Beginning in the Middle

Beginning in the Middle

I just heard some fireworks outside – early celebrations for Pakistan Day? That will be celebrated on the 23rd March, with parades in the city and most people enjoying a national holiday.

What is Pakistan like in March? In what aspect? Let’s stick to the weather. Favourite topic of conversation in so many situations. The weather here in March is quite different from what it is in Germany. Some places in the plains are already quite warm during the day, reaching around 25-30°C, while places in the mountains can still be quite cool. There might still be patches of snow around while the first blossoms announce spring. We’ve had some rain, also some snow and hail in the mountains recently – but I do believe spring is pretty much here 🙂

I would say that starting work in Pakistan has been wonderful, strange, stressful, a privilege…a whole mix of things. It is a new beginning: first time working full time after studying, first time living in my own apartment, first time independently responsible for a number of classes…but somehow its also like starting in the middle of a story: I joined the staff in the middle of the school year and I’m back in a place I used to live, though it feels like that was a long time ago. A mix of old and new, strange and familiar. A country I lived in as a child and teenager that I am getting to know in a whole new way. A country where I love the food and clothing and friendly hospitality, yet I hardly speak the language and struggle to fit learning vocab and the alphabet into my busy work schedule.

What have I learned so far?

1) Working hard for the sake of the students is a lot more motivating than research paper deadlines or exams at university…but it also feels like a much bigger responsibility!

2) No matter how cute/sweet you feel you’re students are…try not to say it out loud.

3) Grading homework, presentations, tests and essays is just as much work as I anticipated…but it is do-able. Just…don’t procrastinate. Same as in school. At Uni. Always.

4) School food is so much nicer than having to cook every single day…

5) No matter how much work you feel you have, don’t forget to sleep, eat, get some fresh air – and BREATHE.

And in all, remember that God is the one carrying you through. Don’t try to do it alone. And don’t be too perfectionist. With that said – I have really felt privileged to have so many people praying for me and also for the country. I feel peace about being here in Pakistan and feel thankful for all the friends, family, churches praying, supporting me, sending me messages or mail. Thanks guys!

 

Transition Time

Transition Time

From Freiburg to Wiedenest to Pakistan.

Its high time for another post! Yes, I made the slackline challenge (hurray, more in detail to follow) and no, I’m not in Pakistan yet – but I have left my home of seven years and moved away from Freiburg. Its been a pretty busy few weeks. Transition time. Packing time. Goodbyes. Painting my room. Presenting the work I will be doing in Pakistan. Getting rid of stuff. A lot of stuff. Writing Emails. Making phone calls. Trying to study in the midst of it all…a bit too much going on, really, but also an exciting time of change and transition. Just a few too many goodbyes. I tend not to think much about the implications of leaving until after the fact – makes things easier while there is still work to be done. But the last week in Freiburg I found myself saying goodbye to friends at my University, colleagues from work, neighbours, flatmates, girls from youth group, friends from church, random places that I knew I wouldn’t visit again…and caught myself feeling slightly sentimental. Seven years. I had never lived that long in one place. Ok, I left Freiburg a few times before as well and moved house like five times…but still. Its a long time all the same.

Somehow I both love and hate goodbyes. I love the excitement, the change, the anticipation of the new that is to come…and I hate having to organise a move, figuring out the logistics, and actually saying goodbye. Let’s make it short. Bye. See ya sometime. God bless.
I guess its just one of those things that doesn’t really get easier either. You’d think after moving so many times it wouldn’t matter anymore…but somehow it does.

And yet, its still not a final goodbye. I’ll be back for my Spanish exam in two weeks and Lord willing back to visit sometime next year. But I must confess I actually started writing a goodbye song…trying to put my thoughts into words. Maybe I’ll manage to finish it before I fly and can share it with you 🙂 For now – I am in the midst of preparations for moving to and working in Pakistan, continue to study and will hopefully manage to keep writing too.

Transition Time.

I started writing this post about two months ago and MUCH has happened since. Publishing it got buried under other tasks – like that exam I mentioned, preparation time in Wiedenest, packing and moving to Pakistan!

Transition time.

That place between the pages of two chapters.
That no man’s land.
That moving truck between a home and some place new.
Those strange in-between days that don’t quite belong to any season.

