Whenever I would lose, I would simply double my previous bet and so until I eventually win. When my bet was getting too high, I’d also cover the zero, just in case.

Enough theory. First spin – a black number falls out. I lose. I put 4 Euros on red again. Second spin – I win and get my 6 Euros bet and 2 back. I did this for a little while, playing the minimum bet on colors only, trying different tables. After approximately an hour, I had won about 20 Euros on top of the 50 Euros I came in with, which was nice, yet quite frankly I was getting a little bored. And so I decided to spice it up a little. This time I started covering numbers – 6 numbers, 4 numbers and 2. Now I am not going to bore you in further details, so let’s just skip to 45 minutes later. I am left with 10 Euros out of the 50 I came-in with. The already familiar thought of never stepping in a casino again, gains more and more clarity in my head. But I kept on playing. I took all the chips I had left, total worth 10 Euros and bet on black on a table where the last 4 colors were red. Black came out. I now had 20 Euors. I looked around, and noticed that with the exception of the table I was playing on, zero had come out on every other table. And so I waited a few more spins, so the same color would accumulate; zero had not yet fallen out. I then placed a 2 Euro chip on zero and the remaining 18 Euros on a color. Zero came out. That meant 36 times 2. 72 Euros, not bad. The next spin was my color, so I recuperated half of my bet. I now could afford to place higher bets on colors – 4, 8, 10 Euros. So I did. The more I played, the higher the bets, my adrenaline was rising with every spin of the ball. It was already 12am.

You know that unexplainable feeling, when you’re doing things against your will? Aware of all laws of reason and logic, of sane judgment, yet you act against them. Almost as if you’re just an observer, looking through someone else’s eyes, powerless to exercise control what ought to be your own actions. I approached the table. “Last spin” I told myself. I reached into my pocket and got out two 20 Euro chips. I placed them on red. The ball was spinning fast against the wheel. I heard the voice of the croupier “Nichts geht mehr! Rien ne va plus!” (No more bets!) The ball kept spinning. I turned around and walked away. I looked at the bar – Italy was still playing the Netherlands “What a long game” I thought in an effort to distract myself. My heart was racing, my palms were sweaty. I felt uncomfortable, I was losing control. My clear thought was giving in to adrenaline and emotions, I was tired. The period between the moment I walked away from the table and when the ball finally chose a pocket to fall into seemed to me as an eternity. I heard the croupier say “Vierundzwanzig, Rot” (24 Red). Five minutes later I was waiting in line to cash in on all of my chips, worth 260 Euros. I got out. Rain was falling down. It was nice and refreshing. It was past midnight on a Monday, and despite all the construction on the A5 Autobahn, there were hardly any cars. On my way home I was thinking that if I was ever to play again, I should establish some principles: always play alone; never play emotionally, only rationally; play during the week, not on weekends – otherwise it’s too crowded; don’t get distracted, follow the game. After less than an hour I was in Freiburg. As I was entering my room, the phone rang. It was my dad. I told him about the adventures that night. “260 Euros? Good. Now don’t go back there or you’ll lose everything” he said. “Yeah, yeah” I replied.

A Visit to the Baden-Baden Casino: Part I

A Visit to the Baden-Baden Casino
Part I

On Monday July the 4th, I woke up in a cozy hotel a few hundred meters away from Lago di Como. Brian (a friend I travelled with) and I had been on the road for about 8 days now and today we had to head back to Freiburg. Around noon, after breakfast and a quick walk along the lake and the historic villas, we left Como. Heading south a week earlier, we crossed the Alps via the St. Gotthard Pass. This time however, it seemed that the weather was bad, we couldn’t see the peaks and it looked like it was snowing up there, so we decided to take the less exciting way – the tunnel (there was partly that and partly the fact that I missed the St. Gotthard exit and drove straight into the tunnel). With a few short stops we reached Freiburg around 5pm. Brian, who slept through most of the ride seemed to be pretty excited to be back. I wasn’t too tired from the road and because the car was only due back the next day, I decided to pay a visit to the Baden-Baden Casino. After a refreshing shower, late lunch/dinner, around 7.30pm I was on my way.

