Monday, December 31, 2007

Guten Rutsch!

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Or, in English - have a good slide into the new year!
A German tradition is to watch the following video on New Year's Eve. It's in English, so anyone who can read this can watch and understand!



We went into town today to pick up a few things. I had the idea of buying ourselves a new outfit at H&M for the new year, since we almost never purchase clothing anymore so we can save to travel a little bit. I would say the clothes we wear on a daily basis are 3-4 years old on average so we are looking and feeling pretty frumpy. However, we had just picked up a few things for Damon when the store announced it was closing at 2pm! So I didn't get anything except an overcoat that was on sale for 15 EUR. Then we picked up a few groceries (store was insane - closed yesterday and closed tomorrow) and got some new year's goodies - these little marzipans in lucky shapes, and a new year's prezel. A guy standing at the counter with us told us we're supposed to break it like a wishbone. We were laughing that he could have just made that up to tease the foreigners...or it might be true. I guess we'll do it. :)

We got back from Rome on Thursday night and I will hopefully have something to put up here about it soon. I don't really know where to start in condensing five full days in Rome into one blog post, really!
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Thursday, December 20, 2007

It's a little bit warmer in Rome.

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So, we are going there.
Hopefully it will be pretty cool! Damon has been there before, but I haven't. I've been trying to get some info. Everybody I know from the US that has gone had really good things to say. It's Rome, so there's a bit of obligation to go there, although I know a lot of people here in Germany who have never gone. Italians seem kind of "meh" about it. If you ask them where you should visit they don't mention it at all but skip straight to Prague, Paris, and Barcelona. And here's what the internet has to say "OMGZ THEY WILL STEAL ALL YOUR SHIT NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO! Don't have your money in an obvious place! They will take it! But if it looks like you are trying to hide your money they will think you're a tourist and try to con you! You can't win you pathetic non-Roman!!! You will never fit in! Go home!" Mm, cheery!! Well hopefully nothing bad will happen. :) I'm really looking forward to all the awesome churches, and a few extra degrees of warmth!

Here's a photo of our sad little tree to bid you a Merry Christmas. :)
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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Brilliant Idea for the Manufacturers of Products with Non-Stick Coatings

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How about packaging your non-stick pan with a few plastic utensils that can be used with it, since the metal ones, which scrape off the coating into your food, are forbidden? The world isn't exactly overflowing with nice sharp plastic/rubber/wooden knives for cutting bars, you know. We could use a hand.

In the meanwhile, I'll have some non-stick coating with my food. I figure this can't give me cancer, since it doesn't stick to anything and will therefore pass through my system without touching a thing.
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Heidelberg, I really hate you right now.

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So I've been vaguely under the weather for a while. I kind of wish I would just get really sick and get it over with, instead of feeling for six weeks like I'm about to get crushed with a horrible cold. On top of that, Damon was up at a work Christmas party until 2 am and I couldn't sleep until he got home. At said party he ate/drank some combination of things that caused him to keep me up with a variety of smells and climbs out of bed to the bathroom all night. Then, Heidelberg, THEN, at SEVEN FREAKING AM you decide it's a good idea to get started with some construction project on the river. Construction involving incessant rhythmic pounding much like the throbs of a headache, louder than a jackhammer, amplified probably hundreds of times by the Neckar Valley. It's so loud we can't even hear the alarm clock right next to the bed when it goes off.

Much appreciated.
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Monday, December 17, 2007

The Music Post, 2007

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I've contemplated doing an "expatriate music" post for a while, putting out some ideas (and collecting some ideas from comments) of some songs to which expatriates in particular might (or might not...everyone is different) relate. I also contemplated doing a "favorites of 2007" post to share some of the music that came out this year that I liked, since I have been on a music binge the last few months after subscribing to emusic.com. Of course that isn't relevant to my blog subject of being an expatriate in Germany, but I thought I could work in a tie by indicating which of the songs come from German artists. Then I thought it was funny to sit around yapping about the best songs of 2007 when I've only had such a short time to digest them. The real prize is a song that you've been listening to for ten years and still love. So how about highlighting a few favorite songs from the last ten years?

SO! To keep from bombarding the world with all these different music posts when not everyone is really interested in that sort of thing (especially if they have already written my taste off as hopeless after seeing the Rufus Wainwright and Dan Deacon posts), I will just bombard the world with one big fat music post. And that's all you'll hear from me this year about music. Maybe.

First, the expatriate tunes. These songs include one about getting out of the US because of political irritation, one about just having wanderlust, one about being North American in Europe in particular. And, I would like to call for more songs in this vein, if any fellow expats out there have some that strike them as being relevant!

(Sorry, some of these are clips only. Embedding youtube videos would have taken so much space!)





Now for some 2007 favorites! This excludes the 3 songs above which were also all released in 2007.
2007 favorites by German artists (these turned out to all be electronica, so skip if you know you're not into that):





And from non-Germans!:












(Guess Devendra Banhart doesn't like imeem - I really like this song, "Seahorse", so I caved and did youtube. The video is sort of terrible, though. Double click to open it in a youtube window - otherwise it will tell you it's no longer available, even though it is:)


Representing previous years! (Sorry for any incorrect years. This is just what iTunes tells me the year is.)
2006:


And, couldn't get on imeem or youtube: "I Don't Need It" - Arling & Cameron

2005:



2004:



2003:



2002:



2001:




2000:



1999:
(This one is mislabeled; it's actually about the superiority of the metric system! :) )



1998:




1997:



Care to share your favorites, of any time? German or otherwise? :)
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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Public Service Announcement Regarding the Neuenheimer Landstrasse

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Dear Bikers on the Neuenheimer Landstrasse sidewalk:

The sidewalk along the Neuenheimer Landstrasse is not a bike path. The bike path ends near the bridge in Neuenheim. It's quite clear where. Painted lines show you that it's time to join the cars on the road. There's no room for you AND pedestrians with all those trees and concrete blocks on the sidewalk. I don't appreciate having to get out of your way because you can't obey the rules and I would lose in a pedestrian vs. bike crash. I especially don't appreciate getting yelled at if I don't get out of your way fast enough or in the direction that you expect me to go. You're in the wrong, not me. I don't care if you don't have a light on your bike and that's why you're on the sidewalk. You need to get a light. I understand that the amount of traffic in that area makes riding on the street suck, but that is not an excuse to be a major pain in the ass to pedestrians. If you need or want to be on the sidewalk instead, get off your bike and walk it. And if despite all this you continue to be an ass and ride on the sidewalk and expect me to step aside for you, the least you could do is say thanks as you whiz past.

Love,
Grumpy Pedestrian
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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Humans are the Best Translators

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Behold our Christmas gift to ourselves!


Our very own Christmas pyramid. Damon swears he wanted one since he was a kid. I don't think I knew about them as a kid. Yes, it's a bit on the small side. These things are way more expensive than I ever would have guessed, so a bigger one was definitely outside the budget. In case you haven't seen one of these before, the heat from the burning candles spins the big propeller on top, turning all the little figures around in circles. This one has a little nativity scene on it (bottom layer, holy family, three wise men, and a couple of barn animals; top layer, random shepherd with two sheep) but you can get them with all variety of things on them.
I know it's kind of kitschy but I love all the little wood painted ornaments and things you can get here. They're so colorful and cheery. No, I am not turning to the dark side and hope that I will not soon start liking plates with kittens painted on them, giant cat sculptures, and glitter-covered six-armed realistic dragon candle holders. (I actually saw that last thing at Woolworth yesterday. You have to see it to believe it.)

