May Week is a University of Cambridge tradition—a week of mad revelry that happens, as you definitely would not expect, in June. The highlights of the week are May Balls, elaborate and elegant all-night parties hosted by the colleges. Larger colleges throw balls every year, but the smaller colleges take turns. This year, my alma mater (Corpus Christi College) hosted. Additionally, two white tie balls were held. (Most are black tie.) Since neither of those things happened last year when I was a student at Cambridge, I had to return this year to take part! My week involved very little sleep but lots of alcohol and lots of fun.
I arrived in England on Monday afternoon to the news that a friend had an extra formal hall ticket at Christ’s College that evening. So I dashed to the college, luggage in tow (thank goodness for porters!), and arrived just in time for sherry, good food, half a bottle of wine, and port. Since I don’t drink much in Munich, that was quite the boozy start to my week. In other words, it was good training for what was to come! After a day of meeting up with friends who still live in Cambridge, the real partying started Tuesday night with the St. John’s College May Ball. All sorts of rumors circulate about this party: Time once ranked it the seventh-best party in the world. They keep a reserve fund to buy extra fireworks at the last minute so they can be sure to top Trinity College’s display. I have no clue whether either of those rumors is true, but it was certainly a perfectly elegant evening. We went from bumper cars to swing boats and from pop-rock to beautifully sung opera. I was well-fed with crepes, cheeses, scones, macarons, and pizza. Particular highlights included the fireworks display and the tea bar.
Sam and I, at the beginning of the evening
Collecting strawberries at the strawberries and Champagne reception
My train to Hamburg was packed. Not just in the sense of “it sucks that you can’t find a seat for this six-hour, early-morning journey,” but in the sense of “no one can get to the bathrooms and also we’re not sure we can take on any more passengers, because the standing room is all taken.” We can partially blame this on the Deutsche Bahn strikes (fewer trains than usual were running), but apparently it’s mostly because I was heading to Hamburg just in time for one of their biggest events of the year: the Hafengeburtstag. That’s literally the “harbor birthday,” and ships from all over the world come to parade, race, and mingle. Of course, there’s also lots of fireworks and street food. (I ate plenty of herring—both raw and pickled—and Schmalzkuchen—fried balls of dough with powdered sugar.) So I threw most of my other plans for the weekend away and helped Hamburg celebrate its harbor’s birthday in style!
I had to take a picture of this boat for two reasons: (1) it shares a name with a Wagner opera, and (2) it was in Amsterdam (moored near the boat I stayed on) during King’s Day! I theorize that it’s just travelling from party to party
The wheel of a beautiful military sailing ship from 1933
The rigging of the Gorch Fock
I love the name of this ship!
Not all the ships were pretty or old…
A recreation of a ship from 1703
The ridiculous masthead of the 1703 ship
Steering the ship!
A carved dolphin (?) on the staircase of the 1703 ship
I love the green sails
Hamburg’s Captain San Diego is on the move
But the Captain San Diego isn’t driving itself
Aboard the museum ship Rickmer Rickmers
A rescue demonstration: this ship “caught fire,” and a helicopter came to help
The fire boats also came
Why only use one helicopter when you can use two? This one actually lowered a sling and lifted some people who had “fallen overboard” into the helicopter
A big fireworks show ended the day
The other main tourist attraction I managed to get to was Miniatur Wunderland, the world’s largest model railway. It’s impressive for its sheer size, and it also does a good job of conveying the overall differences in terrain and architecture between the represented regions (Switzerland, Austria, Hamburg, the fictional German town of Knuffingen, Bavaria, Middle Germany, America, and Scandanavia). It has an airport, concert halls, soccer stadiums, a space shuttle, UFOs, ships, and lots and lots of trains. There are also some fun Easter eggs in the tiny figures—everything from an elephant pulling a steamroller to a man bungee jumping from construction equipment.
The last leg of my journey: Holland. This is a refrain I keep repeating, but I wish I’d had more time! Two days each in two cities was not nearly enough. I didn’t get to explore the Dutch countryside, or even see all the museums I wanted to see in the cities. I guess I’ll just have to return someday…
I don’t actually remember what any of these old buildings were. I was just taking pictures, okay?
This is the large church. I couldn’t even fit half of it in the picture. It’s absurd
More pretty colors
This is the tower prison where John and Cornelius de Witt were jailed before they met their horrifying ends. And also, briefly, the fictional Cornelius van Bearle, hero of Dumas’ The Black Tulip!
