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)!