In other news, one of the companies that manufactures said cute ornaments and other cute wood things really needs to hire a human to translate their instructions. Or, at the very least, a human to read over the instructions after they have it translated by Babelfish. See right - it's a bit hard to read so here is the text:

"Please remove carefully and without power the package. Be careful that the package doesn't hang at the small wooden parts.
Please removes the protectiondisk from paper between pyramidaxis and glassbearing.
Use only tea-candles diameter 37 and high 16 mm.
The pyramid is not a toy and cannot be used by children.
Doesn't leave the burning candle without control. Eighth please on it, that the wingwheel with burning candle always rotates. If the wing-wheel comes through unfavorable circumstances to the halt, the wood can burn."

Ok, this was a pretty awful translation from the start, but one might be able to figure it all out without knowing German. Until we get to the bolded sentence, "eighth please on it". This brings this translation to a whole new level of awful. Only someone with some knowledge of German is going to have any idea what is going on there. (They want you to please pay attention, keep watch, something along these lines.) Nice job, guys!
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Friday, December 07, 2007

Adapting the old recipes

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Earlier this month we decided to have a few people over to our apartment as a late birthday celebration. We anticipated doing something like this when we were back in the States in September, so we brought back a box of fudgy brownie mix, a jar of peanut-butter-we-know-for-sure-is-good, and a jar of marshmallow fluff - all ingredients for a recipe I used to make a lot in Boston that was really popular. (Credit to my aunt, who gave it me the recipe at my bridal shower!) The other recipe requirements were all things we knew we had in the cupboard in Germany, or thought we could buy in Germany.

Here's the recipe:

Ingredients
box of fudgy brownie mix for a 9x13" pan
jar of fluff
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2 cups chocolate chips
3 cups Rice Krispies

Instructions
1. Make the brownies in a 9x13" as directed on the box and let cool.
2. Spread the jar of fluff over the brownies.
3. Melt together the peanut butter and chocolate chips.
4. Stir in Rice Krispies.
5. Spread the chocolate-pb-Krispie mix over the fluff.
6. Let chill. Store somewhere cool (otherwise they get melty). If you live in Germany, "somewhere cool" might have to be your windowsill since your fridge can't fit any more than a box of milk and tomorrow morning's yogurt in it.

Some mistakes were made in this whole project.

1. Falsely remembering that we'd seen Rice Krispies in Germany and could get them there. This wasn't the case, at least in the places that we are able to quickly look. Quickly, I say, because the other related mistake was completely forgetting to buy the Krispies. I was already throwing the chocolate chips in the pot to melt them when I realized it. It was the day of the party and there wasn't time to do anything but send Damon out to look for some while I continued making the other food. He tried all the stores we usually shop at in Heidelberg, but there were no regular Rice Krispies. The only thing available was Choco Krispies, which aren't like Cocoa Krispies in the US, but are much larger. They're about the same size as grape-shaped Trix. (Although I heard Trix are round again, so there goes that.) I was hoping for something without the flavoring, but the only option was flakes of some kind. All the other cereals here are sugared. So, Choco Krispies it was.

2. Thinking that we could find something close to a 9x13" pan here. No luck with that either. Damon did find the below contraption in the bin at Lidl. The contraption is adjustable. So, I got out a ruler and made it 9x13" and set it on the cookie sheet and poured the brownie mix in.


Minuses: Well, it didn't hold in the batter. They turned out pretty thin, and it was exaggerated in one corner because our oven rack isn't level.

Pluses: The edges of the brownies that stayed inside the rectangle were nice and soft! Or it could just be the oven. I had a lot of problems in our Boston ovens keeping the edges from getting mysteriously rock-hard.

The thing might work if lined with foil or baking paper or something to hold in the mix, but I'm not sure how the results would be because I haven't tried it yet.

Then the pan didn't fit in the fridge and they had to cool NOW to set in time for the party, so we had to put them out on the deck to cool. This wouldn't work in the summer, so I guess next time I should plan ahead a bit further!

I didn't think they'd go over that well, what with PB/chocolate being such an apparently American taste, but I love them, so I made them anyway. As it turned out, they were really popular and I already got three requests to make them again for the office Christmas party. So, my sister is mailing me a 9x13" pan and some fluffy. And some brownie mix, because I know I like that specific mix for this recipe (fudgy Betty Crocker) and don't want to mess with it by using homemade brownies or any other mix! In return, she gets a round-trip train ticket to Paris when she comes in January. :)
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Friday, November 30, 2007

ZOMG!! All Coke Drinkers Are American!!!!!11

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J. at Germany Doesn't Suck recently made a great find: a list of behaviors Americans should avoid while in other countries because these behaviors signal that they are from the US, provided by a university's study abroad department. Be sure to check out the full list on his blog. Below I highlight a few that don't really apply in Germany:

1. Some clothing choices signal one as being a US citizen.
* Dressing informally instead of more formally, (ie. wearing sneakers, t-shirts, jeans, or shorts instead of slacks or skirts with shirts or blouses)

My big stereotype about all of Europe was that everyone dressed up more than in the US. Consequently I spent a lot of days at first feeling really freaking overdressed. Don't be scared to wear your jeans in Germany. EVERYONE else is. Your BOSS is.

2. A number of food related habits signal that someone might be from the US.
* Avoid walking down the street while eating food.

The number of German-speakers I've seen walking down the street gnawing on a little Ditsch pizza, eating a little paper coneful of Pommes with a tiny wooden fork, or enjoying some Eis far outweighs the number of English-speakers I've seen doing this. No need to fear the potential dire consequences of walking-and-eating here.

* Don't insist on drinking “Coke” with every meal.

You mean Cola Light, that thing Germans can't seem to live without? Coca-Cola, immortalized in more Bollywood than American songs? Yeah, that really signals that you're American.

* Avoid visiting US chain restaurants for every meal.

I've eaten in US chains 2 or 3 times since being here. I don't remember ever encountering fellow Americans in them. Lots and lots of German teenagers, though.

3. Be conscious of your behavior in public places. Here are some examples that could signal you are a US citizen:
* Be careful about folding and unfolding city maps in public spaces. Move out of the way to consult maps. It is best to plan your routes in advance of leaving your hotel and have the maps pre-folded so they may be easily accessed and read.
* If you must use a dictionary to translate a sign or menu, be discrete. For example, copy down the words of the sign and move aside to a less public place to work out the translation.

The overall tone goes from funny to what-the-fuck at this point. Hide your map! Hide your dictionary! Don't you know everyone hates your ass? Don't you know you could get stabbed for needing a map or a dictionary? Good Lord. I can't speak for other countries, but taking out a map or a dictionary in my corner of Germany is more likely to get you some help from a stranger rather than shunned. Keine Sorgen, people. The big wide world isn't always so bad.
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Thursday, November 29, 2007

So, about that US dollar...

