Mensa Terrasse

Anisa's Blog: Week 1

Hallo! My name is Anisa Li and I am spending my summer in Germany as a Ruhr Fellow along with 13 other students from three different universities in the US. The Ruhr Fellowship is a program which brings engineering and related students from the states to the Ruhr area, taking German lessons and going on company visits for one month, and then interning at a company for another month. I’m going into my fourth and final year studying Mechanical Engineering at Harvard University, and I’ve never been to Germany or learned German before, so I’m excited for an amazing summer! This blog will follow our adventures, along with my own random thoughts and ramblings.

Signal Iduna Park

First Tastes

After a confusing “24” hours (my flight left San Francisco at 7:45 am and landed in Düsseldorf at 7:45 am the next morning, with a layover, two airport trains, and 9 time zones in between), I found myself in Düsseldorf Airport, coming through a thoroughly underwhelming customs checkpoint (the man told me to enjoy my vacation rather than unpleasantly grill me on all details about my trip and why I would ever leave my country). I passed through quickly, not realizing I had gotten through all of customs until I found myself in the arrivals lobby, greeted warmly by the program director, who led me to my train to Bochum, where I would be living with the other Fellows at off campus dorms for my stay as a visiting student of the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB).

Getting off at the Bochum hauptbahnhof (hbf), or main train station, I immediately identified my Buddy as the small girl excitedly waving her arms and running towards me. Glad to have a guide to help me find my way, I examined my surroundings. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting to find in Germany, but I definitely didn’t expect it to be so green. I’d heard so much about the industrial center that is the Ruhr area, so I guess I expected lots of factories and industriallooking architecture, stark greys and blacks, but the city is actually filled with lush greenery, richer than I’m used to, lining the roads and highways. I think I also didn’t expect it to be so cold in June – the day I arrived, it was unseasonably cool, 12º at most (yes, I’ve transitioned to Celsius), with a thick layer of clouds looming in the sky, threatening downpour at any moment (thankfully, none arrived).

My Buddy lost no time in showing me around the city – after a quick stop to the dorms to drop off my bags, we hopped right back on the bus towards the city center once more. As a quick side note, and I’ll probably rave more about this later, but public transportation in Germany (and the rest of Europe) is excellent. Almost anything we did started with the train. On the way back into town, my Buddy stopped at the university to give me my first glimpse of campus. Among the buildings (which are designed to look like ships docking around the “harbor” of the auditorium, or the Audimax) and behind the cafeteria (the Mensa), there was a breathtaking view of the valley below the school, rolling green hills, and old farm houses in the distance. After the quick detour, we hopped right back onto the train and headed into the city center, where we ran into another Fellow and Buddy, also exploring the city.

After a while of wandering in the street and a quick brunch of croissants and coffee at a café(our first experience with ordering from a German menu), we met up with some of the other Fellows and Buddies, as well as one of our program leaders, to buy phones and other random necessities. The city center was a mix of old and new, which we later realized was indicative of the rest of the region, with walks made of uneven cobblestones, outdated and out-of-use stoplights, and old stone façades alongside modern glass-front stores, sleek subway stations, and a bustling commercial center. At this point in the afternoon, most of us started feeling the effects of jet lag and the toll of extended travel, but I was determined to kick off my stay with a full day. Most Fellows returned to the dorms, but a few others and I decided to venture back into the city center for dinner and exploration. After walking the entirety of the area from the main train station to where the shops ended, we finally decided on a random restaurant bar that was showing the Stuttgart – Bayern Munich soccer match(Fußball – a very important word in this country).

By the way, in case you’re confused about the ß (or as I had affectionately called it before learning its name, “that beta-looking thing”), it’s actually called an Eszett and is pronounced as an “ss” sound.

I had attempt number two at ordering off a German menu (this time without my Buddy for help!), experienced the intensity of Germans and their Fußball (not a capitalization error, because in German, all nouns are capitalized), and tasted the local brew, Fiege, for the first time. Mmm, refreshing. Let the adventures begin!

Kemnade 1

Bochum, Lake Kemnade, and surprisingly good weather

After the unfortunately cold arrival, we were pleasantly surprised to wake up to a brightly shining sun and blue skies. We ventured back into the city center, this time with the entire group headed for an official welcome lunch. Walking along the same cobblestone streets as I had the day before, I felt like I was already becoming well acquainted with Bochum. It’s a pretty small, quiet city. Walking in the streets it’s not uncommon to see few others, though if you venture into the Bermudadreieck (the Bermuda Triangle, a collection of bars and clubs within the city center) on a Friday night, you can see that the city has a vibrant young population.

