Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Two Points for Today

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* In my "Any Questions?" post, Nathan asked whether Germany is a coffee country, or a tea country. It's always "kaffee und kuchen" (coffee and cake) in the afternoons - not "tee und kuchen". Despite the fact that the coffee here is reportedly not the greatest (per Damon and some Germans - I haven't had any), this is a coffee country. However, there is still a much wider variety of tea available here than in my experience in the US.

* I put a huge amount of time and effort into this blog, at the expense of emails and other projects I could be doing (like drilling German prepositions into my head). At busy times I can't help but wonder if it is reaching anyone other than the three people who comment now and again...and if it's not, do I keep doing it? It certainly is a great thing for me to have to remember my experiences here, which would otherwise be draining right through the sieve my brain has become. But, if it's just for me, I don't need to put it online. Short version: leave me some feedback now and again if you are reading this! Leaving it in the comments section is better than emailing me. Kind of like seating restaurant patrons in the window, so people going by can tell that there are people who eat there, so it can't be all bad.

How to leave a comment:
At the bottom of the post, click "0 kommentare". Then, write your comment in the box on the right side of the screen. After writing your comment, underneath where it says "word verification", type the letters you see above the box. Then, if you don't have a Blogger account, just choose "other" and put in your name. You can leave the "web site" box blank. Then click "Publish Your Comment". Not bad!
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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Product Placement

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And you thought we'd gotten over all the different stuff at the grocery store by now!


McKENNEDY Western American Style Pizza!

So this is what gets billed as American food: pizza with a bread crust covered with corn kernels and kidney beans, all wrapped up in a sharp red, white 'n' blue box featuring the Statue of Liberty. The best part: the "brand" name McKennedy! How quintessentially American! Damon and I had to buy this when we saw it. After we stopped laughing in the Lidl frozen-food aisle, of course. Unfortunately, we have never seen this pizza again, or anything else marked "McKennedy".


Butter Boutique!

Hankering for some "special" butter, but just don't feel like whipping it up yourself? Don't worry, you can just pick up this Butter Boutique multi-pack! Includes Kraeuter-Butter (herbed butter), Knoblauch-Butter (garlic butter), and the mysterious "Steak & Grill" (is it butter?).

Germany: Where nacho cheese chips are Swiss cheese flavored.

This is not mint.

After four and a half months, I still am sometimes bewildered in the store. We had been buying Colgate toothpaste. In the US we didn't get that kind because Damon said it makes him get spots on his teeth, but it was the only familiar brand here and toothpaste is one of those things that we felt it was better to be sure about, if we could. Damon's teeth got spots. So, it was time to branch out. First I had a hard time recognizing the other brands because they came in tubes like this Signal toothpaste above, which look like the tubes hand cream comes in. Once I did recognize them, I just grabbed one. Signal Extrafrisch - that looked good. Who doesn't like to feel extra fresh? I brought it home and was all proud of our ability to branch out into new uncharted toothpaste territory. Little did I know how uncharted it would be.

I showed Damon my find when he got home later that day. He opened the top for a whiff. Mein Gott!! It wasn't mint at all, but ANISE! Anise, the stuff in black licorice. It's a popular flavor here, but anathema to the majority of Americans.

We got a mint tube the next day.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Fasnet and Narrenfest in Endingen!

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Yesterday, Damon and I and another friend, Marie, took a trip south to Endingen am Kaiserstuhl, a small town near the Black Forest. The Kaiserstuhl is an area with a former volcano formation. One of the group leaders in Damon's lab is married to an Endingen native and told us about a festival they were having combining Fasnet, a Karneval/Lent-related holiday, and the Narrenfest, a party the town has every so often celebrating the anniversary of the re-formation of its Jester's Guild!

It took quite a while to get down there, taking three different Deutsche Bahn trains as far as a little town called Riegel (makers of Riegeler Bier), then hopping on the local Kaiserstuhl Bahn the rest of the way.

