Exploring German🇩🇪 Cities: Culture, History and Friendships

Story time…..you readyyyyyyyyy??????

……wir sind Schüler von Trinity …..

This is a line from a song I sang while a German student in my early years of being at Trinity College Nabbingo

And while I was really good at German, it never occurred to me that it would really go beyond having it as a subject on my transcript.

I mean, everyone said German is hard – particularly with the der, die das articles, so I liked the challenge.

Plus, have you heard how Germans say thank you, as in “D.A.N.K.E”

Little did I know, twelve years later, I would be in Germany, listening to Germans speak German (shouldn’t be surprising), and not being able to pick a thing as they spoke

In this long-read of a blog, I will be sharing my experience while walking, touring and “cycling” as I experienced it in the land of beer, sausages and cars – all divided in parts as you will learn later

1. Why Germany

I stayed in Europe for about a year and as you prolly know, getting to the EU part of Europe for a non-European citizen requires a SCHENGEN VISA, which comes with perks like travelling to any country within the EU.

For a foreigner like me, knowing you have a “fellow Ugandan” around the corner (European corner) is almost like returning home – one certified way to help with coping with cultural shock

AGATHA, a girl I went to school (Trinity College Nabbingo) with, happened to be in Germany for my entirety of being in Europe.

Agatha

With the community upbringing that we were both steered in, obviously we had to catch up.

Colour me excited – I couldn’t not waittttttttttttt!

The unfortunate bit was, we tried to meet up over last Christmas, Easter and other holidays but something always came up that just made it impossible

……until the end of my Masters’ programme

Visiting Agatha made the perfect break from books and school in general

Although the latter doesn’t really count as we were going to reminisce about the good SCHOOL ol’days.

Plus, the actual plan was to not only see Agatha but also, visit other cities as Germany has many of these all with distinctive auras

2. THE ADVENTURE

German cities

  • Berlin

I am no travel guru, no, but lately any travel itinerary of mine that involves crossing a country border includes visiting the capital 

My plan was to be in Berlin for 2 days before I could set off for Ulm where all the fun was meant to happen

Once I reached Berlin, I was generally eager to be part of the culture the Germans have been stereotyped with; the punctuality and conscientiousness in day-to-day activities, the first-world status quo, a tinge of rigidity, four-on-the-floor repetitive Techno music et cetera

At the airport, the first thing I bought was a 9 – euro ticket valid for a month; an offer that would let me access all the various public transport means all over Germany except speedy trains that cross regional borders and Flix buses, which was recommended as a must have.

9-euro ticket

This was like a summer give-away as the usual monthly tickets cost about 45 – 60 euros (trying so harddddd not to convert this into Ugandan shillings 😅)

While I never got to use the ticket to get me past the gates to the means, I enjoyed the rides in all that Berlin had to offer – that is the buses,  Berlin tramway, Berlin U-Bahn and Berlin S-Bahn (I was told that ticket controllers do random checks, so the whole essence is to have it on one’s possession for emergency check-ups)

And even more FASCINATING is which part of Germany (east/west) gets to have which means and the history behind the usage, as dictated by the powers that controlled which part, ie western allies and Soviet Union – quite a sensitive topic for Germans if you asked me

One example is Trams that were introduced by the Soviet Union, are used in East Berlin while buses used in West Berlin, as a result of – as you already know, western Allies

When it came to walking around, the skies were mostly grey and in fact rained heavily with thunderstorms on some days and the sun shone brightly on others, giving me an experience of 3 seasons in a day

The “springy” part of the weather experience felt like an actual relief away from the scotching heat in Naples

Regarding being touristy, I kid you not, my village excitement took charge of me as I walked around in what my eyes interpreted as Kampala in the next 100 years 😅

Reichstag Building…. Brandenburg gate…..Unter den Linden (oh this streeeeetttttt)…..Friedrichwerdersche Kirche…….Museum Island….Berliner Dom (what’s a European city without a “Dome-roofed church”?!)……Alexander Platz… (My favourite spot as this had FOOD and other leisure activities from different continents)……Curry Wurst……Döner Kebab

It’s one thing ticking a destination off the bucket list, it’s another actually experiencing its vibe……and Berlin unleashed herself to my curious eyes.

I remember hearing accents of different languages while getting by – European, African, Arabic… name it

Oh, and the Berliners themselves were quite the expressive liberal westerners that clearly communicated (mostly through clothing) where they stood when it came to GENDER FLUIDITY

And of course, the best beer had to be drunk and the techno music had to be danced to – with the help of a former flatmate I met during my stay in Barcelona

A good one according to my German friend, as this is more caramelised and malty – which turned out to be really good.
  • Frankfurt

Oh this city

While in Berlin, my former flatmate told me stereotypes about the major cities in Germany

…….And Frankfurt came off as the financial city, being home to a number of banks, one of them being the European Central Bank.

