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Letter from Ulm: Finding friends in Ulm

“Alles gut?” I shouted down to Dieter, my 60-something-year-old climbing partner belaying me from roughly 20 feet below. Cool, calm, and collected, he had just dodged a fist-sized chunk of rock I had just pulled from the crag wall. In retrospect, that portion of the rock did look a bit chossy. A bit rattled, I continued climbing straight up, opting to avoid the tempting section to the right lest I rain more rock down on the person keeping me safe from below. The rest went off without a hitch, but dang was I glad he was paying attention — and that we were wearing helmets. Just a few weeks prior, Dieter had been talking about retiring soon. A grievous injury certainly wouldn’t have been a great way to start one’s golden years.

Climbing on rock in Germany was certainly something I was hoping to experience during my time here. Meeting Dieter during my first internship created this opportunity. As he has been climbing in this region of the country for some 40 years, he is a wealth of information, experience, and guidance. I am, on the other hand, the freeloader who just shows up with little gear and no direction.

His welcoming spirit is a good reflection of the climbing community in Ulm, insofar as I have experienced. Within the first month, I had also made some acquaintances at the two local climbing halls. An invitation to an IM group soon followed, making it easy to communicate who would be climbing and when. Before I knew it I had found somewhat of community in this group of climbers. Standing sessions on Tuesday evenings usually meant climbing until 10 p.m. followed by a beer or radler, served and enjoyed right in the climbing hall. Other fare typical of a climbing gym here includes large soft pretzels, dried sausages, and coffee.

The second month marked the start of my second internship, and with it came a little more structure. Rather than biking around to various facility tours and shadowing experiences, I worked in an analytical laboratory for an adhesives manufacturer for five weeks. Outside of conducting some lab tests to characterize raw materials used to formulate adhesives, my main goal was create, catalog, and digitalize a spectral database. Hypothetically, this would allow quicker identification of the main components of a competitor’s formulation.

The lab was relatively small, with only two workers responsible for performing all analyses. We quickly became comfortable around each other, creating a good balance between work and banter. Looking back, this was an exceptional environment for learning more of the language. Shyness and nervousness are the enemy if you want to progress linguistically.

The second month also brought a bit of homesickness, but keeping busy minimized its impact. Now it just feels like the time has flown by. ‘Till I write next!

Peter Braegelmann

Hans Joohs Cultural Exchange Intern to Ulm

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