What can I say about the festival? The photos really tell the story (click THE PHOTOS on the right) - we took over 300, and I tried to keep the number posted online around 100. Wandering around the usual old gates and half-timber buildings and churches were all kinds of costumed troupes and bands and dressed-up onlookers. We had some wine and food at one of the many food stands set up around town and watched all the action, then got a good spot to watch the parade. Troupes come from all over Europe, in addition to one from Venezuela (see photo caption) to party! The masks are amazing and make a complete transformation from all the hearty old guys, 40-something women, teenagers, etc, who had been wandering around in costume earlier, to completely anonymous performers and ruckus-causers. They bopped us with balloons made out of pig bladders, smacked us with sticks, sprayed us with water, threw confetti, attacked us with some kind of smushy hug attack, stole my hat, alternately scared small children and gave them treats, and when they shouted "NARRI!" we all had to shout "NARRO!" See the photos for all of the amazing costumes and masks and props.

After the parade we wandered around until we could find a place to sit and warm up with a drink - and it happened to be in a community building basement that was decorated and full of long tables, just like home. Only it included a lot more smoke and singing than home. The US needs more jolly public singing. Afterward we walked to the Marktplatz where some kind of closing ceremony was taking place, with much cheering and music. Afterward the crowd dispersed, we got a bite to eat, and then caught the train for the long trip back to Heidelberg.

For more information about the Narrenfest, if you can read German, check out this page!
Endinger Narrenzunft
Warning: it has sound so if you are at work, turn off your speakers!

A great local news video about the Narrenfest:
http://www.badische-zeitung.de/popup/aktionen/2007/video/pop_narrenfest_dsl.html

And a video we took (very short):


And once again, don't forget to visit the photos! Last one there is a rotten egg, be there or be square, etc etc...
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Friday, January 26, 2007

Any Questions?

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A poster on a bulletin board where I am a member recently posted to ask the following questions about Germany. Here is how I responded. While my answers probably aren't new information to anyone reading this blog, it's a concise summary of my current thoughts. Is there any burning question about living in Germany that you would like to ask? Just leave them in the comments and I'll address it in a new post!

What do you like best about the country?
The overall feel of the country is much more relaxed than the US. It is less materialistic, although Germans complain about how much more materialistic it is getting. It's also beautiful here. There's not so much sprawl. My city (Heidelberg) is pretty much right next to an even bigger city (Mannheim), but there is actually empty country in between the two, and not housing developments as it would be in the US.

What do you like least about the country?
Everyone keeps their office doors closed. No one ever tells you anything you need to know - you are expected to ask - but if you are truly clueless, as I am, you don't even know what or who to ask. It's extremely frustrating.

What is the health care system like?
Thankfully I have not used it yet. You must have health insurance to get a Visa, which was a big thing for me, since you don't have to have it in the US. I have heard a lot of complaints from Germans who do know more about the system. Those within a certain income range must use statutory (public) insurance and those outside this range can get private insurance, which gets you better and faster care. However, the wait times they complain about don't sound as bad as what I experienced in the US.

What, in your opinion, would be the best and worst cities to live in/near?
I really don't know enough about this. The northeast section of Germany is said to be in the worst shape economically, per the other Germans I have talked to. I have seen many a disease map of Germany (I study epidemiology) and health is worse there too. I really enjoy living near the Pfalz. The weather here is very mild - fig and almond trees can grow here. Wine is cheap and plentiful, and it's so beautiful.

What is the cost of living like?
I live in the second-most expensive city in Germany (second to Munich). Rent for us is $730 for a one-bedroom. The surrounding cities cost half as much. Food is cheaper than the US. Salaries are lower in general.
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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Today's German Lesson

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You'll have over, under, around, through, near, and far down in no time!
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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Trip to Koeln

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On Sunday we took the train up to pre-Karneval Koeln to check it out. The train route took us north on the east side of the Rhein, crossing over it just as we reached downtown Koeln. The train station is right on the river and sits on the same plaza as Koeln's most famous landmark, the Koelner Dom!
Koeln was still experiencing a lot of wind, made worse by a huge wind tunnel formed by the enormously tall Dom. We blew over to the tourist information/gift shop to get a map. The gift shop was filled with all kinds of Karneval junk and items with words written on them in the local dialect, Koelsch (in which the city is known as Koelle). I also found a purse that said Koelnerin on it....I need to find one that says Heidelbergerin, if only to get a photo for this blog!

