Who can better tell about a place to live, its atmosphere, and must-dos for researchers than our researchers themselves? We've collected a series of stories for you and hope you feel inspired.
The city of Augsburg is over 2000 years old, and it has been a popular destination for travellers for just as long. Founded by a Roman army advancing north after crossing the Alps, in the Middle Ages it became an important base for German merchants heading south, to Venice and the Mediterranean. Protestants from smaller towns across southern Germany moved to the city to enjoy its religious freedoms from 1555 onwards, and three centuries later workers flocked to its many factories during the Industrial Revolution.
When I first arrived in Augsburg last year, I was therefore following in the footsteps of all of these people. Of the three cities I study for my PhD in History, Augsburg is the only one which I had never visited. The spring lockdown prevented me from getting there as early as I would have liked, so to keep the frustration at bay I did some armchair travelling, reading the diaries of some travellers who had been there in the past.
Once I finally made it to Augsburg myself, I was eager to see with my own eyes the landmarks they had described. For the first couple of days, I walked around until my feet were aching, paying a visit to the imposing Cathedral with its gothic spires, the magnificent Rathaus in the heart of the historic centre, and the beautiful Baroque fountains which are the focus of my research. However, the strongest connection to past travellers and their diaries came when I least expected it.
The Catholic church of the Holy Cross is less famous than its twin Protestant sister, which was built by the famous architect Elias Holl. If I pushed its heavy doors at all, it was to see the beautiful Ascension of the Virgin painted by Rubens, which still hangs there. As I turned to leave, I noticed a plaque inscribed with the story of a miracle which sounded strangely familiar. I stopped to decipher the text and realised that I had already read it once: the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne, who visited Augsburg 450 years ago, had copied it in his diary. Yet another reminder of just how many people, before me, had arrived in Augsburg.
As a Slovak national with international experience, moving from one German university town with deep historic roots—Jena, to another newly established one—Kulmbach, I found myself in the land of opportunities. In 2020, the University of Bayreuth opened its new „Faculty of Life Sciences: Food, Nutrition and Health“ here—and things are moving fast in Kulmbach. New laboratories are being built, new chairs are being established, new students are coming from all over the world. Observing and being part of the progress from day one is fascinating.
As it is often the case when things are starting up, the situation is provisional—and in times of pandemic demands even more flexibility. However, this can be a blessing too—everyone can pitch in, and everyone’s ideas count. A new gardening club has just opened on the initiative of the students. A small campus library has been established. Food trucks are coming in to provide catering until the mensa opens. Local businesses are eager to get involved.
When I look out of my office window, I have a view of the beautiful Plassenburg castle, and I am surrounded by red brick breweries, which constitute the heart of Kulmbach—the secret world capital of beer. Within a ten-minute walk in every direction from the campus, you can reach the deep Franconian forest. We are in the middle of the second semester, and looking forward to what the future will bring.
As a teenager who grew up with Harry Potter, I knew that quidditch was a magical sport played on flying brooms. But it wasn't until I started my PhD in Munich that I discovered that quidditch is also played in the real world.
My first training was a lot of fun, and, before I realized it, I was already part of the team. Everyone was welcoming and friendly, and they guided me through the surprisingly complex rules of the game. For the blog, I will only say that four players (chasers) try to throw a ball (quaffle) through three standing rings, while two beaters of the opposing team try to hit them with dodgeballs (bludgers).
My team is called Münchner Wolpertingers and is actually named after a Bavarian fantastic beast. Because we are a handful of international players, our official language is English. However, there is always an opportunity to learn about German culture or even the Bavarian dialect.
Thanks to quidditch, I have traveled to other cities in Germany for local and national tournaments, such as the Bavarian League, where Munich is playing together with Augsburg, Bamberg, Passau, and proximately Eichstätt, Landshut and Nürnberg.
When I was a kid, I used to watch my grandpa watering and looking after his small garden. He seemed to be very happy and cheerful spending time there and taking care of the vegetables. Sometimes, he would ask me to fill the watering can and water the garden all by myself; that feeling of happiness and accomplishment when I was helping him has always been with me.