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When we moved to Germany last year, one Euro was worth $1.21. Even then we found it a little harsh, starting out with no Euro(s? Does the plural have an s in English?) and having a $500 withdrawal limit from our US account, which wasn't so much anymore when withdrawn in Euro.

Now one Euro is worth $1.47 or $1.48 or so. We earn Euro. Pretty nice if we go visit the US, but not so nice for people coming to visit us. My mother-in-law complained that a cashmere sweater we saw on a sidewalk sale rack was expensive at 25 Euro. I thought it was a pretty good deal and was confused at her reaction until I realized she was making the calculation back to dollars in her head constantly. Prices in the EU don't go down just because the US dollar is sucking, see? (Even with the calculation I thought it was an alright deal, but she and I have been living in completely different cost-of-living areas for years.)

We still have money in an account in the US, which we use to pay some bills that are in dollars, like my student loans and our US credit cards, which we still use sometimes to buy gifts for people in the US online. And, of course we have an account here.

For a while it seemed like it might be a good idea to transfer some Euro into our US account while it's worth so much. Then when the dollar gets stronger again, we'll have more. We haven't done it yet because the dollar has just kept on getting worse and worse, to the point that we started to wonder if it was going to get stronger at all. I guess it will at some point, but when? I don't want to move money there only to have it become weaker.
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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Don't you people want an encore?

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Last night Damon and I went up to Frankfurt to see Rufus Wainwright in concert. It was held at the Alte Oper, which I was sort of excited to see the inside of, but it turned out that it was held in the smaller of two halls in the Oper (Mozartsaal). The room was incredibly small and looked like it had been renovated in the 80s by the looks of the icky gold railing around the balcony. However, the concert was very good. I saw Rufus in 2001, but don't remember him being as entertaining then as he was last night. His recordings and videos come off as overly serious and dramatic, but when he is live you can see it's all just for fun.

There was a clearly planned encore with 5 songs, after which the lights went up - and the audience immediately just packed up and left. No clapping and stomping for a true, unplanned encore. After we left Damon pointed out, I think accurately, that an American audience would have stood there trying for an encore for at least ten more minutes. The concert started and ended very early, too, so time (to make trains, etc.) wasn't really an issue. The audience seemed to like the show very much so I'm not sure why they didn't try. Encores are especially easy to wring out of a singer-songwriter type like Rufus. Oh well, in all it was quite fun anyway.

Rufus wrote his latest album while living in Berlin so three of the songs either have titles that reference Germany or are about German places. All three were played last night. Here they are! (Please leave me a comment if you know of a site where I can embed just audio files instead of putting up these videos. It would be nicer to stream the original recordings instead of digging around youtube for decent-quality live recordings when songs don't have official videos...which I generally don't care for either!)

Going to a Town (reference to Berlin):


Tiergarten:


Sanssouci:
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Sunday, November 25, 2007

We'll meet again, Dresden

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After our arrival in Dresden on Friday night, we met up with an old friend of ours from Boston. Like Damon, he's a postdoc here. They were PhDs in the same lab and finished the same year, and both ended up in Germany! From our hotel we walked into the heart of Neustadt, an ultra-hip neighborhood full of restaurants, bars, and DJ stores. Why haven't I found or heard of anything like this in Heidelberg!? (Analysis of this later.)

We ended up at a restaurant called Plan Wirtschaft. It was cozy and would fit right in in Cambridge (MA) or Seattle. Our waitress was the friendliest we've ever encountered in Germany - this became a theme in Dresden. It was so friendly! On top of that, she addressed us informally, which I have never heard in a restaurant before. The food was so much better than I expected based on the menu prices. Dresden = cheap!! At this point I was already wondering how I could make the move there. Afterward we had another drink at another cozy little bar in the Neustadt. I was a little annoyed by the smoke of icky cheap cigarettes from a nearby table, but the smoking bans will soon make it to Sachsen!

The following morning, we wandered over to the famous Dresden Saturday morning flea market along the Elbe. Our friend the previous evening had described finding all sorts of cool stuff there. I think it really was the best flea market I've ever seen. Damon couldn't help himself and walked away with a giant Krug with his family's name carved into it and two old geography schoolbooks from the Third Reich with some really crazy stuff in them (map of German races, anyone?!). I just tried to hang back to avoid wanting lots of stuff, especially since I have a typical American fascination with communist life and there was tons of old DDR stuff there. However, were I to go again, I would not dress like I did. I really felt overdressed in my long wool coat (and Damon in a black leather coat), and we probably got overcharged as a result. Dresden is super casual! I thought Heidelberg was, and it is, but Dresden is yet more so.

We dropped off our finds at the hotel and headed out to meet up with some other expatriate bloggers - the reason we braved the Deutsche Bahn on this particular weekend! It was pretty cool to see the bloggers I always read face-to-face. Kind of like meeting minor celebrities, in a way. (ie "OMGZ!!!!11 I just saw Ian from Letters Home to You in the hallway!!!!") Great write-ups on the personalities there were already done on some of these blogs - there are versions at Letters Home to You, Eurotrippen, and at Mausi's. After assembling in an Eis cafe, we took an afternoon cruise on the Elbe river, from which we could see lots of cool old castles and vast empty marshes, right in Dresden! Also, I learned that mistletoe grows in giant balls in trees. I had never even thought about where/how mistletoe grows before. I guess I assumed it was a tree of some kind. Photos are here:

Dresden Nov 07

After the cruise, we walked through Dresden's Altstadt, stopping near the Frauenkirche first. The Frauenkirche was, like most of Dresden, destroyed during WWII. The firestorm melted the stones and the dome collapsed, falling so hard it split the stone floor. It remained a grassy pile of ruins until German reunification in 1990. At that time the Dresdners decided to rebuild it. They sorted through the pile of rubble looking for usable stones and used the blueprints of the church (from the 1700s) to put the usable stones back where they originally were. It was completed with new stones from the same place as the originals and was finished about 2 years ago. Unfortunately, there was an event going on inside and we didn't get to go in! Still, just knowing the story and seeing the outside was very, very cool. We also saw the famous mural, which survived WWII, on the outside of the castle, the interestingly-shaped Catholic church, the famous Semperoper (opera house), and the awesome courtyard of the Zwinger, complete with more porcelain bells just like the ones we liked so much in Weimar. See all of this in the photo album!

The group split up for a break and Damon and I had the idea to take a look for Christmas gifts as long as we were in a town that was so darn cheap. But, we ended up at the mall, which was hell, and ran back out. We then rode back to the Neustadt, which looked like it had some really cool stores, but they were all closed already. So, we explored the Kunsthofpassage, the inside of a city block all painted and sculpted by local artists and filled with shops and eateries. This is right up my alley. Again, Dresden rules. We warmed up in another super-friendly, super-cozy cafe with some heisse Zitrone (hot lemon beverage), then headed out to meet up with the group again for dinner.

