Monday, May 28, 2012

A first night and a last night

Thanks for tuning into my 30th post! (Cue applause, I know, what a momentous moment). I will write about a first night and a last night from last week. May 19 was my new friend Shivalik’s first night in Heidelberg. After traveling the whole day from Berlin (as I had done just a week earlier), he was ready to watch the Champions League final between Bayern München and Chelsea. Once he had brought his stuff to his room, Shivalik gave me a call in the afternoon and we met up at Bismarckplatz (Bismarck square) in the center of town. Accompanying him was Anas, a German student who is subletting his room to Shivalik for the summer. Since it was Shivalik’s first time in Heidelberg, we did the mandatory hike up to the Schloss (castle) and explored a bit more of the city before it was time to head over to a bar called Belinni’s to watch the game. Normally, I wouldn’t go into the details of how we got there, but here it’s worth mentioning. Shivalik and Anas came to Bismarckplatz on bikes; I walked. Shivalik and Anas had to pick up some paint on the way to the bar, so they recommended that I take a bus and meet them at the surgical clinic, where my internship is. While I was on the bus, it suddenly started raining cats and dogs and I worried that something might happen to my two friends on their bikes. Once I arrived, I saw that Shivalik and Anas weren’t there yet, so I went inside to use the bathroom (Traveler’s tip: Hospitals are a great place to use the bathroom for free). When I came out, I was shocked to see a giant puddle of white paint on the ground with Anas standing right in the middle of it. They had made it all the way to the clinic, only to drop a can of paint after they arrived. Anas said that there wasn’t really anything we could do and recommended that Shivalik and I simply go to the bar while he found someone in the hospital to clean the paint.

We got to the bar all right and found decently good seats close to the TV where we just had to crane our heads a little to the side to see the screen. The people sitting next to us were celebrating a birthday party. Funnily enough, Shivalik and I ended up talking quite a bit with a student from the group named Niclas. I guess it wasn’t that atypical that we chatted a bit with a stranger at a bar, but what I think what was atypical, especially in Germany, was that he invited us to his friend’s birthday party that was being held nearby in a dorm. Shivalik was interested, so I decided to go too. At the party, we were able to chat with the rest of the group over some beer and surprisingly, everyone, including the birthday boy, were all really welcoming, even though we had only just met! I’m still not sure if it was pure friendliness or the fact that everyone in the birthday group weren’t exactly sober that led to this all happening. Either way, it was definitely a good time!

Okay, on to the last night. May 23 was the last night of Eckhart (I don’t know his first name) being a Fuchs at the fraternity I am living in. Fuchs literally means fox, but in this sense it means freshman. In order to become a fully-fledged member of the Corps Rhenania, one must participate in a Mensur (duel). A Fuchs from each of two different fraternities face-off in what is called “academic fencing” surrounded by the members of their respective fraternities looking on. Each Fuchs is allowed to wear protective gear up to the neck and then only goggles to protect their eyes. Each member also has two people assisting them: one looks on from the side and jumps in to end each round after a certain number of sabre clashes and the second wipes down the sword in between rounds. During the course of the Mensur, there are thirty rounds in which the two Füchse alternate between trying to strike the other on the forehead and blocking. It was frightful, yet fascinating to watch, since at any moment a Fuchs could make an error and end up with a nasty scar on his face as a result. It is fascinating to me that the students here do this voluntarily. There are a lot of benefits if you can survive the thirty rounds while remaining steadfast in place (like Eckhart and his opponent both did, neither sustaining any injuries). You become a rightful Mitglieder of the fraternity, which gives you the right to wear a special colored ribbon from your right shoulder to your left waist and boss all the Füchse around. Also, I guess because of the importance of the duel, all the onlookers (who were also all male) dressed in suits for this event, so I managed to find a cheap suit at C&A for the next Mensur. Also, don’t worry Mom and Dad, I am not a Fuchs, but a Gast (guest) of the fraternity, so I will not have anything more to do with these duels other than watching.    

You can find out more about academic fencing looking around online if you need an excuse to procrastinate. I read that Mark Twain’s book A Tramp Abroad is based in part on his own experience watching student fencing in Heidelberg. Maybe he met some members of the Corps Rhenania back in the day. Anyway, that’s it for now. Danke furs Lesen und bis nächstes Mal!

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