Tschüss, 2014!

Dear Readers,

Believe it or not, I’ve been living abroad for exactly six months now. In one sense, it seems like just minutes ago that I was boarding a plane in Boston and asking myself what in the world I was doing; in another, however, it all seems lifetimes away.

The past year has brought more change than any other year of my life. At the beginning of 2014, I was still an undergraduate, spending my Christmas break at home and writing a thesis on Plato and Thomas Mann. I had just made the decision not to apply to American universities in favor of moving to Germany, and I was terrified that it was all going to come crashing down by the time I graduated.

Now, I’m living in Mainz in Rheinland-Pfalz, nearly halfway through the first semester of my masters’ degree. I haven’t seen my family for six months, and probably won’t for another nine. It’s been a season of growing into things–a new language, new people, a new educational system, a new way of seeing the world. It’s a humbling and exciting business, this.

And after four months here in Mainz, I don’t just feel like a visitor any more–I know where the most convenient food stores are, where not to walk at night, and which buses to take, and I give directions to tourists. I have a job, and some sort of social life, and go to classes and debate tragedy and existentialism in Hamlet along with everyone else. It’s good to be here.

It’s been a hard year in many ways, due to some things that I am too sick at heart about to put into writing. And at the same time it’s been one of the most beautiful of my life.


Schillerplatz, downtown Mainz. With snow and sunshine.


IMG_1049It’s strange–when I arrived in Germany all I wanted to do was blend in, to lose my American accent and reach the point where I could “pass” as German as fast as possible. Now, though, I’m not sure I want to do that anymore. When people say, “I thought you were from Austria!” or “I thought you just had a strong dialect!” it’s incredibly flattering (and also short-lived; it becomes apparent within a few minutes that I am *not* any sort of native speaker). At the same time, however, it’s strangely disturbing–do I really want to lose that part of my identity that publicly marks me as not German? If I can pass as 100% German, do I stop being American somehow?

This “living abroad” concept is as now as much a part of my existence as my feminism or my belief in the power of beauty–but when do I stop being someone who is living abroad? When is abroad not abroad any more?

I’ve thought about the title of my blog, and what will happen after I (most likely) return to America at the end of my masters’ degree, two years from now. I have a feeling that when I move back to the States the name “Emily Abroad” will still fit, because America will have become, just slightly, a sort of abroad for me. After you’ve invested so much in another place, after you’ve fallen in love with a language and a people and a country, can you ever really go back?


Mainz, Oberstadt.

In the end, one of the greatest joys of my time here as been keeping this blog, and I’m grateful to all of you for reading and commenting and generally caring. I would love any feedback you might have–what would you like to hear about in the coming year? Any pressing queries about Germany, about living and studying in a foreign country? I would be happy to hear from you.

I’m excited for the new year. Gaudeamus and Excelsior!

Alles Gute und Liebe,


Travelogue XXII: Worms–Martin Luther, Richard Wagner

IMG_107129. December, 2014 Yesterday there was real Vermont weather in Mainz–clear blue skies, snow on the ground, bracing cold. I was restless and giddy from the sun, and decided to take the train to Worms, a small city about half an hour to the south.

Worms is, along with Wittenberg, a city of Martin Luther, one of the great players in the Protestant Reformation of the early 16th century. In 1521, the city hosted the Diet of Worms, the council at which Luther was ordered to first claim authorship of and then recant his theological works. He refused, and an edict was issued several weeks later condemning him as a heretic and enemy of the Church.

Today, the city is home to the largest monument to the Reformation in the world. It was completed in 1868, and features statues and carvings of Martin Luther along with some twenty other figures involved in the movement.


Philipp Melanchthon, professor in Wittenberg and friend of Martin Luther’s.


John Wyclef, English theologian and an important early reformer.


The city of Speyer represented as a woman, here protesting against the Diet of Speyer in 1529, which condemned the spread of the Reformation.


Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, 31 October 1517.


The stone under the statues is inset with the coat-of-arms of the 27 cities who took part in the reformation. Above, Wittenberg, Martin Luther’s city.


Johann Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli, with excerpts from Martin Luther’s works above them. Below, Luther himself, the statue at the center of the monument. At the base are inscribed his famous words from the Diet of Worms in 1521: Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders, Gott helfe mir, amen–Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God, amen. 


So much for Luther–Worms’ other great narrative stands in almost comic opposition to the stringent, overtly Christian story of the Reformation. Worms is the Nibelungenstadt, City of the Nibelunglied, the anonymous epic poem at the root of German myth. The work is a sweeping re-working of pagan Norse legend, spanning generations and playing out against a backdrop of gods and men, giants and dragons, swords and treasure.

Worms serves as the setting for much of the story. Brunhild and Kriemhild fought on the steps of the cathedral; Siegfried himself is buried before the old wall; part of the great Rhine hoard is supposedly hidden somewhere deep under the city. Today, there’s a museum and a yearly festival and a dozen monuments dedicated to the original epic and its countless reworkings over the past millennium. The boundaries between history and legend are not clear in Worms, and the myth is still very much alive.


One of the many monuments in the city. Here, Siegfried’s death at the hands of Hagen.

For me, it is all especially close to home. The Nibelungen saga, and more specifically Richard Wagner’s operatic rendition of it, was the story that drew me to German. The figures in the monument above have a great deal of power over me.