Dinner was in a restaurant called Mama Africa, featuring lots of live music and harrassment in a setting including fake trees, fake birds, and a video of gorillas projected on the wall nearby. I got to eat crocodile (poor Schnappi!), which tastes like chicken and feels like fish, for those wondering. Also, they had cider, and that is always a plus for me. Afterward we wandered off to another Neustadt bar to cap off the evening.

The next morning Damon and I tried to go back to the Frauenkirche to see if we could get in again. We couldn't, but we did get to see the area in a little bit more daylight than before, which was nice. We said goodbye to the group at brunch and ran off to catch our train back to the other side of Deutschland. We had tickets to the symphony that night in Mannheim so we couldn't miss it! The strike was thankfully over, and it only took us 5.5 hours, connecting in Fulda, to get to Mannheim for the show.

Then we were back in expensive old Heidelberg. That's one of my theories as to why HD is less cool than Dresden. Even though it's full of students, they can't afford to do much here. Everything costs more than elsewhere, including rent. Of course, it could be that there really is a cool place like Dresden's Neustadt somewhere in Heidelberg, but I know a lot of people and if there is one, I'm really surprised I haven't been there yet, or even heard any mention of it. Maybe there just isn't any place with low enough rents to put up these sorts of shops and cafes. Also, a neighborhood like Neustadt isn't fueled so much by college students as by 20- and 30-somethings, and maybe HD lacks a bit in that department because of the cost of living. I really don't know. Maybe other HDers can help me out with some more theories...or by telling me where our equivalent of the Neustadt is!

I was also really surprised and impressed at the informality and community feeling in Dresden, such as the waitress who called us du/euch (informal you) instead of Sie (formal you). The already super-cute Tschuss was transformed into the even-cuter Tschussi, which I've heard here, but only among friends. Our old Boston friend theorized it might be a leftover from the days of communist comraderie, but we didn't have the same experience in other former East German towns we've been in (if anything some were the total opposite - like the nasty treatment we all got in Wismar), so I'm not sure. In any case, it was really nice. I would love to work in another trip there!
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Friday, November 23, 2007

Riding the striking Bahn

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We braved the Deutsche Bahn strike last Friday to make the long trip to Dresden. Before the strike, we were set to get there in about 6 hours by taking a train connection through Fulda. After the strike schedule came out, our shortest option was a 7.5 hour trip, connecting through Mannheim, Kassel, and Leipzig. OK - still within our acceptable limits, given that we had an extra reason for going to Dresden on this particular weekend. Without that reason, we would have rescheduled.

When we left our apartment, the sun hadn't come over the hills yet, so the valley was cold and frosty. We knew we were doomed if we didn't make our train because of the lack of connections, so we took a bus that got us to the station with plenty of time to spare, which we used to browse the bookstore. I found out that Voldemort's middle name in German is Vorlost.

Everything went smoothly - we got our connection at Mannheim and settled into our reserved seats, which - bonus! - were at a table! Very nice. Then, there was an announcement over the speakers not long before we pulled into Frankfurt. Rough synopsis of announcement: "If you were going to take the train from Kassel to Leipzig, forget it. It's cancelled. Get out in Frankfurt and connect to Leipzig via Nuernberg instead." This announcement was of course only in German, so a year ago we might have been screwed. I hope there weren't any affected parties who didn't understand German. (It's funny because they always make sure to make their hello/goodbye announcements in both English and German - announcements which are useless. Then if it matters, it's only in German!)

We got out in Frankfurt and had a little time before getting on the train to Nuernberg, so we tried to find out at the desk if there was still going to be a way for us to get to Dresden from Leipzig, given that our old schedule was out the window now. They said they couldn't tell us anything for certain and gave us a little bag of candy (see left). We got on the train to Nuernberg having no idea whether there would be any trains taking us further once we got there!

From this point on, I couldn't get this song out of my head: "Es faehrt ein Zug nach Nirgendwo". Approximate translation: There's a train going nowhere. Enjoy this Schlager gem below.



The train was a little crowded to Nuernberg but we managed to score seats. When we got there, it was confirmed that the train to Leipzig was still running. Yay! But the platform for said train was very, very, very crowded. We probably weren't the only ones who got bumped from other routes to Leipzig.

It was three hours to Leipzig on the train from hell. We had seat reservations on our original journey, but not on these trains, of course. Not for lack of trying - we tried at the machine in Frankfurt, but it was too late to make them. There were people in the aisles by the seats, piled up in the halls by the bathrooms, in the doorways, and everywhere else a person could squeeze. We ended up standing/sitting alternately in the narrow hall next to the trash cans. I hate being in everyone's way, but there was no way out of it. A drunk woman crushed my foot and someone came by to throw away a bag of barf. I was starting to feel a bit ill myself - somehow being on the floor increases the feeling of motion sickness. The people nearby who brought fish sandwiches from Nordsee onto the train and then proceeded to eat them halfway through the ride, filling the car with fish reek, didn't help the matter. After two hours, we finally managed to nag a seat for the remainder of the trip. My ass thanked me. Those floors are harder than they look!

Leipzig was until recently (with the opening of the new one in Berlin) the biggest train station in Germany. When we arrived, there were only two trains sitting in the entire station, ours included. The schedule boards were empty. There was a tight mob of people staring out at the tracks. I'm not sure what they were looking for. Probably a train that was never going to come. One person stopped us to ask where the train we just got off was heading, and our answer, Hamburg, was apparently not what he was hoping.

We found a little desk where Deutsche Bahn staff were writing with markers on big paper pads all the trains and buses that were departing Leipzig for various points throughout Sachsen and beyond. Thankfully, there were not only two more buses leaving for Dresden that night, but even a train was going to be going there! The bus went first, though, so that is what we decided to take.

We went out of the station and joined a huge crowd waiting for busses. Everyone wanted to go to Dresden. When a bus for Dresden finally pulled up, it was insanity. I haven't seen such a transportation-related mob scene since the days of the Delayed Blue Line During Rush Hour in Boston. It was kind of scary. And all the madness was for nothing - our bus pulled out of Leipzig with four seats still free! It was a cozy tour bus with an ultra-friendly driver and his assistant. An hour and a half later, we finally made it to Dresden. We hit our hotel at 8pm - 11 hours after leaving our apartment in Heidelberg.
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Monday, November 19, 2007

Happy End

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This photo appeared in my photo albums back in the spring of this year. Reposted today for the benefit of those who didn't catch it then. :)
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Thursday, November 15, 2007

I need to unionize

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Seriously, dude. The Deutsche Bahn drivers want a 31% pay raise!

And they'll probably get it, too, if they continue to make everyone's lives miserable like this.

I used to get 2 or 3% in Boston every year. That was for being a good employee. If I had gotten mediocre reviews, I wouldn't have even gotten that much (they had a complicated formula for it all worked out). It didn't even keep up with inflation. And Boston was considerably more expensive than any German city. But analysts can't unionize...I think there might have even been some kind of rules against it. I need some ultra-specified skills! Like train driving. Or nursing...they were allowed to unionize and as such had better raises, better health insurance, better time off, and better everything.