Closing the chapter “Student Life”, whatever that means.
A chapter of learning, discovering, trying things out, meeting people, getting to know yourself a bit better, perhaps, and figuring out life, setting goals, being idealistic and hoping to somehow change the world for the better. No routine or strict schedule – though I suppose that depends on what it is you are studying. Not accountable to anyone and free to learn or not as you please. Flexible. Able to travel at a moment’s notice. Student discounts wherever you go…its been real. Time to be a responsible adult now.

Closing the chapter “Freiburg”.
Pretty little city. Warmest region of Germany. Wine-growing area. Black Forest (Must say I did enjoy being a tour guide there…) Flammkuchen. Tannenzäpfle (though I must confess I never much liked the taste). Schwarzwälder Schinken. Bicycles. Dreisam. Bächle. Friends. Home. Place so full of original and alternative style I always felt one could do any strange thing and never receive an awkward glance. I could go to class barefoot, no one would mind.

Closing the chapter “Germany”.
After 9 years, my passport country has found a place in my heart. (I’m probably far more German than I even realise. Not too punctual though, I’m afraid.) Efficient. Organised. Productive. 😉 Autobahn without speed limits…and people (mostly) adhering to traffic rules. Old castles, old churches. Half-timbered houses. Nice cars. Free education. Chocolate. Hefeweizen. Sauerkraut. Semmelknödel. Rotkohl. Rinderroladen. Spätzle 🙂 Beautiful landscapes to explore by bike, beautiful lakes and refreshing rivers to jump into, beautiful rocks to climb. People with a variety of different lovely German dialects…Alemannen, Schwaben, Sachsen 🙂 and I especially remember the cities where I preached or shared the gospel with some friends. Freiburg. Munich. Erding. Ulm. Nürnberg. Siegen. Berlin. Spending some hours on the street, talking with random strangers about life, faith, hope. Its the 500th anniversary of the reformation this coming year – I wonder how many Germans know the good news of Jesus and are aware of God’s amazing love?

Transition Time.
The room a mess. Boxes everywhere. Piles of clothes and random things to give away or throw in the trash. Doctor’s appointments, last minute check-up at the dentist. Vaccinations.
For a few weeks, I have no home.
Living out of a suitcase. Instability. Strange combination of excitement and exhaustion.
Apprehension and longing. Happiness and a sense of sadness.
What day is it again?

At the airport in Leipzig.
Suitcases all checked in.
Final goodbyes said. Hugs.
Waving one last time as I move through the passport control.
Take off the shoes. And belt. No belt? Forgot it. Don’t ask me how.
Laptop and liquids separate, please.
Sitting in the waiting area – time to board the flight.
Writing messages to family and friends until a stewardess bids all passengers to switch off their electronic devices.

Layover in Istanbul.
Standing at a counter waiting.
“So where’s home for you?” The man in front of me asks, a kind smile in his eyes.
“Everywhere and no-where,” I reply.

I like layovers.
I like long journeys.
They allow you to take time for that in-between phase.
They help you take a moment to reflect and look back on that last chapter, remember what was wonderful and let go of what wasn’t.
They give you a moment to hold your breath as you think in anticipation of what is to come, as you wonder about the new chapter ahead – wonder what is in store and whether it’ll be all you expect or quite different.
They give you a moment to rest, to be in no-man’s land and just sleep.
There is time still. The flight isn’t leaving for another few hours. Just stop for a bit.
Regain your strength. People used to go by boat, they had a long time for transition then.
Everything moves faster nowdays.

Transition time.
That time and place between the pages of two chapters.
That no man’s land.
That moving truck between a home and some place new.
Those strange in-between days that don’t quite belong to any season.

Transition time.
It ends soon.

I began my studies in Freiburg in October 2009.
Last Thursday, I went out for a special buffet breakfast at the fancy Serena hotel with my parents and little brother in Islamabad, Pakistan, celebrating the success of my final exam in Spanish on November 18th 2016, marking the end of my studies. (Time for a little victory dance, it is finished! :D)

Now, I am starting a new chapter:
Chapter “teaching” and “Pakistan” and “let’s-pretend-to-be-grown-up”, or something like that.
I have already arrived.
I have a new phone number, some new clothes and will soon have a new apartment: a new place to call home.
Excitement outweighs doubt or apprehension:
This is going to be a good chapter, I can tell!

