learning to live in Heidelberg

After my crazy busy long weekend in France, Switzerland and Munich, I showed up at work at 9 am the next morning after a gorgeous walk to the lab, to finally start my first experiment!


I signed some paperwork and then I was off to cell culture. It had been a while, but it felt good to be back in the lab!

If you missed my intro post, the reason I’m living in Heidelberg this summer is because I’m doing an internship in a research lab at the university, studying Hepatitis B virus.

It’s a super cool virus because its genome is partially double-stranded circular DNA that gets “closed” to make a super stable episome (i.e. DNA not part of the human chromosomes) called cccDNA once it’s in the host cell’s nucleus. The reason it’s so hard to treat an infection is because it’s (so far) impossible to get rid of the cccDNA, and so many of the mechanisms involved in transcription from cccDNA aren’t yet known.

(If this is all going over your head, skip this next paragraph while I nerd out a little.)

My official supervisor is studying a protein called “Protein X” (seriously) for this PhD thesis. Not much is known for certain about this protein, but it appears to be an activator of transcription that might be specific for transcription from episomal DNA such as cccDNA through degradation of a cellular protein that would normally inhibit episomal transcription. Before I arrived, the lab had done some work with an inhibitor that inhibits the degradation of the said cellular protein (and thus inhibits transcription from cccDNA). Still with me?

(If you skipped ahead, keep reading here.)

Basically, my first project was comparing the effect of this inhibitor in different types of liver cell lines that produce HBV proteins. I spent the first few weeks shadowing my supervisor and learning a lot of new techniques, while treating my own batch of cells for later analysis.

I actually had to move on Wednesday, since my sublease for the rest of the summer started June 1, and until then I had just been staying at an Airbnb. I packed up everything (which didn’t seem to fit as well as it did the first time), and walked with everything to my new flat. It was supposed to be about a 25 minute walk, but with all my stuff it took significantly longer than that…

I just dropped my stuff because the guy whose room I was renting still hadn’t left, and went to the lab. I came back later to unpack and settle in a little – it was really nice to feel like I had a little bit more of a permanent place to stay after moving around for a month!

My PI also gave a presentation that week on the group’s most recent publication – it was nice to hear a little more about what the group had been doing. We all went out for drinks at one of the bars on campus afterwards, and it was nice to spend some more time outside the lab with the group!

After work on Friday, I went for a little hike up a path called the Philosopher’s Walk, which leads to an old outdoor amphitheater (apparently one where Hitler used to give talks…)


There are some pretty nice views of the castle across the valley, too, but I somehow didn’t manage to get any pictures!

I went in to the lab for my first Saturday the next morning because my cells needed to be treated (#lablife). I wasn’t there for long, though, and headed off to finally get a bike! Heidelberg is super bike-friendly, but I hadn’t gotten around to buying one yet because I knew it would be awkward to move with.

And check out the beauty that I found at the used bike store!


I haven’t had the best of luck with bikes in Montreal (one was stolen, the other was hit by a snowplow), so I decided to name this one for luck. It’s bad luck to have a boat without a name, so maybe it’s the same with bikes?

After taking her for a spin (and in light of my recent mood in Germany), I decided she needed a sassy power woman name, and decided on Bernadette (after Bernadette Peters – “Aaaaanything you can do, I can do better!”)

So far, it’s been a pretty fitting name! She’s really turned out to the be the little bike that could. She only has three speeds and back-pedal breaks, but she’s been far with me and I’ll be sad to leave her behind at the end of the summer.

(I was considering Janis as well – after Janis Joplin – but I liked Bernadette. So instead my basil plant is Janis.)

That Saturday night, there were the first fireworks of the summer in Heidelberg! Three times every summer, they put on an (apparently world-famous) fireworks show from the castle and the old bridge.

Everyone said that the best place to watch them was from the Philosopher’s Walk, so I ignored the weather forecast and made plans with a couple other interns to go up there a couple hours beforehand to get a good spot.

Of course the minute we got there and got a prime spot, it started pouring.

We had umbrellas, but it was raining enough and from all directions that they weren’t really helping. After saying for about 10 minutes that it would be over soon and we would stick it out, we acknowledged that we were soaked and so was all our stuff and even if it did stop, we had two more hours that we would be sitting there, wet and miserable, before the fireworks started.

Instead, we headed back to my flat to dry off, had a beer and waited for the rain to pass. It eventually did, and we biked down to the park by the river just in time for the fireworks. We didn’t have an amazing view, but because of the clouds, the fireworks were hidden behind smoke five minutes in, so we wouldn’t have been able to see anything more from the mountain anyways.

On Sunday, I had a relaxing morning then I took Bernadette for a ride. I just went north of where I live without knowing where I was going, and ended in Dossenheim, a small town that’s just north of Heidelberg.

Along the way, I found a little castle in the middle of the area of Heidelberg where I live! Apparently it was actually where the knights lived and not a real castle, but it looked more like a castle than anything we have in Canada so I’m still calling it a castle.


They had some sort of event on that day although I couldn’t understand any of the signs! There was a band playing traditional German music, and lots of food for sale. I bought myself a slice of cake and enjoyed the music before heading off to Dossenheim.


There was also a beautiful church a little further along the way! Churches like this are small and not really a big deal here, but at this point I hadn’t been in Europe long enough to be sick of them and stopped to take pictures!


Dossenheim was very cute – although maybe a little hilly for Bernadette.






It looked to me like there might have been some cool hiking trails around there! I wasn’t prepared for any hiking that day, but I found a map when I got home and thought I’d set out the next day for a hike in the area. (Monday was a holiday).

None of the hills here are very steep, and having done a couple hikes already, I picked a 25 km one to keep me busy the whole day!


The sights along the way aren’t quite as impressive as in Switzerland, but it was a nice, relaxing hike alone and when I got to the top, there was some sort of old tower thing (typical Germany).


And the trail signs were cool too!


The problem around Heidelberg is that you never really get out of the trees, so if you ever get a view, it’s between some trees and you can’t really see much.



There were some cool rocks though that my dad (a geologist) would probably appreciate??


Apparently Dossenheim used to have a quarry, but it stopped operating in the 1980’s, and now they’ve made it into a museum. I didn’t go into the museum, but there are some things to see if you just walk through the quarry and read the interpretive signs.


It might not be the Rockies, but there are definitely some cool hikes in the area!

I also spent the next weekend in Heidelberg, which I’ll write about soon!


Bis später!


2 thoughts on “learning to live in Heidelberg

  1. This is really a great opportunity for you. I’m sure you will look fondly on your time in Europe this year. It sounds like you are having a great time and experiencing things you wont ever have a chance to again.


  2. I hope that it all went as you were hoping. I’m considering moving there at some point, so will be checking out all of your posts on the topic. Thanks for sharing!


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