by: Thomas Schmitt
Friday 17 May, 2013
Today the brave Brandt School companions woke at the first light of day and ventured sleepily down to Domplatz to begin the long journey to the depths of Siberia. After noticing that one of our numbers was missing, we had our bus driver make a quick swing by Plauener Weg to board a belated Bulgarian, and then we were on our way. Most of us got a little extra sleep on the long ride to Dusseldorf Airport, but the long lines for check-in gave us reason to fully awaken. But after that, everything went rather quickly, and suddenly we were securely seated surrounded by Siberians speaking a strange Cyrillic Sprache. The flight attendants spoke nary a word of English (I forgot to check their German skills), and neither could most of us read any of the printed words around us, so the flight began with an alien feeling for many of us. But we were all kind of excited anyway.
Some read. Some slept. Some drooled as they read or slept. Daniela and I noticed the big batch of bundled babies burbling on board, but blessedly barely bawling! Russian babies are shockingly well-behaved, we marveled. What’s in those milk bottles? Some of us noticed the lack of in-flight entertainment systems and bemoaned the departure from known civilization. If only they knew what was in store…
The flight landed with quite a jolt around midnight local time. Having traveled east, our bodies and minds were still set for 7 o’clock in the evening, so thankfully we still had a little energy to finish the journey. We were going to need it. Long lines at customs and funny looks from the border control agents began to wear us down. It’s never a good thing when an agent takes a look at your passport and then has to leave his desk to go enquire about you. It makes the heart beat fast. Anyway, we were all allowed to wend our way through. But bad news at the baggage belt: Kind Karen couldn’t collect her case! It wouldn’t be a real group trip if someone’s bag didn’t go missing, right!? Curiously, the only thing left on the baggage belt was her opened padlock. No bag. What the %&$#!!? Luckily, the lovely linguistically-skilled ladies, Ana and Natasha from Novosibirsk State University, had arrived just in time to help Karen discuss the issue with airport security. After some time, Karen rejoined the patiently waiting group and we offered our sympathies, because it was clearly quite frustrating for her. But we were all losing steam and needed to find some beds.
A long (slow) journey on the bus brought us to Akademgodorok, the academic suburb built in the forest about 30km from the city of Novosibirsk. It was almost 3am when we arrived. We pulled up to a well-lit building that looked fairly modern. “This is actually quite nice,” I thought. But then Prof. Hoffmann and Silke hopped out of their seats and exclaimed, “This is just our hotel. Your dormitory is the next stop. Sleep well!” Oh. It’s like that, so I see.
We assembled ourselves in the hallway of our dormitory building to claim our keys. Thankfully all were stationed on the first floor. There would be no hauling luggage up flights of stairs in the middle of the night. Most of us were two to a room (two lucky ones got their own room, and I think this warrants them cooking for the rest of us one night. Hmm, ladies…what do you say? I’m free on Thursday). Anyway, “room” is a rather generous term to use here. I will say this: at least they were clean. And the first question we all seemed to seriously supply within seconds, was “Where in the world is the wifi?” Welcome to Siberia, kids. You’re a long way from Erfurt.
Okay, so not everything has been perfect upon getting here. But we’re managing. And in truth, we are gaining a grand glimpse of how student life goes in greater Russia. The rooms aren’t quite as big as in Erfurt. There isn’t always hot water (or even a drain for the shower, so it seems in some rooms). One isn’t always connected to the internet. We’ll learn to adjust, just like the students here have always done. And Karen will go shopping for new clothes.
Thankfully, there was an all-night super-market nearby (Take that, Germany! Open 24-hours!!!), so that we could stock up with water (don’t drink it out of the tap, warns Julia) and some other quick necessities. And then we were finally to bed – just as that sneaky Siberian spring sun started to slide skyward.
Saturday 18 May, 2013
About noontime of the next day, we began to roll out of bed for a quick tour of the immediate area. I slept quite well, actually. Thanks for asking! (Sorry to my roommate for snoring). Ana and Natasha returned with big, friendly smiles to lead us about the main buildings of Novosibirsk State University. Before coffee however, not many of us could understand what they were saying, even though they explained everything in excellent English. You know how it is. Imagine a Hoffmann lecture before being properly caffeinated. (I joke, of course. Surely he knows that. I hope).
It was quite busy about the university buildings, which was surprising since it was Saturday. Another student guide remarked that many exams were taking place, and pointed out the many short skirts as proof. No comment. I’m not sure if it was a joke or not. But the rain was pouring and pummeling the prickly public policy party, so the lovely ladies led us to lunch.
After lunch, we gathered once again for a trip into the city proper to see a real Russian cultural event: the opera. It is quite a long journey to from Akademgodorok to the center of Novosibirsk. So by the time we arrived, we needed perhaps a little pick-me-up. We enjoyed coffee and beers in the salon of the Novosibirsk State Opera, as we snapped photos and chatted with the full contingent of friendly NSU students who would be our hosts and partners for the week. And then we settled into our seats for the three-act, famous Russian epic: Knyaz Igor. This exceptional epic opera, in my opinion, epitomizes the opulence of Russian opera for which the people opt. Additionally, it showcased the historical west-east identity crisis that underpins the current center-local struggles that we will be discussing during our visit to the region. But man, was it ever long!
By the time we journeyed back to Akademgodorok and finally got some food in our bellies, we were too tired to venture out to find the local nightlife. These totally tired travelers were too tired to be tempted to try trekking out towards typical student trouble (bars). Our plump pillows once again provided the perfect place for these public policy participants to plop down for a proper night’s rest.