While I was there, there was more to see than just viewing it from a money lens

First was the STRIKING wide-spread skyscrapers as the outstanding feature, and then a bustling aura that gave me the idea of a futuristic city (It will still take enough years for Kampala to get there)

The buildings were not only towering, but also mostly cuboidal and possessed shiny brilliant surfaces that glittered on that day’s grey weather

When I walked through the streets, a walk along River Main and its neighbourhood FELT enough to give me a feel of Frankfurt

The ice cream – neeehhhh, like the Germans would say IN DISAGREEMENT (could be because the stall I went to just didn’t have the best ice cream)

  • Ulm

While big cities have everyone on the net writing about what to do and what to eat while in that city, I didn’t think I would need an online guide when it came to Ulm, since I already had two people that were well acquainted with the place.

Onto a FLIX BUS , I set off from Berlin to Ulm, which was an adventure itself

En route to Ulm in a flix bus

I say adventure because;

ONE: it was the first time I got onto a flix bus

TWO: it reminded me of the buses we have in Uganda whose selling point is to provide public transportation from one district to another

THREE: the raised seating compartment within the bus gives a great view of the route covered by the bus, like that offered by city sightseeing buses, except with no voice overs telling about the history of the place you’re passing through

And finally, FOUR, I ALMOST missed the bus from Munich to Ulm: HOW? It’s a veryyyyyy verrry long story – just know I almost missed my bus  

And yes, I reached Ulm to indulge in yet another exciting adventure

a) A little existing literature about Ulm

Honestly speaking, I didn’t know anything about Ulm or its existence until my host Agatha and later, her boyfriend Jost told me all I now know about it.

For me, the pronunciation of the word “Ulm” alone (as in ooh-LM), makes a sound of something not related to a name of a place but rather, a part of an incantation of a ritual

Something like: MMMMMMMMMMM……., no offence to ULMERS though😁

Okay serious business: Ulm is a city in the south of Germany with nature, history, and INTERESTING facts as you will learn from how I experienced them below.

B) A walk in the city

The city centre itself is a 30 minutes’ walk away from where I stayed and using car means shortened the time

On the day we(Jost, Agatha and I) all decided to go to the city, I didn’t know what to expect apart from a chill walk with my hosts and additionally, enjoying summer vibes the city had to offer

Jost and Agatha in Ulm

……Until we walked to a spot that Jost pointed out as the place where ALBERT EINSTEIN was born

Let’s have some German classes; Can you try to read what’s engraved on the monument I was standing next to?

Furthermore, the city Ulm is home to the tallest church in the world – and no, I didn’t know about this either – this fact felt good though as this for me was like (SHOW OFF ALERT); A very tall girl chilling with her equal; the tallest church in the world😅

The sad bit about this was that we could not enter the church as it was closed by the time we went there.

The weekend life seemed quite vibrant for every part we crossed especially in the Fisherman’s quarter, a spot endowed with beauty and history about fishermen from the medieval times

With Jost the guide of that tour, we went through a landscape with a fresh-water body – River Danube, while coming across coloured typical “German” houses known for their exposed timber-framing within the structure of the house.

C. Adventure in the woods

Ulm is endowed with not only great history but also vast land with plant life

Short and tall – the plant-cover provides room for all kinds of outdoor activities, that can be enjoyed collectively or solo

In a group, Jost led the rest of us(Agatha, His sister and I) to some of the places he knew were worth a walk

It was not just the strolling that we did, but rather chatting about fruits from Europe and Africa that stemmed from the blackberries and nectarines we picked along the way….

Better still, was the banter that came up about caution on ticks as the woods were infested with these particular bugs.

This was mostly to do with the ticks’ preference of white skin to dark skin as seen on Jost and not Agatha or I

While on a solo adventure, the mindset I went out with was to get my body moving through what I imagined as a place I would really enjoy but had not navigated

On whichever tracks I followed, something always attracted my attention – like apple trees and lots of raw apples laying on the ground (emphasis on apple trees as this was my first time seeing an apple tree, as Ugandan climate is not conducive for apple growth), the ever-present raw and ripe blackberries that peeped through the pathway and furthermore, the slow breeze that made the trees produce a nice relaxing sound.