A few things have to be said about Baden-Baden. You may track its history down to ancient Roman times when emperors were coming here to ease their pain and aches. Indeed, to this day the town is known for its baths, springs and spas. But I find it owes its true fame to something else. It was here, in the Baden-Baden casino that Dostoevsky developed a gambling addiction, the result of which, a constant lack of money, made him hire Anna Snitkina, his future wife, in order to write “The Gambler”, completed in just 21 days. In February 1867, he spent over 4 weeks playing roulette and lost everything, including his wife’s wedding ring and even her dresses. Broke, yet convinced that luck is around the corner, Dostoevsky borrowed money from a fellow compatriot and writer – Ivan Turgenev.

Turgenev moved to Baden-Baden in 1863 and spent there over 7 years of his life. Unlike Dostoevsky, it was not the casino that consumed his attention. After hearing Pauline Viardot’s rendition of “The Barber of Seville” in St. Petersburg, the novelist fell passionately in love with the 21 year old French mezzo-soprano. Although she was married he adored her until his last breath. When in 1863 she retired from the scene, her family left France and moved to Baden-Baden. Turgenev followed her, bought a piece of land and built a villa right next to Viardot’s family residence. The relationship between the two households was more than familiar: Turgenev loved and treated Pauline’s children like his own and often spent time at their house. Louis Viardot, Pauline’s husband, and him were close friends who often went hunting together. Turgenev even sold his villa to Louis, who in turn let him live there indefinitely. Today, Turgenev’s villa is a private property and is not open for visitors. In Baden-Baden the uneasy spirit of the Russian novelist for the first time experienced the joys of a family life, yet one, which was not his own. In 1870, with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war, the family Viardot, together with Turgenev, left Baden-Baden to settle first in London and later in Paris.

In June 1857, Leo Tolstoy paid tribute to the Baden-Baden casino and his long-standing passion for the roulette. He wrote in his diary “I play roulette all day long. At first I lost everything, but later that night I recuperated my losses.” The next day he wrote “Played roulette until 6 at night. Lost everything.” In a few days he writes again “Lost everything! How stupid, how disgusting!”, to finally declare “I am surrounded by scoundrels! And the greatest scoundrel of all is me!” Just like Dostoevsky will do in 10 years, Tolstoy borrowed money from Turgenev, and after losing everything he finally left Baden-Baden.

The list of Russian visitors to the town goes on and on. If you’re ever sitting in the famous Lowenbrau brewery on Gernsbacher Straße, the yellow building on your left, today the town hall, used to be hotel “Darmstadt Hoff”, where Nikolay Gogol stayed during his multiple visits to the city from 1836 to 1846. Among these titans of world literature, Baden-Baden was particularly appreciated among senior military officers in Tzarist Russia. Michael Barclay de Tolly, Mikhail Miloradovich, Peter von Pahlen and their families visited the town at several occasions. By the mid 19th century, and perhaps to this very day, Russian visitors formed the largest foreign community in Baden-Baden. So welcome were they and their families that the local press wrote of them “No nation can compete with them on courtesy, good taste, elegance and liberal views…” A statement which I can hardly attribute to the contemporary Russian landlords, who in loyalty to this 19th century tradition keep contributing to the German GDP.

And so, I left Freiburg around 7.30pm. By the time I got to Baden-Baden and found parking it was already around 9pm. Before I go any further, let me tell you that I am not a gambler. In fact this was only my thirds visit to a casino, ever. It was not the game that I was drawn to, but the sensation, the excitement of playing in the same rooms, the same games that were once played by some of the greatest minds of history. The décor of the casino is outstanding; except the playing tables, the bar and the restaurant, it almost hasn’t changed since it first opened its doors some 250 years ago. This makes it the oldest casino in Germany and the third oldest in the world. There were 5 large rooms with baroque style furniture, golden chandeliers, marble columns, bright red curtains and carpets. I felt that it was quite similar to, although not that Schick of course, to the interiors of some of the royal residences, like Versailles or Sans-Souci for example.