Discovering the Isteiner Klotz

Discovering the Isteiner Klotz

Today was a German holiday: the 3rd of October is the day we celebrate the reunification of Germany in 1990. In Pakistan this was usually a special day for us – here in Germany I often feel that people don’t think much about it, its just a day off work. I had spontaneously gone to visit my brother Sunday evening and wanted to head back to Freiburg today after lunch. The train wasn’t too full, despite the holiday – but we ended up getting stuck in a small town called Efringen-Kirchen, about 60km away from Freiburg. I seriously considered cycling home…but was discouraged by the fact that I had no food and hardly any water and all the shops would be closed. In the end, after waiting for about half an hour, we were informed that our train could not continue and we would have to get off and wait for the next train, due in about 30minutes. I took my bike and decided to explore Efringen-Kirchen. I soon realised that everything was indeed closed – not that there were many shops to start with, but both the bakery and the one or two other shops I passed by were shut. I saw a sign saying “Istein 2km” and figured I might as well enjoy the sunny day going to the next station by bike instead of waiting around. I had always wondered about Istein – going this way by train countless times I always heard the town announced over the loud speakers when we stopped, but I had never visited the place. It didn’t take me long to reach the little town and it struck me as quite pretty – lots of vineyards, beautiful little half-timbered houses and the backdrop of a hill with large boulders and cliff-like rocks. It reminded me of some of the landscapes I had seen in the Danube valley.
I stopped to take a picture and shortly after spotted some people going for a walk in a small graveyard. Right behind them was a little chapel, up in the cliff. I parked my bike and climbed up some stairs to check it out – a sign informing me that I had discovered the 150m high limestone rock “Isteiner Klotz” and the small chapel of Saint Veith, apparently dating back to the 12th century. (Sorry, I didn’t actually take a picture of the chapel…next time)
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It was pretty fascinating, although the way to the top of the rock was closed off and part of the area designated a nature reserve, so I couldn’t actually climb up to the cliffs or go into some of the caves. I had to be content with looking inside the little prayer chapel and enjoying the view of the rocky hill from below. After a few minutes I returned to my bike and made my way to the Isteiner train station to catch the next train to Freiburg. This time the train was extremely full and we had to figure out a way to fit rather a lot of bikes in a small space…but most people were in a good mood, despite the inconvenience of the cancelled train. When I mentioned my unsuccessful attempt to buy food a lady even offered me a Landjäger  🙂 What happy misfortune, that a train malfunction led to a beautiful bike ride, discovering a pretty new place and meeting friendly people on this holiday. Happy 3rd of October everyone  😀

Discovering: 3-day bike tour day 3 – from Sigmaringen to Ulm

 

Passing through the village of Munderkingen

On Monday my brother and I rode from Sigmaringen to Ulm. It was a beautiful bike ride – we passed through some pretty little towns and villages and also had some nice paths right along the river. I would say I probably preferred day two with the impressive rocks – but both was beautiful and very much enjoyable in it’s own way 🙂 We stopped in a small town called Ehingen to have a late lunch break – it was a nice stop and a well needed rest to get some food and refill our empty water bottles.

Ehingen

 We arrived in Ulm and spent two days relaxing and playing tourist which was a lot of fun 🙂 we were able to stay with a friend which was cool and he welcomed us with a splendid dinner. Enjoying good food together always has a high priority – and we had plenty of that!

Pakistani breakfast of parathas and fried eggs

What can you do in Ulm? Lots 🙂         My favorite spot is probably along the river Danube in the Fischerau – there’s a bridge there that leads to Neu-Ulm and it’s a great place to go swimming and jump into the river. Very refreshing after a long bike ride 🙂


The city centre also has it’s charms – with some pretty half timbered houses and little alleys and of course the Münster – the church with the highest steeple in the world at 161,53 m! We went all the way up (costs 3,50-5,00 Euros) and had a sweet view of the whole city – was definitely worth the climb!