I lost my grandpa a few years ago, and his small garden is dead now. I’m living thousands of kilometers away from that old beautiful house which used to have a green garden. For the past few years, I have been doing my doctoral studies at the University of Bamberg. Those who have started their PhD journey know that it is a challenging path. There are times when you feel you can’t go on any further because you feel stuck and overwhelmed. Then, some kind of distraction is necessary and helpful for your mental health.
I came across the UniGardening Project when I was sitting in the office trying to overcome writer’s block. I received an email from the university’s International Office inviting those who are interested in gardening to cooperate in the project. All of a sudden, there was a vivid memory of my grandpa smiling and tending to his garden. I saw myself hovering around him and helping him with watering and weeding; and immediately I decided to take part in the project.
I am very excited about it now. Together with my friend I am taking care of our tiny beautiful garden! Gardening and getting my hands dirty in the soil is a mood-booster for me; a distraction to chill out from the busy stressful days of PhD life. Growing my own little garden gives me a sense of accomplishment and helps me focus on beautiful things; I feel I am more in tune with the earth. Besides, it is hugely rewarding when you’re eating what you’re growing. I’m sure we’re going to have lots of fun growing and nurturing our tiny garden, thanks to the UniGardening Project!
I was looking for a scientific position in Germany for quite some time, as the country is known for its excellent research in mechanical engineering. Being a mechanical engineer myself, I was intrigued and eager to come here as soon as possible. At a sustainability conference at IIT Guwahati, India, where I was pursuing my masters back in 2017, I met Andy, a research associate from Hof. The research topics in progress at his research institute sounded very exciting. After a job interview in 2018, I started my research career in Hof in 2019.
As an Indian, food is an important part of my life. I enjoy cooking, and I knew that my colleagues loved Indian food. That was why I invited my colleagues for a get-together with Indian dinner last year, but the preparations were not as easy as I thought initially.
The hardest thing was to fix a suitable date for everyone, which was quite surprising as in India we arrange meetings spontaneously and here, I had to schedule our party three weeks in advance. In the end, we could have them all in one place, and everybody had a fun learning about Indian cuisine and enjoying the food.
In India, we generally eat warm dishes. In Germany, on the other hand, people often eat cold food, like the famous “Butterbrote” (sandwiches). It was also interesting to see that there are so many bread varieties in Germany, available in different sizes, shapes and degree of softness.
Recently, we have also introduced a ritual called "Leberkäs Friday" in our institute, in which for breakfast we prepare a sandwich, which is made by putting Leberkäs (meat) inside two buns with mustard sauce. As I am vegetarian, sometimes I join with cheese instead of the meat, too. It allows me to enjoy some food as well as some light-hearted conversations with my colleagues. Overall, my research experience in Bavaria has been really nice and I hope it stays the same for the coming years as well.
As a mountain enthusiast, born and raised in a family of mountain enthusiasts, I truly enjoy skiing and hiking. Exploring the Bavarian side of the Alps has been a priority since I arrived in Munich. The relative evenness of the highland area south of Munich allowed me to practice a sport I've never tried: mountain biking!
Ranging in the Krün-Mittenwald area, very close to the Austrian border, there are a number of stunning places to visit. Plenty of small lakes and hikes suitable for both experienced and novices adventurers are within an hour or less from Munich. Given that even towns are relatively elevated there (1000-1200 meters above see level), most tracks are only moderately steep and can be explored with mountain bikes, something I warmly suggest!
My favourite trip was the one to the Isar springs, in Tyrol, which took about three days starting from Benediktbeuern. If you have the opportunity, don't forget to grab a beer in one of the many breweries around there and have your camera at hand—the geography and fauna of the area allows for rare and beautiful photo-shooting sessions and animal encounters.
I came to Germany in 2003 for my postgraduate studies in Physics. I have stayed on since then and pursued a career in research here. Presently, I am doing research on placenta at the Institute of Neuroanatomy in Munich, holding seminars in Neuroanatomy for the medical students and enjoying the life in Munich with my family. One can say that we have settled down in this beautiful, children-friendly Bavarian city.
Having spent a significant amount of time in Germany, I feel quite accustomed to the way of life here. Before having kids, I thought I knew everything there was to know about Germany. However, it is only after having a family that you get woven into the social fabric of the society and discover the amazing facets of the culture and traditions here.
