Pietu in Ulm

Is there anything better than arriving in Ulm, Germany during Covid-19 to have a fantastic Erasmus Exchange experience? Aching heel pain and a handful of rude cashiers are not cutting it short.

Ulm is a double city in the state of Baden-Württemberg, neighboring its Bayern cousin Neu-Ulm on the other side of Donau. This high church tower behind me is called Ulmer Münster and it is the tallest in the world.

Hi there, Pietu here! Before you ask “Now, have I missed something?” or “ Who is crazy enough to go abroad these times?” shall I present myself: I am a 28-year-old energy Technology student, I like metal-music, beer, Germany, singing and well… Of course one has to like their studies if even just a bit to go exchange. To the latter question: I am.

“But how were you able to fly from Finland?!”
• On one hand it was quite simple because I did not require any other documents than a passport. According to Robert Koch Institute, Oulu was not classified a risk area on the departure date and intermediate landing in Helsinki didn’t affect that fact. All said, I didn’t even have to stay in quarantine waiting for test results.
• On the other hand it’s… painful. There’s someone special that I will be missing 😔

Of course I was already fully aware that everything here would be closed excluding grocery stores, pharmacies and hospitals. I was, however, relieved to know that the curfew during nights had been cancelled, because albeit I’m no burglar, I wouldn’t want to be a “prisoner” in my own flat. General mask consensus here is that you can be outside without a mask but if you go inside, someone will for sure come and tell you to wear one if you aren’t. The only difference really is that because of guidelines, everyone in Finland already wears a mask in shops etc.. Don’t have any spare left? Go shopping for some then! Oh wait…

In spite of all the regular tutoring and team activities including road trips and other events being cancelled, on the very first day after arrival I had an unforgettable experience in a grocery store; my Finnish credit-debit card wasn’t accepted, so I had to leave all my shopping by the cash desk and wandering about in an unknown territory trying to find an Automatic Teller Machine when deus ex machina my brother, living in Germany, called me and provided help finding the nearest “Bankomat”. What wasn’t so fortunate, however, were my plantar fasciitis and my unreliability to cleanness of local water sources.

Wait, whaat!?

Because I am somewhat able to sense that you might be thinking: “what in the world is plantar fasciitis and what does these things have to do with groceries?!”, I shall enlighten you a little my fellow readers… I am also writing a personal blog of my Erasmus experience, so please, go check it out if you are wondering what’s going on, for I share a lot more there.

To be honest, now that I’m rewinding, I can come up with many reasons for why I am rather content about the fact that a classical exchange experience is not possible this time. For me as a semi-introvert person it is easier to get to know other people when there aren’t too many. Besides me there’s Carlos from Spain and Patryk from Poland, and for starters I wanted us all to have some decent second-hand bicycles for which the re’s a thing here called Ebay Kleinanzeigen. Not only is cycling the most practical and economical way to move from place to place here but also a perfect means of getting to know surroundings and seeing sights. I myself preferred a mountain bike as I would like to try nearby off-road tracks using Komoot-app.

So calm… As a person who tends to be helpless without navigation, I am rather fond of this phone mount. One should also lock all kinds of bicycle accessories, for theft is not an uncommon trait here either, sadly.

I’ve also realised that because there are no tutor activities and no-one helping to translate everything for me, I’ve had to put my B1/B2 level of German to the test. And guess what? I’ve done pretty well not only as a customer in customer service situations, but also when strangers have approached me for a chat. It really has caught my eye that people around here tend to be really open and friendly, even helpful: I was installing some attachments in my bicycle in front of a department store, a gentleman saw this and offered his help including tools. Some others beside me were joking that it looks like I am going to steal my own bicycle and if I would require any help with it. Yet again have I managed to disprove a common stereotype about Germans: they do have humour, it is just different; somewhat darker perhaps. It has been interesting to note, however, that from some cashiers this easiness is missing. They might yell at customers for some stupid things like forgetting to take a shopping basket and asking for a change. Well I guess it’s just when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Although I was quite sure that was my surname already, Roman 🤔

Best way to spend time during these times!

Fortunately I have a German friend called Judith, who happens to live on the other side of Danube river. She did her Erasmus Exchange in Oulu 2017-2018, when we also by chance performed in a same Suomi100 (Finland turning 100 years celebration year) concert. His boyfriend Tobias is a captain of the local Ultimate-team, so I’ve also got to play Frisbee Golf for my first time with them. As far as I know there are at least two good places in Neu Ulm to go throwing.

They have also acquaintanced me with a Svabian traditional food called Spätzle, which is basically egg pasta topped with cheese and some roasted onion as a side dish. For historic reasons, it is also consumed in some countries behind the southern Germany border. I also learned that wheat beer is supposed to be poured into a correct wheat beer glass with a steep enough angle, so that it wouldn’t froth over, and also that the yeast in the bottom of the bottle is supposed to be mixed well before pouring the rest to the glass. Prost!

Spätzle. Wheat beer glass on top left.

Of course being in exchange is a lot more than just cycling and drinking wheat beer as above all I have come here to study. My program is called Semester Program in Energy Economics (SPEEC), which is quite close to my studies in Oulu so they can easily be included in them. Actually I see this as an opportunity to have courses that I otherwise couldn’t take the way they are. For example “Leadership and Business Communication” and “Cross Cultural Communication” are some courses that could benefit me if I ever decided to have an even somewhat international career. Shame that the latter one is going concurrently with my German course, but I am still hoping to enhance at least some of my deficiencies.

All the courses have now started or are being started, remotely of course. First I had some trouble joining courses as I didn’t obtain clear information from the exact schedule nor links to remote lectures. It would also be interesting to follow some lectures in German to see if I can keep up. Still I am glad that I got assigned to the highest level German course, as it is a small dream of mine to be able to speak German fluently some day.

It is still a mystery whether restaurants, beer gardens will be opened this summer. Rammstein, my favourite Neue Deutsche Härte Band, had already postponed it’s Europe Stadium Tour to next year, unfortunately. It would also be a dream come true for me to experience an NDH festival, but if not this summer, perhaps next? This surely won’t be my last time in Germany!

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Ihanaa olla osakolainen!