Tuesday afternoon we went to a small lake to go swimming – it was a really sunny day which was great. Ulm tends not to be known for it’s good weather – I did pray for sunshine though 🙂

Wednesday was quite a sporty day with cycling and rock climbing on our agenda! I’ve always loved climbing and as a kid I would climb up any wall or tree I could – at school I spent many a break time or afternoon up my favorite tree on the playground. I also went rock climbing a few times and always wanted to do more but it wasn’t til recently that I finally signed up for a beginners course at my uni and spent a weekend in a climbing gym and out in the Black Forest to climb some rocks. It was amazing. Of course you’re up there and there’s the feeling of – “why am I doing this?” and “this is incredible” at the same time! I like the challenge, the team work and the time you get just you and the rock, your head and muscles. Or lack of 😉 And that’s what led to us going climbing in the Blautal near Ulm.

 I had heard that there were some places around for climbing, some friends of mine are passionate climbers and go out a lot – so I had asked our host, also a climber, if it would be possible to organize a rope and go climb. It all worked out and was pretty sweet! We cycled about 20km to the cliffs and hiked up a little way up a mountain and then our friend climbed up first lead climbing so that my brother and I could climb top rope. It was challenging – the rock was real slippery in some parts and I must admit I fell a lot! But I was always caught safe by the rope and it was a good exercise to just try again and work a bit harder. In the end I also got to do a short climb doing lead climbing which was especially cool – it was a totally different feeling to know that I really shouldn’t fall or at least to be aware of my climbing higher and securing more rope making a fall safer. Even then I did fall and get a few scratches – but it was worth it!

 Now our Ulm adventure has come to an end and today we hit the road again – not cycling all the way back, but taking the train via Friedrichshafen, by the Bodensee (Lake Constance). There’s also a really nice cycling route along there – from Ulm to the lake and then even all the way to Basel – maybe something for another time 🙂

So would I recommend a trip like this? Definitely! The bike tour and discovering Ulm are both worth it – it wasn’t my first time in Ulm but I never get tired of it either. I’ve already decided that I would love to live in a city where I can jump in the river any time 🙂 though I guess I would really have to pray for good weather all year round then 🙂

Discovering: my first 3-day bike tour OR: What’s next? 

So I know I promised some more pictures and details of the Black Forest and hikes…things have been a bit crazy lately and I didn’t really get around to it. After my Black Forest camping trip and super important final exam I had some time with friends and family and actually even spent a day at the North Sea 🙂 and then had to do a lot of work for Uni, organizing some stuff and actually preparing for what comes next. I’ve talked about finals and how I’m in my finishing sprint for exam but never really mentioned what I’m going to do when those exams are done. Two years ago I shared my post “A choice you make“, saying how in the end, no matter how many things you’re interested in or passionate about or how many options might even make sense – you can’t do everything and have to be brave and choose something while saying no to something else. Finishing Uni the logical step would have been for me to do 1,5 years teacher training at a school in Germany – working and preparing lessons and already with a salary but under supervision and with some additional classes and testing. Another option would have been to take a bit of a break – since the last two years of studies were rather intense – to just keep working as a freelancer and take time to rebalance and invest in church and evangelism and student ministry. But there was this dream I had as a teenager and it never went away – I always dreamed of going back to Pakistan one day, as an adult, not just for a visit – but to stay, for a minimum of two years and give something back to the country and the school that meant so much to me growing up. Of course my childhood wasn’t perfect – there were things that were hard and I might even wish different – but I think that would have been just as true if I had grown up anywhere else. So at some point as a teenager I prayed about this and told God that I didn’t really know where I would live and work and build a family long term, but that maybe two or three years in Pakistan could be a stop along the way? That was about ten years ago. Now, as my studies are ending and I’m ready for the next step, I’m preparing to go to Pakistan for 2,5 years. I’m excited and happy to be going back after nine years and hope and pray that God will bless the road ahead and give me strength and wisdom for my new role and responsibilities in this post-student-life chapter.
So that’s also why things are a bit crazy – in the mist of my exam preparation for my Spanish finals I’m also preparing to move to Pakistan, praying for my Visa and thinking about how I’m going to say goodbye to Freiburg and Germany – a place I really grew to love and appreciate, despite myself! And a place where I was blessed to meet so many amazing people that became friends and classmates and colleagues and neighbours – and family. But that’s not really the topic of this post, because it’s still too early to say goodbye! I still have a couple months and have my own little bucket list of things to do before goodbye really does come. What’s on that list? Well, I won’t share everything…but here’s one for starters: I really wanted to go on a bike tour! Why? Because I love riding my bike and that’s one thing I won’t be able to do in Pakistan – and I must confess I’ve never really been on a bike trip longer than one day…somehow always found the task of organizing that too daunting…
But that’s what I’m doing right now. I talked with my brother about the idea and he had been thinking about doing a tour in Switzerland, in the end we decided on a 3-day tour along the Danube from Freiburg to Ulm via Donaueschingen and Sigmaringen. I’m super excited and happy to be on the road, getting plenty of beautiful landscapes, fresh air and exercise and just hope my bike holds out for the whole trip 🙂


