Friday, December 29, 2006

Wine Mass!

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On Wednesday and Thursday we visited our friend Markus (from Damon's Harvard lab), who originally comes from the Rheingau area and is home over Christmas. The Rheingau is a wine-growing region along the Rhein a little west of Mainz. His family has a winery in the town of Johannisberg which has passed through several generations and is now run by his older brother.

Markus took us through several of the little towns in the area (photos to go up on THE PHOTOS! very soon) and then we had a tour of the family winery and tasted six wines or so. After this, we all went to a special Mass that seemed to be especially for wine! The Mass was held in a chapel connected to Johannisberg's schloss and was held in honor of St. John (Johannes of course - the patron saint of the town). Since he is the patron saint of the town, and the town is a winemaking town, the Mass was very wine-oriented. Markus' brother took down a banner that was hanging in the winery and brought it along. The banners of all the local wineries were there, and joined the procession to the front of the church at the start of Mass, and stood behind the altar for most of the service. (See above Markus holding the banner for his family winery, Weingut Johannishof.) His brother also took a couple of bottles of wine to the church, and set them in front before Mass, where there were many, many other bottles as well - an offering? The area Wine Queen & Wine Princess were in attendance and also in the procession. Toward the end of Mass, everyone drinks a tiny glass of the town's very first "young wine" (different from the "new wine" I mentioned drinking in the fall), donated by the schloss winery. The Mass is really popular (free wine, right?)! Nothing like one I've ever attended! And a note on Germans that I don't know if I've mentioned before: They don't have a fear of singing like Americans do. Markus told us his church is well-known and made fun of for singing so quietly, but it was much louder than any service I went to in the US.

Afterward was more dinner and wine, followed by even more wine with Markus' parents. Markus was born in 1973, and for the occasion of us all being together, his dad brought out a bottle of wine from that year - made by himself since he was the winemaker at that time. I don't think I've ever had old wine like that before...It was completely different.

The next day we saw some more local sights, all of which will be on the photo site, though the weather - rainy and foggy - didn't work in their favor. The area is gorgeous and very English-friendly thanks to tourism - maybe a little too much so. After this we went inside to warm up at the fire, and of course drink more wine, before catching our train back to Heidelberg.

Wherein We Are Spoiled

Yesterday we returned from our trip to visit our friend in the Rheingau and discovered no less than ten Christmas cards in our mailbox! Then today, we received no less than FIVE packages!! This really redeemed the day, which was in danger of being seriously damaged by the latest in the work permit story (that will be a different post).
Packages received today:

* Jen! She knows exactly what I miss: she sent two boxes of Annie's (much needed!! I was down to one precious box!), a package of Oreos (I need to make some mint chocolate covered ones!!!), and a copy of the Onion to remind me how much I miss Chicago. (*snif*) She also sent a gorgeous glass ornament that is maybe from Egypt, where she disappears off to every now and again. :) THANK YOU!!

* Dad, Jean, and Ali! They also sent me a newspaper - a copy of the Des Moines Register to remind me how much I miss Iowa. To make it even more sappy/nostalgic, there was also a CD filled with family photos, some of them of my young grandparents. (*snifsnif....*) They also sent a red sweater to keep me toasty now that the Heidelberg weather has finally gotten down to where it is supposed to be (hovering around 0'C). THANK YOU!!

* Damon's parents! They sent us a large selection of food goodies, including one I don't know how I have lived over three months without: Cookie's BarBQ Sauce (made in my hometown)! Damon opened and dug through that one so I'm still not sure what else was in there, but all I need to know is the sauce, man. (I'm so easy to please....laptops? Household appliances? Trips? Just pass the $3 bottle of sauce.) THANK YOU!!

* Cathy and Jason! They sent us a sugar dish, which Damon was really missing here (we had one at the guest house, but don't have one here). They also sent us soap, shirts from Cathy's now-defunct former employer, South Coast Casino, and a coozie...what could be more Iowan than one of those? THANK YOU!!

* Allison! She shopped off our Amazon lists and I am now looking forward to a full night of old-school Sesame Street watching, which I hope includes lots of Bert and Ernie! I have been waiting forever for something like this to come out and I can't believe it took so long considering there's probably a huge market for it. In the meanwhile Damon will be studying up with some wicked serious tomes from his list.

And, a shout out to packages received over the past month that I didn't blog about yet:

* Suzanne and Bob! Suzanne sent us (in the coolest wrapping paper) shirts from the Cards' World Series victory! We have to wear them in a prominent and obviously German location and send the photo back to her! THANK YOU!!

* Erin and Monica! Did I mention this one before? I can't remember. They sent all the junk I used to eat around the office - Twizzlers, peanut butter cups, and Oreos!! Monica also made us a little foam Christmas tree with our names on it, which was our only tree through most of December. I haven't even opened the peanut butter cups yet...I'm dying to but afraid I won't be able to keep from eating them all instead of savoring them :) As for the Twizzlers...Damon and I went on a Friday night Twizzler binge one night when we couldn't hold out any more. Ye Gods, it was good while it went on, but we sort of regretted it later, hehehe. THANK YOU!!

* Mom! Mom plotted to keep us both toasty all winter with a cardigan sweater (I was dying for one) and a puffy vest for me and a fleece for Damon. Already the cardigan is living outside the closet because I wear it all the time. THANK YOU!!

*Also, Sara sent me the world's best origami paper. Must carefully use each gorgeous piece.... but she said that more is coming so I will save up the big entry on hers for later.

Stories to come: the trip to the Rheingau, and hopefully the near-conclusion of The Work Permit Story.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Frohe Weihnachten....Again!

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Here is our little tiny Christmas tree, on our little tiny Ikea table (that we finished ourselves!), with our one little tiny ornament (a lucky mushroom with a lucky ladybug crawling on it).
We walked the Philosophenweg today, as did many, many other people, and then ate Christmas dinner (pork w/ apples and carrot salad). Damon got me a German name book and a bird ornament (not seen on tree yet), and I got him a tiny framed owl print. All in all, nice and calm, like the Christmases of yore. Well, of false yore, if this article is to be believed: link to Boston Globe - a little commentary on how much American Christmas sucks now, but showing also that it probably never was all that relaxed!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Frohe Weihnachten!

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Only 25 minutes to Christmas here in Germany! Tonight we had dinner with one of Damon's old Harvard friends, who just moved here with her family. She is from the US, actually lived in Germany previously and married a German, but they spent seven or so years in the US before moving back here. In fact, she is a fellow U of C alumna! Anyway, we had a great time there!

Some notes on Christmas here:

1. Germans really put candles on their Christmas trees - something that in the US we only see in drawings on Christmas cards! When we wondered if it was a fire hazard, no one thought so at all. One commented, "Well, we're all here so if it lights on fire there are plenty of us to go get some water." They also put their trees up later, though, so the tree is still not totally dry tinder by Christmastime as it might be if they went up earlier.

2. Sometimes the family also sings carols together at home. Hahaha, this sounds very corny to me, but somehow I'm glad it happens somewhere in the world.

3. Somehow it just feels more traditional. I don't know why. Maybe I'm just feeling more happy with Christmas this year because I'm not dealing with traveling, with my mother-in-law trying to guilt trip us about not visiting her over the holiday (some psychological tricks work on me, but guilt tripping isn't one that does - at all - I don't recommend it), with trying to balance visiting all three parental locations within a short period of time with them all comparing with each other how much time each is getting, with buying perfect gifts for everyone (it was so easy to just get German candy and send it off, and we're too poor for anything nice anyway), with time off from work being so short, with the throngs of travelers and shoppers and the ridiculous "gift" packaging and pricing of regular items, etc, etc, etc. So I guess some of the pluses have to do with being too poor to deal with it, some have to do with a different atmosphere here, and some have to do with being far away enough to have an excuse not to deal with all the really bad aspects.

Other stuff:

* Still no work permit. I think things finally fell into place with the institution where I will be working, enough that I think they are going to let me get the work permit. But of course everything just got lined up at the end of last week, and now I'm supposed to go back to the immigration office to get the permit, not knowing what kind of situation I will face there or how long it will take this time. Last time they told me they would let me know, but no one let me know anything. I didn't know until Friday afternoon if they would send it to me, if I had to go in for it, or anything about what I had to do. Now there is very little time because I am supposed to start work in January, but Monday and Tuesday are holidays, and Wednesday and Thursday we are visiting another Harvard friend near Mainz. I have to get the permit, and take it in to my workplace to sign the contract. I don't know if this is all going to happen - especially with many of the people to help me being on vacation!

* The apartment problems never end! Our shower intermittently decides it is just not going to drain. It has no apparent correlation with anything we do in the apartment - not with how much hair is in the drain trap, not with whether we ran the washing machine today, not with whether we used drain cleaner, not with anything we can figure out. It will drain fine in one part of the day, and in the next the showerer is left standing in six inches of water. I can't say that it's endearing me to this apartment much more!

* I really miss my old social life. Well, I miss having one at all, really. I have met many really cool people in my class, but they of course all live either in Mainz or another city - none here. The people from Damon's lab are all cool, but don't seem to plan much together. I could really go for a great house party right now, but so far I can't tell if Germans even throw great house parties. It's only been three months so I'm sure this will get better...I hope so anyway.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Strasbourg - New Photos!

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I'm popping my head in for a second to advertise our latest new photos - click THE PHOTOS on the right to see them! We spent Sunday in Strasbourg, which is a couple of hours from Heidelberg, just across the French border. I promise to update soon!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Oh yeah? Where's some wood to knock on?