Also, I would like to point out for the benefit of people who don't live in Germany and hold the general belief that train travel is a cheap way to get around that the Deutsche Bahn is seriously expensive. They have deals, but they are hard to find. Deals are available either only at the desk, or only online at some site that you can't figure out and not the regular site, etc. Also if you get a deal and miss your train, you can't use it and have to buy a new ticket. This is even if missing your train is the fault of the DB. If we lived in a city with an airport, flying would probably always be cheaper than taking the train, but as it stands, we have to take the train to get to the airport. So, in the end, it comes out about the same, or the flight savings are reduced to an amount that isn't worth saving (because flying is a pain). Why are the trains so expensive? And where's it all going if these drivers are so badly underpaid? Is it going to cost us even more if they get the raise?

If there is no analyst or epidemiologist or nerd union, I need to change my field of work! I'm not even being facetious. I want to unionize.

News link: Biggest German rail strike in history starts to bite

*Interesting but unrelated note - the strikes are much worse in the former East, where we are going this weekend. They showed a map on the news and it seriously looked like a map from 1985 with a big line drawn right where it used to be. What's with that? We thought maybe that politically strikers have more public support in those areas, but that's our only guess.
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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Slightly less schrecklich

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Ok, so it got better right after I wrote my post. Who knew all I had to do was say something? The sun came out, followed by some cool weird sleet-like weather, followed by more sun leading up to a decent sunset. I went to work and there was new stuff for me to do so I don't feel so useless at work anymore. And there's snow on top of the Koenigstuhl (Heidelberg's highest hill)!

I did have a German language failure on the way home, though. A guy asked me for directions. Normally I can do this in German but this time I couldn't even think of the first sentence (they were slightly complicated directions, but come on!). Luckily he could do English so I hope he found what he was looking for. Also, I hurried home to catch my sister online, but it turned out she had to go to work an hour early today, so I totally missed her anyway. Blast!
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The word of the day is: SCHRECKLICH*

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I've not ridden the Deutsche Bahn for over a month, yet somehow it turns out the drivers decide to strike right on the day I want to make a particularly long trip across the country, adding another hour or two to the ride and getting us there considerably later than we planned. Argh! I was very close to bailing on the trip. Right now I need a haircut badly and am having the worst breakouts I've had since....I don't even remember when, but it's been at least 5 years. The weather has been dark and terrible for two weeks, and I haven't been feeling very useful at work lately. My sleep schedule is completely screwed up because sunset no longer has any sort of recognizable relationship with bedtime, so without the cues from the sun and since I work afternoons, my night owl tendencies have really set in. We're only 7 degrees further from the equator than in Boston, but it seems to be a huge difference.

Where is the cheer, man!?!

*Schrecklich = horrible
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Monday, November 12, 2007

Heidelberg Stays Up

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I don't know if this is a country-wide or just a local phenomenon, but there's a bit of a craze for stay-up-late events in Heidelberg - and I'm not talking about dance marathons for charity. Several months ago, there was the "Long Night of Museums", when local museums kept their exhibits open super-late. A week and a half ago we got the "Long Night of Shopping", during which stores stayed open on a Saturday until midnight. And this past weekend, there was even a super-nerdy "Nacht der Wissenschaft!" This translates sort of to "night of science", though the definition of Wissenschaft is a little more broad than the English definition of science - it encompasses philology and philosophy, for instance, which most people in the probably would not consider science. (The literal translation of Wissenschaft is something like "the business of knowledge", which is freaking cool.) The night included lectures, tours, and other geeky stuff until 2am on Saturday.

Die Nacht der Wissenschaft was hyped a lot at my work since I am in research, and one of my coworker friends even gave a lecture. (In a showing of brilliant German openness, he informed me that he was nervous about it by saying, "I get diarrhea every time I think about it!") I thought about going to find out more about who and how many people go to these things - mostly uni students prodded by professors? People from the general public? Do they fall asleep or show up drunk or...? Also, I wanted to support my friend. Or laugh at him. In a friendly way, of course. However, I was feeling a bit under the weather Saturday in more ways than one - I was both sick and the actual weather outside was incredibly miserable - so I didn't make it. Maybe if it had been free I would have made it, but there was a hefty fee that didn't seem it would be worth it unless I attended multiple events. If anyone went, tell me how it was!
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Thursday, November 08, 2007

I'm It

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I was tagged by Caffeinated Cowgirl for this "random facts about yourself" meme that's been going around. (Thanks for thinking of me!) I did a really similar one back in June so I will try to avoid repeats from that one!
  1. I hate the American tipping system, I have never worked as a waitress, and I know what it's like to be pinching pennies. However, for some reason, when I see people undertipping, it completely destroys my opinion of them.
  2. This won't mean anything to most people who read this. I had a crush on Leon in college.
  3. My favorite color is brown. I think Zunes are cuter than iPods.
  4. I know good fashion when I see it. I know bad fashion when I see it. I have more artistic talent than the average person. However, I could not put together a good outfit by myself to save my life.
  5. According to last.fm, these are the 12 artists I listened to the most in the last 5 weeks: Iron & Wine, Morphine, Rufus Wainwright, Orbital, Beirut, Bjork, M.I.A., of Montreal, Caribou, The White Stripes, Devendra Banhart, and Dan Deacon.
  6. I figured up the above using Excel. I am a big data geek. I like to use it for fun. I also use Access for fun. I'm working my way up to using SAS for fun.
  7. I forgot how much I liked jigsaw puzzles until a friend gave me one of Germany for my birthday. Since Saturday I've put it together and taken it apart again three times. And I still can't put Sachsen in the right place until the very end.
I will tag:
The Big Wide World
American im Odenwald
Kulturvergleiche

Here are the rules.
1. Link to your tagger and post these rules.
2. Share 7 facts about yourself: some random, some weird.
3. Tag 3 people at the end of your post and list their names (linking to them).
4. Let them know they've been tagged by leaving a comment at their blogs.
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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Why living in a valley is fun:

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Now you see it:

Now you don't:
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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Assorted Tidbits!

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Today is All-Saint's Day, so people in this state (in the Catholic south) have the day off. Normally I work holidays because there are fewer distractions at work and I'd rather have a day off when everyone else is working, but my work computer is currently crunching data day and night under someone else's login. So, I figured I may as well take the day off. It's especially nice because I just finished that horrific group homework project that was hanging over my head all summer, so I can use the little bit of extra time to finally get organized with lots of other things I want to do in the coming months!

And now for the tidbits promised in the title:

* The other night I was waiting for a friend outside one of our large department stores, Galeria Kaufhof. She called to let me know she was running late, so since it was cold, I went inside the store to just wander around. I've been to Kaufhof several times for various things, but never really just went in to browse. I was perusing the travel and language books when I came across a four-foot wide floor-to-ceiling section labeled "Briefmarken" (stamps). Things for sale here included stamp-collecting books, packs with paper, envelopes, and a selection of different canceled stamps, and big plastic tubs (maybe 3-pint size) filled with nothing but an international selection of canceled stamps that had been cut from envelopes (only 10 EUR)! I've never seen anything like it. For one thing, stamp collecting must be really popular, because I think that sort of thing is a specialty item in the US and you probably couldn't find it at, say, Younkers. And are you really collecting stamps if you're just getting a tub of them at the department store? Also, where do they get all those cancelled stamps? Are there people who just send them in from all over the country? Does the company have reps all over the world just getting stamps cancelled? Very curious...