Afterward we fought the wind back toward the Dom and went inside. A service had just ended and the aisles were all blocked, so tourists were all jammed into the back of the church. We decided to try again later and moved on to the Rathaus. On our way there, we saw a street sign blow right over! The Rathaus was, like most of Koeln (but not the Dom), destroyed in WWII and then restored. It had previously been covered in statues, but only a few were still there. In photos it looked like more than that had survived the war, so I'm not sure if they were just moved elsewhere, lost later, or if I misinterpreted the photo I saw. The plaza by the Rathaus also included some old ruins we couldn't interpret, and an old Jewish bath (a synagogue used to stand here), covered by a skylight.

We wandered south toward the Heumarkt. There was some construction going on and as we wandered we decided we weren't headed anywhere interesting, and made for the Chocolate Museum on the banks of the Rhein instead!

The museum belongs to or is sponsored by the Lindt company, as huge signs showed the Lindt logo and a shop inside the front door sold mostly Lindt chocolate. The museum focused first on the growing of cacao. It can only be grown in a very narrow swath of latitudes around the center of the planet, and only in very specific wet, warm, shady conditions. All the more reason to crack down on global warming (if it's still possible now)...the changes could result in the loss of these specific cacao-growing conditions. As cacao is a New World plant, there was also a section focusing on the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas. I never realized the reason that the Aztecs sacrificed people was to get the sun to come up again the next day. Did they never forget one night, or get it done too slowly, and realize that the sun comes up again anyway?

At the end of the museum is a big room where tiny Lindt chocolate bars and truffles are made. (The little bars are given to each person when they enter the museum, or sold there in big bags.) It smells great and it's interesting to see the various methods I always wondered about, such as how they make chocolate in hollow shapes! (A machine rotates them all on two axes so the chocolate coats the entire mold evenly.)

As a side note, the museum was incredibly packed, and it's only one of many museums we saw just in the small part of Koeln we visited. I have heard a lot of concerns from Germans about the falling birth rate and aging of the German population. After visiting this museum I have no concerns whatsoever that there is any aging issue in Koeln. There were children underfoot everywhere, to the point that I'm pretty sure I've been put off having them for a good long time. The loose parenting style of having kids run around everywhere seems to be popular here - in a cafe later, a kid was running all around out of her parents' sight, whenever she wasn't establishing herself at another empty table. Maybe it's because I grew up during the 80s kidnapping scare, but I think leaving my parents' sight in a giant city cafe wouldn't have worked well with my parents!

After leaving the museum we had lunch at a restaurant along the river. Prices there seemed higher than most of the other places we have visited. Damon enjoyed a Koelsch beer, the regional beer served in a small tall glass. People joke that it tastes awful. I tried a bit and it didn't taste terribly different from regular beer to me, except for a sort of not-great aftertaste.

Next we headed to the Romanesque Gross St. Martin's church, built in the 11th century, and the site of older Roman buildings since the first century. St. Martin's was destroyed in WWII and only reopened in 1985 after restoration. Photos from before war showed that the inside of the church was almost completely covered in frescoes, which now only remain in a couple of archways that must have stayed up through the bombing. Under the church are the excavated ruins of the older buildings that were on the site - mostly walls, the bottoms of columns, and a curious plaza-looking area covered in old coins.

After St. Martin's we made our way back into the Dom, which was now completely open (except the crypt - but I'm not sure if it is ever opened). Building on this cathedral was started in the 11th century. I'm not sure what I can say about it that I haven't already said about a zillion other cathedrals - it's amazing! The floors are covered in mosaics, side chapels are filled with beautiful art, the ceilings are dizzyingly high. In the front behind the altar is a gold shrine (reminiscent to me of the Ark of the Covenant in Indiana Jones...hehe) said to contain the remains of the three Magi. Religion note: St. Ursula and her 11 - 11,000 companions are said to have been martyred near Koeln. There is a church there dedicated to her which we unfortunately didn't get a chance to see.