Just checking in lest anyone hadn't guessed yet that I am back in class, spending all my time either in a classroom or on a train between here and Mainz! Today was my day off, and this week I'm back in again through Thursday. Very tiring. And, as of right now, the bike that needs to get me to the train station in only a few short hours is in pieces on our living room floor! On my way back yesterday I noticed it was dragging a lot and it looked like one of the brakes was a little misaligned. While trying to fix that Damon also though the front wheel was wobbling too much so he's trying to figure that out. My poor takes a bit of damage having to be parked at the Hauptbahnhof, unfortunately. The place is so packed full with bikes (many abandoned) that they are often smacked and dragged against each other as everyone tries to get theirs in and out of the tangle. Not good.
Today we went to a chemistry/opera event at the university. Every year the chemistry students stage this event and it's apparently pretty difficult to get tickets (Damon got them through another person in his lab). They play parts of the opera Lohengrin, some recorded and some performed live and accompany it with lots of pretty-looking chemical reactions and fires. Afterward we had our zillionth really unhealthy meal at the Christmas Market, heh.
Here's hoping the bike gets me to the train on time tomorrow morning. See you again after this class module ends!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Just Call It a Tannenbaum

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Another thing I have noticed about holidays here, is that no one seems to be up in arms about any aspect of the holidays. This is unlike the US, where each year we must put up with constant outcries by one group or another about the holiday and how they don't like how someone else handles it.

In one example, I received an email forward today from someone in the US (not to be named, sorry) with a picture of a Christmas tree, arguing that it was indeed a Christmas tree and not an "Allah bush" or various other names I'm sure no one ever seriously tried to call a Christmas tree. At the end of the message, it urged the reader to "take a stand!" Huh? Take a stand against what? Having other religions in your country? Separation of church and state? The funny thing is that decorated trees aren't even Christian or in the Bible, so how are you going to take a stand against anything when you already have no argument? I know the email is only about Christmas trees, and I agree, they aren't for Hanukkah or any other holiday, but to get all freaky about what they are called is just bizarre. Every year in the US, there's a crowd of people mad when businesses say "Merry Christmas" and a crowd on the other side mad when businesses say "Happy Holidays". Hobbies, people, you need 'em!

It's all very confusing, and blissfully I don't see a lot of it here. It's very relaxed. Maybe the US just needs a good shot of gluehwein. Drink up, guys!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Oh dear.

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Last night Damon and I met up with some people in his lab for the first night of the Heidelberger Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market)! The market is set up in various squares in the Altstadt; we met in the Universitaetsplatz, which was filled with candy, food, drink, and gift vendors. Everyone was standing around with friends, drinking gluehwein and eating a large variety of really unhealthy foods. Damon and I had feuerwurst - spicy wurst which we both sort of regretted later (especially Damon). The atmosphere was much more festive and relaxed than I've experienced at any US public pre-Christmas place - despite the stalls selling ornaments and gifts, the real point didn't seem to be shopping, but standing around eating, drinking, and being merry. We look forward to many more trips over there since it's just a short walk from our apartment - and there are tons more foods (especially snacks!) we need to try!

Today I made an attempt to do a complete cleaning of the bathroom, since the pipe-cleaning company has finally left after 2 and a half weeks of the water being on, then off, then on, hot, then cold, then hot, then off, and constant banging, clanging and stomping around various apartments. YES! So now I know they will not be back to trash our bathroom again and I can clean knowing it might stay that way for a couple of days.
I tried German-style mopping and this first attempt was a complete disaster. There's no way to squeeze out the mop! It didn't occur to me that this was going to be a problem until after I started, of course. Do I squeeze it out with my hands? In the US I admit when I did the bathroom, usually it was such a small room I just did it on my hands and knees. It works better anyway. Our bathroom here is really large though.
I have noticed our red hand and bath towels, despite having been through a few washings now, are leaving copious amounts of red lint all over the bathroom. I've never had this problem it a side effect of not having a dryer that collects lint?

And in other video game came!!! The question is...should I start it? I start class again Monday morning, with a test that I should be studying for (despite the instructors' insistence that it's really easy). There's no way I could get very far in the game by then, especially since I'm leaving mid-Sunday to stay with a friend in Mainz the night before the test. Then the game would torment me for the two weeks in class...I know I will be dying to find out what happens next. Of course, I'm dying to find out RIGHT NOW what it's like....would it hurt to start?! I feel like a little kid.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Ladybug Ad, Part II

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This is the longer version, and the video is higher quality than the one I found either. (Someone steer me away from the youtube, man...)

Die Post, Again

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Yesterday when I got the mail I found a little orange card from Die Post in there again, indicating they'd tried to deliver something when we weren't home. The problem was, I had been home all day! Then I noticed the date on the card - it said they had tried to deliver on Saturday afternoon! We were at the grocery store probably. But why did I only get the card on Tuesday? Did they put it in someone else's box accidentally? Argh! So, now I have to go to Czerny Ring again to pick it up. We think we finally figured out what the alternative is, though. In order to not have to pick our stuff up at this location, we have to fill out a little card and send it in to someplace in another city registering ourselves with the Post. Then, if there is a package for us, they will call or SMS us to find out when we can be home to have it delivered. But, this doesn't help us right now with the package currently sitting at Czerny Ring! What's frustrating is the lack of bike lanes over there - it's scary. Also, I don't know what the package is or how big it is...if it's too big for my bike basket or my backpack, then what? I wish they had a delivery option for people who just got here and didn't know they had to register a phone number with the Post in order to have any choice in the matter!
If anyone knows of another way, though, please enlighten me! I love getting packages and I hate that this little issue takes some of the joy out of it.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Ladybug Ad

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Some of you might remember back in my first weeks here when I posted about car ad with ladybugs having sex, and how I didn't think it would fly in the US. I found the ad on youtube, so you can now view the ad and determine for yourselves if this would ever see the light of prime time on US television! :)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Gorgeous Day in Weinheim!

Happy birthday, Jen!

Damon and I spent yesterday on various errands, as is typical for Saturday here. We went to a central post office to pick up a package that they tried to deliver when we weren't home. The location is not very bike-friendly, so we are going to have to figure out how to get them to redeliver to our apartment instead. The package turned out to be from Dru!! She sent a huge stash of Oreos, Annie's mac & cheese, and candy corn! Thank you, Dru!!! I have been wanting to share some Oreos with my epi classmates, who are always very generous sharing all kinds of German snacks with me, so now I have enough to do so. (Because you know I have to have a stash here at home as well!) I was also wondering if I could maybe make some Oreo truffles for Christmas this year, but they require cream cheese and I don't think they have that here!

We also went on a huge candy shopping spree, the results of which can now be seen in the link on the right called THE PHOTOS under the Weinheim entry! Almost all our Christmas gifts this year consist of candy, except in the cases of known candy-dislikers (it's true, they exist!). I think we'll have to wait until Damon gets paid to do the actual shipping, heh.

We also went for a walk around the Altstadt since the weather has been really nice as long as the sun is up (so only until 4:30p) and discovered that a lot of booths for the Christmas Market have already been set up, as well as tons of decorations! The Market starts November 29.

Today, the weather was amazing, which was a great complement to our plans to make a visit to Weinheim! (See THE PHOTOS link to the right - they are up already!) Weinheim is a town a few kilometers north of Heidelberg. Getting there was an unfortunately sort of expensive venture on the Strassenbahn (and go figure they never checked our they ever on that thing?) but definitely worth it. Weinheim was beautiful, with a very cozy atmosphere. The main square in the Altstadt is on a hill - at the top of the hill is a huge church. The sides of the hill are lined with cafes and restaurants. The trees in the square were still holding on to bright yellow leaves and there were people everywhere. Behind the square is the town's Schloss, which is now the town hall, and a huge garden park including a pond with ducks and a little aviary with tropical birds! It also includes Germany's largest cedar tree, which is gorgeous. We didn't even get time to explore the entire park, as we also wanted to visit the Windeck ruins, up on a hill above the town. The former monastery (?) is really just a ruined shell, but a restaurant with outdoor seating has been built inside. There's a beautiful view from the top as well, and since it was a clear day we could see countless other towns. There is another castle-like building on one of the other hills, but we didn't get time to go there either.

* We had lunch in a doener place which also purported to have Mexican food, but the burrito I got was really just a differently-shaped doener. It was still delicious, though. We had an interesting experience - the waiter came and we were prepared to do everything in German, but he heard us speaking English to each other and actually wanted to speak English with us instead. That was a first! It also reminded me - I never fail to be amazed at how many languages people here know.

* All shopping is closed on Sundays. This is especially amazing during the Christmas season, walking past stores all gussied up for Christmas in the middle of the day, and closed for business! No tense mobs or insanity! And the people who are out window shopping are truly doing just that - window shopping! They can't go into the store!! There's something nice about being able to have a pre-Christmas day in a public place that isn't a consumption-mad hell.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Friday Tidbits

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* Why it's sometimes better to be in a car: biking home from German class, a bug was inadvertently sucked into my nose. I had to fish it out while riding. Yuck.

* Today I saw a German woman using a walker! This is the first time I've seen a walker here, though I have seen plenty of people using one or two canes.

* Alter Schwede! This is an (apparently more Northern) expression along the lines of the English "Good God!". The literal translation? Old Swede!

* The German postal system is privatized. Hence, they got to charge us 15 EUR to have our mail forwarded to our new address. So, you would think they would do a pretty good job of it. However, mail has been continuing to go to the university guesthouse. Luckily they know they can forward it to Damon's lab. But why isn't the Post forwarding it like we are paying them to do?? Speaking of the Post, a package arrived on Wednesday! Unfortunately it arrived while neither of us was home (in fact we were at the post office, of all places) and now it has to be picked up in some obscure location called the Czerny Ring. So, this will be a Saturday morning project. Wish us luck.