With Easter around the corner, we have already put out decorative eggs in the garden as a sign for the Easter Bunny that the children would be looking forward to its visit. In Bavaria, on Easter Sunday the Bunny usually hides coloured boiled eggs and chocolates all over the garden. As the morning arrives, the little ones go on the Egg Hunt and then feast on their hard-earned spoils of the hunt.
As well as for Christmas, Bavaria has many traditions for the time around Easter holidays. Of course, people celebrate the end of the fasting period with speciality dishes, but you will also find a lot of things to do and to see at this time in spring!
Winter has always been my favourite time of the year. I look at it like time is turning a new leaf and is preparing me for a fresh start. My experience of the Bavarian winter was nothing short of the same.
I arrived in Augsburg in September 2020 when the temperature was already so cold, it would be considered winter back home—but there was a different liveliness to it. Personally, I have never lived in a cold climate country. Sure, I had travelled to several places with similar temperatures, but becoming a resident is a different story. However, my apprehension quickly subsided by the first beautiful spray of snow throughout the city.
Even though the lockdown stretched through the complete winter, one could still revel in the beauty and serenity of the cold. From lakes freezing over to landscapes covered in snow—winters in Bavaria are nothing short of magical. Children and adults alike can enjoy sledging before having a hot chocolate or Glühwein (hot spiced wine).
Temperatures are starting to rise now. The sun is out, melting the snow off the winter decorations and people are engaging in outdoor sports again. Spring is right around the corner. I hope it’s going to be just as exciting as this winter in Bavaria!
The first time I came to Bavaria in December 2017, as a backpacker tourist, I spent a lot of time exploring the Bavarian Alps. Two years later, when I completed my PhD, I moved to Munich inspired by the mountains, and attracted by research opportunities and the great living standards.
From December to March, within a short train ride one can be transported to a winter wonderland. The train service offers very affordable day-tickets for groups allowing friends or fellow researchers to get out together. In normal times, this helps you to get to know colleagues in a relaxed and informal setting or just simply getting to know new people in the city.
On weekends, I often walked a trail with some old and new friends. Since I spend a lot of time working at my desk during the week, such walks are pretty rewarding. After a fresh snowfall, the whole landscape transforms into a magical white experience.
After a good walk, we used to warm up with some Bavarian delicacies such as Käsespätzle or Schnitzel, and a beer, or simply hugging a mug of hot chocolate while enjoying the winter sun and views. Looking forward to enjoying these specialties soon again during my excursions!
I'm working on abstract knowledge systems that we want to represent on the computer. It's about structuring knowledge similar to a mind map system. The idea is to visualize the relationships of concepts in a way that a normal user can see the knowledge structure easily and fast with the help of our system.
Since my work is mainly playing with abstract ideas, it is important for me to combine it with physical movements. That way I can immerse myself better in the research activity. Some offices and study-cafes in Korea had large "glass walls" for this purpose. In Germany, I usually use flipcharts and large wall magnet boards in the office.
Now at home, I have discovered a new form of a glass wall—it is actually a normal-sized sliding glass door! I use it to change methods to get myself thinking about new ideas and approaches. On my "glass wall" I have developed my research ideas in a mind map style. The board helps me to develop my ideas playfully and to be able to incorporate changes at any time. The bigger the surface is, the better it is for finding ideas!
My PhD project was 2 years old when I decided that it was time for another life changing commitment. I wanted to adopt a dog. I visited shelters in Bavaria. Nice people, but my situation did not convince them. As my title suggested, I was a PhD “student” and my contract was limited. They meant good for the dogs but never would I ever reach their conditions: a house, a garden, a full-time contract, a life partner, no kids, a good salary but only few hours of work per day.…
Not giving up when facing refusals as any researcher, I looked for shelters further away. I found an Italian association that rescues dogs from the streets, vaccinates and microchips them before finding them a family all over Europe. I felt for that cute, one-year-old dog named Willy, scared, but willing to learn. Few weeks later, I was on my way to Italy to pick him up.
The first weeks were complicated; I had to spend a lot of time trying to get him used to his new life. With a lot of patience, love and determination. Having a dog forced me to walk a lot, to take some fresh air and to meditate during our daily excursions, while Willy had to adapt to my working hours and to my lazy mornings on the weekend.