When we finished taking in the Dom, we visited some more Roman ruins known as the Praetorium. The ruins are approximately under the Rathaus and were discovered while excavating for a bomb shelter during WWII. They consist of a long stretch of sewage tunnel and a corner of a former palace, with walls, the feet of columns, and some other things we couldn't identify (all placards were auf Deutsch), but which were intriguing. We didn't realize our admission here would also get us into one of the larger museums near the Dom, but it was too close to closing time for us to visit both.

Next, we decided to see the supposedly controversial design of the Koeln Opera House, built in the 1950s. We were pretty suprised when we found it. It didn't seem controversial at all, just boring. It reminded me of an Iowa county courthouse. To be fair, we didn't see the inside, but from the outside, there didn't appear to be anything controversial about it. It was, without question, exceptionally bland.

It was now getting dark and cold, so a big bright corner cafe that we passed, Cafe Merzenich, seemed especially inviting. Damon and I went inside and split a piece of cake that said Herren (men) on top. It had several layers of chocolate cake and cream, covered with a layer of marzipan and then a layer of chocolate fondant. Very, very, very good. I'm not sure how it got its name, though! Rich enough for a man?
We concluded our day by remembering that we had wanted to smell the local cologne! Cologne really did originate here, as Koelnisch Wasser, meant to be good for one's health. (Considering the German spa tradition this makes perfect sense.) In former times (as a German would say) this was the only fragrance available in Germany, so everyone wore it. As a result, it reminds our friend Markus of old people, since many of them still use it, being from the time when it was all that was available. To the right you can see the tiny sample bottle of it which Damon couldn't stop himself from getting. Now we can smell like a German's conception of "old person smell" any time we want!
After this, we headed back home on an extremely crowded ICE train. We ended up sitting in the smoking section, which is only marginally better than standing in the open area outside the toilets. The smoking cars are far worse than any bar, club, restaurant, or other smoking area. They seem to have very poor ventilation, but they are the only place one can find a seat when the train is packed, because of course no one really wants to sit there, not even most smokers. I hope they will either get rid of them (it is under consideration) or build them with seriously improved ventilation.
Next week: Fasnet in Endingen!
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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Koeln Photos!

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Click on THE PHOTOS! to see our pictures both from the sunny Sunday in Heidelberg, and our Sunday this week in Koeln (Cologne)!
I hope to write a real entry on Koeln soon - but for now, must get to work.
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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Kyrill!

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Just in case Damon and I had been feeling nostalgic for a good old nor'easter...or for a typical midwestern storm for that matter...the weatherpeople have brought us Kyrill.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6274377.stm
I just literally blew home from work (at least the wind was on my side this time!), and saw little whitecaps on the Neckar. I tried to get a photo, although it doesn't really capture the madness.
It did seem windy and dark on the way in to work this morning, but what was really alarming was an email sent out to all employees telling us that all windows and shutters must be closed for the rest of the day due to the big storm. Haha, whoa! Batten down the hatches! A storm so big, it got a name! It's certainly a pretty different-than-usual weather day here in our mild little hidey-hole of Heidelberg.

Ah, I am a typical American midwesterner. "Ooh! Bad weather? Where? Let's watch."

Tidbits!

* At my office, all the doors are always closed. Rather depressing, but that's a story for another day. The secretary's office, where supplies are stored and our mailboxes are, is no different. In fact, her office is also locked, even though she is inside and we commonly need to talk to her/get to our mail/etc! I thought this was weird, always having to knock and be let in. Today, when I knocked to be let in for probably the fifth time since I started working, she said, "Doesn't your key work in the lock?" Ahhh, so I am supposed to let myself in with the key! Somehow, this feels even worse, using a key to get into an occupied office. Ah, I will adjust to these closed German ways....