* And for anyone who, like me, thought our water was back on for good, it's not. They're shutting it off again for part of next week. Our water better run and taste heavenly after all this!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

I am thankful for...

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...the Thanksgivings we had in Boston. This year we'll be going out to dinner ourselves - we don't have the supplies or facilities to host anyone, and Germany's not big on turkey!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Heute: Nicht so gut

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I have been running the shower for ten minutes and the water still isn't even lukewarm. In my impressive sample size of two people who live in German apartments whose showers I know about, this is a common theme. I just hope I don't use some much water waiting for it to get hot, or even just warm, that it puts my Nebenkosten over the top and I end up paying extra!

Fifteen minutes now...still cold.

In other news, anyone here an expert with clothes drying racks? We have only a drying rack, no dryer. The building has no public dryer so we need to dry them all on the rack. The problem is that only a few things are dry within a day. Our towels take at least two days and jeans take three. But, we need to do laundry more often than that, so we need to get these things drying more quickly! We tried putting them outside, but it's mostly too cold out there and might even be worse than having them here in our windless sunless apartment cave. We have thought about turning on the radiator and putting the clothes next to it, but it's generally very warm in here (some past tenants never had to turn on their heat all winter!) so we'd be making it really tropical if we turn that thing on. Fans, maybe? Any ideas? Maybe we just need another drying rack, but we're hard up on space.

Off to check the shower again.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Video Game Woes (or: Wherein I Admit To an Extremely Nerdy Enjoyment of Final Fantasy)

It's not bad enough that you can't use games from one continent on a game console from another. It also turns out that I can't have FFXII shipped from Amazon to myself because I am not in the US or on a US base. I'm itching to play this game (like I have the time, har...) and have been waiting for a truly new FF since FFX, because I don't do the online FFXI sort of thing. Any US volunteers to have it shipped to themselves and then pass it on to me? Let me know!

In other news, something like 3 pairs of jeans overloads our washing machine, creating horrific screeching sounds. I think we are going to be running that thing very, very often.

And, a report from the American midwest: A wild pig was loose at my dad's acreage! It rooted up the entire yard before a friend of his came by with his kids and they all ran around, finally catching it. Never a dull moment out there!

Mike, I'm Sorry

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I would like to issue a public apology to Mike. Mike's birthday was November 8, and I completely forgot. I suppose I could blame it on the complete chaos going on right now, but I can think of a few certain people who would tell me that that is no excuse, and perhaps they are right. I believe this is the first time I've ever blown off an important date quite so badly. I'm sorry!

Mike, happy belated birthday! Your gift is on its way.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Catching Up!

I finally have internet access again, and I am done with my first stint in Mainz so I actually get to spend a bit of time doing things other than sitting in class or on trains!
I continued updating the blog while I didn't have access and have cut and pasted all of the new entries, backdated to when they were originally written. If you want to start from the beginning, scroll down or click on the right to the post called "The Move: Early Disasters" and read upwards from there. I also have two new photo albums up on the photo site - click THE PHOTOS! on the right to check them out!
This week has been a mess. We have had no water in our apartment all week. There was a major misunderstanding about this. We were told that it would be on in the evenings and early mornings, but that is not the case. The only water on at those times is from a cold water tap temporarily hanging from a big coil in our stairwell. So, no showers, flushing the toilet, laundry, or any other activities involving running water all week, and contractors in and out of our apartment during the day, making a mess. (We were also told they were not to leave the place dirty.) We found a shower at Damon's work (conveniently located in the beer storage closet) that helped one night. Then we decided that because my last day of class was only until 10:30a, he would come up to Mainz the night before, we would get a hotel room, and then sightsee in Mainz after class got out, and get a hot shower as a special bonus. Hopefully the water will be turned back on this evening, but of course I don't trust anything I'm told regarding this project anymore.
I still don't have a work permit. I was hoping to start working this month but I can see that is probably not going to happen. That means we had to pay for another month of private health insurance since without my job we aren't eligible for public insurance. Grr!
And I have a cold sore!! Grr!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Wherein Our Dislike of Contractors Is Renewed

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Good news! I can sleep in tomorrow morning!

The bad news is, it’s because our apartment has no water! So, I won’t be showering in the morning. I can’t wait to slog through my 15-hour day without one! Not impressed with the workmanship of the Germans who are doing whatever they are doing with the pipes in this building – they’ve trashed our place. Apparently they were too busy doing that to finish their job in time for us to have water again before the end of the day.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Platform Toilet


Note – if you are eating, or shy about poo, do not read.

Before moving to Germany, we read about a horrible German phenomenon known as The Platform Toilet. Damon reported that they had Platform Toilets in his workplace, and I made a mental note never to use the restroom there.

The Platform Toilet is a ceramic toilet, just like in the US. However, the hole that everything gets flushed into is in the front instead of the back. And instead of all sloping downward, there is a flat platform or very shallow bowl-shaped platform inside. Whatever you, uh, excrete lands on/in this platform and just sits there in the open air. Then when you flush, water rushes out the back of the toilet and pushes everything over the edge into the hole. The whole business exposes your pee/poo to the air and makes a big smell.

Well, when we toured this apartment, we somehow failed to note…it has a Platform Toilet. That’s right…the thing I never wanted to see even once while living here I now must live with every day!! Amazingly, we noticed at the Bauhaus that they are even still selling model after model of these things – so it’s not even an old freak thing. It’s considered normal and people even choose to get one over the other possibilities!!

Having a Platform Toilet takes your pooing experience to the next level. It’s no longer a simple event where you flush and you’re all done. No, no.
First, there’s the ungodly smell. I’m not kidding you – all that water in your American toilet is really sparing you from quite a bit of the smell so if you think it reeks now… So, afterwards you need to light a match or candle. So, on the back of our toilet seat sit a lighter and a candle. Forget air fresheners (the previous tenants left us some) – they are only going to make it smell like poo mixed with flowers. You have to burn the smell out of the air, man.
Second, there are the streaks. Poo that has no water barrier between itself and the ceramic leaves its mark, so to say. So, a toilet brush must always be available to all toilet users – no hiding this puppy away. An added bonus to keep the toilet brush from smelling like poo is to always use some toilet cleaner during this process. So, after the first poo-clearing flush, one puts a little cleaner on the streaks, gets the toilet brush, cleans up, and flushes again to clear up the bits and rinse the brush.
All done! Whether to light the candle first or scrub up first is up to you, but the first flush should definitely be done as quickly as possible.

So, now I’m sure that I have deterred everyone from ever coming to visit me lest they have to poo sometime while they are here. Just save up your coins and you can always use a relatively clean public restroom and not have to worry about it :)

Saturday Disasters

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Checking in on my precious, precious day off. Tomorrow, it’s back to class, and I have it until 7pm every night through Wednesday. Then on Thursday it is only a morning review session, thankfully. However, it’s going to be with that prof that I took the opposite of a liking to. Yuck. I have her first thing tomorrow morning too.

Yesterday was a minor disaster at every turn. First, the alarm did not go off. Second, there was no hot water in the shower. There’s something funny about the water around here – you cannot get a hot shower really early in the morning (such as when I get up at 5:30a). But, every other day this week I at least got a lukewarm shower. Not so yesterday – it was outright cold. This was especially disappointing as I have a cold right now and yesterday was the worst day of it – so I could really have used a hot shower. Then I decided to try wearing my long wool coat on my bike. I wasn’t too far from home when it got caught up in the brakes or something on the back wheel. I could feel it pulling and I stopped to try to get it out, and couldn’t get it out. So I had to get off the bike to try – and both I and the bike fell over when I tried to get off, since I was stuck. It took me about five minutes sitting on the ground to work the coat out of the brake. Then I was really in a hurry so I wouldn’t miss my train…I held the coat ends up on the handlebars to keep them from getting caught again. This sounds trivial but it really hurt my hands. Then I got to the train station and discovered that the train I normally take does not run on Saturdays. I could either try to get on the ICE, which my ticket isn’t good for, or be really late to class. I went in to the sales desk and it turned out they were open, thankfully! And, the person I talked to spoke English, which made what could have been a 20-minute ordeal that would have made me miss the train into a very quick transaction, and I was upgraded to take the ICE that morning. Whew. So, I got on the ICE. Seats are often reserved on this so one without a reserved seat has to hunt around for one that is free. I found one and sat down, glad all that was over with. Then someone carrying a six-pack of beer with his buddies started asking me something which I couldn’t understand. I guess he wanted that seat for his buddies. Not really able to argue with him because of the language barrier, I just got up and continued hunting for another seat. I found one and settled in. Then I realized I was in the smoking section! This keeps happening to me…it’s always nicely uncrowded, but obviously disgusting. (The previous day I had ended up in one as well, behind a woman with her three screaming children. Don’t get me started on how deplorable I find her inability to stop smoking for a couple of hours so she doesn’t have to plop her kids and their little lungs in the smoking section. In this day and age when we are well, well aware of the effects of secondhand smoke, even the most stupid person has to know now – there is no excuse. Ugh.) No one was really smoking and since it was so early I figured I’d be fine so I just stayed there. Then, at the next stop, a gigantic party complete with costumes, music, cigarettes, and packs of beer boarded the train and filled all the seats around me. No joke! It was the first day of Carnival and they were all headed to Mainz to party. And I’m on my way to class, with a cold. Boo! The good part of yesterday is that we got out of class at 4 so I got to take a fast train home and was here by 6p, which could even be considered a totally normal hour to get home. If it’s a weekday, anyway….but it was a Saturday. Argh! Only four more days of this module to go. (And then, 8 more modules to go over the next two years.)