Now to the important part: the food. Treated to lunch by the program as a welcoming gesture, we learned that the area is famous for its asparagus (who knew?), beer and/or wine is perfectly acceptable (or even expected) at any meal, German portions are huge (the US gets a bad reputation for unreasonably large proportions, but Germany’s are pretty up there), and though most people in Germany speak English, not very many restaurants actually carry English language menus. I ordered a schnitzel (breaded and fried pork filet) and asparagus dish and it is a testament to how delicious it was that I didn’t manage to snap a photo before devouring it. The asparagus was a surprise; rather than the small green asparagus I was accustomed to, Germany is famous for its white asparagus, and it’s easily three times the size of asparagus in the US. Cooked in what I could only assume was a lot of butter and oil, it was melt-in-your-mouth delicious, and perfectly paired with the schnitzel (my first – I’m definitely a fan) and, of course, a nice cold glass of Fiege. Stuffed full and content, we moved on to our next destination: a boat tour of Lake Kemnade (actually a manmade lake which is just a dammed and widened part of the river).

Even though we had just eaten to our limits, the first order of business on the boat was a fluffy waffle paired with cherries and a heap of whipped cream, and coffee – the perfect afternoon pick-me-up. After food, we journeyed up to the roof of the boat to watch the view and enjoy the sun. It was an amazing ride and I think all of us were sad to see the boat coming back to dock all too soon. Many of our Buddies also joined us for this ride, as well as the following bus tour of Bochum, and we took the opportunity to learn more about their lives and about German culture. The bus tour took us through a beautiful park area around the lake, abundant with beer gardens and restaurants housed in beautiful old farm buildings as well as an old coal mining factory-turned museum and a planetarium, and at least 10 other sites I mentally noted to try to get back to.

We ended the day much as I had ended the day previous – at a restaurant bar in the Bermuda Triangle, watching a soccer game projected on the wall. This time the whole group was there, Buddies and friends included, and the game was much less intense (just a friendly USA Germany game – if you’re interested, the US won).

Deutschkurs and company visits

The next days began our official program as Ruhr Fellows, packed with our first Deutschkurs(German course), complete with a trip to the Mensa for lunch. The Mensa is essentially a huge cafeteria, with an overwhelming array of affordable meals and desserts. The weather was stayed sunny all week, so when we did eat at the Mensa, we took our trays to the rooftop balcony to eat while looking out over the beautiful view.

During the afternoons, we also had company visits to the Initiativkreis Ruhr in Essen, ThyssenKrupp steel manufacturing in Duisburg, Evonik chemical plant in Marl, and Siemens turbine factory in Mülheim, as well as a fun trip to Signal Iduna Park, the home of Borussia Dortmund, the local soccer team. The visit to ThyssenKrupp was definitely a memorable one, as we got to see molten iron being poured in the process to becoming steel. I marveled at the intricateness and breadth of the pipelines at the chemical plant of Evonik and watched pieces of turbines be precision milled at Siemens. At Signal Iduna Park, we were treated to views of the stadium, as people normally would never see it; in addition to the stadium being completely empty, we were also able to tour everything from the VIP boxes at the top to the admirably simple team locker rooms at the bottom.

Köln 3

Nighttime Culture

Though our first week (and the rest of our program) was pretty packed with organized courses and outings, our evenings are our own, and we took advantage of this. Our Buddies have been incredibly welcoming, inviting us whenever they were headed somewhere and introducing us to their friends. Monday night, a few of us followed a Buddy and his friends over to one of the many student bars for a Cocktail Night. Unlike home, there are a lot of uni bars at RUB, many located near or inside of dorm buildings and run by students. The first we went to was located in the basement of a dorm, and absolutely packed on a Monday night – it took us almost a half hour to even get in. It turned out that this bar happened to be in a cluster of buildings where international students usually live, so we had fun talking to fellow internationals, from all over.

Even though it’s towards the end of their school semester, the German students seemed very laid back, willing to hang out, and there was always something going on. Wednesday, my Buddy invited us to a barbecue he and his friends had to celebrate the finally warm weather, which transitioned into a Polish themed party their dorm was having. It was easy to talk to the other students; they seemed interested in what we were doing there, and were always friendly and welcoming. Days seem to last longer here. Some of that has to do with the geography, and the fact that in the summer, the sun rises about 5 or 6 in the morning and doesn’t set until after 10 at night, which has really thrown me off, but some of it also has to do with the culture and attitude. Uni parties will often last until sunrise or later, with them asking us why we were leaving so early if we want to go at 2 or 3 am.