* Also noted at the department store - a selection of calendars that crushes all other calendar selections I've ever seen. I thought the US was pretty calendar-obsessed. I've even been to those calendar-only shops that sprout up in US malls around the end of the year, but I don't think I've ever seen the sort of variety they have here. There are art calendars that are only 3 inches by 3 inches, birthday calendars that don't include year/day of week on them so they can be reused every year, calendars made out of bookmarks, and a huge variety of do-it-yourself calendars, where the dates are printed in, but there's room for your own photos or artwork. And, of course, an enormous selection of desktop and school calendars and planners. At work, our secretary even orders desk calendars for the whole department!

* It's the season for roasted chestnuts again!! Yeah!!!!!

* Germans also seem more interested than I remember Americans being in seasonal plants. When chestnuts started falling off the trees, there were chestnuts decorating restaurant tables and windowsills and chestnuts sitting around in people's houses, sometimes along with some fall leaves or some kind of dried-up fall seeds or flowers. In fall you see people carrying handfuls of big fall leaves, and in spring handfuls of blooming twigs (hurry to get the ones that are easy to reach!!). Our seasonal decorations at home were always just silk and plastic.

* The other day Damon and I were browsing the dollar bin outside a used book store when a couple walked by. The girl started to gravitate toward the bookstore, causing the guy to react thusly, in the best ultra-accented American English: "Come on baby! You know we don't read!"
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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

More on Schwarzfahren and the Birthday

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The German version of daylight savings time started this weekend, and man is it getting dark early! It's not even 5pm yet and I have to have the lights on in here (though admittedly my apartment is cavelike). I do love fall, though. Heidelberg was really beautiful today. On to the matters at hand:

* I asked some friends a bit about Schwarzfahren. One said that in eight years of riding trams, she had only seen an inspector once, and it didn't appear that too many people on the train were without tickets when it happened. She also had a friend who experimented to see which was cheaper: buying tickets as appropriate, or just riding without a ticket and paying the fine when caught. As it turned out for this friend, Schwarzfahren is cheaper. However, it's not without consequences, as a certain unknown number of offenses leads to a larger punishment - what, she wasn't sure. So, don't do it regularly!

* I finally replied to the birthday email from the secretary at work after she emailed me about it again and then came by my office in person to ask me about it. I suggested credit to a place that sells CDs, for lack of better ideas. Cash wasn't an option. So, I can get myself half a CD with it, if this works out. (Any recommendations??)

* I haven't come up with an idea of what to take in to work for my birthday, though, having been busy with a particularly nasty piece of homework. The whole office seemed to know about the birthday, so it really is my duty at this point to take a different 10 EUR and spend it on all of them. The problem is that I come from the sort of place where you don't buy something and bring it to a party - you make it. I can't seem to get past the nagging thought that it's uncool to get a cake at the bakery instead of making one. Plus, I kind of like to make something, because it's personal, and feels like less of a little token thing I have to do. However, being transplanted and not rich enough to ship my kitchen across the Atlantic with me, I'm lacking in so many baking necessities! I don't have the right cake pans. Then I thought about pie, because it's so American but yet doesn't taste too foreign to the German palate. But no pie pans, no rolling pin.... And since we don't know how long we will be here, and have all this stuff already, just not with us, it's hard to convince myself that I should buy it. However, I haven't checked with people to see if there are some of these things that I could borrow out there somewhere. My other idea was cookies, because we do have a pan that works as a cookie sheet, and Germans seem to like those, too. However, a couple of people in the office were iffy on that idea - it's not an event to eat cookies like it is to eat something that requires a plate and fork. Of course the last idea is to just get over it and go to the bakery and buy something already made. :) Whew, as if getting older weren't stress enough.
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Monday, October 29, 2007

Birthdays Past

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When I turned 7, I asked mom if I could have all the girls in my class (there were maybe 7 or 8) over for a party. She let me despite hating that sort of thing and even painted a big happy birthday sign to hang on the wall. (And she was my age then.)

When I turned 9, mom said she would decorate cupcakes for me to take to school. (We took treats to school on our birthdays - perhaps a tradition left over from everyone's German backgrounds?) Then she broke a glass while washing dishes and had to get stitches in her palm, preventing any sort of decorating activities. So instead she ordered me a decorated Barbie cake from one of the local cake ladies.

When I turned 14, my friends left a trail of big decorated notes and cards all over the school for me, strategically placed so I would find one every period.

When I turned 15, we went out to eat at the Haye Loft, and my little sister's friend was the first person to ever say I looked pretty.

When I turned 17, a senior in high school, my best friend and I invited all our out-of-town friends for a sleepover in the front room of my dad's gigantic machine shed, where we could blast my dad's 1970s stereo and make noise as late as we wanted. We passed around Hy-Vee Red Pop like it was a bong.

When I turned 18, my new college friends took me out to eat at a Greek restaurant in downtown Chicago. I was serenaded over custard with candles by an impressively large number of waiters - as were people at every other table in the room! Everybody was having a birthday!

When I turned 19, my sometimes-boyfriend, never able to be on time for anything, got up super-early and elaborately decorated the hallway outside my dorm room with pink streamers and duct tape.

Naturally they've gotten a little more boring now that I'm older (and my husband, wonderful in every other way, isn't terribly creative). Today I'll just play some Dan Deacon to get my cheery self on, go to work for a while hoping to duck questions about when I'm going to treat all of them to cake for my birthday, then come home and work some more on this godforsaken paper that's due Wednesday, all the while counting the years until my next weekend birthday. Hopefully all of this will be followed by some delicious restaurant food at a yet-to-be-determined location :) And a glass of wine to ease the pain of moving pretty solidly out of the post-college demographic. Whee!

And thanks to everyone who participated in the awesome birthdays past mentioned above. You guys are the best.
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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

This feels awkward to me.

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An email from the secretary at my job:
Dear (my name),

it's your birthday again next week - so what would you like for a birthday present? Everything is possible worth € 10,00. It may be a voucher also.

Regards

(the secretary)

Is this not a bit awkward? I even feel a little funny if family members ask me what I want!
One thing I am sure it means is that I will not get out of bringing cake in to the office.
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Monday, October 22, 2007

For Sara, Jen, and Mom

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Three people last week managed to somehow defy the Deutsche Post and get large pieces of mail to us! THANK YOU to Jen for the book, Mom for the hat, scarf, & gloves, and Sara for the exacto art calendar!! :) So we see that it IS possible to get mail delivered to us....we just aren't sure what the trick is yet. Or if there is one at all.
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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Schwarzfahren

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Well, the Betriebsausflug was actually very nice! We walked partway up the Heiligenberg from Neuenheim, then continued north through the hills, with great views over the Rheinebene (the plains around the Rhine) - the photo on the right, for example. I got to know the people I already knew a little better - but failed to recruit anyone for pub quiz, because it's on Mondays. They told me I should throw party at my house on Friday with my own pub quiz and then they would go. Argh.