Still no internet at home. I think we are supposed to get it on Tuesday. I can’t wait. It’s been frustrating not being able to really communicate with anyone or look things up. I noticed a huge free space in my class schedule when I might be able to take intensive German, which I really need…but I can’t look up any institute’s class schedules online!

Did I mention that my sister rocks? She sent me a (comic) book called Salmon Doubts by Adam Sacks, and it is fantastic. I already read it five times! I love salmon!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Update from the Trenches

Still no internet access! I did get an SMS today that said our equipment was on its way. Well, I think that is what it said, but honestly I can’t be sure since it was of course in German!

Tomorrow will be my sixth day of class in a row. Then I have Sunday off, and four more days next week. Thankfully, class ends at 5 instead of 7 for the last three days this week, and today we even got out half an hour early! I was only away from home for a total of 12 hours!! Yes, this counts as excitement for me right now.

The week of class has had its ups and downs. During a boring or difficult lecture, I sometimes wonder what the hell I am thinking by going in this direction. During the interesting ones, I’m so glad I finally get to spend my time working in a field I truly like. Ah, the rollercoaster of wondering what one is doing with one’s life.

I have one truly evil professor. Not sure what I’m going to do about her, but right now I’m tempted to refer her for psychiatric evaluation. And, let’s just say she really didn’t take a shine to me for some reason…so I think things are going to be especially bad for me. (But everyone dislikes her.)

A snippet from my learnings is this quote:

Human curiosity is the fundamental motivation of epidemiology, as it is of any scientific discipline.” – J. P. Fox

While I think that this doesn’t entirely hold true – I think the main motivation of epidemiology is a title shared equally by human curiosity and by the desire to make life better for humanity – I do love the quote. It always makes me glad to remember there are people out there who do still understand that for some people, science is about curiosity and the search for truth….not money. (There’s an argument I don’t want to have with my father-in-law again…truly depressing.)

Other recent stories, in no particular order:

* This is actually a long-running story at this point. We have been getting sort of neutral comments for quite a while on our last name being German. Damon didn’t really think much of it, but I found it sort of curious that anyone found it noteworthy enough to mention…what is special about it? Yes, it’s German…hardly unusual in the US and certainly not unusual in Germany! I thought perhaps Germans don’t have an understanding of just how many Americans are of German descent. But, none of them took the conversation beyond, “Oh, your name is German! Hey!” My first day of class in Mainz, at lunch, it came again:

“Is your husband German?”
“No, he’s American also.”
(in confused voice) “You are both Americans. But your last name is German.”

This question struck me as pretty bizarre, but it wasn’t really surprising because I had the feeling that this is what all the previous people who commented on our name were really getting at, but just didn’t ask. Why is our last name German if we’re from the US? They really don’t know? They know the US is made up of immigrants, yes? Immigrants from…?
With all Germans at the table looking to me for some sort of incredibly enlightening and interesting answer, I gave them the boring truth: Americans claiming German ancestry are the largest ethnic group in the US. And not only is my last name now German, my maiden name is German, my mom’s maiden name is German, my grandpa’s mom, etc etc etc. At least 70% of my ancestry is ethnic German.
I wonder why Germans don’t realize just how many Americans are actually their far distant cousins.

* Students knock on the tables to applaud their lecturers, instead of clapping!! Now I’m doing it too, but it still seems kind of hilarious somehow. I wonder what they would do if they wanted to give a standing ovation?

* Clothing seems to be less of a generational indicator here. I have seen people looking great in outfits that Americans in the same age group would never wear, thinking them age-inappropriate (too young/hip – not in a goofy-looking way, but definitely different from what would be considered ok in most places in the US). This is really great because it erases a sign of age and leaves people not judging each other by that parameter.

* I’ve been exposed now to a zillion levels of German accent in English, and a zillion funny mispronunciations. Recent favorites include “al-bu-KERK” for Albuquerque and “hayt” for height (which is perfectly easy to understand…shouldn’t it rhyme with weight, after all?). Today’s lecturer’s accent sounded exactly like Dr. Strangelove. Some sound completely British.

* I love that fellow foreigners sometimes can’t tell I’m not German.

* My fellow classmates really love apples and bananas. The trash can is full of apple cores and banana peels at the end of the day. They are also very liberal about sharing their snacks with everyone else – a practice that happens in the US too, but not nearly as much as it does here.

* Hey Americans…can any of you tell me what is the Most Extreme Sin of US fashion? The worst of all. The one for which you will get completely crucified by your schoolmates or coworkers. The one that makes you the filthy scum of the earth – there are even comics about it.

That’s right – it’s wearing the same thing more than one day in a row. Hell, wearing the same thing twice in one week will get you frowned upon…a coworker’s husband is even paranoid about wearing the same thing on the same day of the next week, afraid that someone will be able to tell. I guess the idea Americans are supposed to be giving to each other is, “I have so many clothes that I can wear something different every single day. This indicates I am rich and cool.” By leaving large gaps between wearing the same thing twice, one secretly hopes everyone will forget that outfit and think it’s something different again next time.

Here, it appears to be completely normal and acceptable to wear the same thing twice or more in a row, or many times in the same week. Even very distinctive things. Even entire outfits. I suddenly feel like a materialistic clothes horse because I haven’t even worn the same pair of pants twice this week, much less every day or so. And I had far fewer clothes than many of my Boston coworkers. I’m liking's so easy! I don't want to wear the same thing more than one day in a row...but at least I don't have to worry, "Hmm, I just wore this two weeks it too soon to wear it again?" like I did in Boston.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Mainz Is Very Far Away

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Yesterday was my first day of class, followed by dinner with the program. I left the apartment at 6:30a and got home at 12:30a. Then this morning, I left at 6:30a…but this time got home at 9:30p instead and it was like a little victory. I’m so exhausted!! Tomorrow, leave the house at 6:30a again…

More soon…(not that I can actually even post these)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Mainz Eve

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Happy birthday, Monica!

Handyman and Landlord just left after showing up again. Finally the drawer is done and hopefully this is the end of their “improvement” projects. Handyman was grunting so much we were afraid to even look in the kitchen. Then we discovered that he was using one of our nice kitchen knives – brought from the US in our checked luggage – to sharpen his pencil!! Landlord hired his own daughter to clean our kitchen, then tried to charge it to us. We said to charge it to the previous tenant, who should have left the place clean. He also said his daughter said she cleaned the living room, which is clearly not true just by having a look. WTF…

Tomorrow I may have class from 9-5, or 9-7. The schedule is so confusingly written that I can’t be sure. I’ll just be lucky if I can even find class – although this program is in English, all the directions they sent are in German.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Hangers, Watercookers, and Dreading Mainz

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Today we discovered the Woolworth in the Bismarckplatz. I would really like to know why no one told us about this store before. It is conveniently located, and while it may be awfully lowbrow (they were selling granny-panties in boxes on the sidewalk, yes…and also what looked to be man-panties…) it does have some stuff we needed, much, much, much cheaper than anything else that we can get to easily. Everyone was giving us complicated directions that would require taxis or public transit to the outskirts of town to find cheap stuff, when we can bike to Woolworth in ten minutes.

It didn’t have something we desperately need, though: wire clothes hangers. Why can’t we find these anywhere? The only hangers we can ever find are the fancy wood/metal or plastic ones. The cheapest ones we found were at Woolworth, and they were still plastic ones that were 5 for 2 EUR – and there were only three packages left. Lack of hangers leaves us trying to surgically place all our clothes on the few shelves we have…and as it looks right now, it will take at least 10 minutes of careful extraction to retrieve anything. Are there no cheap hangers here? Are Germans just not into hangers? Do they just fold everything and then iron incessantly? Or are they just hanger connoisseurs, refusing anything less than plastic? We don’t have an ironing board yet either, though we do know we can find those at Woolworth for decently cheap – and they all come with that cool metal thing on the end to place the hot iron in…brilliant!
Damon also had one of his little Germany dreams come true today – we got a Wasserkocher at Woolworth. We first heard an earful about them in our German class in Boston. The Wasserkocher, translating to “water cooker”, is an appliance apparently found in almost every German home. It is a very fast way of boiling water. While in the US this seems like a kind of unnecessary accessory (resulting in a lot of discussion in German class), here they are cheap and everywhere. Damon’s been wanting one of these for a while, but finally got his final excuse last night when we wanted to make hot chocolate and the burner he chose took 30 minutes to boil the water. (In a pot – we don’t have a kettle anymore. Later we found out the other burners are a little faster). Even a faster burner can’t touch the speed of the Wasserkocher, which brings water to a boil in maybe 3 minutes, and has a little spout to pour it out just like a teakettle. I’m pretty sure a microwave can do the same job in the same amount of time, but these predate microwaves. Also we do not have a microwave (makes reheating a real pain) – and they are not nearly as common here as they are in the US. Also you have to worry about superheating the water with a microwave, no?

Today I got tickets to ride to Mainz for the first class module, which will take place from 9-5+ for six days next week and four days the following week. The person who helped us at Deutsche Bahn was incredibly knowledgeable and helpful – a level of efficiency and thoroughness you rarely find in US customer service. He said that I could get a student rate for the S-Bahn (slow train), but it would take 2-2.5 hours each way, and the fast train is only about an hour each way. Overall the two weeks of commuting will cost 143 EUR. Ugly. In addition, this way of commuting is really killer because if I miss the train either way, I’m looking at losing about an hour on the way home, or on the way there, being 100% sure to miss the start of classes. And, the train schedule isn’t all about me of course – it’s totally inconvenient to my schedule. I’ll get to Mainz 45 minutes before class starts – or 15 minutes after it starts – there’s no closer way to do it. More lost time! I estimate I will have to get out of bed at 5:45 to make it to class at 9am. Everyone is telling me commuting to Mainz is no big deal, so I must be missing something!!

