A Typical Day in Germany

I often get asked what a “typical day” on my Watson journey looks like. The short answer is that it depends. I was in Freiburg and Berlin for six weeks each, and my schedule looked different in each location. So here’s the long answer!

My Life in Freiburg (July 23 – September 3)

In Freiburg, I worked from home. I worked on days I felt productive or had a scheduled interview (in practice, about 4-6 days a week), and relaxed/did some tourism on other days. There was little distinction between weekends and weekdays, except that:

  • I allowed myself to sleep in on weekends. (Given how open-ended my schedule was, I tried to keep somewhat consistent waking hours.)
  • I never had scheduled interviews on weekends. (Germans compartmentalize their lives into work- and non-work times much more intentionally than we do in the US.)

So what did my work entail? I spent a lot of time online identifying and emailing people/organizations I wanted to interview. I got plenty of positive responses as well as plenty of “no”s/silence, and many people responded with further suggestions for actors I should interview. Before each scheduled interview, I delved more deeply into literature about the interviewee (websites, papers they’d written, etc.) and came up with a custom set of interview questions. At some point after the interview, I would type up the notes and compose a writeup for my blog, running the writeup by the interviewee before publishing it. (The writeups are time-intensive, so I got a little behind on that front.) I also spent time reading news and articles about Smart Grids, climate change/renewable energy, big data, and German politics.

Since Freiburg is small and my flat was centrally located, it was easy to get from place to place. Most of the time, I walked to interviews. I used Freiburg’s tram only occasionally, when I was feeling lazy or the destination was particularly far away. I enjoyed being physically active as part of my daily schedule, instead of having to explicitly set aside time to work out.

I spent most of my evenings after dinner on the Internet, though I increasingly got caught up in post-dinner conversations with Timo or Kadda (my flatmates) as time went on. I really enjoyed getting to know them better.


My Life in Berlin (September 5 – October 19)

In Berlin, I worked from an office. I lived alone in an HMC professor’s summer cottage in the town of Oranienburg and commuted to my desk at the Ecologic Institute in Berlin each weekday. (Huge thanks to this professor for arranging my home and work accommodations.) Since I didn’t have WiFi at home and only had access to the office during traditional office hours, I was forced to think like a German and compartmentalize my time. It was a mixed bag. I was more efficient while working than I had been in Freiburg, but working less meant that certain things (like maintaining my blog) fell through.

On a typical weekday, I left the house between 7:30-8:30am and walked to the train station. After a long-ish ride on the S-Bahn (commuter train) and a short ride on the U-Bahn (subway/underground train), I arrived at Ecologic. The commute took about 1.5 hours. I commuted out from the office to my interviews, many of which were over lunch. I tried to leave the office after 8 hours, though at the beginning I often got so caught up in my work that I accidentally stayed late. I got better about adopting the “German mindset” and going home on time as the weeks went on.

During my commute, I mostly read books and caught up on the news. I also had conversations with people on the train every now and then. Whereas Freiburg is extremely “German,” Berlin is filled with immigrants and tourists, so it was common to hear conversations on the train in languages other than German. I almost always said hello when I heard Americans on the train, and sometimes started conversations for other reasons as well. For instance, one couple started a conversation with me because they had foster children in India, and they’d suspected that I was Indian.

I usually continued reading books/the news after getting home, although sometimes I visited Anne (my professor’s mother, who lived across the street) or the Rowlands (my neighbors). Since Anne didn’t speak English, my German communication skills improved immensely. I’m hoping to take a German class some time in the future so I can build upon, rather than forget, the German I learned.

On weekends, I woke up late and did some tourism. During my explorations, I hung out with Luisa (an Italian working on renewable grids that I happened to meet on a tour), Gwendolyn (one of the Rowlands), and Anne. More details about my Berlin tourism to come!

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