We were to take the Strassenbahn (tram) back to Heidelberg from Schriesheim after coffee at a cafe there. We thought we could buy our tickets on the tram, but once we got on we realized that we couldn't. So, we had a choice - ride without a ticket, or get out to buy one at the machine and risk waiting for the next train (the driver was having a quick smoke).

Riding without a ticket is easily possible because no ticket is required to physically enter a station or a train. But, you may get caught riding without a ticket by inspectors. Riding without a ticket is called Schwarzfahren - or, in direct translation, "black riding" (sort of the same use of "black" as in "black market"). Most trains and stations have signs warning against it, and the fine is around 40 EUR if you are caught. You are also berated right on the train in front of anyone if it happens.

If this system was used in an American city, I'm not sure it would be effective, but apparently it works fairly well here. When we realized we couldn't buy tickets on the train, people looked truly apprehensive about it, even though I have never seen a ticket inspector on the Strassenbahn in any city I've rode in. Some people had tickets already (like a school-provided one). Of those of us who didn't, three of us got out to try to buy one before the train left. I'm such a goody-two-shoes, for one thing. For the other, I didn't want to get berated on the train in front of all my coworkers - although I guess some of them would be getting it too.

The first guy to get to the machine was a German coworker who I don't know very well. I tried to get him to purchase all three tickets at once, but it either wasn't possible or he just ignored me. (Actually I had to show him how to use the machine...haha) So, he got his, and as it was printing, we saw the driver put out his cigarette. He ran back to the train. Now the other two of us really had to choose - run back to the train without a ticket in plain sight of the driver, who now knows we definitely don't have one? (And probably doesn't care, actually, but...) Or miss it?

The other guy ran back. I stood there alone at the ticket machine and watched the train pull away. Argh. Luckily it was not a long wait but I'm kind of wondering if I look like the biggest nerd right now, or what :) I know that the train wasn't inspected, so I would have been fine.

I actually have ridden the bus a couple of times without a ticket when I really wanted to catch a train at the station in Mainz and couldn't spare the time to buy the ticket. It was only a couple of blocks to the station so I risked it. So maybe I'm not the goodiest-two-shoes around. Maybe just second place.
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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Betriebsausflug

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The Betriebsausflug is a little trip that everybody in the office/lab/whatever goes on. I think it must be required at our workplace that each group do one of these. My group's is tomorrow.

Some groups go on little day trips. We're going to walk from our office to Schriesheim. As a little part-timer, I considered just not going at all, and I doubt I would be missed. However, I thought that in the end it would be a better political move to go - and I might need whatever edge it will give me later in some work situation. So, tomorrow instead of doing my usual work-the-afternoons thing, I will get up earlier to join this walk to Schriesheim.

One of the reasons I'm uncomfortable with it is that the one person I work with regularly, "PD", has always been great to work with, but never made any effort to make me feel like I belonged socially in our group. Maybe this isn't really his job, but I guess I'm coming from a country where taking the new person to lunch the first day or at least showing them around to meet everyone on the first day is the norm. On my first day of work, he told me he wasn't ready to meet with me yet and that I didn't have an office, so I should just go sit in the kitchen. I sat around in the kitchen with nothing to do but act like my planner was super-fascinating for about 45 minutes, until the secretary happened to find me out there - and it turns out I DID have an office and computer. PD just didn't show me or tell me the secretary knew or anything. He goes to lunch regularly with a group of coworkers, but I was never invited (and I only found out about it from someone else). He didn't tell me when seminars were or where to find the schedule or introduce me to anyone, but was surprised later every time he asked me if I knew so-and-so and I said no. The only people I know are two that I met in class in Mainz, one that I went to English-language orientation with, and the 3 with whom I share an office. How would I know anyone else? Most people are brought around and introduced but I just never was. Especially when I arrived here knowing so little German, I felt I was in no position to go throwing myself into everyone's closed offices to make myself known. It's just left me feeling like I don't fit in and no one wants me to fit in. So, I sort of feel like I shouldn't bother with the Betriebsausflug, because it's sort of a lost cause. I've become used to being the little quiet mouse in the office - although this was certainly never my role in my last job in the US ;)

Well, that was more whiny/ranty than I was expecting, but there it is. It might actually be fine. The people I do know, I really like. I just feel awkward around PD in a non-work environment, and around all those people I don't know who always have their office doors closed. On the other hand I'm looking to put together a pub quiz team and maybe I'll be able to recruit people.....nah. It's on Monday nights, and I don't see that happening with this group.
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Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Deutsche Post works in mysterious ways.

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Yesterday Damon and I left the apartment to run some errands around 11am. I checked the mailbox on the way out and found a little card saying that we had received a package, and it would be waiting for us at a Packstation* way across town (definitely not the closest one) after 6pm. We were home all morning, and the package is addressed to our street address, but they never tried to deliver it to us by ringing our buzzer. They just put it straight in the Packstation. I don't understand why this would be. We do have a Packstation address which is different from our street address, but it's at a closer Packstation, and this package was not addressed to it. (I guess it should have been, but it is confusing for our friends and family that we have one address for letters/cards and one for packages, and I don't blame them for that!)

* A Packstation is a big bank of locked metal boxes that sits in an always-accessible place, like the post office outer lobby or at the side of the road. If you have a code to use one, or a barcode from a delivered "you've got mail" slip to scan, you can retrieve packages from it. You can send packages from them too, but I've never done that. They are a good solution for large mail that is delivered when you're not home...but we were home, so in this case I wouldn't call it so great!
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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Would you eat food you found on your doorstep?

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On Thursday when I left for work, there were two bakery bags sitting outside the front door of our building, which seemed a little weird to me. They were sealed closed with stickers that said the bakery hoped to gain the receiver as a customer after they enjoyed the delicious freshness of the goodies inside. (They kind smelled like Kaesebroetchen.) They had the last names of two other tenants of the building scrawled on them so I left them there. When I came home, one was still sitting outside. I brought it inside the door and left it by the mailboxes because I thought having them out on the steps was a little strange. I don't think I would eat food left on my doorstep (there's that American paranoia kicking in). The intended recipient still hasn't picked them up so I guess they probably aren't so fresh and delicious at this point. Is this a common marketing scheme in Germany? It just seems strange to me.
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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Mosel v. the Rhein

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We spent the next day, Sunday, on the Mosel, and the following day, Monday, on the middle Rhein. Damon and I (and his mom) had already spent some time on the middle Rhein previously, but we had never seen the Mosel before. Damon and I had heard a lot of great things about it so we were really looking forward to going!
Bernkastel-Kues & More Sep 07

The Mosel starts in France somewhere, forms part of the border between Germany and Luxembourg, then goes past Trier up to Koblenz, where it meets the Rhein. Wine is grown all along the river, sometimes on ridiculously steep banks that require it be harvested by hand. In some places there are also rails going down the hills through the vineyards - I don't know what these are exactly - maybe to hoist the harvest up and down? Some of the steep vineyards, especially nearing Koblenz, are truly amazing. The valley has a lot of tourists - mostly German ones - but doesn't come close to the Rhein in terms of tourism overload.
Kroev Sep 07