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Move: Continuing Disasters

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Today started with a call to Ikea, who asked for some serial numbers for our missing bed piece and broken shelf pieces. Then, they never called again, so Monday will be the earliest that we have everything we bought. No bed all weekend – and I will be in class Monday so Damon will have to be home for the delivery. I changed my mind about the bed – I think it’s necessary to keep everything together, so the mattresses don’t slide off the slats. Also it will be much easier to get up out of!!

I spent half the morning scrubbing down the closet, which was filthy. Cleaning is up to the departing tenant; in this case they didn’t do a good job. The kitchen was so bad we asked the landlord to hire a professional. He can take the cost out of the previous tenant’s security deposit if he wants. As for the horrid walls (very, very dirty and beat up), we are expected to paint them if we can’t stand it. It’s very different from Boston, where we were always disallowed from any work that would change the apartment.

After lunch, Landlord and Handyman returned with the broken drawer, to try and put it back in. They also decided to put new sealant around the sink, put magnets on some cupboard doors that wouldn’t shut properly, and replace the trim between the counters and the wall. I was pretty excited about the trim being replaced, until I noticed they were just replacing it with the exact same hideous plastic stuff. Darn.

Damon and I made a trip to the Bauhaus later in the afternoon to get a drying rack so we could do laundry, as well as a few other necessary items – just the second of many, many trips to get this place up to complete working order. When we returned we found Handyman and Landlord still there. Apparently things were just not going well with the drawer. It was going on four hours of work now, and they hadn’t fixed it. Handyman, a sort of gruff little gnome of a guy, was working up a sweat and had stripped down to his undershirt. I gave them Oreos. They finally left a couple of hours later, returning our kitchen to us.

Since we’d been unable to go in there, Damon had put the kitchen sponge, salvaged from our old apartment because it’s so precious and necessary right now, in the bathroom in the meantime. We can’t use the sink until tomorrow d/t the new sealant, so we thought we would have to wash a couple things in the bathroom sink.

After Landlord & Handyman left, I used the restroom and noticed the sponge on the sink, but thought there was something a little funny about it. Then I realized what it was. The sponge was just black with dirt. What could have happened on the trip over here from the old place? Then it dawned on me….the handyman used it to wash his blackened hands after all that work in the kitchen. Oh gross.

Damon and I made an emergency trip to the DM store in the Bismarckplatz for a new sponge so we could wash dishes before the cleaning person comes tomorrow morning, because we don’t want to leave dishes for them. DM is sort of like CVS, only without the pharmacy because pharmacies are separate entities here. We got there right before closing – sponge emergency addressed successfully. On this trip we also discovered Damon’s bike lights weren’t working. Have I also mentioned his cell phone isn’t working and we don’t know why? Argh.

We found clothespins at the DM too, so armed with those and our new drying rack, we decided to try our washing machine! I can’t believe we own one! It’s hooked up in our bathroom. The bad thing is that we can’t run anything else in the bathroom while the washer is running.

As it started running, the room smelled like sewage. Great, I thought. We are hooked up wrong and washing our clothes in sewage. It also gurgled water up into the bottom of the shower stall, which is now dirty. One day here and the shower stall needs a scrub. Aughhghghhg….but, despite a lot of really scary noises, it seems to function. Damon also fixed his bike lights so all is well with that. We’ll have to sort out the cell phone thing tomorrow – because it’s bedtime!


Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Move: Early Disasters

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I am writing blog entries while I don’t have internet access, and will cut and paste them in when I get it back!

Yesterday, with help from a couple of Damon’s lab mates, we brought most of our things to our new apartment. We slept there one more time last night, as we had no bed yet in the new place.

This morning, our Ikea delivery was scheduled to arrive between 10 and 11am, including our bed, mattresses, sofa, shelf, table and chairs. Damon and I headed to the new place on our bikes, laden down with food, toiletries, and other stuff we hadn’t moved the previous day. While awaiting their arrival, I decided to unpack some dishes (Ikea Startbox, woo!) and discovered the cupboards were all still dirty inside. I opened the drawer to put away just the flatware, and the drawer was even more dirty than the cupboards. What was more, it didn’t even pull out the all the way without extreme force. Argh! I gave up – no cleaning supplies to use and I wouldn’t put away clean new things in a dirty cupboard.

After the delivery, we decided to begin the furniture assembly right away. Although all the instructions say only a screwdriver is needed, that is only true if you place a low value on your wrists and your sanity. So, we borrowed a power drill from Damon’s work – but can only have it for a day, so we had to get the assembly all done!

Thankfully, we started with the non-intimidating unfinished pine Ivar chairs, and had no problem. Then we moved on to the Malm bed, the most important piece. Then we discovered that it wasn’t all there – it came in three boxes, and only two were delivered. We had a headboard and footboard, but no sides. We called Ikea, and they said they would call the delivery driver and then call us back. We assembled the slats, which are separate from the bed, in the meantime so that was out of the way.

Our landlord then came by with his handyman friend to fix a cupboard door in the kitchen. Despite their apparent friendship, they only spoke to each other using Sie (formal) and referred to each other as Herr (Mr.) So-and-so. Whew! What must it take to be familiar? It must be generational – Damon reports that everyone in his lab uses the du (informal) form.
Anyway, since he was there, we pointed out the cruddy drawer to the handyman as well, and now he is going to fix that too – yay!

Also during this time, the building Hausmeister stopped by – sort of a handy guy in charge of building maintenance. He seemed nice enough. He has to change our name on the mailbox and elevator – annoyingly, this change costs us 10 EUR. This is in addition to a 25 EUR fee just for moving in – to make up for any damage to the hallways that might result.

Ikea still hadn’t called us back about the bed after a while, so we called again. This time they gave us a different number to call. When we called that number, they gave us the number of the delivery drivers and told us to call them. So we called them and they said they’d bring it between 3 and 4 pm. This gave us some time to go eat and pick up some stuff at our old apartment, so off we went.

There we discovered a UPS delivery note in our mailbox! Unfortunately they are going to reattempt delivery tomorrow when we don’t live there anymore. Also, it’s all in German and we don’t know what to mark to get it redirected. And now in the madness, we lost the note altogether. What could the delivery be?

Next, Deutsche Post delivered a package! The timing was strange because they usually come earlier, but it was perfect since we were actually home! And, the postman delivered it to our apartment door! [It was a very cute and old-fashioned interaction: White-bearded kindly-looking postal guy: “Die Post!” Me: Surprised “Oh!” as he hands me the package. Him: “Bitte schoen!” (Direct translation is “Please beautiful!” but it’s just sort of a general polite phrase used for everything from “Enjoy!” when you get your food at a restaurant to “Next please!” when you’re waiting in line.) Me: Danke! Him: Tchuess!] What service! It turned out to be a birthday party package from my mom, complete with candy, noisemakers, hats, and an ENTIRE PACKAGE OF OREOS! Thank you, Mom!!

We ate, packed up more stuff, and then hurried to make it back to the new apartment in time for the delivery of the last piece of our bed. When we got there, we set back to our furniture assembly while there was still a bit of light coming in the window. (Ikea note for fans: Unfinished pine Ingo table – great – green Snille office chair – not recommended, totally crappy.)

Yes, we naively assumed that the ceiling light fixtures we saw in the apartment when we visited came with the apartment. Not so. The previous tenant took the fixtures from the bedroom and living room when he left. Yesterday was a holiday so we couldn’t get them then. So, it was rapidly getting dark (our window faces east) as we assembled our stuff.

Then the delivery guys called. They couldn’t find the last piece of our bed at the store, so they would have to bring it tomorrow. No bed tonight. Come to think of it, the bed might not have been necessary – the slats are pretty good, and we’ll sleep with just those and the mattresses tonight.

Free of waiting for anyone, we set off to the Bauhaus (hardware store) to get lights. Lamp or fixture? Damon said installing a fixture was no big deal and I figured that would light the whole room better than lamps, so we got a track light fixture for the living room and a lamp for the bedroom. Also a toilet brush – necessary ASAP because we have a Platform Toilet (more on that later).

It was dark and pouring when we left the Bauhaus – awful. It was also rush hour. For the last stretch to our apartment, we have to ride on a very busy road with no bike lane. Very dangerous, and there were so many cars. That will take some time to get used to, I think. So, when we finally arrived home we were cold, drenched, and frustrated with the traffic.
Damon immediately stood on one of our newly-assembled cheap-ass chairs to install the light so we could continue furniture assembly. I held a flashlight so he could see.

This whole thing was a disaster. Screws wouldn’t go into the ceiling; there was something in there he couldn’t drill through. The part he could drill through just crumbled away and would never hold a screw. Attempts at putting anchors in also failed. Finally he worked out a way to get it to hang on a pre-existing hook there of questionable strength. Then the wiring wouldn’t go together. The piece of one of the wires hanging from the ceiling was short and hard to work with, even after he yanked as much more of it out of the ceiling as he could. Finally, he got it. We turned it on, and it worked. Then it started to smell really hot in here. So, safety still questionable. And the apartment of course came with no fire extinguisher.

We also discovered the bedroom lamp came with no bulb. And it takes halogen too. Argh!
So now we have a dark bedroom that smells like mattress chemicals, a sty of a living room that smells like impending fire, and a kitchen with filthy cupboards that smells like stale curry and old grease. Why did we move again?

Damon went to make a last stop at the old apartment. I went to turn on my computer for some music, but it would only make extremely alarming beeping noises when I tried to turn it on, even though it was fine earlier. Something to do with the lights? In any case…there went that idea, and here I am with a dreadfully sore wrist trying to handwrite my blog entry.
We have more more piece of furniture to assemble other than the bed – the notoriously difficult Expedit shelf. I started to prepare by taking the pieces (each about four zillion kilos of particle board) out of the boxes. In the second box, two of the big pieces were cracked. So much for that idea!

