Monday, September 15, 2008

Bonn Voyage

(Here's a link to my pictures of Bonn. They illustrate this post a bit.)

It's strange how quickly a new place can feel like home. I remember feeling completely natural calling my dorm freshman year "home" after only a few weeks at Ohio State, and feeling a bit surprised when my tent in Northern Kenya felt as comforting as my bed back in Cincinnati. Maybe I just need a place to stash my stuff and a routine to feel settled in a place. I feel settled in Marburg, but with only two weeks to go before I leave, it's time to think about my next home: Bonn.

The Fulbrighters were given Friday off so we could go to our host-cities (a.k.a. The city we signed up to live in for a year) to settle housing and possibly meet with representatives at our host universities. I dutifully arranged to meet Dr. Martin, my academic host for the next year. I e-mailed him to arrange the best time for him. He suggested 9:30 Friday morning. I agreed, knowing as the crow flies, Bonn is maybe an hour and a half from Marburg.

Unfortunately, I didn't travel as the crow flies. There's an inconvenient mountain range between Hessen (the state Marburg's in) and Nordrhein-Westfalen (where Bonn is) that makes the trip three hours long. That meant I had to get up around 4:30 to get catch a 5:12 train. You may think, "Gee, Matt, if the ride is only three hours long, why not leave at 6?"

"Well," I say to you, "public transportation kinda stresses me out. I had four different connections to make and a streetcar/bus system to sort out in Bonn. I had to give myself that extra hour to allow for getting on the wrong train, missing a connection and/or getting completely lost in a station. So back outta my grill."

I also arranged to leave a suitcase with Dr. Martin so I didn't need to schlep four bags through all those connections the next time I make this trip. Thus, 5 AM in Marburg I was skittering down the hill to the train station, my rolling suitcase catching every rotten apple in the street (a tree overlooks the street from a very quaint garden. Pleasing to the eye, not to the rolling suitcase). I made the train, but managed to soak my shirt in sweat in the humid morning. I was ready to make a first impression.

I managed to make all the necessary connections and arrived in Bonn with an hour to kill. A few notes about the city: Bonn was the capital of the former West Germany. When they were reconstructing the ruined Germany after WWII The Allies decided to put the Western seat of government in the city because it was near-ish the middle of the country and completely apolitical. Making a once quiet, small city on the Rhine the governmental seat of power for about fifty years.

When the two Germany's reunited in 1990, Berlin wanted the capital back, saying Bonn, "has one-third the population of a Berlin cemetery and is twice as dead." I feel like that might be a bit unfair, but we'll see.

I rode a streetcar through the city and got very excited when we crossed the Rhine. Of course I didn't express this excitement in any visual way. I was in Stealth German Mode. This is when I keep my mouth shut, wear my jeans and shirt tight and act like I've seen the quaint homes, cool street signs and castles for my entire life. With the blond hair and unathetic-looking shoes, I think I get away with it. Once I got off the train this was my first impression of the city:

I'm thinking I might need to get a bike...

I took my time getting to Dr. Martin's office. I had my hand-drawn map and phone numbers in hand and found the place easily, mostly because this sign was over the door:
It reads "Geological and Paleontological Institute of Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms University" across the top. That last part is the full name of the University of Bonn. Then the inscription in the middle says, in Latin, "Mind and Mallet," the two main tools of any good Geologist. I like to think I use both pretty liberally...

I walked in with about ten minutes to go and got a bit worried when I couldn't find his name on the map of the building. In fact I couldn't find any paleontologists. Was I in the wrong place? I wandered in and saw the university museum where a huge Ichthyosaurs starred me down:

And where there are bones, there must be paleontologists. Sure enough, I followed the hall towards a T-rex skull and found where all the fossil people were hiding. Dr. Martin was ready for me. We talked about my stay thus far in Deutschland and my efforts to learn German. He was really supportive of my basic German skills and wants me to continue learning the language even when I got to the lab. He introduced me to the entire paleo-community at Bonn, which is absolutely massive. They have paleobotonists, Dino-people, Mammoth people, Trilobite people...If it died, Bonn has the personnel to study it. As I met each person, Dr. Martin mentioned I was trying to learn German and encouraged people to encourage me. We'll see how this all pans out.

