Observations (Pt. 1)

06/02/10 | by Charlie [mail] | Categories: Welcome, The Life

Germans have a habit of closing doors and leaving them closed. For instance, in an office building in America. A worker would generally leave his door open if he were available, and close it when on a phone call, away, or in a meeting. This extents to other areas as well, I repeatedly found bathroom doors closed in peoples houses, and other private environments. Maybe it's just me, but I always find it more clear in America. If the door is open, you can go in, otherwise you can't. (Well I guess you can knock anyways). But in the case of the office, you generally wouldn't.

I think this is points to Americans avoidance of conflict. IN much the same manner, an American coverstaion might go something along the lines of:

A: "Man my computer keeps making this weird noise."
B: "I could look at it for you"
A: "When? Now?"
B: "Let's shoot for sometime next week" (And it actually gets looked at in a month)

Germans would probably not offer to help because they were either busy or not technically able to (At least that's what I'm told). I'm not advocating either approach, just stating differences. Even on the street, Germans seem to be more willing to bump past people. A lot of customs in America are centered around avoiding conflict. Even we we aren't qualified to help someone, we'll probably say we'd like to anyways, just to be helpful.

The Department of State is even less helpful in Germany than in America. Not only is there a huge line, but they close at 12...noon. Meaning they are open a total of about 4 hours on a given day. Gah!

Final thought: I've discovered that the word "Not" means emergency. Which if you didn't know German could lead to problems. For instance, when I saw "Notbremsen" meaning Emergency Brakes, I couldn't help but think: Oh, it's just telling you these aren't the brakes...look someone else. Perhaps even more problematic would be the "Notausgang" meaning Not-an-exit or Emergency exit depending on how you look at it :-P

Getting my Germany On

05/30/10 | by Charlie [mail] | Categories: The Life

Now that the rapid pace of tourist life is behind me, I've been relaxing with some old exchange friends and meeting some new intern people through my program.

I had to return to Berlin for an orientation program, which gave me time to see the German Technological Museum (For only 2.50!). Boy was it worth it! One of the best museums I've ever been to, it was absolutely huge and covered naval, aeronautic, rail, photographic, film, artistic, and brewing technology through the centuries. Definitely an attraction worth visiting in Berlin.

After visiting the Embassy, our group headed out for a night of clubbing. This was actually the first club I've ever been to. They definitely create an interesting environment. It cost men twice as much as women to get in, and the women got 10 $1 off coupons. We showed up at 10:30 which it turns out is a bit too early, but by 11:30 things were hopping and we had a great night.

One thing I've been noticing everywhere I go are these little garden colonies (I thought they were trailer parks at first). Rather, they are a series of about 10m x 10m gardens with 2m x 2m huts on them that people purchase. When I arrived in Hannover on Saturday, I was lucky enough to experience one. The one I went to wasn't part of a colony, but rather was tucked behind a warehouse and fenced in. It's truly amazing to enter one. Passing through the fence I was instantly transported from a commercial area to the natural feel of this huge garden. His measured about 40m x 40m with a small hut of 4m x 6m.

My friend plays on a Men's casual (As casual as soccer ever is in Germany) team. And this gathering was with most of the team. We watched the exhibition game of Germany vs. Hungry while grilling dinner and drinking beer. A very classic and fun German night. But it wasn't over yet...

After the game, the finals of Eurovision Musik Contest were on. This is apparently HUGE in Europe (And I'd never heard of it). It's basically like American Idol, but only occurs once a year, and each country in Europe only has one contestant. The contest requires that all singers be "Undiscovered" or new. It also has apparently been going on since the 1930's, and has lead to people like Celene Dion and ABBA being discovered. So big thing. Also, voting is done in such a way, that you cannot vote for the country you are calling from (I.E. Germans cannot actually vote for the German singer), which is interesting.

Anyways, the German contestant was from Hannover (The city where I am) so it was a big deal. So for viewing this show, we left the garden with a bucket of beer and a noise maker, and hopped on the street bahn. After awarding a random person on the bus with a beer, we headed inside one of the players' house. His basement is apparently just a stone room which is actually a bar. So we spent the rest of the night there.

As it turns out, the German singer was very good and ended up winning, which made for a very exciting night. We went to see her arrive back in Hannover today, where thousands of people greeted her in front of city hall. Very cool to be a part of.