So ends today. We’re about to try using the oven. Wish us luck.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Bis bald!

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I'm about to take down the computer and pack it up to move . I won't have internet at home for another couple of weeks, so it might be a while before the next update.

Bis bald (until soon)!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Saturday Errands & Sunday Excursion (plus new photos!)

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On Saturday we were faced with a bit of a chore: finding cell service, as well as DSL for our new apartment.
We hit four stores along the Hauptstrasse, shopping around for something that would work for us. Cell phone plans here are excessively complicated compared to what we dealt with in the US. Though the salespeople spoke English, the terms were still foreign to us. The whole experience was incredibly overwhelming, and there wasn't going to be any cheap way to get what we needed. We ended up choosing Vodafone, not least because the customers there were clearly receiving much better service than those at the T-Mobile store, which closely resembled what I imagine hell to be. The other two places we checked would have meant getting multiple providers for about the same cost, so we decided to put it all together under one company. The contract lasts two years, and you must give three months' notice to terminate it, or it automatically renews for another year. Just another way to try to rip people off - I guess that sort of thing transcends international borders. Our phones were very cheap though - only 1 EUR each, and I think our phones in the US were $10, and that was after having to send it for a rebate. My new phone has much better ringtones included than my old one ;)
After the cell/DSL adventure we stopped at Kaufhof to pick up a couple of things that we missed at Ikea and really needed for the new place - kitchen towels, potholders, and fitted sheets. While there I found the Christmas postcards I was hoping to find!! They came in packs of 4 or 5 and they are all incredibly retro - no joke either, as some of them had old price tags on them in Deutsche Marks! The Kaufhof was very crowded, as everything is on Saturdays, and the guy at the register rang up the cards incorrectly, overcharging us. So we had to point it out. The second time, he messed up again so we had to point it out again. I think a lot of people were hating us right then, and I hate being That Person....but we saved 2,25 EUR and don't have a whole lot to spare right now! The cards are so cool - I'm not going to put up a photo since most readers are going to get one in the mail and I don't want to spoil it - but I ended up with over 40 different designs, and they say "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year" in 15 different permutations! (This wouldn't be interesting if they were in English, but everything is much more fascinating in a foreign language of course.)
We had a great bike ride home along the Neckar - it smelled like fall, the weather was gorgeous, and all the church bells were ringing around us. It's experiences like that that I wish I could bottle up for everybody to share, but unfortunately can't.

* Suppengruen update! At Lidl on Saturday I saw Suppengruen which included everything I mentioned in my previous post on the matter, but also cauliflower!

* Okay, total porn on what seems to be regular cable TV. Maybe they do that in the US too, but I am neither a TV nor a porn expert...but we definitely never flipped past anything in the US like what we flipped past here the other night!!

* Craving for Something Not Available Here #2: Macaroni and cheese from a box!! Oh, Annie's bunny shapes, how I miss you!! Damon doesn't though. Forget him!

On Sunday we went to Neustadt an der Weinstrasse, a town about 40 minutes from here on the S-Bahn (the slowest train). It has a long name because there are many Neustadts (it means New Town) in Germany so they have to be specified a bit more. We ate Pflammkuchen and had a liter of wine in a little bar and walked around the town. Neustadt is completely surrounded by vineyards and has some of the biggest wine festivals in the area. It seemed to be a bit of a party town even when we were there in the middle of the afternoon! A bar in the main square was overrun with an unbelievable number of completely trashed people. Wine there is really cheap. We have photos of the town up at our THE PHOTOS well as photos of a few other little life things lately, like the different cell phone setup.
I would definitely go to Neustadt again for a walk up in the vineyards and to explore a little more. However, I would not use the restrooms in the train station again. Not only did they reek of pee, I had to pay 50 cents to get in. While this is common, usually it means the bathroom is going to be pretty nice because the money goes to maintenance. Not so here. There was no lid on the toilet so I had to squat...not easy...probably not easy for all the people who had a lot of wine here either, hence the pee smell. Then there was no soap and only cold water. Yuck! What is my 50 cent coin paying for? Damon's restroom was free, however. I guess girls are grosser or something.
Off to fold some laundry...whee!! :)

Sunday, October 29, 2006


Well, I had written an entire post describing yesterday's adventures, and it was eaten by a buggy Blogger. Maybe today is not a good blogging day for me.

I do have a request though. It's not hard. For my birthday, I would really like to know how many people are reading this blog. If you read this post, please leave a comment! It doesn't have to say anything interesting, just "John was here" or "I read it" will suffice. Thanks!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Celery root smells fantastic.

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I meant to update yesterday, but Blogger was down!

* We are recovering gradually from the Ikea experience. This was my first time in Ikea, as we didn't have one nearby when we lived in Boston (until right before we moved, and even then we couldn't have gotten to it). A girl from Damon's lab gave us a ride there, as she needed to pick up a few things as well. The place was a madhouse. We got there at 5-5:30 or so, thinking we had plenty of time until close at 8p. We were the last people out of the store. We felt rushed the whole time, as it was so crowded...if we stopped to look at something, within seconds it seemed a line of others wanting to look at the same thing had built up. We didn't find a lot of things we needed because of the rush. Then when we had to pick things out at the warehouse at the end, we were rushed and grabbed at least one incorrect thing - a shelf a lot bigger than the one we wanted, which ended up costing us an extra $50. Hopefully everything else was correct. We had picked out a small computer desk, but couldn't find it at the warehouse, so we have an office chair now but no desk. We ended up with: a giant shelf, a sofa, a tiny kitchen table and two chairs for it, and office chair, a bed and mattresses (but we forgot sheets), bath towels (but we forgot kitchen towels), a few kitchen supplies (no trash cans...). It's probably a good thing about all the stuff we forgot or didn't have time to grab, or we'd have overdrawn on our account. We wanted to pay with our US credit card so we could pay for it from our US account, but no one here accepts US credit cards, and unfortunately Ikea was no exception.

* The account thing is a pain because we had to come to Germany before we could open a bank account here. But, we can't wire transfer all our money from the US to the German account unless we go to a bank branch in the US in person. So, no matter what we did it would not have been possible to transfer our money to Germany. The only way we can do it now is to make ATM withdrawals, limited at 600 US dollars/day and with ATM fees from both banks adding up to over $10 US dollars per time, then deposit them into our account here. Inefficient and fee-ridden. US credit cards are unfortunately not an answer as I noted above. Very frustrating, but hopefully soon all these start-up costs will calm down and we'll be able to build up some money in our German account without having to transfer stuff. And when we go back to the US next time, we are going to personally tell Sovereign Bank where to go for all of this, and close our account there. If we want to keep money in the US, we'll take it to a local Iowa bank.

* Comforters! I'm a blanket person myself, but you can forget's all about comforters here. Maybe an extra blanket in storage in case you get too cold. All they had in every place we have been and at Ikea were comforters - you can get extra warm, warm, "cool" (I find there is no such thing as a "cool" comforter - I wake up sweating at any comforter thickness), or even adjustable thickness ones. Damon got the adjustable...I got the "cool" in an attempt to not bake every night. They do look nice and make it very easy to make the bed. Generally the comforter is not shared for a couple - perfect because that's too hot - so you each get your own. Then to make the bed, just fold it in half and set it on your half of the bed. (There's no top sheet either.) Nifty!

* Pillows! Some pillows here are similar in shape/size to US pillows - maybe a little narrower. But Germans also seem to be fond of square-shaped pillows - as wide as a typical US pillow, but the same length on all sides, so it's huge! We luckily found the US-type pillows at Ikea, because the square ones seem to take up too much room on the bed. When we bought covers for our comforters, though, they came with square-shaped pillowcases. The pillowcases button on, too...very cute.

* Our books that we had shipped via M-bag arrived! Damon had to get a ride to customs from someone in the lab to pick them up. It was all sort of pointless - they didn't open them or anything, just asked him if he already owned them for six months and if he was going to keep them for six more months or some such thing, then handed them over. It's so nice to have them back and know they are all safe. (Book nerd here.) But what to do with the M-bags? The post office actually reuses them, but we can't exactly return them. Since M-bag is only for international shipping, how do they get them back to reuse them?

* And, Damon's mom finally sent our other boxes! I think...there are four listed on UPS tracking but I know we had more than that, so maybe she consolidated them. Anyway, they're stuck at customs in Koeln. We had to fax them Damon's passport, work contract, apartment contract, and our documents showing we are registered with the town of Heidelberg. They wanted our plane tickets here and a kidney, too, but we couldn't find the tickets and figured we could get more for the kidney elsewhere. Hopefully they will arrive here soon.

* And you thought beer hour was cool....Damon's lab's fridge is kept stocked with beer. Put 90 cents into the beer fund, and you can enjoy a frosty one any time of the work day!! ( that one past MG!)

* Where are the end credits? I have been finding myself often confused to discover the show we were watching is over and the next has begun, with almost no transition - because the end credits are never shown, even for movies! They are always shown in the US - is there a law forcing them to be shown there?

* Suppengruen!! I haven't seen this in the US before, but let me know if you have. At the store in the produce section, you can pick up a little bundle that includes two carrots, a section of celery root, parsley, and a leek. It's called Suppengruen, or soup greens, and recipes call for it by that name. This is brilliant because I always hated in the US having to buy this stuff and then having so much left over because, for instance, the smallest size of parsley you can buy is way more than I ever need - I usually just ended up eliminating it from recipes to keep from buying it and feeling bad when I had to throw away most of it. Yay for soup greens! Plus it's such a cute little bundle.