   

Prior to this visit, I had attempted playing blackjack at the Grand Hotel Pupp Casino in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic. For less than five minutes I lost over 80 Euros. I was so furious that I told myself I would never step in a casino again… apparently by ‘never’ I meant not in the next two months. So this time I decided to buy chips only for 50 Euros and take it slow, enjoy the atmosphere, not so much the game. The great thing about the Baden-Baden casino is that despite the very schick and classy atmosphere, the minimum bet at most tables is only 2 Euros. So you can play a lot longer, without falling too deep into the hole. And so, with the rattling sound of the 25 2-Euro chips in my pocket, I began to slowly walk around, taking in the atmosphere and looking at the various types of visitors that night. There was the old lady playing her pension away, the addicted gamblers, leaning directly over the roulette wheel, the drunken Russian millionaire (of whom I will speak later), his cheating wife, the group of young guys, standing there, all dressed up in their prom suits, the old German and French aristocratic couples, gambling the inherited money of their dynasty. And there I stood among all those people, half Russian, half Bulgarian, born and raised in Sofia, immigrated to Montreal, living in Freiburg, standing there to commemorate, to pay tribute to my Russian roots.

A Visit to the Baden-Baden Casino: Part II

The period between October 2011 and August 2012 I spent living and studying in Freiburg, Germany. Upon my return to Montreal, my home as well as my hosting university, asked that I submit an exchange report. Below, I tried to outline some basic information that I thought could be of use to others thinking of doing an exchange in Freiburg or elsewhere.

Freiburg im Breisgau is located in Baden-Wurttemberg in the extreme south-west of Germany, 20km from the French border and a little over 50km from the Swiss. The town of 230 000 people, of which 30 000 are students, lies in the heart of the Black Forest and combined with its strategic geographic location enjoys a somewhat elite status among other German cities.

The time I spent in Freiburg is amongst the greatest experiences in my life. For the past ten months I was able to meet many new people, visit new places and experience firsthand a different way of life. Among those personal impressions and observations, below I tried listing some that might be of a more universal character and useful to a broader audience.

Housing

I arrived in Freiburg on the 27th of September. Since my room at the student residence was reserved only from the 1st of October I had to find my own accommodation for the first three nights. I found a conveniently located apartment on wimdu.com. For an even cheaper alternative there is the “Black Forest Hostel”.

I lived in the largest students’ residence in Freiburg – Studenten-Siedlung or “Stusie” with over 1600 students. It is located right next to “Seepark” – a large park with a lake and some sports facilities and 7 minutes away with the tram from the city center.

My flat was set up in a way in which I shared 2 bathrooms, 2 toilets and a kitchen with 7 other people. With the exception of one, all of my roommates were German and all very nice.

My room was reserved well in advance by the international office. There is a great shortage of residence options for students in Freiburg and although they are in the process of building several new buildings, I would strongly recommend that you go with the residence offered by the international office. At the time of signing the contract you are required to pay a security deposit of 400 Euros which is to be returned at the end of your contract. One thing you should be aware of is that their contracts always run for either 6 or 12 month period. If you decide to leave early, you are responsible for subletting your room; otherwise the rent will be paid from your deposit.

Registration & Courses

First thing I did when I got to Freiburg was to register with the local authorities and get a residence permit from the “Bürgeramt” located on Basler Str. 2. Once I had my residence permit I was able to register at the university. At the time of registration you are not required to know the classes you want to take. After registering and paying the necessary fees of 65 Euros per semester, I received my green “Student booklet” and later by post my student ID card. Once I had been registered at the university and had some sort of proof (i.e. the student booklet) I was able to purchase my semester ticket for the public transport.