That's the news! Glad I finally figured out what those little shacks were. Soon I'll be settling down in Munich for my internship, but the travel will hopefully continue. Till next time!

Zum Schluss

05/26/10 | by Charlie [mail] | Categories: The Life

I wanted to start this *final* trip post with a few tips for people who might be traveling around Europe like we are. Transportation is especially important to understand. For instance, although we have a Eurail Pass, the French insisted on charging us a premium on top of our Eurail pass to ride their trains. This means that traveling to France can cost considerably more than other countries.

In addition, I discovered that Thalys has a monopoly on the Paris ? Brussles route. This means that if you travel from Paris to Belgium or Amsterdam, you?ll probably only find Thalys options. Like all poorly conceived French trains, this train only has a certain number or pass fares, which are nearly impossible to book on their website (I couldn?t figure out how). Thus it can run over $100 per person.

As an alternative, I want to suggest the route we took. With a little planning it might be significantly cheaper, especially with a Eurail pass. First, go from Paris Nord to Lile Europe on a TGV, this is an hour ride and we reserved our seats (Mandatory) for 3 euros. Despite this, the train was somehow overbooked and people were in our seats, so we found other empty ones and squatted.

After Lile, take another TGV to Brussles (Another 3 Euro, although we had to pay 22 for real tickets since the pass tickets had run out). Finally, take the Netherlands train (Free with Eurail) from Brussles to Amsterdam. This whole mess of trains was fairly easy to navigate, and only added about 1:20 to the total journey time. Just a suggestion if you are doing cheap travel.

In addition, Paris has a very good subway system. However, upon arrival it was almost impossible to buy tickets. Chances are, what you want is a pack of 10 T+ Tickets. They come individually, so make sure you can keep track of all of those little stubs. In the main train station, it costs 11.60, but the machine doesn?t accept bills (Credit card reader didn?t work either)?so be ready to find change. Once we got past that hump, the trains come every 2 minutes (6 off-peak), so it was easy to get around. One must keep their ticket on the Paris subway, you sometimes need it to get out of the station. This was in contrast to Germany, where we literally could have never paid for public transportation.

It was a very long trip from Würzburg to Paris, but we arrived on a Thursday and found out that Musee D?Orsay was open late, so we ran over there. The plan was to take the RER over to catch our dinner cruise at 8:30, but the RER only runs every 10-15 minutes and the one we took decided it didn?t want to go more than a stop, so we had to run the rest of the way. After a slow-motion worthy long jump onto our departing boat, we enjoyed a fantastic dinner cruise with delicious food and a nice atmosphere. In case you?re in Paris, it was the Bateaux Parisieans. We took the 8:30 dinner cruise on the Diamant which was a beautiful boat. Reserve ahead! We only got a seat because it was Thursday.

Our hostel was once again ridden with groups of high-school/middle-school group trips. Every hostel we?ve stayed at has had tons of school groups running in and out. I guess it?s just the cool thing to do, like Mackinac Island or NYC for us!
Our first stop of the day was Sainte Chapelle. Like every other tourist attraction and church in Europe, this beautiful chapel was undergoing restoration. Unfortunately, this blocked our view of the alter and windows behind. Despite this, it was definitely worth the visit. This was the filet mingon of stained glass. We?ve been sampling churches our entire trip and this was the best. Throughout the rather small chapel, there are ~1,100 assorted biblical images sorted chronologically and ranging from Genesis to Revelations.

After this we headed over to Notre Dame, which is pretty self-explanatory. Unlike Sainte Chapelle, it?s still functional. We saw confessions and a prayer service going on while we were there. After a quick lunch along the river, we worked our way over to the Louvre Gardens and Avenue des Champs-Élysées. We sampled some overpriced crepes and street performances on our way there and after narrowly avoiding sunburn headed back.

We enjoyed a Prix Fixe dinner, which seems to be the norm for lunch and dinner in Paris, later that night before wandering over to Boulevard St-Germain (near the Latin Quarter) for crepes and people watching. This is definitely a great place to wander around in during dinner.

AMSTERDAM
Our last city on the tour, we took the aforementioned round-about train to Amsterdam where we met two of my friends from the VQ (Improv Group). We made our way across town and settled down in our hostel before heading back to the city for some wandering.