* Ever get a bottle of German wine and giggle at the Engrish on the bottle, "Produce of Germany"? This is blatantly incorrect English, and of course should say "Product of Germany". However, the bottles must, by law, say "Produce of Germany"...so don't blame the goof on your favorite winemaker. Blame it on the German government.
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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Zollamt

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Yesterday was sunny for the second day in a row! Unfortunately the trend did not continue through today, and the rest of the week is predicted to be just more clouds again.

Damon and I took the good-weather opportunity to make a trip to the Zollamt. I received a notice in the mailbox last week that a package was being held there. I'm not entirely sure what this means, but it's something like a customs check, where they hold it if there is some kind of problem. (Or at random? I'm not sure. If anyone can explain, please do.)

The Zollamt is in a bizarre location, much like the central post office where we always have to pick up the packages that make it through with no problems. I thought we were completely lost as we rode into a back alley lined with loading docks, dodging forklifts and bumping over uneven bricks. We weren't. We found it right in among all this. An old-school gold sign with a big black German eagle on it reading ZOLLAMT was hanging by one of the doors. We went inside. A guy with a thick dialect of some kind and a big cold sore (poor guy) greeted us and we gave him the slip that came in our mailbox. He asked us what it was (or something like that. He was very hard to understand). Of course we didn't know because it had been sent as a gift. We took a guess and he went back and brought out a giant plastic bag with a green customs tag and told us to open it. So, we opened the bag. Inside was a box from Amazon. Why something from Amazon would get held up in customs is beyond me. We haven't had this happen before. We opened that box, and inside was a huge book about European birds, a late Christmas present from Damon's mom. (THANKS!!!) The cold sore guy took the receipt from the box and made a copy of it. He brought us back the original and then said something about it being 21 Euro. We thought he was telling us we had to pay this amount. Damon argued that it was a gift from his mom. Then the guy said something which we both thought was something like "That doesn't matter, it is all the same." However, it must have been something else that he said, because we and our new book were excused without paying anything. Whew!

Because I am finally employed, we are now allowed to get the much cheaper statutory (public) health insurance! Because my income is very low (only 41 hrs/mo), and the price of statutory insurance is based on income, we will probably save a lot.

If I have any personal experiences with the insurance system, I will be sure to post them! I have heard some interesting things. Several people in my grad school program love to express their disapproval of the current sytsem, wherein the poor have public insurance and the rich can buy private insurance and get better care. They get appointments faster, and can get the best care. The public system is unable to provide the best care to everyone because the cost would cause the system to collapse. (This is all just what I have heard.) I wonder if this is better or worse than the US, where some people just aren't insured at all. I would think having some insurance, even if not as good as what some others get, is better than having nothing at all, sitting there sick, wondering how bad you should let it get before you finally see a doctor. It will be interesting to experience this different system. (Although, hopefully I will not have to do so very often!)
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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Citizens of Heidelberg rejoice in unison:

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"SONNENSCHEIN!!!"


The freaking sun actually shone all day today, for the first time in...I don't really know how long. Far too long. This was also typical in the Boston in spring, and I never realize how bad I need the sun until I wonder why I'm so crabby and then notice the sun hasn't come out in over a week. This is typical winter weather for Heidelberg - gray and wet. Since today was finally sunny and very clear, it seemed like the entire town was out for a walk. We decided this was the perfect opportunity to finally ride the Bergbahn (aka funicular railway) to the top of the Koenigstuhl, or "King's Chair", the highest hill near Heidelberg. There are two railways. The first starts in the Kornmarkt in the Altstadt and goes about halfway up the hill, making a stop at the castle. It's much more modern than the second, which goes to the top of the hill, and is kind of scary and rickety. The cars work on pulleys - as one car goes up, the other comes down. The view from the top on a clear day like today is completely worth the price, and any anxiety you might get from the steep incline of the Bergbahn (up to 43%!).
We'll have more photos up from today soon, but we don't have so many so I might put them in with whatever the next batch is!
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Thursday, January 11, 2007

What are your favorite words?