And that is what dogs and humans do. They adapt to each other. Willy forces me to move my lazy self and to exercise every day. I give him the food he needs and the treats he likes. When I work from home, I take some breaks to teach him new commands like “turn”, “roll” or even “open the door”. A dog chases away loneliness and gives us the unconditional love we hear so much about.
Willy made me see Regensburg from a new angle: beautiful parks, crazy snowy landscapes and hilarious encounters with other dogs. In a world without quarantine and restrictions, some restaurants and bars allow dogs to lay next to you, so I was able to keep meeting friends in the city centre and will hopefully be able to do so in the future. On excursions throughout Bavaria people are receiving us with a smile and a bowl of water. One commitment did not exclude another. I am still on the way of science and now there is a beautiful dog walking next to me.
I have been a PhD student at the University of Augsburg since October 2018. Starting out here was relatively easy because the University's Welcome Service was there to get me settled in. My only challenge was how to get around in Augsburg. I only knew one landmark, and that was the main train station. I did not know the route to my institute nor even to any of the closest grocery stores. I relied entirely on Google Maps to get around the city.
One day, I forgot to charge my phone, and yes, the inevitable happened. Halfway into my 7 km bike ride home from the institute, my phone blacked out. I had two options: either to continue riding until I somehow miraculously found my way to the apartment; or speak some German and ask for directions to the main city center. I thought to myself that the former option would be a huge gamble, and therefore decided to ask a random rider, as we waited for the traffic lights to turn green.
Ecstatically, the stranger I approached for directions was very kind. She immediately switched to English upon noticing that my German was not that polished. She offered to lead me to the city center despite the fact that it was neither her final destination nor a gateway to her preferred destination. This whole experience was quite humbling, and if there is one thing that I can say to an international researcher contemplating moving to Augsburg, I think it would be: just buy heavy clothes for winter, pack your suitcases and move here. Why? Because the university Welcome Service will surely have your back, and the generous Augsburgers will make you fall in love with this historical city.
The Isar River, whose waters flow from the Alpine region of Tirol in Austria, has long served as a major attraction in Munich. The river offers visitors and local inhabitants a variety of recreational opportunities. It was my favorite haunt during my summer stay in Munich in 2018.
On a sunny day, I often wandered down to the river and sprawled out on the grass. There, I would enjoy the peace and breeze, watch the water rush downstream, and listen to the chirping of birds and the rustling of leaves.
The Isar is an ideal place for picnicking, sipping on a beer or enjoying reading a book with a cup of coffee or tea. It’s common to see people playing sports or walking their dogs. Some even like to take a dip in the river.
Swimmers and surfers all thoroughly enjoy the Isar. In the Eisbach, a stretch of the river that runs directly through the Englischer Garten, there is a “permanent” wave that allows for some pretty radical river surfing. Can you think of any other big city that offers surfing in the heart of it?
I went to Bamberg for the first time in early spring. I came for my interview for the position of an early-stage researcher in the GLOMO project. It was one of the best trips of my life. I got the job, and I fell immediately in love with the city of Bamberg, its nature, architecture, and ambience.
Bamberg is an old town—awarded with the UNESCO World Heritage title in 1993. It is famous for its spectacular old Town Hall which is standing in the middle of the Regnitz River. For me, this building represents the particular atmosphere in Bamberg—celebrating culture while at the same time being embraced by nature.
My first excursion was a walk along the Regnitz River. It was so calm, refreshing, and relaxing that it quickly became my most favorite walk until now.
The GLOMO project requires the regular mobility of early stage researchers, so we had colleagues visiting us during the pandemic. They were impressed how safe Bamberg is, and that we were able to enjoy going for a walk into the forest in spite of the presence of COVID-19.
Today it has been three years since I started working in academia. At the beginning, the thought of balancing family life with a research career seemed like a mammoth task. My daughter was only one year and eight months old at that time. With my family living in Pakistan, I could not count on the usual support from my family. Furthermore, it was difficult to delegate the fundamental job of being a mother.
However, the support and understanding of my colleagues have made all the difference. I have also been very fortunate with the family friendly facilities offered by the university. Thanks to the help of FAU’s family service I got a place in a nearby day-nursery (Kinderkrippe) very quickly.
