Above: Braunschweig from my building.

Grignard coolingDuring the 1999-2000 academic year, I was fortunate enough to be selected for the ERASMUS programme (European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) and got to spend a summer helping out with research at the Technical University of Braunschweig in Germany. The project allowed me a degree of autonomy in the lab that I hadn’t enjoyed before, and I caused quite a stir (ha!) by astutely mounting a magnetic stirrer sideways to agitate a mixture in a dropping funnel. On the left, you can see the results of adding liquid nitrogen (something else we were excited to be allowed to use) to a cooling bath in order to make a Grignard reagent.

Expo 2000 (2)The major international events happening while we were in Germany were Euro 2000 (eventually won by France after both Germany and England were booted out in the group stages) and Expo 2000 (though I prefer the more fanciful titles of World’s Fair or Great Exhibition). We paid scant attention to the football once our home and adopted nations had been eliminated (though did hear the local French expatriates leaning on their car horns long into the night), but made it a point to visit the mighty structures put up by the world’s leading nations (it costs tens of millions of Euros – then Deutschmarks – to construct and staff a pavillion) in nearby Hannover. My overall impression was that it was quite tourism-heavy and World Wonders (behold!)-light, but generally fun.

Above: A pavillion at Expo 2000. Below, left to right: An installation at Expo 2000 made from decommissioned guns, the Brocken Railway and view over Niedersachsen.

Expo 2000 (1)Brocken Railway (2)

Brocken Railway (1)Towards the end of our sojourn, we took a weekend trip down to Braunlage and the mighty Harz Mountains, home of old silver mines, the Brocken spectre and the witch-filled Walpurgisnacht (featured in Goethe’s Faust). A steam train runs up and down the highest peak, but we opted to walk and enjoy the dense forests and – luckily – spectacular vistas (Brocken has a very Alpine microclimate, and is shrouded in fog for around 300 days of the year). We were also privy to a fist-fight in a local kebab shop, and saw (to our amazement) on our way out that the proprietor kept a baseball bat behind the counter.

Above: The Brocken Railway.