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It's much easier to appreciate words simply for their sound when learning a new language. In one's native language, the sound of the word is so tied up in the word's meaning, one might never notice how nice it just sounds. A news article was out a while back showing that a survey indicated people thought "mother" was the most beautiful word in the English language. Just based on its sound, I don't think there's anything especially attractive about the word (this is subjective of course). In fact, it's a little on the ugly side. It's mothers themselves that are beautiful, and the meaning changes our view of the sound.

This is part of the reason why I am so interested in names: while they have meaning, their meanings are not second nature like vocabulary words, and they can be easily appreciated based on sound alone. The same can be said in the early stages of learning a foreign language: though you know a word's meaning, it is new and the meaning doesn't yet eclipse the sound in one's mind. Here are some of my favorite and least favorite German and English words, based on sound alone. There are fewer in English for the reasons above, of course.

Share your own in the comments if you have them - in any language!

German favorites:

immer (always) - Much more simple and streamlined than its English equivalent. I love the sound of the short i and the look of the double m.
zwanzig (twenty) - Pronouced roughly "tsvantsich", with the "ch" representing a sound which does not occur in English (the closest thing is probably "sh" - and in fact, that is how it is pronounced in some German dialects, including the one spoken in Heidelberg). I love the complexity of the "tsv" sound. The whole word sounds sort of dark and dramatic, which is hilarious considering its mundane meaning.
liebling (favorite) - It sounds sweet and diminutive, in a good way. Even better is that this is used to build longer words. Your "favorite word" is your Lieblingswort.
Zug (train) - Pronounced "tsook". How fun does that sound to ride!?

There are a couple of words which I'm not sure I like based only on sound, but I might just like the way people say them: normalerweise (usually/normally) and genau (exactly). I've never heard genau said in the sort of pushy way that Americans say "Exactly." It's very relaxed.

English favorites:

cinnamon (zimt) - There's the short i again followed by a soft double letter. The s sound at the beginning makes it all the more fun to say.
Limey - I know this is a slur for the British, but it just rolls off one's tongue. It doesn't sound insulting at all, it sounds friendly.

German least favorites:

manchmal (sometimes) - The ch sound here is the same as at the end of zwanzig, but in the middle of the m and n, it is really difficult to make, and sounds mealy and unattractive. The -mal at the end just reminds me of all things unfortunate thanks to my past study of Spanish - normally this isn't a problem with 'mal' words, but when combined with the nasty sound, it puts it right over the edge.

Broetchen ("little bread" or roll) - The "oe" (better written as an o with an umlaut, but I'm not interested in digging up the character map right now) is another sound not occuring in English. The closest approximation is the sound of the letter "u" in "furnace". It's not a pretty sound, especially when it comes after an "r" and right before trying to make that "ch" sound, here again the same one that occurs in zwanzig. It's an ugly jumble with nothing to lighten it up. They taste so good, though...

Ort (place) - It's hard to redeem the "rt" sound, and this word has nothing to do it - the "o" only makes it somehow worse, and even comically bad.

English least favorites:

I'm actually having a hard time with this category. There are definitely some words I hate, but I still can't determine if it's purely the sound or if the meaning is playing a role. For instance, panties. I can barely type this word; I find it so atrocious. Pants is wicked ugly too, but it doesn't get to me like panties does, and I know I'm not the only one because I've had this conversation with many people. The word just sounds dirty and diminutive in a bad way. The more enunciated the t, the worse it sounds. But is it just the sound? I'm not sure. Chat is another...I always hated the clipped sound of it, but as the word became more common due to its usage as a reference to the internet, it started to bother me less. Maybe I only disliked its context or the type of people who used it? Not sure.
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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Wednesday Check In

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I'm not sure about the new Blogger version. Logging in has suddenly become a bit of a production! Something isn't working right. Unfortunately it doesn't look like I can revert to the old version so hopefully it will improve soon!

