It wasn’t until I arrived in Heidelberg that I realized I hadn’t really been alone much for the past two weeks, and it had really been wearing on me. I loved meeting so many people in Berlin and it was really nice to have other people to explore the city with, but I was definitely feeling like I needed some time alone when I got to Heidelberg!
I arrived Saturday evening after sleeping all day on the eight-hour bus ride. I checked into my Airbnb, a cute little apartment near the city centre, where I would be living for my first two weeks. I knew that I really should get some groceries because everything would be closed on Sunday, but instead I just fell asleep for a couple more hours and woke up after the grocery stores had closed. Classic.
The next morning, I unpacked, bought a falafel for lunch because the doner places almost never close, and headed for the old town to wander. I immediately fell in love with the old town! There are so many cute old buildings and it really has the feeling of being in a small European town, something Berlin definitely didn’t have!
After wandering for a little while, I caught my flight glimpse of the castle!
I made my way to the river and then went back through the old town and up to the castle. I wasn’t planning on going in, but I figured there wasn’t much else to do since everything was closed on Sunday, so I bought a ticket and wandered around a little before meeting for a guided tour of the inside.
When I started on the guided tour, I started feeling pretty sick and lightheaded – I don’t know if I was coming down with something, not used to the heat, or still recovering from Friday night, but I asked to leave the tour and laid down on a shady bench for a while and drank lots of water. I tried the go on the next tour, but the same thing happened, so I decided I should just head home. Admission wasn’t expensive and I figured that there would be plenty of other chances to see the castle!
I seemed to be okay walking – I just couldn’t stand and listen to the tour – so I walked home and got stuck in a massive thunderstorm. Most people took cover in the coffee shops that were open, but I figured that by the time I got into town, I was wet enough already that it didn’t make any difference.
I took it easy once I got home because I still wasn’t feeling great, and got an early night so that I could head out to apply for my visa in the morning. I had to first register as a resident, but I was told that I couldn’t so long as I was staying at an Airbnb. They suggested going to the foreigner’s office to see if there was anything I could do to get my visa before registering.
Once I talked to someone there, they said that there was nothing they could do and I would have to wait until June 1st to apply for my visa, and then I would have it a couple weeks after that. Well, I needed this visa for a biosafety work permit for my internship, so that wasn’t exactly ideal…
Ideally, I would have gotten my visa before leaving, but I didn’t have all the necessary documents until about a week before I left and there just wasn’t time. Since you can stay for up to 90 days in Germany without a visa if you’re from Canada, I was told to apply for one once I was here.
After the people at the foreigner’s office talked a lot in German and called the city hall a couple times, they eventually decided that I could register as a resident but only if my Airbnb landlords filled out a form, and they seemed pretty convinced that they wouldn’t.
I wrote my landlords a message right away, hoped for the best, and went off to the lab where I would be working for the summer.
Once there, I met my supervisor (a PhD student from China), the professor, and everyone else in the (pretty huge!) lab that was there at the time. My supervisor gave me a tour of the buildings around the lab. The campus is pretty massive – it takes about a half hour to walk from one end to the other.
Since I couldn’t legally work in the lab, it was a pretty short visit and I headed to get groceries and settle into my flat a little more. I still wasn’t feeling great, but I went out for a walk in the evening and it was beautiful.
My second day at the lab, I had a meeting with my PI and the PI of the other lab in the department that studies hepatitis C virus to discuss my project. I then went to my first lab seminar, where people share what they’ve been working on, and whoever is presenting brings cake (it’s a very German thing to bring cake to everything, apparently).
The next day at the lab was also pretty short – I met some more people and read some papers, and then I left to go relax in the park by the river. I worked on my German a little with an app, and watched all the baby swans and geese.
That evening I went to a potluck barbeque with my lab group – nothing like getting to know your lab over a few beers and some good food!
The rest of the week was pretty similar – I would go into the lab, sit in the office for a couple hours and read papers, and then leave and wander the city, window shop, or chill by the river. I wasn’t exactly complaining – I was getting paid to explore the city and relax while in Germany!
The next night, I had the most amazing view of the sunset from my flat on the sixth floor!
My landlords did sign the form that I needed to register as a resident, and I submitted my visa application! I just had to cross my fingers and wait to get it…
That weekend, a couple more interns arrived, and I met up with one girl on Saturday to wander around the old town and the university campus. I then went and met the flatmates I would be moving in with in June, and saw the flat in person.
The next day, I met up with another intern and went for a hike up on of the mountains next to the city! They aren’t quite the rockies, but they beat Mount Royal!
We got up to the peak of the first mountain, and there was an old tower you could climb for a little bit of a view – otherwise you couldn’t see anything through the trees. I wish I could’ve read the sign in German so I knew a little history of the tower!
There was a nicer view at the second peak, but unfortunately it was also one you could take a cable car up to, so it was a little busier!
We got a little lost trying to find the trail we were following again, but eventually we got back on it with a slight detour (and after climbing a cool chair in a tree – presumably for hunting but we weren’t too sure!)
We made it to another viewpoint and found some sunflowers there that looked they had been recently planted. While we caught our breath and had some water, a guy walked up the trail, pulled a couple water bottles out of his backpack, watered them, and then headed back down the mountain. It was so sweet and unexpected that someone would walk up the mountain just to water flowers and it made my day!
We ended up at the castle, then walked through old town to the old bridge.
I went home, showered and slept, and then met up with the two girls for beers in the old town.
I still didn’t have anything to do at the lab the next day, but on Tuesday, I finally got my visa!
(Obligatory ‘look I got through the German bureaucracy’ selfie)
The previous week, the lab coordinator had gotten in touch with the visa office to see if she could speed up the process a little (or a least get a digital copy of the visa), and they said I didn’t have the necessary documents. They first wanted a copy of my university diploma (which, of course, I don’t have, being an undergrad), and then they wanted a letter from the lab saying why I was there and a form signed by a bunch of university officials and yada yada. Bureaucracy.
So, when I got my visa almost two weeks sooner than they said I would, I was pretty happy! I still had to wait for the work permit, but at least I could start planning some real experiments knowing that I would be able to work soon.
In the meantime, while I waited for the work permit, I went on a road trip to Switzerland with three random guys I’d never met before.
I think that’s a story for another post…