Registration for classes at the University of Freiburg is a little different than the one we have in Canada. For example, most of the courses, with the exception of intro and core courses, are only taught once instead of every semester. Hence at the time of my preliminary selection I was looking at courses most of which were not offered by the time I got to Freiburg. Since there were only a few English courses in my field taught at the university, it was crucial for me to make sure that I get registered on time. Therefore as soon as the new course catalogue was out I got in touch with the professors whose classes I wanted to take. Most professors tend to register their students the first day of classes, yet for some classes you are required to register online.

Some faculties at the University of Freiburg use the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). In Germany, the number of ECTS points that an exchange student acquires is determined by the amount of work he or she does throughout the semester as well as by the level of the course. This is particularly useful for international students as you can request to do extra work in order to get extra credits. Most seminars require mandatory attendance (you cannot miss more than 2 seminars per semester) and regular participation, an oral presentation of about 15-20min, and a final exam and/or a research paper depending on the amount of credits you need. Keep in mind that increasing the number of credits the workload gets challenging, and in my case for example, in addition to the basic requirements I had to write a 10 000 word final paper.

There are two semesters in Germany: winter semester (end of October – end of March) and summer semester (end of April – end of July), the months of March, September and October are usually used for writing term papers and final exams. There is usually a two-week break around Christmas and New Year.

I would highly recommend that you arrive a little earlier in Freiburg so you can attend an intensive German language course offered in August and September, one thing I definitely regret not knowing about. Some of the international students I met, and all CYF (Canadian Year in Freiburg) and AYF (American Year in Freiburg) students had attended that class and were later able to enroll in lectures taught entirely in German and have a much larger variety of courses they could take. Otherwise you will have to be struggling and compromising in order to find classes that you can take in English. In case you decide to take the intensive German course it costs 600 Euros unless you are part of the CYF or AYF programs.

Miscellaneous

Although Freiburg is a city of fairly high standard, the cost of living is very reasonable. Germany is known for its high quality education, and as of January 2012 the federal state of Baden-Wurttemberg has almost entirely waved university tuition. Below I am listing some of my expenses while living in Freiburg.

– Rent for a room at a student dormitory: 256 Euros (includes a furnished room, hot water, electricity, basic cable if you find yourself a TV, stationary telephone that can receive incoming calls);

– Internet: 26 Euros/month (the quality is mediocre at best);

– Cell phone: you can get a prepaid SIM card from blau.de and talk for 9 cents/minute; for the full 10 months I spent not more than 60 Euros on my cell phone.

– Groceries in Germany are very cheap. I managed to eat well for under 100 Euros a month. In addition as a student I had access to the university cafeteria where I could get a full-course meal for 2 Euros.

– My semester ticket (good for 6 months) costs 70 Euros and is good not only in the city of Freiburg but in the whole RVF network (includes a variety of regional trains that you can ride to get to different places in the Black Forest).

– Most of my classes did not require me purchasing any books. Almost all of the material was available for download online.

– Tuition fees were 65 Euros per semester.

– I joined a gym not far from where I lived for 23 Euros/month. Another alternative is the university gym which costs about 50 Euros for the entire semester. It is however quite far from the city center and its opening hours are rather limiting.

One of the main advantages of Freiburg is its location. I could see France out of my window and Switzerland was only a little over 50km away. There are many ways to travel in Germany. You can use mitfahrgelegenheit.de which is something like carpooling and it is quite popular amongst students. There are various promotions and tickets with the Deutsche Bahn (German Rail) such as for example the “Baden-Wurttemberg Ticket” – a 29 Euro ticket good for the entire “Regio” network in the federal province of B.W. for a period of 24 hours for a maximum of 5 people.

A great experience is driving in Germany. The famous autobahn is free (unlike France, Italy or Switzerland, where road tolls are a significant expense) overall well maintained and of course without any speed limits. I was a regular customer of Europcar, where you can get some great cars at a very good price if you book early.

