The Travel Episodes

My City: Home (2)

Jena: Next Stop Paradise

Early in 2006, the head­line of the British news­pa­per The Econo­mist alre­ady read “If you seek para­dise, go to Jena”. In Germany, howe­ver, people aren’t so sure about that. Wron­gly so, thinks Ariane Kovac.

“You’re alre­ady in your sixth semes­ter, right? Well, that’s good, you won’t have to stick around for too long then,” someone sympa­theti­cally said to me while I was doing an internship in Berlin. “Jena?! Is there anything going on there at all?” old friends from school ask when I tell them which city I live in. 

And yet, it’s actually kind of hard to over­look, the big sign at the train station that says “Para­dise”.

Those who arrive in Jena land strai­ght in Para­dise, no detour.
“I had pictu­red some­thing else” one might say on first sight. And then, on second sight, fall in love with Jena, head over heels – never wanting to leave again. Until they reach a point where they get cabin fever from the small city despite its big city status.

Jena; that’s gazing out from the fourth floor of the univer­sity library over the surroun­ding hills, the green Land­graf, the promi­nent Jenzig, the rugged Kern­berge. That’s paying your best friends a spon­ta­neous visit at night, kissing under the Cams­dor­fer Brücke (Jena’s oldest stone arch bridge), jumping into the river Saale, smel­ling the scent of grass in the garden of Café Wagner. Waiting in line at Fritz Mitte (a place that sells Belgian fries), getting a view of the ugliest tower of all, watching shoo­ting stars from the dorm’s flat roof.

Jena, that’s when there’s suddenly an unknown bike at one of your house parties, which your drunk house­mate just stole off the street to go for a few spins in the hall, and its owner shows up with coffee the next day to pick it up. Jena, that’s when you’re out party­ing and clink glas­ses with your lectu­rer at five in the morning, when on your way from your flat to campus you have to stop ten times for small­talk, when you go to a party by yours­elf because you will always meet someone there you know. 

Jena – that’s where ever­y­body knows ever­y­body.

Being in Jena, study­ing in Jena, took me back to my child­hood. For me, there’s this vague memory of a time where you didn’t need smart­pho­nes and the inter­net. If we wanted to do some­thing, we just went outside to see if someone else was play­ing on the street and if not, we went ahead and rang our neighbor’s door­bell.

In Jena it seems to work the same way. Because someone you know is always on campus, procras­ti­na­ting, or at the library’s cafe­te­ria, feeling frus­tra­ted, or in the Bota­ni­cal Garden, rela­xing. I can often pay my friends an unan­noun­ced visit or invite myself to lunch. You can get nearly anywhere in the city within ten or twenty minu­tes by foot; public trans­por­ta­tion has become a stran­ger to me. 

Even if I some­ti­mes refuse to believe it or take it for gran­ted: every time I’m not in Jena, I realize how good I have it here. In Jena, nothing is compli­ca­ted. Here, I don’t need to study bus plans or consi­der a hund­red opti­ons, don’t have to remem­ber names of districts or make big plans for my day; I can just live. A few centu­ries ago, it was alre­ady Schil­ler who said that “nowhere else does one find such true and reason­able free­dom and so many splendid people within such a small radius” than in Jena. 

I can only agree – free­dom, ease, life, that’s Jena to me, and I’m myself a bit surpri­sed about having found these feelings in such a small city in such a small state. That what Jena lacks in magni­ficent or inte­res­ting buil­dings, world impor­t­ance and good repu­ta­tion is all made up for by its genuine atmo­s­phere.

Maybe that, too is a sign of Para­dise: you can’t reco­gnize it from the outside – other­wise it would be comple­tely over­crow­ded.

Instead, it is only gran­ted a selec­ted few who succeed at giving it a go and disco­vering its hidden beauty.
Jena is also: alter­na­tive, laid-back. You can show up at a party in your snea­kers or at uni in your sweats. In the summer­time, you can sit on the ground outside the sold-out “Kultur­arena” and nobody cares if the campus is turned into a compe­ti­tion field for flun­ky­ball in the after­noon. People say what they think, there’s always a lot of deba­ting going on, some­ti­mes a bit too much. And of course, nature! Where­ver you are, you always have a vista of the surroun­ding moun­ta­ins, pardon me, the surroun­ding high plateau. Although I live close to the city center, it only takes me five minu­tes to be right in the Greens. Add anot­her five minu­tes, and all of a sudden, the city resem­bles a village. 

Each day, one could climb a diffe­rent hill and always enjoy a diffe­rent splendid view or hike the Saale­Ho­ri­zon­tale, a 100-kilometer-long trail. And in the summer­time, the river Saale, which snakes right through the city, is rela­tively shal­low, clean and without strong curr­ents, and makes for a great place to go swim­ming or taking a trip on a rubber boat.

About 100,000 inha­bi­tants, almost gaining big city status, of which 25,000 are students – even­tually, you get the feeling of knowing ever­y­body. As nice as it might be to be among fami­liar faces, at some point, most people in Jena get this feeling of never meeting anyone new and want to get out, move to a bigger, better known city where people also talk about work not just uni.

For most people, Jena is just a stopo­ver, to complete your Bachelor’s in three years or your Master’s in two; there’s hardly a student who’s origi­nally from here. That’s great, because everyone’s new in the begin­ning and open to approa­ching others, but it’s also a bit of a bummer because you’ve got to say good­bye to a lot of people at once, once you’ve reached the end of your studies, like me. 

