After arriving at what was quite possibly the most terrifying railyard ever (apparently the route passes through the remnants of the overgrown old station onto which the newer station was attached), I gathered by things and raced through the underground shopping center to that aforementioned Starbucks where I found Malte Klück and Jörn Benzinger, our B.E.S.T. contacts, holding court with some locals. The irony of two Germans drinking coffee in a Starbucks was not lost on me, but I suppose the choice of meeting place was more for our benefit than for theirs. You try finding the Hauptbahnhofbäckreihandwerk!
A little after 9am the three of us set out for the B.E.S.T. dorm across town via street tram. Malte and Jörn are from the greater Duisburg area and attended high school together. They knew the city well and pointed our shops and attractions along the route. Duisburg is located in the Ruhr region, the industrial heartland of Germany. The city is consequently home to many factories and steel mills and a major brewery as well as the largest inland port in the world due to the city´s location at the confluence of the Rhine and Ruhr rivers.
Because the dorms typically used by B.E.S.T. are under renovation, this summer´s group will stay at the nearby Wanheimer Kanu-Club which is situated directly on the Rhine River. The Club is run by Frau Edda Heusner and her British-born son Mike. Frau Heusner has lived here for years while Mike only just moved to Germany last week and knows little of the language. He´s here to help sort out a few "bobs and bits" as he is fond of saying. They run the place as a guesthouse with beer garden; swimming pools; and yes, canoe rentals.
I´m sharing a room with Blaise from Colorado. He was resting when I arrived so I decided to go into town while Malte and Jörn returned to the train station for more students. And that´s when the trouble started...
The still-learning manager Mike had locked all the guest keys but Blaise´s in the main office that morning and his mother hadn´t come in yet with hers at the time I had arrived. Leaving for my walk, I heard the unmistakable click of an automatic lock as the guesthouse door closed and knew I would have to wait for Mike or Frau Heusner to let me back into my room.
I proceeded along a riverside walking path past a few fancy cottages and their retiree owners. The neighborhood around the Kanu-Club is mostly residential with some light-industrial facilities mixed in. I visited a couple of grocery stories, and since I had nothing better to do for a couple of hours, even tried to get a haircut. However, my dictionary and the specific words I needed were back at the Kanu-Club. Some other day then.
Malte and Jörn returned at a quarter to 12:00 with two more students and we soon sorted out the key situation. Frau Heusner then arrived, registered us, and asked us to sign internet use agreements. However, the Kanu-Club´s router had been stolen so we would have to wait until the repairman brought along a new one later in the day.
Blaise woke up, and he and I then spent the afternoon biking around the neighborhood and attempting to find a bite to eat. Many smaller cafes and shops are only open for a few hours or one specific meal, so that too some doing. We quickly discovered the bike lanes, and rode east towards a small shopping center with a ReWe grocery store and and a Trinkgut, a store which can only be described as a Sam´s Club for German drinks. The warehouse-style facility one can buy individual bottles or even whole pallets of mineral water (natural or with gas), sodas, wine, or a variety of local beers. During all of our shopping we picked up some fresh bread and coffee-flavored lemonade (OK, tastes like Coke) for a late snack.
We rode around some of the larger streets (including one named Rheintörchenstraße) which were still fairly residential with the exception of a few large Turkish shops and pool halls. Duisburg is home to 60,000 Turkish Muslims and the Turkish flag can be seen everywhere. Many of the older Turks came to Germany as part of the guest worker program(Gastarbeiterprogramm) in the 1960s and 70s when then-West Germany, facing a unskilled-labor shortage due to the travel restrictions imposed by East Germany and the Berlin Wall, brought in thousands of Turkish and Eastern European immigrants to temporarily fill jobs. Many never left, and consequently, modern Germany has a large Muslim community as well as the social challenges that go along with any minority population.
Back at the Kanu-Club, Malte and Jörn arrived with the last of the students: there are nine total including three from Colorado one from New Jersey, two from Hong Kong, two from Kazakhstan, and myself. Malte and Jörn held a brief introduction for everyone and then left us for the evening.
Dinner that evening consisted of fresh schnitzel (a thin, fried pork cutlet), french fries, potato salad and a small green salad: all very good. After dinner, several students and I went back up to the Trinkgut and purchased a few sodas and beers to try out. The local brew is König Pilsener (known here as KöPi). It was pretty decent and we decided a tour of the brewery should be added to our itinerary. We sat in the Kanu-Club garden overlooking the Rhine and watched the sunset. Meanwhile, a tripped circuit breaker in the guest building knocked out power to our floor and caused a commotion but was soon reset. By 10:30 everyone was very tired, and we all headed for bed. Tomorrow we´ll visit the university and have an orientation.