There is a flexibility and strength to this myth, to all myths. Over the past thousand years, the story has served as a study of Medieval courtly love, of Jungian psychology, of German nationalism, of Gesamtkunstwerk, of Western politics. The events of the narrative are big enough to contain the entire world, yet small enough to fit within a single human psyche.


The Nibelungenlied in the Renaissance: courtly love and Medieval customs. 


Fritz Lang’s silent film from the 1920s: ground-breaking artistry, unfortunate overtones of German nationalism.


Arthur Rackham’s illustrations: Nibelungenlied as romance and fairytale. 



Achim Freyer’s production of Der Ring des Nibelungen, which premiered in Los Angeles and is now playing in Mannheim, Germany. Jungian psychology, modern politics. Mythology for the 21st century.

Frohe Weihnachten!

Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
This bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,
The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.

Hamlet, Act I Scene I

IMG_1022Church of St. Ignaz, Mainz, fourth Sunday of advent.

IMG_1005Wooden nativity scene at the Weihnachtsmarkt in Mainz.


Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht!
Alles schläft, einsam wacht
Nur das traute, hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh.

Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!
Die der Welt Heil gebracht,
Aus des Himmels goldenen Höh’n
Uns der Gnade Fülle läßt seh’n
Jesum in Menschengestalt!
Jesum in Menschengestalt!

IMG_1024 Schwibbogen–a traditional Christmas decoration, hand carved from wood from the Erzgebirge region in Germany.

IMG_1033Apfelkuchen–apple cake, made by my host-sister’s father.

IMG_1031And miracle of all miracles, on Christmas morning the sun came out.


Travelogue XXI: Mainz Spaziergang


Sunday, 21 December. A walk through the Old City of Mainz, during the time between sunset and darkness when the sky turns such a peculiarly lovely shade of blue. Gloaming.

The city is full of lights because it’s almost Christmas. It’s not raining, for once. There’s a girl in a long wool coat singing carols on the corner, and people are sitting on the edge of the old fountain to listen.

Veni, veni, Emmanuel…






Travelogue XX: Mainzer Weihnachtsmarkt


13. December, 2014 My first Christmas in Germany; my first Christmas not spent at home; my first Christmas without my family. It’s a strange and rather melancholy season, this.

At the same time, though, it is beautiful here. It’s funny: in German classes in America one learns all about various holidays and traditions in Germany–Karnival, Fasching, Oktoberfest, Silvester, St. Martins Tag–but Christmas is rarely on the list. And yet, only halfway through December, I can say that Christmas in Germany is turning into the richest, most lovely season I have experienced here. Even in a largely secular country, Advent is something to revel in, anticipated for months and welcomed with joy.


At the center of it all are the Weihnachtsmärkte, the Christmas markets, some nearly a thousand years old, found in the  squares of every decent-sized town in the country. They are open every day during Advent, and full of lights and music and very good food.

In Mainz, everyone goes to the Weihnachtsmarkt, and not just once–on Sunday afternoons with the family, in between classes, on Friday evenings before hitting the clubs, during intermissions at the theater. Here, removed from major centers like Frankfurt or Nürnberg, it’s not so much of a flashy tourist affair, but rather something more local and grounded. If you want to brush up on your local dialect, it’s the place to be.


In terms of food and drink, Glühwein–wine, red or white, mulled with oranges, cloves, and cinnamon–is at the center of it all. It’s hot, bitter and sweet at the same time, served at the market in tiny ceramic or glass mugs. Up on the university campus, you can buy it for a euro and drink it from a plastic cup in between classes.

When it is freezing and raining, which is always the case in Mainz in December, it is very easy to drink three mugs on a Thursday evening before you really know what you are doing. You sit on a stoop out of the wind and look at the lights and the people, and the air is full of cathedral bells, and the entire world is enchanted.


Below, some of the sights from the Mainzer Weihnachtsmarkt–minus the cobblestones, the church bells, and the smell of hot almonds and orange rind. To get those things, you have to be here.


Wurst from a local butcher.


Heiße Maronen–hot chestnuts, served in little striped paper bags. Gebrannte Mandeln–roasted almonds, rolled in coffee or powdered sugar or cinnamon–are also common. And delicious.



Candle makers.


Lebkuchen–gingerbread, here a specialty of Nürnberg. Often heart-shaped, strung on ribbons, with sappy sayings in icing.


Hand-made wooden ornaments.


Reibekuchen, also known as Kartoffelpuffer, Erdäpfelpuffer,  Reiberdatschi,  Reibeplätzchen, Dotsch, Kartoffelpfannkuchen, or Kartoffelplätzchen depending on where you are in Germany. It’s a sort of fried potato pancake, served piping hot with applesauce.


Feuerzangenbowle–untranslatable. Basically an open cask of hot mulled wine with rum-soaked, flaming sugar loaves above it on a rack. The burning rum melts the sugar, which drips down into the wine. Impressive, delectable, and extraordinarily unhealthy.


Schneebälle–literally snowballs, a specialty from Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Basically just balls of sweet dough covered in marzipan or sugar and dipped in chocolate.


And of course Glühwein, and countless other variations of hot alcohol–Kirchwein, Kinderpunsch, Glögg, Glümost, Jagertee, and a dozen other regional specialties that I haven’t yet tried. I’ve still got two weeks, though.