The one thing worth noting is that whatever track I decided to follow – whether known or unknown, it all led to a familiar landmark or road, making Ulm (in my opinion) a well-linked area

D) Language

Travelling in different countries has been an opportunity for me to learn different languages which is undeniably an engaging experience for the mind, and a skill worth bragging about when talking about how much of that particular country you enjoyed

The problem however is being able to exercise the skills you think you have as a speaker of that language

For my experience, I have been able to learn basic Italian, Spanish, very very very little French and FROM eleven years ago,…. Professional working-Level German

I have always bragged about how I know German (especially on social media platforms that inquire about language multilingualism) – even with my lack of practice

………..Not until the Deutschland experience

On one morning while I was seated in the woods, four ladies with dogs walked into my direction as they engaged in a conversation (in German)

I was too busy enjoying the sights and sounds of my surroundings, to easily be distracted by what they were saying

As they approached me, we – as part of the norm – all acknowledged each other’s presence by saying Halo(Hello in English), which as I’ve noticed, is the default when it comes to meeting people during an outdoor activity, such as on a hiking track

One of them went on to say something to me in German, and while I would have loved to know what she said or even respond back in German, I couldn’t

What a wowwwww!

Ich spreche nicht Deutsch” was my response

In that moment, I wished I actually had been serious with my German or further, just didn’t let it die as I was busy ADULTING

E) Cycling

Saving the best for last

With a mind that had acquainted myself with my surroundings, I knew exactly which routes I wanted to explore on two wheels

FIRST: A trip around the beautiful city, to practice staying on the RIGHT SIDE of the road while cycling, as this is something I have had to learn the hard way while in Europe, AND SECOND; the routes I fancied to experience on two wheels during the prior running and walks I had done

…Ohhh Plus going beyond where my legs could carry me and the feeling of being alive – lest we forget the actual reason for adventure 😁

Onto google maps, I searched for bicycle rentals, with the help of Agatha

From the google search, only two places seemed viable, as the others were out of reach since they were located in another city – Stuttgart; a city after Ulm)

Excitedly, I jumped onto a bus to the city centre as I paid keen attention to the cyclists on the roads, and how they navigated them in absence of clear cycle paths

Once I arrived at the first stop google maps recommended as a bicycle shop(Bierbike Ulm), I thought of myself as lost, even when the googlemaps “lady” in my phone went on to say, “You have arrived, your destination is on the right

There were NO signs of SHOPS but rather, storeyed buildings that looked like residential flats

Faith and hope are two virtues I have in abundance – so I continued searching while going around the building to be sure I didn’t miss anything

Still…..

…..Nothing

What looked “out door-ish” about the building was a balcony whose owners adorned it with beautiful plants and outdoor chairs😏

Huhhh…..

I had plan B

Pedaleur – shop for bicycle culture

When I first learned about this place on google, it’s website only mentioned bicycle sales

“They definitely have something that I could at least use for a chill ride in the city,” I convinced myself

Only to reach and be told, “Oh we are too small to offer bicycle rental services….” Said the gentleman I found

He continued, “You could instead go to the tourist building, and get more information about bicycle rentals….. it’s a white building after the church

So I followed

White building after the church….. white building after the church….white building after the church….”I repetitively thought as I walked towards the directions offered by the gentleman

Finding the actual white building took more time than you’d when locating a needle in a haystack

A couple of “white buildings” after the church

And even when I eventually did, the kind lady I found informed me that I could only rent an e-bike or electric scooter via the TIER app if I desired to explore the city.

A Tier electric scooter in Ulm

e-bike or electric scooter in the woods……Howwwww?

And just like that, my hope, zeal and excitement for cycling through Ulm was irreversibly shattered.

F) My hosts

Oh where do I start from?!

Imagine the feeling of ULTIMATE comfort because of being in the vicinity of people on the same wavelength as you

That was me while at Agatha’s

Agatha and I during a walk

It was refreshing

I have taken close to a year without seeing someone that I knew back at home

And this trip brought a lot of Nostalgia

Agatha and I talked about anything and everything, and in a language we are both very familiar and comfortable with

Laughing hysterically and going about all the nostalgic experiences, school life, listening to her experiences while staying in Germany – many of which were sad but funny

Jost on the other hand was keen to see to it that I get the full experience of being in Ulm, starting with guiding the walks to different touristy places, to recommending which places had great food and ice cream – the latter being very trendy during summer

It was indeed a lovely experience being under their care.

All in all, while the country has been demonised for having Hitler, the Nazi and their role in the 2nd world war, I have beautiful memories about places my eyes and feet witnessed and stepped in, respectively, plus, learnt a great deal about the country’s history that is not told /overshadowed by who won the “great war”

If you have any questions or concerns about the post above, share them in the comments section below

Otherwise….Aufwiedersehen

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