Natu­rally, I also sing the prai­ses of Jena because I have met so many lovely people here. Soon, it will also be time for me to move on, and I know I will leave with mixed feelings; happy, curious but mostly, sad.

It’s a bit tricky with Para­dise, at some point you’ve had your fill and are hungry for a new chal­lenge.

But once you leave you soon wish yours­elf back.

* * *

Recommendation & Info

My favo­rite cafés in Jena are the Immer­grün and the Grünow­ski. At the latter they also serve great food and the loca­tion has a wonder­ful garden. 

In the evening, the Café Wagner and the Kassa­blanca host events such as concerts, poetry slams, movie or game nights. 

If you come to Jena, getting some French fries at Fritz Mitte is just a must – that you might have to wait in line for half an hour during the day is part of the deal. 

And if you ever wanted to eat and drink like thirty years ago then you can expe­ri­ence a GDR feel in the pub “Wart­burg“. Don’t be taken aback by the unfri­endly owner or the hand-painted posters for deco­ra­tion purpo­ses, but simply order your Jäger­schnit­zel and a beer – maybe follo­wed up by a round of skat.
The Wart­burg can also be an oasis of bliss once you’ve had your fair share of the whole alternative-vegan student atmo­s­phere.

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Since 1978, Afgha­ni­stan has been at war. Never­theless, Josh Cahill wants to visit the capi­tal, Kabul, some­thing he’s been drea­ming of since he was a child. An adven­ture with an uncer­tain ending… With photos by Jim Huylebroek.

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Munich: Oh well, I live here. So?

My City: Home (3)

Munich: Oh well, I live here. So?

Eight years ago, Anika Land­stei­ner moved to Munich. She didn’t speak a word of Bava­rian, but way too much Fran­co­nian, which didn’t make it easier for her to feel like she really belon­ged to Munich. And today? 

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An Episode by


Ariane Kovac

Ariane Kovac lost her heart in Peru, some­where between llamas and rusty mini­bu­ses. Ever since, she’s been wanting to learn as much as possi­ble about other coun­tries and cultures – if possi­ble, first-hand. If she can’t be on the road, she spends a lot of time running her fingers over maps and getting to know her own coun­try a bit better, best on foot. 

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  • MaxPower on 2. Dezember 2015

    Seit wann ist Rolf, der Besit­zer der Wart­burg, ein unfreund­li­cher Gast­ge­ber?
    Die Spezia­li­tät des Hauses ist übri­gens Haxe mit Brat­kar­tof­feln, also nicht von diesem Text abschre­cken lassen und bei Rolf rein­gu­cken, mit ein biss­chen Glück lädt er euch auch auf einen klei­nen Absa­cker ein :)

    Ansons­ten finde ich den Text sehr gelun­gen, aber ich glaube gerade der Para­die­spark und die sommer­li­che Schön­heit Jenas kommen ein wenig zu kurz.

  • Rini on 3. Dezember 2015

    Hey Ariane,
    keiner hätte schö­nere und tref­fen­dere Worte finden können als du. Du sprichst nicht nur mir, sondern vielen vielen weite­ren hoff­nungs­los Jena-Verliebten aus der Seele. Danke, dass du unsere Gedan­ken mit allen geteilt hast und uns weni­ger talen­tier­ten die Möglich­keit einer öffent­li­chen Liebes­er­klä­rung an unsere kleine Jenaer Blase gibst. 

    Liebs­ten Gruß

  • RokkoRehbein on 10. März 2016


    der Text passt, muss nur auch eine Lanze für Rolf, den Chef der Wart­burg, brechen: total entspann­ter, freund­li­cher Mensch, mit dem man immer quat­schen kann. Also: einfach nett anspre­chen und gebra­tene Klöße mit Gulasch bestel­len:) Dazu ein Bier und der Abend ist perfekt!

  • Lu on 30. Juni 2016

    Liebe Ariane,
    jeder, der seine Studi­en­zeit in Jena verbracht hat oder gerade verbringt, wird ganz genau wissen wovon du sprichst und es vermut­lich genauso empfin­den. Ich kann mich noch genau an den Moment erin­nern, als ich meine Zusage fürs Studium in Jena erhal­ten habe. Mein erster Gedanke war: Verdammte Axt, warum denn ausge­rech­net diese beknackte Stadt, mit dem häss­li­chen Neubau­vier­tel direkt an der Auto­bahn. Und dann war ich da. Ein paar Tage, viel­leicht Wochen und es war um mich gesche­hen. Als ich nach ca. fünf Jahren wieder gegan­gen bin, tat ich das defi­ni­tiv mit einem weinen­den Auge. Ich denke noch immer gern an die Zeit in Jena und die wunder­ba­ren Leute, die auch ich dort getrof­fen habe. Deine Worte „ich wohne fast direkt in der Stadt und brau­che trotz­dem nur fünf Minu­ten, um mitten im Grünen zu stehen.“ benutze ich selbst auch, wenn ich beschrei­ben soll, was unter ande­rem an dieser Stadt so toll ist. Das Para­dies habe ich aller­dings ganz schön oft verflucht. Immer dann, wenn mir im ersten Jahr der Zug vor der Nase wegge­fah­ren ist und ich wieder eine Stunde auf dem Bahn­steig rumste­hen musste, um ins Nach­bar­dorf zu kommen.
    Grüß Jena von mir, wenn du da bist.

  • Ed on 29. Juli 2016

    Ein Träum­chen von einem Text! Sehr sehr schön getrof­fen :)
    Liebe Grüße