William of Orange
The Hague seems to be a hugely popular destination for Dutch tourists and a relatively ignored one for international tourists. On one hand, this is a shame, because it means tours of most attractions are only offered in Dutch (with significantly shorter written or audio-guided English summaries). But it means the locals don’t roll their eyes at foreign tourists, so that’s nice! There are a lot of museums in The Hague, and I drove myself a bit crazy trying to get to all the major ones. I failed—in fact, I missed the city’s two biggest sights: the Mauritshuis Museum (home of “Girl with a pearl earring”) and the Peace Palace. But I saw a lot anyway. I arrived in the afternoon on Saturday in time to take a tour of the Hall of Knights, the ceremonial hall where the King delivers his speech from the throne on budget day. The room is impressive without being flashy. Its ceiling is made as an inverted boat, and the walls are lined with handwoven tapestries celebrating The Netherlands’ provinces. Little imps sit on the wooden rafters—a relic of the days when it was a courtroom, and the imps carried defendents’ and witnesses’ words to St. Peter, who would recall their truthfulness (or lack thereof) when he judged them for admission to heaven. In the center of the room is the still-used gold-and-velvet throne.
Stained glass with the crests of various families who have ruled The Netherlands. (You can see Bavaria’s on the left)
Hall of Knights
Tapestries on the walls
I was really here!
Part of the building, from the outside
The Hall of Knights
Fountain in front of the Hall of Knights
A former goldsmith’s building in the Binnenhof
The Binnenhof (which includes the Hall of Knights and the Prime Minister’s tiny tower office, all the way to the left) from across the water
I started Sunday with Escher in the Palace, a museum I found doubly attractive because it’s the only palace open to the public (and it contains some of the original furnishings and details about the royal family’s life) and because it hosts a permanent exhibition of artwork by Escher. I’ve seen Escher exhibits before, but this one had more of an emphasis on his earlier landscapes and nature drawings, which I found interesting. (You could already see how he was playing with repetition and perspective, but it was subtle.) There was also a kitschy top floor with optical illusions and photo opportunities inspired by Escher prints. Continue reading Holland: The Hague and Amsterdam→
This is part of my trilogy of posts about the Fulbright Berlin Seminar. See the first post for an introduction. This post is about the conference itself, including the socializing that happened around it.
After we arrived and checked into our hotels on Sunday, the conference offered us tours of Berlin. I chose one that focused on immigration and Islam. We visited the gorgeous Sehitlik Mosque, where a Muslim guide pointed out the architectural highlights and answered our questions about both the building and the religion. It was fascinating not only to hear her talk about Islam in Germany today, but also to see the wide range of my peers’ levels of knowledge about Islam. I was not very knowledgable, and I learned about core tenets of the religion and also about cool features of mosques. (I was especially intrigued by the niche that reflects sound back to the congregation so that the imam can face Mecca when he prays and still be heard by the people behind him.)
After a welcome dinner with far too much food and wine, we woke up on Monday morning for topic-based discussion panels. I was tasked with moderating the performing arts panel, where scholars who were researching (or simply attending a lot of) theater, opera, music, and dance shared their views. We talked about direction, funding, the experience of being a performer, the past and future of various media, and much more. The conversation was a bit all over the place (my fault, I suppose, given that I was supposed to be moderating), but often intriguing. One Italian scholar lives with an experimental theater company that brings art into public and private spaces as intimate as donated rooms in people’s homes!
As a thank-you for moderating, I was presented with the following mug. Look closely—you’ll spot a funny Germanism.
The Vienna social season began with the Silvesterball, and it’s now in full swing. (It will last until the end of carnival in mid-February.) I went back for my second visit this past weekend, attending three balls in three days!
It started with the Zuckerbäckerball—literally, the sugar bakers’ ball (promoted as the “sweetest ball of the season”)—on Thursday. I met up with two fellow Fulbrighters there. They had a nice table right on the dance floor in the main hall, so we partied in style.
As you might guess, this ball featured lots of cake. There were cake lottery tickets for sale (every ticket wins a cake, but the size and type is a surprise), sugar-sculpting demonstrations, and a cake-decorating competition. The entries for the competition were pretty impressive. A few of my favorites:
Degrees work strangely at Cambridge. I was approved for my M.Phil. in June, but I couldn’t actually graduate until October’s convocation. For most Americans, that would be kind of annoying, because it’s a long, expensive flight to England. But, of course, I didn’t move back to America, and it’s a short, cheap flight from Munich.
The Gates-Cambridge Scholars Alumni Reunion was the weekend before graduation, so I decided to attend that too and stay the week. It started with a presentation and workshop on foreign aid.
The most interesting and challenging part of the workshop was a role-playing activity where we had to negotiate aid amounts and distribution for a fictional, conflict-torn country. I was the UN official responsible for getting various NGOs, corporate interests, rebel groups, and government officials to agree to a plan. I determined that I am definitely not (yet) qualified for such a role in real life.