This list is by no means an exhaustive representation of everything I'd like to achieve, nor do I promise that every goal will be met. Not that you were really going to call me out if I don't meet one of these, but it's good to cover your bases, right?
1) Visit Every German State (16 total)
I've already made some decent progress on this front -- so far, I have visited Hessen, Niedersachsen, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Rhineland-Pfalz, Thüringen, Baden-Württemberg, Bayern, and Hamburg -- exactly half (where specifically, you're asking yourself? Why, check out this map!). Pretty much all that remains for me is East Germany and some of the northern states, the exception being Saarland, a tiny state to the west that borders France.
So where do I still need to visit?
- Saarland -- I pretty much know nothing about this state. Frankly, I should get some credit for even acknowledging it exists. I have no idea what's there to see, if anything. They have to have at least some kind of castle, right? I should probably look at Wikipedia before I go.
- Bremen (City-State)
- Schleswig-Holstein -- Probably Kiel or Lübeck
- Mecklenburg-Vorpommern -- Probably Rostock or Schwerin
- Sachsen-Anhalt -- Probably Halle or Wittenberg
- Brandenburg -- Potsdam
- Sachsen -- Leipzig or Dresden
- And, of course, Germany's most famous city-state -- Berlin! Yes, somehow among my three trips to Germany I have managed to avoid Berlin each time (not purposefully!). My logic has always been that I can keep coming back to Germany, so why try to force a Berlin trip in if there just isn't time? There will be a Fulbright conference there next spring, so I know that I will finally cross this one off the list then, if not sooner.
2) Attend Oktoberfest
I just feel like I have to. Just once. I've heard it described as simultaneously the best and worst experience of your life, and I'm prepared to endure it all for one day and say I experienced first-hand what all the commotion is about. Then I will quietly exit, never to return (probably). I'll award myself bonus points if I can wrangle a dirndl to wear while I'm there -- stay tuned.
3) Celebrate Fasching (Karneval) in Köln
Germany takes their Karneval celebrations seriously, and Köln (Cologne) is the heart of the holiday. It's several days of parades, parties and general celebration preceding Ash Wednesday. If you want to see all your stereotypes of arrogant and cold Germans shattered, swing by during Fasching and see how Germans let loose. I have been to Frankfurt's Karneval parade (and by that I mean stumbled onto it stupidly, after having wandered around wondering why everyone was in costume and there were barricades in the street), but anything they do won't hold a candle to how Köln celebrates. Lucky for me, our former exchange student, Kiri, is from Köln, so I'm banking on getting an insider's guide to the celebration.
4) Achieve a "German-first" mindset
This to me is key to really being comfortable in a different language. I want to reach the point where I don't think of what I would say in English and then ponder how to best translate that into German. I want my thought processes to reach for German first, to immediately begin constructing sentences in the proper language. I experienced this at times when I was studying abroad, but that's a hard mindset to maintain back in the states (though I do still find myself unconsciously slipping a "Genau!" into conversations, so apparently old habits die hard), and moreover I was only scratching the surface during my study abroad. I'm excited about the potential I have to significantly strengthen my language skills over the next year, and I think this goal is entirely feasible, given some time and patience.
5) Speak without thinking
At first glance, this sounds like a terrible idea, but let me clarify. I feel extremely comfortable reading and writing German, and to a lesser extent listening to it, but I still genuinely struggle with speaking. My biggest hangup is wanting to be perfect -- wanting every verb to match perfectly with its subject, carefully choosing the correct adjective ending and making sure that umlaut is enunciated just so. In reality, this isn't feasible and doesn't make for engaging conversations. I've tended to stay largely quiet around Germans I'm not fully comfortable with (in the sense of not knowing them well), and I think my social interactions have suffered for it. I just need to accept that I am not a native speaker and I will make mistakes. This isn't a reason not to speak at all -- it's a reason to press myself harder to jump into these challenging situations and embrace them. The goal should not be perfection. The goal should simply be to fully engage yourself in your surroundings to the best of your abilities -- no one can ask more of you than that.
6) Attend as many concerts as possible
I love seeing live music in general, but in particular I'm excited to have the chance to see some of the German artists I've been listening to for months or years perform live. Since most of them only sing in German, it's highly unlikely I'd ever see them in the states. One great thing about Fulda is that both Frankfurt and Würzburg are extremely accessible by train, and any touring artist would almost certainly come to one of those two cities, if not both. I've already begun scoping out some of my favorite artists, such as Bosse, who will be playing in Würzburg on Dec. 11:
Thees Uhlmann, who will be playing Würzburg on November 11:
or Enno Bunger, who is very incoveniently playing in Frankfurt the same day as Thees Uhlmann's show in Würzburg (Nov. 11), so I'll have to figure out if I want to see one of them in a different city.
But that's just a smattering of people I'd like to see live -- there are plenty more German artists I'd love to see perform, as well as artists from elsewhere who may have German dates coming up while I'm there. I've already gotten to experience seeing one of my favorite American bands perform in Germany (Fleet Foxes in Dachau [village, not the concentration camp] in 2011). It was a very strange experience seeing an American band perform in a sea of foreigners, but in a good way. Point is, don't be surprised to see me spending more of my money on seeing concerts than on traveling Europe, because I've already got my priorities sorted out.