G'day from Bayreuth, Germany

So yay I made it!! All the way from sunny Australia to chilly Bayreuth, Germany! I've been here for just over a week so far, and I've already learnt so much. I'm so excited to keep learning and developing my research skills for my PhD while I'm here! It's been such a wonderful experience so far, so without further ado, here's some first impressions and some photos from my first week in Bayreuth:



On Monday, after two planes and two trains, I finally made it to Bayreuth! For the first two planes and one train, it was pretty smooth sailing (despite there being no boats involved), but the last train was pretty tricky... I had just a few minutes to switch trains, and I had to make sure I jumped onto the right carriage because apparently these trains split in half and go off in different directions after a while! Also, all the announcements were in German, so I had no idea when I'd reach my final destination!

I realised very quickly that it would have been reeeeally handy to already be fluent in German at this point! Luckily, there were a lot of nice people on the train who helped me out, pointed me in the right direction, and translated announcements for me. Eventually, I got off the train in Bayreuth, and met up with my supervisor and one of his other PhD students, who took me to the apartment where I will be living for the next few months and then to a beautiful Franconian restaurant  for a welcome dinner! It was such a lovely gesture and the food was so delicious :)

At this point, I have to ask - if anybody has any tips about learning languages, especially German, I would really appreciate it! For now, I'll stick with what I've been doing for the last few months: listening to Michel Thomas audio tapes and laughing at the occasionally ridiculous phrases that the app DuoLingo teaches me, such as Ich bin eine banane! (I am a banana!), Der hund hat eine Ente (the dog has a duck), and Die Mäuse lesen ein Buch (the mice are reading a book). Not sure when exactly these will come in handy, but I'm hoping to find out!



On Tuesday, my supervisor gave me a grand tour of the university. The campus is beautiful and everyone I have met has been so kind and helpful! I can't wait to explore the university even more during my stay, but for now, I'm getting familiar with: 

  • the studentenwerk (aka student services offices) where I can pay the rent for my apartment,

  • the international student office where I got my very own campus card and a lot of brochures,

  • the laboratory where I will be sorting out and analysing my samples,

  • the office space where my desk will be for the next few months, aaand

  • the mensa (aka canteen) where you can buy all sorts of delicious lunch-time meals - ohhhh my goodness, there were so many tasty options to choose from!!!

Speaking of food... My supervisor's other PhD student also very kindly took me to the grocery store on this day, so I could stock up on supplies for the upcoming weeks and months. But more importantly, she took me to Lang's Bakery, where I bought some delicious multi-grain bread - it was packed with different grains and very dense, sooo tasty! They also sold pretzels and sweets, so I'm definitely going to have to find my way back sometime. Plus the window into the store looked like a party, I love it!



Okay, again, speaking of food... On Wednesday, we celebrated Carnival, which is a German tradition that I had not heard of until I arrived, but apparently I arrived just in time! I joined the others in my new lab group for morning tea, with kaffee (I might just develop a taste for coffee while I'm here!), champagne (although apparently you can only really call it that if it has come from the Champagne region of France!), big doughy pretzels with aniseed (I can't not say it. These pretzels...are making me thirsty!), and krapfen (a traditional German treat, which is kinda like a jam donut filled with delicious rose hip jam!). We also had a box of Kutzer's Krapfenkiste, which is like a six-pack of these donuts with other (less traditional) fillings, like chocolate, vanilla, and eggnog. To be honest, I'm pretty sure Krispy Kreme may have taken some inspiration from Kutzer's Krapfenkiste...

And I thought we'd only do it the once, but we ended up having another mini celebration of Carnival the following week! It was really nice to come together with the others in my lab, and to get to know everyone better. It was also a nice reminder of the KP Crew cake days back in Perth (who could forget such culinary treats as rainbow cake, choc-chip cookie brownies, and lemon meringue banoffee hybrid pie?? Mmmm, I really need to step up my baking game when I get back and deliver something just as mind blowing...) 

