By Colton Hill (University of Heidelberg, Germany).
When the University Library is your home and the Mensa (Cafeteria) your kitchen, exams must be getting close. As I’m writing this I am excited to say that this time is over.
In many ways it is immediately noticeable how the exam system in Heidelberg contrasts the exam system in Manchester. And yet, exams are meant to be a universal differentiation method, separating the students from one another. Perhaps internally, exams serve as a benchmark, however even year to year the difficulty of an exam can vary or the syllabus can change.
For those unfamiliar, Manchester gives students roughly four weeks of preparation time before the exam period in winter. I have little doubt that opinions vary greatly between too much time and too little time, however in Heidelberg students get one week to prepare. From the perspective of a student, this is unfavourable.
On the other side, a refreshing aspect of exams in Heidelberg is how lacking in bureaucracy they are. Students (in the Physics Department anyway) can show up five minutes before the exam, take a seat, write down their student number and begin. Before an exam in Manchester, it is smartest to arrive 20 minutes early, check your seat number ahead of time, and absolutely do not bring a calculator that has the A-Z buttons. I see both methods have merits, as formally outlining rules before an exam could prevent misunderstandings, but informality can help relax nerves.
During the exam period I also became acutely aware of how useful it is to own a bicycle in Heidelberg. One of my grievances all year has been that the transportation network slows down considerably after 19:30, often making it difficult to get home from the university, and that tram/bus services nearly disappear on Sundays. I understand several reasons why this is so, but lacking any other means of transportation, this is disempowering. Therefore, a bicycle becomes a very favorable means of transportation, especially during exams when students spend long hours at the library, studying well past the end of the tram schedule.
In the interest of fairness, I will mention that a late bus does pass by the university, however this is more of a last resort, as it is often faster to simply walk home. And during the peak hours, trams and busses run regularly maintaining them as feasible and sometimes convenient transport.
To elaborate on transport and perhaps even dispel some stereotypes, not all German trains run on time. In fact, the local transport network in Heidelberg is regularly 5-10 minutes late, even during the peak times. With the regional trains and “S-Bahn” you can get mixed luck. Sometimes they will all run on time, but other days they will be so late, the train is cancelled in favor of the next one. Lastly, the Inter-city Express (ICE) more often than not, from my experience, run on time or only a few minutes late. The most curious thing however, is that more than once an ICE has been simply cancelled, and passengers need to navigate some other way to their destination despite often paying between 50 and 100 Euros for a ticket. Alternatively, when an ICE is running on time, you will sometimes find that a carriage is completely missing, causing a full train to suddenly become very full, filled with angry Germans with seat reservations in the missing carriage.
Maybe this is slightly exaggerated, or that I have rotten luck, but this stereotype of “German Efficiency” may only be half true. Now if only all of the trains in England would run on time…