Friday, October 13, 2006

Notes from Regensburg

1) Germans tend to be fairly formal. Compared to the average American university, it feels a bit weird. Professors are very, very senior and regarded with great respect. Getting to be a professor means going through a lengthy and trying period called habilitacion. Postdocs are basically assistants to a senior professor. A bit like being their RA and TA together. A professor has assistants, students and visitors and it's entirely up to his/her discretion who he/she wants. Their titles are Herr Professor Doctor XYZ. Can't call them just XYZ especially if you're a student. Herr is the basic requirement while addressing them. My official title is Herr Doctor Pande. Feels nice compared to Hey Dude, though I miss that informal and friendly atmosphere.

2) Regensburg is a fairly provincial university. Almost all the German students I've come across are from Bavaria and from within an hour or two at most. When asked about where they're from they give very precise directions - 45 km from the north, 70 km to the southeast, 80 km to the west. Since their families live so close they all tend to go home for the weekend. That means the bars/cafes are busy mostly during the week and on the weekends things are fairly quiet. All of them love to quote their favourite statistic - Regensburg has the highest density of bar/cafes in all of Germany. Knowing their precision for everything I don't think it's an exaggeration. The old town is especially lively.

3) I went to Munich yesterday to buy myself a eurail pass. I'm off to Berlin next week, Amsterdam at the end of november and then probably Spain in December so I figured a railpass makes more sense. I hate flying especially because of all the security and waiting and the closest airport from Regensburg is in Munich, almost 2 hours away. There's something called a Bavarian pass. 5 people can travel for 25 euros in all of Bavaria for a whole day - much cheaper than buying a single ticket. So going to Munich (it's in Bavaria) is cheap and easy. Just buy a Bayern ticket and wait near the ticket machine. Though I felt a bit shady hanging around the platform and ticket machine muttering the code word "Bayern ticket". Getting to Munich was easy but coming back to Regensburg required more standing and looking around. I felt like I was peddling drugs. The cops didn't care though.

4) I've been pleasantly surprised by the attention paid to recycling and saving power out here. Computers are switched off (not left on standby) and all the lights in the halls automatically switch off if there's no activity for too long.
Every campus cafe/canteen insists on serving food or coffee in reusable dishes. In fact, everyone has to put down a bit of a deposit in case there's some damage. There are lots of recycling bins everywhere and it feels reassuring not to throw away perfectly reusable items in the trash. Even a simple cup of coffee on campus is served in a normal coffee mug, not a paper cup. In the US, after a quick meal on campus or a coffee I used to feel like I was personally responsible for half an acre of the rainforest vanishing.

5) The department assembles for lunch at 12:30 everyday and then heads off to the Mensa (canteen). If you're even a minute or two late you know you missed the group. There's an Italian postdoc visiting the department and the poor guy has a hard time keeping to the schedule. Everyday after everyone's left the dept you can see the poor guy running from his office to catch up with us. He hates to eat alone and loves to talk. Problem is that when he talks he uses his hands, which means he stops eating. Everybody else finishes their meals at roughly the same time (feels like being in an army mess) and it's funny watching him gobble down his food as he can sense everyone else waiting for him to finish. He came 3 days after me and talks to me as if I've been in Regensburg for years - How do I get an internet connection, where can I get a light for my bike, Where can I buy an adaptor plug? He's shorter than me and his German is worse than mine, so he makes me feel almost...Bavarian.


Hans said...

This formal thing is typical for the German-speaking world and especially in Austria if you're working long enough for some public service you're announced "Professor" by the president. Famous conductor Karl Böhm once replied to a journalist who addressed him as "Professor Böhm": "Please call me Doktor Böhm, every asshole is a professor nowadays."

That powerful situation of university profs makes some of them turn into divas like this one guy S in Vienna. I experienced only this year how tough it can get once you lose the benevolence of your diva.

Tabula Rasa said...

hilarious post, Hair Doktor :-D

socket32 said...

you're experiencing herr loss

amitabha said...

What about Her ?

amitabha said...

I could be 'Herr ami'

Deniz said...

herr professor daddy,

wie gehen sie? I wunsche ihnen eine gute wochende.

Beks said...


Tabula Rasa said...

actually, with the amount he's eating, he's going to become a herr-pet-ologist. (HAH!)