Of the 14 Ruhr Fellows this year, most of us had never met each other before the trip, but we’re quickly becoming a family. Thursday we had the first of what we’ve decided will be a weekly tradition: Family Dinner. Cooking for 14 is certainly not easy, but it’s fun and a great way to spend time together. One of the Fellows loves to cook and spearheaded the idea, making a heaping pot of Sauerkraut Beer Soup with Frankfurters (we tried to find a traditional German recipe), with apfelstrudel (apple strudel). We barely all crammed into the tiny kitchen together, but it was great!

Another side note about German grammar: some of their words are extremely long because often words are just made up of smaller words which describe the object. Perfect example above: “apple strudel” in English, but “apfelstrudel” in German. Numbers also do this: for example, one hundred and thirty three would all be one word – they can get quite long!

Köln 1

Weekend 1: Münster and Köln

Many of us agreed before even arriving that we would try to squeeze as much travel into the weekends as possible – we’re already in Europe, so why not? The first weekend, however, we devoted to day trips to more local cities: Münster (which, FYI, does NOT produce Munster cheese) and Cologne, which is actually spelled Köln in German (how did we ever derive Cologne from that? Same thing happened to Munich; it’s München in German). We hopped on the train in the morning and came back in the evening, and let our curiosities wander through the cities. We naturally split up based on interest, with some people renting bikes for the day (Münster is famous for being a big biking city), while a smaller group of us preferred to take the city a little slower, walking. First was Münster on Saturday. The weather was absolutely gorgeous. Without any grand plans, we just wandered and allowed ourselves to be pulled in whichever direction we felt like it, stumbling across at least 5 or 6 churches and cathedrals, a big, colorful farmers market, and multiple delectable pastries. We had loosely talked about going to a restaurant one of the Buddies had suggested which he said looked like Hogwarts inside, called Cavete, but the pull of pastry shops and stands at the market dissuaded us from having a sit down lunch, preferring to buy food as we pleased and take it with us wandering.

We saw far too much do justice to here, so I’ll just pull some highlights. One of the major things we saw was St. Paulus Dom, a huge cathedral with beautiful…everything. It has an amazing amount of natural light for a cathedral, though I believe that’s because many of the old stained glass windows had been bombed out during the war and replaced with clear glass. We then stopped for iced coffees at a random little café. After struggling with ordering our drinks for about 5 minutes, the waiter laughed and informed us he was an international student from Baltimore, and we made friends with him while he made our drinks, finding out that he had been in Germany a year, and was studying to become a teacher here. In the late afternoon, we made our way to Aasee Lake, a beautiful lake and park on the southeastern corner of Münster, where we ate the strawberries and cheese we’d bought at the market, and laid down for some sunbathing and relaxation. After some further wandering, involving two of the other students to test drive an electric Smart Car, we finally ended the day with the whole group at Cavete.

The next day, we went to Köln. Unfortunately, the weather was not quite as nice but still good enough to enjoy another full day of walking around a new city. As soon as we got off the train, we were greeted by the Kölner Dom, a huge cathedral. It was great to be able to compare this one with St. Paulus Dom from the day before; this was smaller, darker, but similarly gorgeous. A smaller group of us managed to, at the suggestion of one of the Buddies, who was with us, climb to the top of the Dom. This involved a somewhat claustrophobic trek up spiral stone steps that seemed like they were never going to end (a sign at the ticket office revealed there were 533 steps ascending a total of 332 feet, up a tower that stands at 475 feet). The top of the Dom was beautiful, and though clouds shortened our view, it was still breathtaking. The tower was covered in graffiti from visitors past, and I pulled out a pencil and added our own, “Ruhr Fellows 2013” (picture evidence included).

We then went to the Schokoladenmuseum (Chocolate Museum), though a few of us decided to forgo the 6 euro entrance fee in favor of buying chocolate from the souvenir shop, and continue to wander. Loaded up with fancy truffles, we made our way back through the city, vaguely headed for the train. While most went back to Bochum at this point, one of the other Fellows and I decided to stop at a gourmet burger restaurant that someone had seen in a magazine, called Hans im Glück (Hans in Luck) for burgers and Kölsch, a local type of light beer. Halfway through devouring our burgers by hand, we realized that every single person around us was eating their burger and fries with a fork and knife, daintily cutting small pieces of the burgers, and even cutting the fries into smaller spears.

Finally, a tip learned from our train ride back: German efficiency means trains do not stop longer than necessary at any given stop. This means that when the stop is announced and in sight, you should already be up and by the door. If you are not, you will do what I did, which is to have the door close in front of your face between you and your friend, who made it safely to the platform, and frantically press the “door open” button to no avail, while the train pulls slowly away, with you still on it. I wound up riding the train to Dortmund, and then finding another back to Bochum, and then finally back to my dorm. Quite the way to end the weekend! Bis nächste Woche! (Until next week!)