Other tips

– Getting to Freiburg in the beginning of August or September is a good idea: you’ll have time to do an intensive German language course and travel.

– Buy travel checks and deposit them once you open your account. This will be cheaper than an international wire transfer.

– Check your insurance policy before you leave. As long as you are a full time Concordia student and a CSU member you get insured (unless you opt-out) for a little over 200 dollars a year. This is much cheaper than purchasing the mandatory insurance in Germany with the AOK which costs over 70 Euros a month. Make sure to get a document from your insurer so you can prove the AOK that you have your own policy.

– If you have a lot of luggage, fly with Iceland Air. Their luggage allowance is 2 bags of 50lbs each + 2 pieces of carry on and their fares are usually cheap.

– Make sure to check for available scholarships and grants on the DAAD website. I was very fortunate to be granted the Baden-Wurttemberg Stipendium, which in my case amounted to 500 Euros. It covered some of my basic and most important expenses. Moreover, the Baden-Wurttemberg Stiftung organized a few events throughout the year for the scholarship holders. Many of them were very informing, entertaining and let you meet other scholarship holders. Not to mention that they tend to cover most of the expenses, such as food and transportation.

– If you want to drive in Germany, you can do so with your Canadian license. You do not need an “international driver’s license” – it is not required, that is simply a product available for purchase.

– If you have a chance, rent a car and drive to Italy, crossing the Swiss Alps via the historical St. Gotthard Pass.

– Play roulette at the world famous Baden-Baden Casino.

– Don’t spend too much time in Freiburg – travel! If you’re there for a year, you’ll have a lot of time to travel!

In conclusion, I would encourage anyone to take advantage of the opportunity to live and study in Germany. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me, I would be happy to help!

Useful links:

Studentenwerk Freiburg
(Student portal for students living and studying in Freiburg)
http://www.studentenwerk.uni-freiburg.de/index.php?id=104

German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)
http://www.daad.de/en/index.html

Deutsche Bahn Website
http://www.bahn.de/i/view/USA/en/index.shtml

“Stusie“ Website
(Information on moving in and out, internet, services etc.)
http://www.studentensiedlung.de/

Baden-Wurttemberg Stiftung (BW Foundation)
(Check for available scholarships)
http://www.bwstiftung.de/en

Ryanair
(For cheap airline tickets within Europe)
http://www.ryanair.com/en

Семестърът ми във Фрайбург свърши във втората половина на Февруари. В следващият месец и половина бях изцяло зает от писането на две работи по политология. Чак към първата седмица на Април най-после се бях освободил и вечерта 07 Април на бързо начертах маршрута на следващото пътуване.

В началото идеята беше да пътувам директно за Берлин и да прекарам там една седмица. След това трябваше да започна да се спускам бавно на юг към Фрайбург, като спирам в различните градове. По стечение на обстоятелствата обаче, се наложи да направя малка промяна в плана. Така се получи обратното – Берлин стана финалната дестинация; тръгвайки от Фрайбург минах през Франкфурт, Кессел, Гьотинген, Гота, Ерфурт, Веймар, Йена, Карлови Вари, Лайпциг, Зеелов и накрая Берлин. Ето някой от основните ми впечатления.

08. 04. Неделя

Фрайбург – Франкфурт

Около 10 сутринта потеглих от Фрайбург към Фракнфурт. Времето беше хубаво, свежо и слънчево. Без да бързам, с няколко спирания по път, към 12.30 вече бях във Франкфурт. Наближавайки града, моментално се набива на очи бизнес центъра със своите небостъргачи. Усещането е малко като в Американски град, само че с немска чистота и подреденост. В самият център, почти в подножието на тези небостъргачи, се намира и квартала на червените фенери на Франкфурт, който се състои от няколко улички – там беше моят хостел (Five Element Hostel). Имайки в предвид квартала, публиката не ме учуди особено; а и постоянното полицейско присъствие като, че ли компенсира за съмнителните физиономии.

