The Guillotine called Spring Break

The Quad
The Quad

I felt the warmth of the sun welcoming me on campus. There wasn’t a single cloud hanging over the Quad when I set foot on campus this Tuesday. Without the need to wear a hat, scarf, and a warm winter jacket, the name spring semester slowly began to live up to its meaning.

Spring break is the name for this week; it’s a new experience for me. German universities tend to have a summer and a winter semester, running from April to July and October to February respectively. The two break periods in-between those semesters are typically filled with term papers and the like; that’s at least my experience.

With such different semester schedules in mind, I had no idea what to expect when coming to campus during spring break. But the last day of classes before the break had given me a first clue.

It was 12 p.m. on this relieving Saturday. Walking out of the first of my two classes for the day, I felt the pressure from the week fading. The stress and hectic that had built up while juggling around the various different assignments transformed into excitement. I realized both the joy I felt while being submerged in all those projects and the pleasure of having completed and accomplished something.

I also knew that a break was coming up. Just one more class and I would finally get some breathing space. Spring break, at that point, meant a week of freedom.

But for now, the rumble in my stomach, accompanied by the urge to find some refreshing water, was what drove me towards the cafeteria. Campus tour groups swarmed the area – another new experience that I had already observed several times during the semester.

Once I had found a gap in-between the bulk of visitors leaving the Student Center, I grabbed the chance and slipped through the opened door. I was greeted by a disappointing emptiness straight ahead. The cafeteria was closed. Wait, the sign next to the entrance said it should be open. What was going on; oh, right, spring break…

Arnold Bernhard Library
Arnold Bernhard Library

Clocks tick differently during this special week. I knew as much, but when I walked through the entrance gate of the library, I was surprised by the lifelessness inside the world of the books.

I passed the checkout counter – no one present. Next came the computer workstations to the left and right of the aisle. I was still the sole person in the building. There, the familiar face of the research librarian emerged to the right. Regardless of when I set foot in this building, this man seemed to be there. I carefully dashed down the five stairs and found the three big rectangular tables empty. No one here, I was alone, where was everyone?

Yes, I’ve heard of spring break before, and that it includes trips to Florida or Mexico. The first thing I was confronted with when telling friends at home that spring break was coming up was the stereotype that spring break equals excessive partying in the warm South.

But what do students actually do? The university seems to shut down for a week. Dorm buildings, cafeterias, and academic facilities close. The shuttle service runs a special schedule to get everyone out of town and then shuts down for the week. Spring break acts like a guillotine that cuts the semester into two halves.

While classmates visited friends and family at home (little difficult for me…), or discovered the country (would have loved to), I welcomed the chance to kick back and turn my attention to bits and bobs I had to neglect during the past few weeks.

An additional bureaucratic task added itself to that list; one I hadn’t invited to the party – but more about that at a later time.

I enjoyed the first few days of spring break. I had finally the chance to take care of my private journal that I had to abandon lately. At least, I could start to get back into this activity that had helped me to find my way into the future.

But before I could get too excited about indulging into the world of relaxed and pressure-free writing about the events in my life, organizing class notes, tying up a few loose ends, and preparing for the next assignments stepped in.

But even after just two or three days of break, I felt that the rhythm was gone. I had just begun to feel comfortable and at home. Now, I needed to find my way back into the productive workflow. Spring break robbed me of that – as much as I had valued the break. It just broke off the routines, and getting back into the flow of things is always the hardest part.

So I was excited to be back in the library this afternoon, the day before the semester begins anew. The campus didn’t feel like a ghost town anymore. Cheerful groups of students began to reanimate campus life bit by bit. The library was still far from crowded, but the supportive quietness and presence of fellow students, trying to get back to studying, helped me fight off the final pieces of spring break irritation.

Don’t get me wrong, spring break was great, a nice change of pace, but I’d like to have “my semester” back. Now, shall we begin?

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