Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Christmas season coming

Now is a time of much anticipation. Christmas and new year are coming, and along come a lot of holidays. People are busy planning their vacation trips. Germans usually plan their hoidays well ahead of time. They usually spend Chritsmas with parents and then head for popular locations for the new year celebrations. Looks like there will be no snow on Christmas. There was some snowfall last Monday but it didn't stay long. It is, however, getting colder. There are Christmas markets in every city. This is usually a lot of stalls put in the center of the market with a lot of lighting and Christmas trees. Unlike shops, these markets are open late and on Sundays. Big stores are offering attractive discounts on their products to be given as Christmas gifts.

The university is closed for the next week. Even the heaters are shut down so nobody can work there. This is the first time i have heard of a complete shut down. We are also planning to visit our friends across the farthest parts of Germany. We also plan to help the next batch of HEC scholarship holders arriving at the end of this month. We remember what difficulties most of us faced when we first got here in Germany. So we intend to go to the airport and at least help them in getting on the right trains to their respective destination cities. They'll most probably arrive late on new-year night with nobody to guide them. This is what happened to us. Although it is a good experience but some of us had a very painful experience.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A day in France & EU Parliament

On Tuesday we went to Strasbourg, a city in France. It was a university trip arranged by a private NGO aimed at uniting European youth. The city lies exactly on the border of France and Germany and thus is a mixture of both cultures. It is a renowned tourist city, much because of the EU parliament building here. It is a spectacular round building. A very big building, walled from the outside with glass and lying along a river provides a magnificent view. The river flows through the city giving out a branch that later joins it after following a circular path. Within this circular island is the city's heart. But the city spreads across the river as well.

Taking a journey of about 2 hours, we reached the city and inside the EU parliament, one of the three EU administrative building (other two being in Belgiuma and Luxemburg). We were first briefed on the working of the Parliament, then were seated in the observation balconies of the Parliament. A session was in progress. Less than 50 of the nearly 780 members of parliament were present in the 850+ seat round hall. The session and office work is conducted in 20 languages of the 25 member countries. Headphones were available translating speeches of members in those 20 languages. Discussion was related to next EU budget and most were critisizing UK.

After the end of session and our lunch (pizzas), we took a boat trip inside the city showing and informing us about different kinds of buildings. Afterwards we went into the Christmas market. It was beautiful. We had to find our way back. Now we asked the local people if they knew English. Not English but, thank God, they knew some German. So we used our German to communicate with them. This is the first time we felt German to be our language and thankful that we learnt it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

German Tea party & Iqbal house

A German colleague of mine visited an exhibition in Japan and brought different teas with him. He is already very fond of teas. So he invited us to his house to try out different teas. We went there in the evening. He started with a Japanese green tea and then a Chinese green tea. Then some other green teas from Asia. Then he started the black teas. Presenting black teas from different countries, he ended up with Sri Lankan and Indian black teas. Many of my German colleagues were there. To my surprise, none of them put any sugar in any of their teas. Even they put milk only in the last two black teas. I had had it after drinking some teas without sugar, and then i started putting sugar in every tea. They did get surprised by this. :)

This weekend the International Club at the university arranged a trip to Heidelberg (Germany) to see the Christmas market. It is a tourist city located between mountains on two sides of the Rhine river. It has a castle which is pretty much preserved. We all went in the train there. Thank God that the snow had melted since Thursday and temperature was above zero. We first searched for a Pakistani restaurant and found three. Two were big but not so many guests in them. The third one was a small one with self service. It was crowded with Germans, a pleasant surprise for us. We even had to wait for a few minutes to get an empty table. The food was good and extremely cheap. May be thats why it was crowded.

Then we met a friend living there who took us to see Iqbal house. It is located on the river bank. There is a plaque on the boundry wall saying that Iqbal lived here and that he was the visionary of Pakistan. He lived here for about 6 months for German language course, before going to Munich for his Phd. Then we went on a small tram which climbs on a mountain at about 45 degrees angle. Half of the journey is done on a modern metallic tram, but the second half is completed on an old wooden tram pulled by a metallic rope. It went so high up the mountain that the ground was covered with snow there. It became extremely cold with chilling breeze blowing. After taking some pictures we resorted to coming back down to the city. We returned after it got dark. It gets dark these days around 4:35 pm.