Излизайки на площада на старата опера тръгнах на дясно и стигнах на просторния Гьотеплатц, който прераства в площад Росмаркт. Точно тук, „Am Roßmarkt се е намирала къщата на търговеца и колекционер на картини Йохан Гогел, в чието семейство е преподавал Хегел (1797г.).

На буквално 100 метра от Росмаркт се намира и семейната къща-музей Гьоте в която се е родил Йохан Волфганг. Почти изцяло разрушена през 1944, къщата е реставрирана в периода 1947-1951г. Разходка из стаите минава през семейната библиотека, съдържаща множество автентични томове, а също така и бюро, което се счита за оригинала на автора на Фауст. Към къщата-музей принадлежи и галерия, в която се намира бюрото на Хердер, а също така и не безизвестната картина на Х. Фюзели „Кошмарът”.

Разходката ми продължи към старият град – живописният площад Ромерберг, до крайбрежието на Мейн. Пресичакйи пешеходния мост, на южният бряг на реката (Заксенхаузен) се намират множество музеи. Също така се открива и живописна гледка към финансовият център на Франкфурт. В старата част на Заксенхаузен има няколко улички осеяни с ресторанти и барове.

На връщане към хостела ми минах пред сградата на Европейската банка. Площта пред сградата е разкрасена от импровизиран лагер на т.нар. “occupy” движение, разни плакати, лозунги и други средства за изразяване на гражданско недоволсво, сглобени предимно с подръчни материали.

На другия ден към 9 сутринта потеглих за Гьотинген.

09. 04. Понеделник

Франкфурт – Кессел – Гьотинген

Понеделник, 9 Април след Великден се падна почивен ден. Рано сутринта потеглих за Гьотинген. Времето беше мрачно, валя дъжд цял ден. Разстоянието между Франкфурт и Гьотинген е около 230км и тъй като разполагах с достатъчно време, реших да спра в Кассел. Един от малкото интересни факти, които научих за града е, че през 1807 година става столица на Вестфалското кралство начело с най-малкият от братята Бонапарт, Жером.

В Гьотинген пристигнах към обяд. Градчето е известно с университетската си традиция. Така в центъра на града срещу кметството се намира фонтана Gänseliesel изобразяващ момиче с кошница цветя. По традиция студентите защитили докторската си дисертация целуват момичето по бузата.

Вероятно заради мрачното време, дъжда, празните улици и затворените магазини и кафета града ми се стори малко скучен. Въпреки това, пощаден от съюзническите бомбандировки, Гьотинген има излъчване и си заслужава да бъде посетен… но най-добре е това да стане лятото.

10. 04. Вторник

Гьотинген – Гота – Ерфурт – Веймар

От Гьотинген потеглих за Ерфурт. Тъй като разстоянието не беше голямо, а и времето беше слънчево, първата ми спирка в ГДР стана Гота – малко градче, бивша столица на херцогството Саксония-Гота, също така и дом на династията Сакс-Кобург-Гота.

Следващата ми спирка беше Ерфурт. През 1808 година тук се провежда известната Ерфуртска конференция между Наполеон и Александър I. Наполеон отсяда в резиденцията Петербург на хълма над централният площад където се и провежда самата конференция. Там императорът на французите споделя своята критика върху страданията на Вертер с неговият автор, Гьоте. В центъра на града, не далеч от Krämerbrücke се намира Кайзерсаал, в който в двете седмици на Ерфуртската конференция се провеждат множеството представления и балове. Улиците на Ерфурт са привлекателни, а през старата част на града тече река Гера, създаваща романтична атмосфера.

Приблизително по средата между Ерфурт и Веймар, точно след селцето Мьонхенхолцхаузен, от лявата страна на пътя B7 се намира мястото на което Наполеон и Александър се разделят.