So much stuff to remember right now - I have a request in for a work permit at the Visa office, we have to move and get a bunch of stuff before then, school starts soon, I need train tickets for all that, we need to get cell service still if we find any that's affordable, we'll need a phone and internet plan for the new place, we need to find a used TV for the new place (very expensive here new), make our claim to the shipping company for the broken dance pad, etc etc etc...kind of makes me want to take a nap.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Exhausted and broke!

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Just went to world's cheapest furniture store to get stuff for our new apartment. We didn't get everything we needed, and didn't splurge on anything cool, yet we somehow still completely cleared out our German bank account. Exhausted!
More later!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Finally, a whole bunch of Heidelberg photos.

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We have been meaning for a while to take a sunny day and go to Heidelberg's Altstadt (Old Town) to take some photos of our own town for the blog, for a change. Though we had been considering biking to the nearby town Schwetzingen yesterday, I didn't really feel up to that much exertion yet (though much better than Saturday). So, we took the opportunity to do our Altstadt photo-day. Because the weather was so beautiful, the place was jam-packed. And unfortunately, it didn't stay sunny the whole time. In fact, it seemed the more photos we took, the cloudier it got - and when we finished, the sun came back out! So, click the link to the right called THE PHOTOS to check out our current hometown.

We decided to stop at Cafe Gundel before leaving the Altstadt because Damon really wanted a coffee and I wanted one of these giant macaroons with chocolate I saw in the window. We have gotten pastries at this place before, but they were to go, so this was the first time we sat in the cafe to eat. I don't recommend it! The pastries are all pretty reasonably priced, but they cost slightly more if you eat them there. In addition, the drinks are outrageously expensive. Damon's coffee, in a tiny cup (maybe 1/3 of a mug?), was 2,30 EUR. I wanted water but decided to wait until I got home because a bottle of water (the only way they serve it here - you can forget your American free tap water) was 4,50 EUR!! There's just no excuse. I recommend taking your goodies elsewhere to eat. (And the goodies are definitely worth getting.)

A German/American email list that Damon is on is heating up with arguments about people from the US calling themselves American. There just isn't a word for people from the US in the English language other than American. Can we all find something a little more legitimate to pick on about the US now, like our cruddy foreign policy, low voter turnout, disregard for the environment, or the inability of many of our citizens to truly understand separation of church and state? Something substantial, please?

Damon finally got ahold of his Mom last night after endless attempts, who blithely let us know the boxes still haven't been sent. I guess they found a cheaper way to do it - all the boxes for only $400 and they would get here in a week (through UPS group rate at his dad's work). But, they were convinced somehow that we could buy everything new for under $400 so they didn't send it or contact us. Man, I want to know where they shop!! The coat and two pairs of boots alone were $450 new, and we'd still have 8 boxes worth of stuff to go at that point! So, hopefully they are really going to send it this time.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Ich bin krank.

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I woke up this morning with a wicked sore yes, it's a cold. It kind of stinks to be sick on a Saturday since this is the only weekend day anything is open!


* In Munich, Damon and I laughed at some t-shirts at a souvenir booth. One said, "Muenchen, Bavaria" and another said "Muenchen, Germany". Why? One language or the other would make more sense! (Hence "Muenchen, Bayern" or "Munich, Bavaria".)

* Tourist Tip: If you are in need of cheap postcards, try the Catholic churches! In both Bad Wimpfen and Munich, I found them there, 4 for 1 euro! This is much better than 40 cents to over a dollar each everywhere else. They aren't necessarily the fanciest cards around, and sometimes they are only of the church, but hey. If I were getting an exotic foreign postcard in the mail, I wouldn't be picky about how stereotypically German it looked, I would just be psyched anyway.

* This morning we sent off a package at the Post. It cost quite a bit more than I was estimating. No more package-sending for us until Christmas!

* We also stopped at the Lidl near the Hauptbahnhof. This Lidl has slightly sketchier clientele than the one in Neuenheim. But, this allowed me to make the following observation: Winos here can actually afford to drink wine (because it's so cheap - making the term much more sensible) resorting to mouthwash like in Boston!

* The books we sent by M-bag to ourselves have arrived in Heidelberg! Small problem, though - they're being held at customs and they want us to come in (it's in some cruddy part of town next to a brothel) to fill out some forms auf Deutsch and maybe pay duties on them. It doesn't make much sense to me, but maybe we'll get out of it somehow. The secretary from Damon's lab is going to call them on Monday to try to figure out what the problem is. I think we are allowed to ship a certain amount of stuff to ourselves when moving without having to pay a duty on it.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Oh Yeah.

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1. Go Cards!!

2. This morning I thought to myself, "Hey, we haven't been to Harvard Square in a while." Then I remembered.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Continued Adventures

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More on Munich:

* Even there, bike locking practices were no more secure than in Heidelberg, despite Munich's much larger size: usually the bike is just sitting on the street, locked only to itself by threading the lock through the frame and the front wheel. The locks are often not all that either - some very thin cable locks. In a big US city, this is like hanging a giant neon sign on your bike saying: please take me. In Chicago, if you really value your bike, you must remove one wheel and lock it to the other wheel as well as to the frame, and lock all of that to something very secure, and you must take your seat off the bike and carry it around with you.

* I saw lots of words/names of things that have the same bizarre consonant-l ending as my maiden name - which I haven't seen in this part of Germany at all. It does make sense since that branch of the family came from Bavaria. Jason noted that the l ending can be an abbreviated version of the German diminutive ending -lein. (Diminutive meaning "little" - such as in fraeulein, the old word for "miss", literally meaning "little frau".) So now I wonder if that is the case for my maiden name...was the original one of us a "little ___"(whatever the first syllable means, which I haven't figured out - it might mean "nothing" from previous guesses at finding out)?

* In addition to that, now and again I would see a person who looked freakishly like someone from my maternal grandpa's family, who have very distinctive eyes. It was very strange. As for anyone from that same family who might still be in Germany, it is very hard to say. My great-grandpa was an ethnic German in Moravia when his family came to the US. After WWII ethnic Germans were expelled from the area and I don't have any idea where they would have gone if there were any members of his family left in Moravia at that time. (Moravia is part of the Czech Republic.)

And now on to today's Mainz adventure.
Continuing in their time-honored tradition of not giving me any freaking information, I wasn't sent a map showing me where to go or anything, just the name of the building and office to come to. So, we had to do some guesswork when we got out at the train station, but managed to find the campus without going down any wrong roads. We even found the office without too much difficulty and were there two minutes before they opened. Lots of other international students (from all kinds of programs, not just mine) were also waiting. In front of us were three students holding US passports and speaking only in German. I felt like an idiot.
We got numbers and had to go to a specific desk when ours came up, much like when we registered with the city of Heidelberg. Damon was out for coffee when mine came up so I went in myself. The paper I had said to bring in something related to health insurance, so I just brought the same thing we had taken to the Visa office, since if it was good enough to get us Visas, it must be fine. Unfortunately this was not the case and she sounded sooo disappointed in me that I brought the wrong insurance thing. Then she backpedaled a little bit and said it wasn't a big deal but I needed to go to a building, Mensa, on the other side of campus, to some insurance people, who would give me the paper I need. She indicated the building on a map and off I went. I found Damon at a cafe outside (in the rain) and we went to Mensa - which was as far away on the campus as possible. When we got there, we found an office that appeared to be insurance related, but it wasn't going to open until noon, and I had to register by 11:30. So, we went back to the registration place to argue with them about it. I had to get another number and wait again. This woman was a little nicer about it and I almost thought we were going to get away with it, but then she saw the insurance papers and also vetoed them. But, she was more specific about where we needed to go: an office called AOK in the building next to Mensa. Off again all the way across campus. At this point I am starting to wonder if I will be able to register in time as all this running around is really eating up the morning! We went to the AOK office, and she looked at all the stuff, cheerily yapped in German, and made me sign three things all in German. I felt like I was in some Woe-Betide-The-Uneducated-Immigrants scene in a movie as I signed all these papers and had no idea what they said...I just knew that if I didn't do it, I couldn't register for school. All I know is that I scanned them to make sure they didn't say anything about paying for anything. Off we went with all our shiny new insurance-related papers. All the way back across campus, got another number (the guy was laughing at me), and went in again. This time I passed. It took about 5 minutes and all I got was a giant piece of paper with all these student-related things on it. I have only a vague idea what most of them really are. And that was it. Back to the train station, back on the train (it's becoming my second home), back in Heidelberg to sort through all the little pieces in the hopes of figuring out what is going on!!
I've been abnormally tired the last few days and took a nap when I got home. I don't know if it's a bug or what...but I'm glad to have tomorrow off...except for a lot of chores.


* In the Wikipedia entry for my state in Germany, Baden-Wuerttemberg, I found a hilarious ad about the state. It says, "Wir koennen alles. Ausser Hochdeutsch." Translation is roughly: "We can do everything. Except High German." and it references all of the various dialects spoken in the state. (High German is the "official" German that one learns in class.) It's especially funny to us because as outsiders it's really hard to figure out the dialects, which are sometimes very, very different...and we're not even in Bavaria, where it's supposed to be the furthest from High German!