We started at our pension in Bekond and stopped in a few towns along the way - see the photos to learn more about the individual places where we stopped! Our first longer stop was in Kroev, where they were having a wine festival. It wasn't like the one in Freinsheim - it was contained in a small courtyard and community center. The whole town appeared to be there, drinking and listening to a sort of horrible band. We drank, looked around the town, and grabbed lunch there.
Marienburg & More Sep 07

A bit after lunch, we made another stop, this time high up at the top of the valley at a old convent, which now has a large cafe. Damon's dad took a nap in the parking lot while we climbed up to the cafe and enjoyed the view.
Cochem Sep 07

We were starting to get pretty burned out by the time we stopped in Cochem for some photos of the picturesque (but not very old) castle and ice cream. This town was so packed with tourists (all holding cameras, so easily identifiable as such - but all Germans) that Damon's parents asked us if they were having a festival too. I would guess it was the good weather!
Kobern-Gondorf and Niederfell Oct 07

We were all tired so we settled for the evening in the town where we would be staying, Niederfell, and had some wine and cheese before dinner. (At our hotel's restaurant - which was amazing - Kastanienhof.) We did miss one of the major sites on the Mosel, Burg Eltz. I suppose we could use it as an excuse to return to the area, but I don't really need an excuse. I'm pretty much ready to move to Koblenz at the first opportunity, just so I can go to the Mosel Valley any time. I used to say I wanted to move to Koblenz because of the Rhein! The Mosel is an even better reason.
Boppard Oct 07

Our day on the Rhein was slightly less eventful. Damon's mom was more interested in a boat cruise than almost anything else as her main desire on her trip to Germany. For a while, it was up for debate what river it would be. We thought the Rhein was a good choice because we've already seen it, whereas staying on land is a nice idea if you want to be able to stop in towns, as we did on the Mosel. So, the Rhein it was - plus there are just more options there as Rhein boat cruises are quite popular. We stopped in Boppard and picked up a tour boat there.
Rhein Cruise Oct 07

We rode to Oberwesel and back, being tortured both ways by an unfortunate choral recording of "The Loreley" while riding past the big rock. I think we were the youngest people on the entire boat by a fairly large margin, with the exception of a couple of small children. It was pleasant, though it wasn't particularly informative. They had only a couple of announcements about things we passed, but most places weren't mentioned at all.
Bacharach Okt 07

We then drove from Boppard south along the Rhein, stopping in Bacharach for a look around, since we had heard good things about it. We had only a hurried look at it, but it was very pretty, though it didn't seem to have as much pedestrianized area as it needed. There were cars everywhere!
We ended the day in Bingen, which hasn't gotten any more exciting since we were there in April ;) We did find a nice place to eat dinner, though, and had another drink at a Weinstube next door afterward. Our waitress there horrified Damon's dad by reporting that she couldn't come out right away when we wanted to pay for a take-home bottle because she had been "on the toilet". Hehehe.

Over the final glasses of wine, Damon's dad had everyone write down their top 5 things from the trips we took, ranking them. Then we pooled the results, with each person's top choice getting 5 points, 2nd choice getting 4, and so on. Freinsheim won, with Esch-sur-Sure, Burg Lichtenberg, and lunch on the roadside near St Gallen all scoring very high marks. And the Mosel completely crushed the Rhein.
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Monday, October 08, 2007

Part I of Part II: Kusel, Burg Lichtenberg, Trier, and Luxembourg

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On the second leg of our trip with the in-laws, we were a little slow out of the gate because MIL still hadn't visted the castle and did it that morning. I suppose this could have been done in the two hours she spent very slowly checking her email at our house (spends a lot of time on it for someone who never seems to be able to get back to our messages!) one of the other days, but what can you do?
Kusel Sep 07

Our first stop, not planned, was in the town of Kusel to pick up some picnic fixings. It was here that I found the first Stumbling Stones I've seen - I read about them in the past, so this was an interesting find for me. You can see them up closer in the photo album. The artist decided to make these when he overheard a German once saying that "none of the victims of the Holocaust lived near here anyway!" and the project is meant to show that they did, indeed, live near you.
Burg Lichtenberg Sep 07

We took our fixings to a nearby castle on a hill, Burg Lichtenberg, to eat. There were ruins there, as well as a hostel, church, two museums, and a house! This was also a completely unplanned stop, but a very nice one. Actually, I'm not really a castle person (!! a major sin among American tourists), but picnicking is generally pleasant and it's nice to see everyone else get psyched up about a castle.
Trier Sep 07

One of the two main things Damon and I had wanted to come in this direction for was Trier - oldest city in Germany, full of ridiculously old Roman goodies, and a place we've heard a lot about in general. Because of our late start, though, we got about an hour in Trier, right before sunset, to run through and see about three of the zillions of significant things we could have seen there - the two major churches and the Porta Nigra. (See photos for info on all this.) Damon's parents weren't impressed with Trier at all in our one-hour stop. His Dad called it "the Missouri of Germany" based on the fashion sense of those walking around. That's no compliment coming from an Illinois person. His Mom thought it looked too fake because it was so nicely painted. I'm not sure where she'd been for the rest of the trip through zillions of other nicely painted towns. Neither is all that interested in history so I guess that did not redeem it for them. So, off we went, with a few pictures to show for it. Maybe we'll have to make another trip to see the inside of the Konstantin-Basilika and all the baths, as we were disappointed at the briefness of our stop.
Luxembourg (City) Sep 07

We stayed at a pension on the tiny town of Bekond near Trier. The parents were horrified at the lack of soap and old carpet. It was hotels only from then on. (I was just glad to be in something better than a hostel. And kind of impressed at the good state of the pension since it clearly hadn't been updated since the 60s.) The next morning we went off for a one-day tour of the entire country of Luxembourg.
Damon's dad made Liechtenstein jokes and French jokes, then spent the morning hanging around near where we parked d/t his bum knee. We had two hours to see everything we wanted in the entire city. Damon became cranky at this. I can be a very efficient tourist/picture taker if necessary but his mom is more deliberate so the shortness of time was not a good combination with her thoroughness. He was afraid to become upset with her about it though, so I got to hear about it instead. (Do parents realize how much we let them get away with without saying anything? Especially compared to how we treat our spouses? Do they exploit it?) We made it through Notre Dame - very nice to see a church with a somewhat different style from those in Germany - and the Bock Casemates - more info on these in the photos. We were late getting back to his Dad, and then we had lunch in an Italian chain cafe and took off again.
Esch-sur-Sure Sep 07

Our next stop, recommended by Lonely Planet of all places, was Esch-sur-Sure, a tiny town that sits on a loop in the Sure river. We spent about 45 minutes there, climbing up to its old crumbling castle ruin and checking out its church and strange gift/candle shop.
Echternach Sep 07

On our way back into Germany, we stopped in Echternach, right on the German border. The sun even shone for the first time that day. Then we returned to Germany for dinner at a restaurant somewhere near Bekond. Damon's dish turned out to be three whole cold (cooked) fish! I wish I'd remembered to get a photo of them all stacked on his plate.

Coming soon: the Mosel and the Rhein. Cast your bets now on which one each person liked better.
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