We all woke up very early; most of the students are still adjusting to the time change, especially the Asian students for whom the difference is something like 12-13 hours. Eventually, everyone found his or her way down to the Kanu Club meeting room where we each checked our email and Facebook accounts, and at 7:30 Frau Heusner´s son Mike brought in breakfast: frische Brotchen (fresh rolls), Käse (cheeses) und Fleischsorten (various cold deli meats) with coffee and juice.
At 9:00 we boarded a Kanu-Club van and were driven over to the University of Duisburg-Essen near the city center. Mike is still learning to drive on the right side of the road (With British accent: "It´s all a bit backwards isn´t it then?") and has already picked up a speeding ticket from a traffic camera. Today at least, we managed the trip without incident.
At the campus we were greeted by Malte and together we walked over to the private classroom where B.E.S.T. courses will take place. There we met Jörn and a new student assistant Lena Grünhagen. After a few minutes the B.E.S.T. staff arrived and we were introduced to Director Dr. Peter Charmoni and Associate Director Prof. Dr. Dieter Cassel. Each welcomed us to Duisburg and then they gave a joint presentation on the history of the university and an overview of B.E.S.T.
The University of Duisburg-Essen is the result of a 2003 merger between the Mercator University of Duisburg and the nearby University of Essen. Germany has a much higher percentage of public, state-sponsored schools vs. private universities and mergers due to financial considerations are not uncommon. The University of Duisburg-Essen now comprises around 35,000 students over two campuses. Duisburg campus focuses on management and engineering while the Essen campus focuses on economics and humanities. The "Mercator" in the university´s original name comes from the cartographer Gerhard Mercator, known for the famous Mercator projection world map, who lived and died in Duisburg. Not wanting to lose the historically-significant connection, the Duisburg campus renamed it business school (which runs B.E.S.T.) the Mercator School of Management.
We followed this presentation with eine Kaffeepause (coffee break) in die Mensa (cafeteria) downstairs. Most of the food is fresh, if not organic, and the cafeteria even has a small beer selection. The self-service coffee machines are all professional-grade espresso makers with all the choices of a Starbucks for a quarter of the price and twice the taste.
|B.E.S.T. 2011: (L to R) Claudine "Clo" Guadagoli, Meruyert Zhamanshina, Blayze Melgoza, myself, HU Mian Mian, Alexis de Young, Ryan Owens, LAI Kit Ying|
Back in the classroom, Malte and Jörn gave a brief lesson on German geography and politics. Duisburg is situated in the "state" of Nordrhine-Westfalen. Altogether, Germany is comprised of 16 "states" or Länder of various sizes including some city-state areas like Hamburg, Bremen, and Berlin. The country boasts a population of 82.5 million, the largest in Europe, and the German language is the native tongue of over 100 million people on the continent. Germany itself is known as a major industrial state with many famous companies such as Thissen-Krupp Steel, Bayer, Hansa, and BMW. Several of these firms are based or have offices and factories in the Ruhr region which is situated around the Ruhr River in Nordrhine-Westfalen, some of which will visit over the course of the program.
We then toured the B.E.S.T. offices where Malte, Jörn, and Dr. Cassel work as also walked around the library. Sure enough everyone was on Facebook; some things are constant everywhere. Afterwards, we walked by the university tram station and had a peek at the city zoo and its giraffes across the street before stopping at the university´s main cafeteria for lunch where with student cards we can eat for around $2-4 a meal.
|Infamous rotating fountain near König-Heinrich-Platz, downtown Duisburg.|
Following lunch we walked back to the tram station and rode to the Duisburg Hauptbahnhof (central station). Our student passes allow for unlimited access to all city transportation (bus, train, and tram) and the most trains seem to run on an honor system where failure to produce a valid ticket results in a 40 Euro find. From there we entered the König-Heinrich-Straße (King Henry Street), a popular pedestrian shopping street in the city-center near the opera and courthouse. A couple of students searched for a bank to convert currency, but like at home, most require you to have an account with them to do so. We then visited the big Duisburg mall called The Forum for a couple of hours. Some of the clothing is heavily-influenced by American pop-culture, but as Blayze pointed out, all the references are about two years out-of-date.
We were to meet at the nearby Starbucks (again with the Starbucks!!) which led to confusion since there were two in the same block. Jörn is a self-described coffee addict and told us how older Germans are convinced that Starbucks is destroying die Kaffeekultur and prefer their Italian-style cafes. As for Jörn, he says, “Kaffee ist Kaffee.”
For dinner, we headed back towards the university area and stopped at ein Biergarten called Finkenkrug with the motto “222 Biersorten. 1 Kneipe.” (“222 Beers. 1 Pub.”) It´s a big student hangout and the food is pretty good. However, the real draw is obviously the beers from all around Europe and the world. Having sampled the local brew König Pilsener the night before, I opted to range further afield and tried a very strong Belgian Klösterbier (monastery beer) and a tamer Turkish pilsner. We stayed comfortably in the lower range of the pub´s offerings thought the cellar stocks beers up to 40% alcohol by volume. Malte and Jörn were careful to point out that Germany has a strong beer culture with an ancient brewery or two operating in most every town; however, most people are very responsible and are less-often involved in the types of alcohol-related incidents common in the U.S.
|Abendessen im Finkenkrug. “222 Biersorten. 1 Kneipe.”|
Afterwards, Malte and Jörn headed back to their homes in the suburb of Müllheim, leaving the rest of us to navigate the city transit system back to the Kanu-Club. Despite our jet-lag, the day´s events had tired us out, and we were all asleep in minutes!! We needed the rest because the next day, we would be going on a field trip to the regional capital of Düsseldorf.