* Yesterday I got the new power converter up and running, plugged in the Playstation, and tested the dance pads. Pad #1: Passed the "play a song on beginner" test with flying colors. I then played 4-5 songs on standard. It seemed like maybe the back arrow wasn't perfect, but I figured it could just be that I'm a little rusty and that's the easiest arrow to screw up if you're having an off day. So, let's say Pad #1 passes. I think I will retest it one more time if I get up the energy soon (soo tired). Pad #2: The back arrow completely failed the "play a song on beginner" test. It doesn't work at all. So, I guess we will find out if/how we can make a claim to the insurance company about it. I think it will cost more to replace the pad than it took to buy it, not least because I'm pretty sure they don't sell them here, much less ones that would be compatible with a US playstation, so shipping would be very expensive. Secondly, I'm not sure if you can even buy the Konami ones that we have online individually, and I wouldn't replace them with anything less than a Konami or RedOctane pad. Boo to the damn shippers.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Muenchen! (and photos!)

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Yesterday Damon and I met up with our friends Mike & Jason in Muenchen, or Munich. (This is one of the times when the German name of the town is so much harder to say that I keep reverting to the English version even though I don't want to!) Mike & Jason have been visiting Wien (Vienna...both easy to say!) and made a stop in Muenchen for a couple of days.
We got on the train at 6:05 early. The first train was an S-Bahn which took us to Mannheim. The S-Bahn is the slowest type of train, stopping at every stop. It's also the least fancy and you can't make seat reservations, since the rides are usually so short. When I say stop, this is not a stop like a train in the US makes. These are very, very quick stops - if you don't pay attention, you could very easily miss yours!
In Mannheim, we got to get on our very first ICE - Inter-City Express. These trains make very few stops and are very modern and fast. We had a reservation on this one. To our surprise, we discovered our seats were inside a compartment! The compartment had a sliding glass door and a little table inside, with six seats. The other four were already filled, two of them with cranky college-age guys who had clearly been smoking in there (a no-no). Luckily for us, they got off in Stuttgart, the first stop. The compartment was full the whole way with various people. It was rather awkward, but since we spent a good part of the trip asleep or partially asleep, it wasn't so bad. The worst part was that the compartment was incredibly cold and we didn't figure out until we were about to get off how to control the temperature.
As we approached Muenchen, the English-language announcement included a very German piece of Engrish: Instead of running five minutes late, "the train is five minutes too late." (Not to mention the fact that they even found a five-minute delay worth announcing...I think an Amtrak train would have be about a week late before they would even note anything was off.)
We arrived around 9:30 and met Mike & Jason outside their hotel very close to the station, and then headed straight out to see the town. We have new photos up - click on THE PHOTOS on the right!
It was pretty cold the whole day - the first time it has been quite so wintery. The sun came out in the afternoon, which helped a lot (if you were not in the shade). I definitely need to get some winter clothes - I have none, and no winter coat/hat/gloves either, as they were all in the to-be-shipped-but-now-not-going-to-be-shipped pile. It's too bad because I just got a new very nice long wool winter coat last year and by the time I get back to the States it will probably be out of style...and in the meanwhile there is no way I could afford anything as nice as that one is for now. I think I will just be buying a fleece to wear under my rain jacket and hope that that can get me through the winter. Anyway, I digress!
We walked through an area filled with cute buildings and lots of shopping, very similar to the Altstadt in Heidelberg. We visited several churches, the Marienplatz where the two town halls are, the University area (Jason was here for a program and lived in Munich for a while), and the English Garden, where we ate lunch at the beer garden near the Chinese Tower. We got huge delicious pretzels - much better than the ones I've had on this side of Germany. The whole area was infested with bees/wasps/something stingery, and they were just all over our food and drinks as us. Mike is terrified of them and kept screaming and dancing around to the amusement of everybody else, including people at other tables. Poor Mike, because I didn't like them either! Damon smashed two of them with his one-liter mug of beer and for awhile we had peace, but soon they were back! Whaaa! We also got dessert at a little dessert place near the Marienplatz, which was yummy, and at the end of the day when it was getting cold again, we had chestnuts from a street vendor. Best chestnuts I have ever had! (And now I am craving them again!)
Further proof that Mike kicks ass, he brought the converter to Europe with him, and he gave it to me as a birthday gift! Isn't that sweet? I haven't tested it yet but will give a full report. The box is definitely sort of sketchy-looking, with a dollar-store graphic design feel. But, the thing itself looks sturdy and all. Mike also brought two teeny packs of OREOS to fulfill my first thing-I-can't-get-here craving! Mmm....must save for a special occasion.
We were sad to leave after such a short trip. Our train was at 7:26p - another ICE train! This time our seats were not in a compartment, which was nice. The trains are oh-so-modern, with all automatic glass doors, comfy seats, headphones/programming if you want it, a cafe on board, and a little screen that shows the next stop, ads, or the train's current speed. The highest speed we noticed during our trip was 229 kilometers/hr - that's 142 mph! Trains are so cool. Even better, the German word for train is Zug (pronounced approx. 'tsook'). One of the best words I have learned so far. I also noticed that our second train (from Stuttgart to Heidelberg on the way home) had a name! It was called "Oberursel" and had a little image of St. Ursula (you can tell because she is holding arrows) by her. Ursel is a German nickname for Ursula. I Googled this and found out that Oberursel is actually the name of a town near Frankfurt, and the image is the town's shield.
Well, I'm feeling a little uninspired today, so that is all for now. Tomorrow I go to Mainz to register for school. Hopefully all will go well - it's a long trip if we have to do it again!

Monday, October 16, 2006

New Perspectives

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Yesterday on our trip with some of the other international scientists I gained some new perspective on a couple of things:
1. Money. A mathematician from Paris doing her postdoc and making the same as Damon said she is thrilled to be finally starting to make some money...whereas I have been fretting about how we have stopped making any money. Granted there are two of us and one of her, but I felt a little better about our financial situation.
2. Language. While a couple of the others there had very good German, for the most part, everyone else's German was as bad or worse than ours. The guy next to me (the Bangladesh-Kansas guy for anyone needing reference) ordered chicken - we all ordered in English. Then when it came, the person bringing it out spoke German and was asking who had ordered the [insert German word for chicken here, which I recognize when I hear/see it, but cannot spell] and he was completely oblivious. I told him that was his and he was very shocked that I knew the German word for chicken. So, I feel a little better about the tiny amount of German I have picked up, because at least 5 and probably more of the others were worse, yet they are all still getting along fine.


* The post office closes for two hours over the noon hour! And you thought US government employees had it easy!
* My graduate program seems very disorganized. I have gotten an absolute minimum of necessary information from them, and usually it is buried in small print somewhere. The website contains nothing useful at all. Today I emailed the administrator for a quick question and was informed about a dinner for all the incoming students the first night of class. I can't help but wonder why this random encounter is the first I'm hearing of it...and does anyone else know? When was I supposed to find out?
* We got the coolest pizza delivery menu yet last week. Not only do they have almost 50 varieties of pizza, including several with corn and some with asparagus and other unusual toppings - they also have Pflammkuchen, pasta, tacos/burritos, traditional meat meals like Jaegerschnitzel, and an Indian/Pakistani food menu! As your beverage, you can order a liter of pop, a liter of mango lassi, half a liter of beer, three-quarters of a liter of wine, or three-quarters of a liter of VODKA. No kidding! You can get vodka delivered with your pizza!!

Guesthouse Takes on Worms! (Plus new photos)

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Yesterday we went on a guesthouse-arranged trip to Worms, about 45 minutes from Heidelberg. The trip included a 2.5 hour walking tour, then dinner (we had to pay for that part, though).
On the train to Worms Damon and I sat across from a fellow guesthouser from Spain. He asked us where we were from, but didn't recognize what we were saying when we tried to say "US", "USA", or "United States", so we reverted to calling it America. That is always my last resort because I know how sensitive many people are to the perceived arrogance of people from the US saying they are "American" as if they are the only country on both the North and South American continents that matters. When we called it America, he understood. So the conversation continued, with some difficulty because his English was poor and our Spanish is even worse. I continued referring to the US as America any time it came up because of the earlier confusion. Then to my surprise, he launched into a broken-English mini-lecture at us about how we shouldn't say America when referring to the US because America is many other countries too!! Picture me now banging my head against the train window. I became even less endeared to him when he informed us that everyone in Europe thinks Americans are stupid. Unfortunately his English wasn't really good enough to argue about it so we just kind of had to take it. I am well aware of the international perception of the US and its people, but it is still pretty awkward to be on the receiving end of a broad statement like that. However, I do not want to sit in the US with my head in the sand hiding from international opinion - I would like to face it and understand it. Problem was, couldn't really argue with or get supporting information from this guy because of the language barrier.
We were hit with international perception of the US again later when a friendly fellow guesthouser informed us that he was from Bangladesh and immediately followed it with "....uh, do you know of it?" I guess he got his PhD in Kansas and a lot of people there were just completely unaware of the existence of Bangladesh. More head banging against the nearest surface for me. Kansas School Board, you might have bigger things to worry about than whether anyone is getting any geography!
Thankfully though we dumb Americans weren't the ones to get confused when touring the Lutheran church, mixing up MLK with Martin Luther - that was the Chinese guys on the tour. Wonder if "all Europeans" think Chinese are dumb.
Our tour guide met us at the Lutheran Church. She was very good, and as a bonus had the sweet retro name Irmgard. The town's main selling point is its religious landmarks and history. Much of the town is relatively new, as the old sections were destroyed in WWII. It also has very little in the way of industry. Worms considers itself the birthplace of Protestantism. It also has the oldest Jewish graveyard and synagogue in Germany and is home to the Wormser Dom, a Catholic cathedral built in the 10th century, which also plays a part in the German myth of the Nibelungen. See the photos at the link on the right called THE PHOTOS!
After the tour we had dinner & a short brewery tour at the Hagenbraeu on the Rhine, then returned to Heidelberg. The second train on the way back was immensely crowded and we had to stand in a doorway. I can see how all the casualties happen whenever there is a train accident!