Today was a light start of just 30km from Titisee to Brigachtal – I took a slight detour but that brought me to some really pretty villages and woods so it was totally worth it. Tomorrow should be about 90km til Sigmaringen and there’s some really amazing cliffs and rocks along that stretch of the Danube so looking forward to a beautiful day 🙂 and on Monday we’ll have about 110km from Sigmaringen to Ulm. Will let you know how it works out, but I’m confident that it will be a nice little adventure 🙂


  

Discovering: High Class Camping in the Black Forest

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Camp site in St.Peter

A week ago I experienced another first: I booked a camp site for the first time in my life! It really was quite a mile stone, considering that I had been wanting to go camping forever and finally managed to plan it all. Two friends and I had been talking about meeting up during the summer and I simply suggested: let’s go camping. Let’s go to the Alps, let’s go somewhere in Germany – let’s just get a van and some camping gear and head off into the wild. That was the idea. And to my surprise and delight – the proposal was accepted!

A few obstacles did arise, as was to be expected. We had no van. Some of us had to get holiday off work at short notice. One of us had invited a guy friend along so we had to find a second guy to balance the guy-gal ratio. One of us had to study for her final exams and was a little bit stressed…but hey, obstacles and problems exist so that we can find clever and creative solutions for them! And so we did 😀

As I wasn’t able to get off work and was also the individual presenting her exam…we decided to choose a location that would make this possible: the Black Forest. Since I work as a tourist guide for the Black Forest and happen to live there, I took it upon myself to do some exploring and felt responsible for finding a suitable location in this beautiful forest for our adventure. In recent years I had only ever gone camping without a tent – just found a nice spot to put my sleeping bag and enjoyed sleeping under the stars (see previous post). It is harder with a bigger group and a tent – I would still have loved for us to give it a go…but it is sort of illegal in Germany…in the sense that you could get fined if someone took offence and had the authority to fine you…and you do need to know where to go. So I asked around for camp site suggestions, went on some hikes, visited a couple of villages all in pursuit of the perfect spot!

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one of the spots I found – an old sawmill. I’m sure it would make a great shelter…

To my dismay I realised that camping on an official camp site is not as “wild and adventurous” as I had hoped. There are luxurious washrooms (not that I’m against cleanliness…but you know) There is a fireplace to have a BBQ. There is a playground and often a village with bakery and bus connections or train. There are neighbours with lawnmowers. And the price is a bit higher than what I would have expected…my first reaction was – dude, I just want to pitch my tent on this piece of grass…how much is that gonna cost? In the end I spontaneously chose a camp site I hadn’t even seen. Why? Because my friends were gonna arrive the next day and August is high season – everything is overbooked. I chose the campsite in Kirchzarten – because it is quite close to Freiburg and would make going to work and attending my exam a lot easier. And it included a free ticket for the whole Black Forest (KONUS Karte) and free entry to the swimming pool. I know, that doesn’t exactly sound like wild camping – more like high class camping…but hey, you have to alter expectations according to the situation, right?