During summer, when all kindergartens are closed, the family service organizes a special service to provide an alternative option for researchers. And when you’re on a conference, they help you find a babysitter to take care of your child.
Last year my daughter got sick and I had to stay in hospital with her for two weeks. My professor and the secretary of our department took the time to explain which support is usually provided by FAU and the German healthcare system in this situation, like working from home and paid sick leaves. The back-up of my research group is a great experience. Thanks to the comprehensive support at university, I am able to combine my family life and academic career.
I enjoy the city of Regensburg a lot. Especially since our little daughter started to discover playgrounds and parks. There are so many! And so clean! Wherever you go, you can rest assured, public spaces are very clean. It feels so safe to let our little darling play. People here care a lot about the public space —and spend a lot of time there doing a plethora of interesting activities. Amazing! I’ve been wondering, what could be the origin of this cleanliness and order and perhaps the secret lies in following the rules.
Ever since I came to Germany, I saw that German people are people of rules. There are rules on everything and people seem to enjoy following them. From my point of view, it is an admirable trait. But sometimes it can lead to funny situations, just like this one with my socks.
In the first week I came to the university, my colleagues were telling me „Hey Ivan, you’ve got two different socks on!“ I explained to them that I was doing it on purpose and that I like to choose the same kind of socks, but in different colors. It makes life less serious. Over time, people got somehow used to that and understood my rules for sock selection. One day I was waking up early in the dark and I took two identical socks by accident. That day, three people stopped me and pointed out that my socks were the same! Isn’t it hilarious how people immediately spotted that I broke my own rule and warned me?!
I love science communication (SciComm) and have been doing it consistently for the last three years. In Freising, there are monthly SciComm events organized by the Technical University of Munich, but they are in German. For people like me, who are not fluent in German yet, these events are not accessible. So it was clear what I had to do: create my own SciComm event in Freising!
I was familiar with the format of Pint of Science, a world-wide SciComm organization that aims at bringing scientists to common places such as pubs to talk about their research in an everyday language. The Pint of Science Central Team was very receptive to my idea. Like many events in 2020, Pint of Science had to be moved to an online format because of the pandemic. Our small team in Freising could bring six enthusiastic PhD students candidates from the fields of Astronomy, Phytopathology and Ecology to the event. The talks were great and well attended. The discussions afterwards were very interesting, and the audience participated actively. Organizing the event was a great opportunity for me meet new people and make new friends. Our next event will be a get-together to finally meet each other in person. I am looking forward to Pint of Science 2021!
Since my childhood, I have loved birds. Soon after I have arrived in Bamberg to do my PhD, I realized the diversity of bird species in the city. Two of my favorite places in Bamberg to watch and enjoy the different birds are the lakes in Hainpark, and in the park of Schloss Seehof. The diversity of the birds in Bamberg pushed me to learn what became my favorite hobby: bird photography.
The light shines red. A red so bright you can almost hear it because there is neither a car nor bicycle in sight. A small crowd waits for red to turn green.
I’m not in that crowd. I’ve already crossed the street. It is my inheritance from growing up in one of North America’s largest cities and a culture that is consistently five minutes late. An inheritance that eight years of living in Bavaria cannot break.
In Munich, jaywalking—the art of crossing the street when the red light tells you not to—is relatively uncommon. Not impossible, but rare. Even late at night, when it is easier to find a bar than it is a driver, some pedestrians still stand at empty intersections waiting for green.
The origins of the term “jaywalking” trace back to early twentieth-century Kansas. What began as a jay-driver, a description of unruly automobiles and horse-drawn carriages barreling down the wrong side of the road, became shorthand for those with poor “sidewalk etiquette.” Now jaywalker includes both cautious street-crossers and rebels who wish to play cat and mouse with cars.
Despite considering myself of the cautious variety, it was only in Munich that I realized I am a jaywalker at all. In cities where jaywalking is the norm it goes unnoticed. Here, it sticks out. And so although I risk a fine, or worse yet, stink-eye from the patient pedestrians waiting for green, I can’t help but walk ahead. A reminder that learning the rules is one thing, and learning to follow them another.