I started working this week! It's not very much, but finally it gives me something a little more stimulating to do between class periods, to keep my mind more on epidemiology and less on the washing machine's latest antics, for example. I have also signed up for intensive German for three weeks in February! I'm still waiting for my epiphany, where suddenly German doesn't sound so much like white noise to me anymore and starts sounding like communication. (That's a bit of an exaggeration, but when I realize how easily I can tune out German, I start to think I ought to know it better by now!)

I stopped at DM the other day (kind of like a drugstore only without the drugs - cleaning products, cosmetics, some food, toiletries, etc) and was surprised when I got the receipt. Our sales tax went up with the new year - from 16% to 19%! Thankfully, taxes are included in the marked price here, so I never really notice them. To think, sales tax in Boston was only 5%!

The Deutsche Post came through for Sara! If there were a job for people who could send the best mail, she would be the perfect candidate. The outside was all classically wrapped in brown paper and decorated. Every present was individually wrapped in an interesting piece of magazine, poster, or even bus schedule. She sent me the world's coolest salt and pepper shakers (I really need to get photos), incredibly detailed little sushi stickers and Japanese food magnets, a book about the dodo bird (shared for me and Damon ;) ), and a copy of my grandma's high school graduation picture, framed. For Damon she also got a philosophy book and a book on music study in Germany! THANK YOU SARA!!!!!
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Thursday, January 04, 2007

We've Been Found!

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Today I reported to work at 9am. Actually, I was a few minutes late (how embarrassing in punctual Germany, right?...please, I've given up all those stereotypes by now!). The secretary wasn't there. The post-doc wasn't there. It turns out they are both still on vacation! A few people were around, including a guy I know from my classes. None of them knew what I was supposed to do either, so I just came back home.

Hence, I was here when there was a buzz at the buzzer in mid-afternoon. After a lot of trouble trying to hear this guy over the speaker, I went down to the front door. He showed me an ID card. His last name was actually Huber! But I had no idea why he was showing me this card or what it said. After a lot of stumbling in my bad German and his bad English (he was trying to ask me if we were army-affiliated and I couldn't even understand the word "army"), I figured it out. He was the TV tax man, and he found us and our TV, and was here to let us know we had better register the thing right away. (People here in the US Army don't have to pay this.) He asked me about a million times if I understood, which I did all too well. He gave me a brochure in English and the number of an English-speaking guy to call to set it up.

In Germany, one must register all TVs and radios they own with an organization called the GEZ. Then, they must pay a monthly fee for ownership of these. The fee pays for public television and radio. Presumably they are both excellent here, because the fee for a TV is over 17 EUR per month per television! We don't even really watch TV that much, but I guess we should start, eh? I wonder if multiple TVs per household are common here as they are in the US. And if so, do they really register every single one?

Other notes:
* Bear with me on the blog changes. I just upgraded to the new version of Blogger and wanted to try a different template option. I'm going to see if I like it before redoing the links that previously appeared on the side.

* Remember when I was grossed out that milk even came in a box...even the normal, refrigerated kind? Now, we only buy H-milk....the kind that can just sit on a shelf until you open it. I'm past the gross-out and now just see it as so convenient. We never have to worry about running out - we can store plenty extra in the cupboard!

* Speaking of beverages, I got something called Johannisbeernektar at the grocery store because I had a strange craving for dark-colored fruits and I just couldn't resist the name. Johannisbeer = Johnberry! (It's currant.) Forget Apfelschorle, now I am on a Johannisbeerschorle kick.
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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Getting A Job

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September 20, 2006: One week after arriving in Germany, I meet with the professor as an interview. We think I can start working in mid-October. Someone will let me know if the position gets approved.

September 27, 2006: I get an email from the professor's secretary that my application has been sent to the personnel office and they hope I can start working November 1. I never filled out an application, but she must have done that for me. I presume they are going to let me know if the application is approved.

October 25, 2006: I haven't heard anything at all, from anyone. I email the professor's secretary to ask her if she has heard anything about the status of my application.