I guess what I'm trying to say is, food brings people together. Food is good. I like food. And I'm looking forward to trying even more traditional German foods while I'm here!



On Thursday, I learnt the first part of the isotope analysis that I came all the way here to learn! Very exciting times! Just to re-cap, over the last year I've been doing fieldwork throughout Western Australia, collecting plant and insect samples (under scientific license!), and cleaning off any dirt or bugs stuck on them. Now, while I'm here in Germany, the next few steps are to grind those samples up into a fine powder, weigh them into tin capsules, and then run them through an isotope ratio mass spectrometer coupled to an elemental analyser - fancy! 

Another pretty exciting thing happened on Thursday...it snowed!!! Apparently, a few week's before I arrived, there was a nice layer of snow covering the whole city, but by the time I got here, all that snow had melted away. I wasn't really expecting to see any more snow since it's been a relatively warm winter here, so it was quite a nice surprise to find myself covered in snow-flakes on my way to the lab! Definitely makes for a stark contrast to the sort of weather happening back home with the heat wave I've been hearing so much about - I hope everyone is keeping cool and hydrated!



On Friday, I properly settled into my apartment by unpacking and rearranging furniture, so it was all ready for me to live in for the next few months. It's quite a small little place, with a fold-out couch-bed, a desk and shelves, a little table and some chairs. I also have my own bathroom, a teeny-tiny kitchen (with just a mini-fridge, sink, and two stove tops), and (somewhat surprisingly) a walk-in wardrobe. The apartment may be kind of small, but it's big enough for me!! 

It's also very conveniently located, just a short walk away from the university campus, the gym, and the grocery store. Plus, it's been made even more cosy and convenient with donations from my wonderful new friends in the lab - extra towels, cooking utensils, and even a kettle! Hooray! Oh and it's got a really great view to the streets outside! I've never lived on my own for a long time like this before, so I'm excited (and a little nervous) to be trying it out. I always find it's funny how quickly somewhere so new can become the place you call home... 



On Saturday, I explored the city of Bayreuth a little bit, but not before a Skype sesh with family back home! It was so nice to see everyone through the magic of the internet, and I'm looking forward to the next time :)

Anyway, after catching up, I rugged up and set out with a map, a water bottle, and some snacks (the most important thing to bring on an adventure). It was actually a relatively warm day, with blue skies, though having said that I did still need my big coat and beanie! I'm absolutely in love with the city so far, with it's pastel coloured houses, cobblestone streets, and beautiful gardens. I walked past a lot of little florists, which I've decided I will have to go back to so I can give my apartment some greenery. I also found my way to the city centre, where there were games and food stalls set up for Carnival. As I walked through, they played "Walking on Sunshine" and it's been stuck in my head ever since! :)



On Sunday, I did what any good botanist would do - I visited the botanic garden! Y'all know I love a good botanic garden, I couldn't resist... Especially seeing as the Ökologisch-Botanischer Garten is located right next to the university campus and they were having a special guided tour that morning, with a focus on ant-plant mutualisms! I was very lucky to have my supervisor's other PhD student there with me to translate everything that was said, I really cannot thank her enough for it! 

Afterwards, I explored the surrounding gardens, on the search for anything that might be flowering at this time of year. I had very little luck with that, it must just be too cold! But I did have a lovely time wandering about, hearing the birds chirping, and clearing my head. It was so peaceful and I felt so in my element! It's definitely a place I'll be coming back to as soon as I can :)



So, that just about wraps it up for my first week here in Germany! It's been really nice to jot down all my thoughts and first impressions of everything that has happened so far, and honestly it has just been such a wonderful new experience. I have felt so warmly welcomed and supported by everyone I have met here in Bayreuth, and am especially thankful to my supervisor and everyone in his lab group for being so wonderful to me. I am so excited for the rest of my time here and to get some great work done for my PhD! 

Missing everyone back home! Bis später! x

(All thoughts and opinions are my own and do not reflect the thoughts or opinions of my institutions.)