And now I'm in Köln for my exchange semester. The trip went fairly smoothly, two flights and a train trip later and I found myself outside of the city's famous cathedral. I made my way to the hostel my Austrian colleague Georg had reserved for us, and spent the rainy afternoon chatting with some other random travelers from Australia and Quebec who were also staying there. It was a comfortable and colorful little place fairly close to the university area. The plaza it's located on was a busy intersection of cars, tram lines, bicycles speeding by, and people standing around in front of shops (including the ubiquitous McDonald's). I was exhausted after a 21-hour day and slept like a rock that night.
The next day was a day of waiting in lines. Of course I couldn't wait to get my apartment key and drop off my ~35 kg of stuff, but first I had to go to the International Office to ensure that I was registered for the university, as I still hadn't ever received paperwork that I had been expecting for weeks in Finland. Luckily their policy was to not send such things abroad, which made me a little more relaxed knowing that I was in the system, but a little frustrated about the language barrier. Perhaps it was in the paperwork all along and I simply missed it. One thing that was interesting was when the registrar was looking for my name in the system, and her monitor was facing me so I could see that she was scrolling through pages and pages of Ernsts to find me. Normally I'm used to there being maybe one or two others, but not dozens. At least I won't need to worry about anyone mispronouncing my name while I'm here.
Another Ernst who's apparently from here is Max Ernst, a Surrealist/Dada artist born in the nearby suburb of Brühl. There's a museum nearby that I decided to visit today since it was raining again (slightly disappointing after yesterday's sunny day of apartment-stuff shopping and simply being outside in 25 degrees C - the first time I could wear a t-shirt since October). I took the tram south for about 20 minutes and found myself in a small suburb more pleasant than the main city where I live. Nearby there's also a couple of palaces and a market square which would have been a nice place to hang out had it not been a) raining and b) a Sunday. The museum itself is in a renovated old ballroom and is on a beautiful property, and the collection was really interesting - most of Ernst's famous paintings are in places like the Met and the private collections of people like Peggy Guggenheim, so the museum seemed to focus on a lot of his early work and sculptures. Nearly all of it were things I hadn't ever seen before, even in a book. I had read a bit about the artist way back in high school because of an early identification with someone who shared my last name, which was pretty rare in the States, and of course as an aspiring artist the connection was pretty much there. One summer I went to this camp for art nerds called Governor's School, and when it was apparent that the main idea of the course was to introduce high school kids to the Dada movement, I ended up going by the name of Max all summer when all the other kids were like, hey, he's got the same name as you! Even before that I had told my eighth-grade art teacher that I was related to him - mostly as a joke, but she was so impressed and proud that I didn't have the heart to let her know I had made it all up. Dada in theory and practice, I guess!
One of the most interesting series of his art that I hadn't even heard about were the D Paintings, named after Dorothea Tanning (who is apparently still alive), who Ernst met in 1942 shortly after emigrating to the US. For her birthday each year for nearly the rest of his life he made a small painting as a gift, each with the letter D, like little private love letters. They were all displayed in order from 1943 until 1974, two years before his death. I thought it was really touching that a collection of small, memento-like works over such a long period could all be collected and displayed at once.
The museum wasn't particularly huge, but it was nice to see a sizeable collection of work that's not published in a hundred art books already. And a really great surprise to find a museum for one of my old favorites of the art world. Near the cathedral is another museum that will just have to wait for the next rainy afternoon, the Roman-Germanic museum documenting the Rhein area's early history. And of course the cathedral itself!
Now if I could only get my German language skills going again, I'd be in good shape. That's the only thing that's been a little frustrating so far. Even the other foreign students speak German to each other. Luckily, I have a German class as part of the Erasmus program, and there's even a conversational Finnish course as well, assuming my schedule leaves Thursday afternoons free. :)