October 25, 2006, two hours later: I receive an email from the personnel department, telling me that I was approved to start working on November 1, but that no one told me because they didn't have my contact information until today, when the professor's secretary forwarded my email to them. It wasn't on the application? His secretary never shared it with them? They never contacted her to see if she had it? They want me to come in immediately to sign the contract so I can start working, and bring my work permit with me. Of course I do not have a work permit because I need a letter from the personnel office in order to get one.

October 25, 2006, fifteen minutes later: The personnel office emails me the letter I need to get my work permit from the immigration office.

October 26, 2006: I take the letter to the immigration office. The woman there takes it from me and says I'll get a letter in the next week telling me whether I'm going to be allowed to get a work permit. I let the personnel office know about this and they ask for the number of the immigration office so they can get it through faster.

November 4, 2006: I haven't heard anything from the immigration office, but since I will be in class until the 16th anyway, the personnel office tells me it will be fine and there's plenty of time.

November 13, 2006: Personnel office emails to tell me that the immigration office just sent it to the labour office for approval and this could take two to three weeks.

November 28, 2006: I still haven't heard anything from anyone about anything. I email the personnel office to check the status. No response.

December 5, 2006: I get an email from the professor's secretary, who tells me I will be employed starting January 1, and I must send her a complete schedule of my exact hours for the next nine months, because this is required by the labor office. Of course I have no idea about the exact hours I can be working for the next nine months. I email the post-doc I'll be working with to try and gauge just how exact this thing has to be.

December 7, 2006: After an email from the post-doc about how stupid the bureaucracy is and that the hours don't have to be perfect, I fill in an approximate nine-month schedule and email it to the secretary. I still haven't heard anything about whether I can get a work permit, but assume that it must have somehow moved along since I had to do this schedule. Now I figure I have to wait for that to be approved too and someone will let me know what I have to do next.

December 21, 2006: I get an email from the personnel office - a totally different person this time. They wanted to know if I had my work permit yet. No, I don't - are they ready for me yet? No one has let me know.

December 22, 2006: Yes, they are ready for you. We sent them a letter four days ago. Go to the immigration office immediately. Then bring the permit in to us between the 27th and the 29th - but we won't be here, so go to this other guy instead. By the time I get the email on Friday afternoon, the immigration office is closed until Wednesday morning.

December 27, 2006: Take pains to make it to the immigration office in the morning before catching a train to Johannisberg. They haven't received the letter so I can't get the permit.

December 29, 2006: Go to the immigration office again. I have to hurry so I can get it to the guy at the personnel office they told me to take it to. Of course, I don't know if they even got the letter yet. It turns out they did. I finally got my work permit and a tax card. I take all this over to the personnel office. The guy is not there. They tell me to come back January 2 in the morning.

January 2, 2007: Go to the personnel office. This time they let me in, but the guy isn't in his office. Luckily, one of the original two people I had emailed with WAS in and she let me sign my work contract. Now I can work.

My first scheduled day is tomorrow, starting at 9am. In what seems to have become typical German style in my mind, I haven't heard a damn thing about where I'm supposed to go or who I'm supposed to see when I get there.

The moral of the story is not to count on anyone telling you anything. Also, if you can get a student visa instead and are only going to be working part-time, that is probably much faster and easier. We thought it would be fastest to just set me up on Damon's Visa at first and then work out the work permit part of it, but that was wrong!
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Monday, January 01, 2007

Germans Don't Fear Fire

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We've been hearing a loud bang now and again over the last week outside our apartment. We were told that fireworks are only legal here for one time of the year - the week between Christmas and New Year's.
Throughout yesterday the banging started to happen more often. Around 11pm, we decided to go out to join the crowds. All of Heidelberg smelled like gunpowder. Amateurs were everywhere tossing firecrackers and setting off fireworks. I actually got beaned a couple of times. As we got closer to midnight, there were more and more - everywhere. It felt like anarchy; I can't see anything like it happening in the US. It was simultaneously really cool, and sort of terrifying. (We did see a couple ambulances coming through the crowd on the other side.)

Here's a video, which doesn't even begin to really impart the feeling of what it was like, but hey. We tried.

Guten Rutsch!
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