Park Life

The city of Potsdam is well-known for its many Prussian palaces and their gardens, most famous among them certainly the Sanssouci Palace, once inhabited by the Prussian king Frederick the Great, who the local people still affectionately call by his nickname “Alter Fritz”. Besides being proud of them as the main tourist attraction in their city, the people from Potsdam are also very fond of the parks themselves and go there a lot in their free time. Especially when the weather is nice, the parks are crowded by people enjoying the sun, running, cycling or just strolling around. Before arrival, this is also what I expected I would do in the famous parks and little did I expect them to be part of my first little “cultural shock” in Germany… because as it turned out, I was going to live in one of the parks!

Already on my first day, when I was given the keys for my room at University and told people where I was going to live, people winked at me knowingly and some looked at me with pitying smiles. I only understood why a little later when I got off the bus and discovered that my student residence was on the edge of a huge park and there was nothing there but trees and three old- looking buildings. As the weather was really bad in the first days (I was greeted by the storm “Xavier”) and I arrived more than a week before the semester started, everything looked grey, deserted and not very inviting. My room and the apartment were not much better, they had all one needed but nothing else and were not particularly cosy. My mood lifted a little bit when I took a walk with the aim to do some grocery shopping nearby and discovered many nice cafés and restaurants in the area. Yet it was a good twenty minute walk to get there and when wanting to go back with my heavy shopping bags, I discovered that the buses only run every twenty to thirty minutes during the day and only once an hour at night. One of the next days I waited in vain for two buses and ended up walking again in nasty, rainy weather, being much too late for a meeting. So during my first days in Potsdam I was really frustrated and annoyed by the unreliable buses and my living situation in the middle of nowhere. The internet situation at the student residence added to this: the internet is of such bad quality that in most rooms you can’t even get the signal. The whole system is currently under revision in order to improve the connection, but no one can tell you when it will work properly. When asking about it in early October, the answer was “today, tomorrow or in two weeks” and they now say it’s going to be in December

With respect to public transports and the internet, the so-called German efficiency was definitely lacking. However, I noticed quickly that it was mostly my fellow exchange students and other “newcomers” to the residence that complained about things like this. Others would not complain if a bus didn’t show, they would just walk or go by bicycle from the beginning. In general, I noticed that many locals had a much more relaxed attitude and accepted the “inefficiencies” as part of daily life in Potsdam and Berlin. A good example for this is the tragic case of Berlin’s still unfinished airport, for which locals can just spare a joke or a sarcastic remark. Coming from Switzerland, where public transports and other services are normally very reliable and where punctuality is an important cultural value, adapting to these new circumstances was not easy for me at first. But after living in Potsdam for a bit more than a month now, I have realised how nice it is to adapt the local attitude to just relax and accept things as they come (or not, in case of our beloved bus). I have also learned to love and appreciate the park. Somehow it is cool to have a palace as your neighbour and in walking distance the mansions where Churchill, Stalin and Truman lived during the Potsdam Conference after WWII. Also, I have met many other students who live in the residence and normally, you always meet someone to walk with you if you miss the bus. And besides, walking and getting some fresh air is not the worst thing after a long day at university.

Leandra Hildbrand

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