Home? Yes, I think so. A Tale told in Stickers

Carolina Weatherall Headshot
Carolina Weatherall
March 17, 2024
Friends leaning over balcony of wooden tower. Tower covered in graphitti art. Evening light.

I wasn’t aware of how much time had passed, until I walked up the stairs to my Studentenwohnheim and realized I was no longer counting floors, but rather: I was counting stickers.

Allow me to explain. I live on the fifth floor of a “Wohngemeinschaft”— a “WG” as the locals call it, a  “communal residence” as we might call it in English. In essence, it is one of several student housing complexes dotted throughout the city: each within an approximate ten to twenty-five minute tram ride from the university library. Despite my considerable distance from the ground floor, I tend to take the stairs for two reasons. One: I have a modest fear of elevators, and two: I admit I don’t really know how to use them. Suffices to say, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the stairwell. For a week at least, I’d count the flights as I climbed. The problem was: I’d usually end up on the fourth floor—because I'd count Germany’s “ground floor” as the first floor—or the sixth, because I’d lose track of the flights as I turned corners in the stairwell. 

Until I started paying attention to the stickers. 

Freiburg is full of stickers. On the fences between tram lines, on sign posts, on the undersides of tables, on refrigerators, on the floor. The only place I haven’t noticed stickers is on the lids of students’ laptops (indeed, it’s made me rather self-conscious of the number of colorful paraphernalia I’ve stuck on my own laptop over the years). Where you don’t expect to see stickers, however, stickers there will be. For example, there’s a sticker of a seahorse exactly one and a half flights before my WG. I’d always noticed it, but I hadn’t stopped to notice it. Such a nanoscopic landmark, I hadn’t stopped to consider it might just be my beacon home. 

That, and I’ve found home in these stickers. Alongside the popular “FCK AFD,” Fridays for Future and pride flags which no doubt make me happy, I’ve found stickers of cats that remind me of my tiger striped feline back in the States. Stickers celebrating March 8th—International Women’s Day—the upcoming shows at the theater, the local football club. I’ve had to stop myself taking pictures of all of them, because each of them are worth stopping to look at. One of my favorites lives at the stone workshop—a small, sunshaft-filled barn a stone's throw from the Münster cathedral and outdoor marketplace—it says (in German) “order can be very practical” and it made me giggle because it is so contrary to my last blog post, in which I argued that disorder can be practical too. 

The workshop is not wrong, however. I am secretly pleased that many of the systems that are far from working “order,” let alone operative “practicality,” in my small, coastal town in Massachusetts, are in full, functioning order here in Freiburg. 

The trams. I adore the trams. Yes, adore. (Though I’ve learned that words of such strong sentimentality are used sparingly in the German language unless applied to true love. Arguably, my affection for the trams is one of true love). With my semester pass (thank you IES Abroad Freiburg, for getting us started for the month of March <3), I traveled from my doorstep, to the top of Schauinsland mountain, to a quant, ski-esq village on the other side, and back again, without stepping foot in a car once. Granted, I hiked Schauinsland myself, but for the record this mountain is entirely accessible by public transportation. For folks traveling with limited mobility, as well as anyone interested in experiencing the longest cable car in Germany,  the Schauinslandbahn is a wonderful, breath-takingly scenic option for a not-unreasonable fee. 

The toilets. I panicked the first several days here, because the liquid inside the bowl was invariably yellow after I’d completed my task, but I quickly realized that this is simply because there’s less water in the toilet bowl to begin with. When we deposit our slightly acidic, amber liquid therein, the resulting sunlit hue tricks our senses into believing we haven’t hydrated nearly enough. But no, this is just Germany being brilliant, and saving over a gallon of water per flush. In fact, there are two panels above the toilets—one for solid waste and one for liquid—you choose whichever one matches your deposit and press it until the toilet has done its work. 

Speaking of environmental virtuosity, the city hall is encased in solar panels. Not mere afterthoughts on the roof, but real, fish scale-like casings on each of the many hundreds of windows. I would endure a German law degree just so I could work in this building. 

I also appreciate the quantity of bread I can easily acquire—on every street corner, at every grocery store, on the literal intercity train—and it’s all delicious. Speaking of things that remind me of home, bread is perhaps the foremost thing. Next to cats, bicycles, and windows. I’ve mentioned before that I am a devout cyclist-for-the-convenience-of-transportation. I didn’t mention the caveat—that I in fact do not have a driver’s license—but still, it thrills me to no end that Freiburg is full of bikes. 

The windows are more of a surprise. These panes of genius open vertically and horizontally. I grew up with rose buds tickling my window from our woodland garden at home. The simple fact that I can open my window here in Germany—lean all the way out to admire the intersection that has quickly become my bedtime lullaby, or crack it open in the morning to let the fresh air wash over me as I munch on Müsli or Brötchen with cream cheese and cucumber. 

The list goes on, and has done nothing but grow since my arrival. 

My sincerest apologies to the German language, but “appreciation” is not a strong enough sentiment for my impressions of the city thus far. Freiburg has already carved a path into my heart. The seahorse on my stairwell is not just a landmark, but a tiny beacon, my own North Star if you will, that guides me home. 

Postscript: For all those concerned, the aforementioned medical equipment is safely stored in my communal fridge. We both survived our journey and are doing well. 


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Carolina Weatherall Headshot

Carolina Weatherall

I like telling stories and writing long-winded essays about my cultural observations. I generally wind up where there are books, or people talking about them, or—better yet—people celebrating queer, feminist or minoritized voices in twenty-first literature.

2024 Spring
Home University:
Bowdoin College
German Language
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