I was also introduced to Dr. Zhexi Luo, a visiting researcher from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. Dr. Luo and Dr. Martin are two of the world's authorities on early mammalian evolution, the stuff I really want to sink my teeth into. Dr. Luo is particularly interested in the ecological roles of these early fuzzy critters and I probably cited him a dozen times in my Senior Thesis. I was a bit star-struck to meet him. He was really enthusiastic about my project and promised to work with me when he comes back in the spring. This is going to be a good year.

Dr. Martin also mentioned that I will be able to go on several field trips around Germany with various classes and there may be field opportunities next summer. I may need to get my hammer sent across the ocean...

My project will likely deal with a group of Jurassic fossils from Portugal that Dr. Martin has been working on for the last couple of years. I won't bore you with the details (that will come in later posts) but I'll be studying the diversity of one of the earliest complex mammalian communities in life's history. Rad.

After lunch with Dr. Martin and Dr. Luo, I wandered into the city before catching my train back to town. Flying high from an exciting meeting with Dr. Martin, I really didn't care that the weather was drizzly and grey. I walked by the castle where the other natural scientists work on zoological and chemical problems and into the main square. I'll detail the city later when I actually start to make sense of it all, but suffice it to say, this place is a little bigger than Marburg, just as cute, and a bit flatter. It will be a fun place to explore for the next 10 months and the town has gotten good reviews from friends who have visited.

A large Catholic Basilica dominates the skyline and I hope to make a Sunday visit to the place. Here in Marburg the large church, St. Elisabeth, is Lutheran. I'm pretty jazzed to make it west into Catholic country where I get to use the impressive architecture for worship:

I should point out that this church was severely damaged after WWII and final restoration was completed in 1986. Much of Germany is like this, with seemingly old or even ancient sites bearing the scar of history. But the Germans are very proud that they were able to put everything back were it was. A resilient people.

As I walked past various shops and avenues, I kept passing reproductions and images of a very severe looking statue of a man glaring at the passing hoi poloi. I couldn't figure out the fascination with this surly individual. Then I rounded the corner of the square and saw the statue up close:
And tree simple words at his feet explained his look of disdain, "Ludwig von Beethoven." I had forgotten Bonn's other claim to fame. It is the childhood home of every one's favorite Classical/Romantic composer with an ear-horn. I have a feeling we'll become pretty good buds over the course of the next year.

As it continued to rain, I hustled towards the train station with conflicting feelings. I was headed back to Marburg, my home for the moment, leaving the place that will feel like home in a few short weeks. Bonn is an unexplored map soon to be populated with favorite restaurants, views, bars and memories. But at the moment I was ready to get back to Marburg to enjoy a few more memories in Hessen.

I hope you enjoyed your weekend, wherever your home is and you filled in a few new locals on your own memory-map.

P.S. This is the first in what promises to be a serious of posts beginning with Bonn-related puns. The possibilities are pretty exciting.

German Heutewort: Möbel - Furniture (Neuter)

Ich habe nicht Möbel nur. Ich habe nicht ein Address nur!
I don't have any furniture yet. I don't even have an address yet! (it's true)


Mama B said...

Some questions about your photos:
1. Is that Marilyn Monroe at the Last Supper in the Bills fan photo?
2. Does Steinweg, the Marburg street leading to the Oberstadt, really bend like that or is it an optical illusion?
3. Why do you always study in places that have such quaint museums (the broomstick holding the plesio was really creative)?
4. Shall we analyze why you like paths that disappear into the distance? Or just assume what we already know about you?
Can't wait for more Bonn stories, but hope you get into that Muppet booth first!

Matt said...

1. Yes. For some reason cafè Journal, which has an otherwise vaguely French them, has a corner of kitschy 50's American memorabilia. The picture above the Bill's fan (Ben) depicts Marilyn Monroe as Christ with James Dean, Elvis, Charlie Chaplin, Grace Kelly etc. as the various apostles. I feel like more thought should have been put into which apostle each celebrity should fill in for. Obviously Elvis should really be the King. Anyway...
2. The street really does this graceful turn up the hill into the quaint designer shops and cafès in the Oberstadt. If you know how to create such an optical illusion, I would love to learn.
3. As much as I love huge metropolitan museums like the American Museum of the Field Museum, I have a special place in my heart for quaint regional museums that are usually run by true amateurs, people that love what they do and what they're showing people. Ohio State's museum falls into the category. So does Bowman's and so, as you observed, does Bonn's.
4. I think we can all speculate on what the path's really mean to me. We're probably all correct.

The Bonn stories will continue, for sure, but first there are Kassel stories to tell!