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Camp site in Kirchzarten

 

In the end, it was a really good choice! We soon fell in love with our new home 😀 I realised that camping on a camp site simply cannot be compared with camping in the wild – it belongs to a category of its own and has to be appreciated as such. You cannot go to a campsite and expect quiet and solitude and only the sounds of the wind and birds in the trees – its more like a little village with lots of neighbours and charming village life. Most other holiday campers had come with their caravan or camper plus giant house-like tents, had lots of cooking equipment, fridges, gas stoves and plenty of comfortable lawn chairs. Kids were running around with fancy scooters, playing games or being entertained by the daily kids program, which really was lots of fun to watch. Some campers even had a TV and were following the Olympics and watching movies. We had decided against the extra fee for electricity and tried to keep it as simple as possible – but didn’t mind enjoying the pool next door 🙂

There are some beautiful walks around Kirchzarten, but we ended up going a bit further and doing a tour near Titisee, visiting the Schluchsee and hiking up the Schauinsland (1284m). Will post some more pictures and holiday hike suggestions soon 🙂

And in case you were wondering, my exam went well – maybe not in spite of but because of the fun, laughter, hikes, swimming, good food and company that were all part of the special camping experience and managed to distract me and make me feel relaxed instead of nervous 😀 would do it again any day.

Discovering: the famous Blautopf

There are so many places in the world that I would love to visit! During my last few years of university I often found myself wishing I could just leave my studies and daily life behind for a little while, grab my backpack with essentials and go on a trip around the world. Of course, common sense and a sense of responsibility set in and kept me from carrying out that plan. Instead, I would just go on shorter trips over the weekend and often stay within my home country. Why not? Living in Germany, I realised that there are some really beautiful places to discover right here, on my doorstep. It isn’t always necessary to cross a border, walk through a desert or do something exotic to experience beauty and be enchanted by a new place. I started making a mental list of places in Germany that I wanted to get to know. This included the Sächsische Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland), Fränkische Schweiz (Franconian Switzerland), various villages and mountains in the Black Forest, cities like Berlin, Nürnberg, Bamberg, München, Bayreuth, Dresden, Lake Constance…the Swabian Alps. Some of these places I have by now seen, others remain to be explored. While planning a visit to some friends in the city of Ulm, I looked up the region around the Danube valley and found out about a place called “Blaubeuren”, where apparently there was a spring called the “Blautopf” – the “blue pot”. I was intrigued – is it really that blue? It sounded like something out of a fairy tale…How big is it? Is it in the woods – can you hike around there? Is there a legend or story connected to this strange blue pool of water? I was determined to visit the place and find out for myself! Unfortunately, despite visiting Ulm a couple of times – my detour to the Blautopf never quite worked out. Ulm itself also has a lot to offer and so I never made it to the mysterious spring. That is, until a few weeks ago: I attended the wedding of a friend in Neu-Ulm and was spontaneously invited to the evening do in the village of, you guessed it, Blaubeuren! There was some time to spare between arrival and dinner, so I set out with my sister and a few other wedding guests to find the Blautopf. It was a short walk through a little forest to the pool I had heard so much about – it wasn’t as wild as I had expected, there was a café nearby and a well made path with lots of other curious tourists, but still very pretty. At last I was standing right above the Blautopf with a good view of the pool and the beautiful mill behind it. And indeed, the name was not exaggerated: the Blautopf really was blue! Apparently the Rayleigh scattering of the light is responsible for the distinct blue colour and is caused by tiny limestone particles in the water. (according to Wikipedia 😀 ).

Blautopf_Muehle

The pool is shaped like a funnel and measures 21m at its deepest point. The Blautopf feeds into the river Blau which flows into the Danube. According to legend, the depth of the Blautopf actually could not be measured, perhaps because the pool contains an entrance to the Blauhöhle, the largest cave system of the Swabian Alps, that only very experienced divers dare to explore. Some legends also mention a mermaid that was banned to the Blautopf but eventually managed to escape with the help of a local woman…

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no mermaid…but what marvellous blue 🙂

So if ever you are travelling near Ulm and not sure what sights to visit – consider including the village of Blauberuen in your travel plans and catching a glimpse of the blue pot. It is also a great region for hikes or cycling, if you want to leave the car at home and forego public transport, just pray for sunshine and enjoy the day 😀

What’s your favourite place in Germany? Feel free to share in the comments below and maybe I can add it to my list of places to discover 😀