Let me take a minute to stop and say that Amsterdam transportation is by far the most confusing of all the systems we?ve used. The routes are ok, but only run until 12:30ish after which night buses go into effect. Unfortunately, these busses cost 3.50 Euros per ride, so be careful when making evening plans.

Now there?s also day passes for various lengths of time, which the maps claim was be purchased onboard. Unfortunately, it seems Amsterdam is in the midst of a transitional phase, where they are switching from strip cards to re-chargable prox cards. So our transportation payment was extremely inefficient: We initially tried to buy day passes, but the driver had run out of them (as had our second one), so instead, we purchased the re-chargable prox card. Only to find that we couldn?t actually recharge them because they required a Dutch credit card. Having completely failed, we bought a strip card and eventually a 24-hour pass.

Lesson: Until Amsterdam discovers automatic ticket machines, go to the information hut (It?s somewhere around the main station on the east side), and buy a 48-hour pass.

To make up for this absurdity, however, the Dutch were kind enough to introduce us to their mini-pancakes and thick crepe pancakes. They were ultra-delicious and the highlight of the day. The following day, we set off on our busy sight-seeing tour. We decided to see the Rijks museum instead of the Van Gough museum which ended up being very cool (Lots of Rembradts).

Amsterdam rant #2: No one does it as well as the Germans. On the museum front, the Dutch decided that I needed to pay 12.50 to enter. There was no student discount. What? Yeah, the only student offer was a 30-some dollar thing that gave you free entrance to almost all museums in the Netherlands. This would have been a great offer if we weren?t only visiting for two-days. I wish they just had single entry student tickets.

The red light district was also an interesting attraction. It?s just so unique to see that area on a Saturday Night; very different. The best experience in Amsterdam, however, was definitely the Heineken Experience. Although it costs 15 euros, it?s definitely worth it. The museum includes tons of cool history, an archive of every Heineken ad, a 4-D video, an amazing TV room (The ceiling is sculpted using beer bottles), and of course beer. We loved the bars at Heineken and wished we could have stayed the entire night. Instead, we found a fantastic dinner café and then watched my Munich soccer team lose, and watched the third period of the Russia ? Czech Republic game. A very satisfying birthday.

Wrap-up

Looking back on our rapid fire trip of Germany, Paris and Amsterdam, I think it was a good amount of time. Being young and restless, I can?t stand to stay in a city for more than 3 days. The only place we could have used another day, was probably Berlin and perhaps Paris. In Berlin we didn?t get to see the museums I wanted to because they were closed on Monday, and Paris we missed Versailles which might have been neat. It might have been nice to have time for day-trips outside some of the cities, but time was short. We also didn?t do a lot of shopping in any city, because we just didn?t have room to take anything back.

Having finished over 14 days of rapid traveling, I can tell you that it was a tad busier perhaps than even the Amazing Race (They got 12 hour rest breaks!). With the Amazing Race being only 23 days long, I think I'm definitely ready, there are even a few things I learned along the way.

If you have a chance, take an overnight train. I didn?t sleep much, but it was so much fun meeting 3 other random people and just chatting about various odd topics. You never know who you?ll end up with in your cabin! Also, remember that museums are closed on Monday, and stores are closed on Sunday. Finally, do something random and just go with it. Ordering Liver was probably the worst mistake of the trip, but it?s also one of the most memorable. Things might seem awful at certain points, but they are also the things you?ll remember 40 years down the road when you see liver on the menu again.
As for me, I?m off to stay with various family friends for a week or so before doing orientation and heading back to Munich to get ready for work. The pictures will continue, as will the blogs, but hopefully they?ll be a bit shorter and more on-topic.

If you like vacation photos, you can checkout my Europe photo album here:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2018976&id=1252230433&l=feb110ca1f
And again, be sure to bookmark and check out the photo challenge this summer featuring the talent of David, Jared and myself, lots of great photos already up!
http://photochallenge.tumblr.com

Just got my Germany National Soccer Team Jacket, so now I'm ready to cozy up in Deutschland for the the rest of the summer. Thanks for reading!

Halfway Gone

05/24/10 | by Charlie [mail] | Categories: The Life

Well we?ve passed the halfway mark for our whirlwind tour of Europe! (And now even further since it took me so long to get internet to post this) It?s been pretty taxing running around frantically trying to see all the sights, but we?ve been doing pretty well thus far. Today is a bit more relaxed as we have to take about 6 hours to ride to Paris. Why would we go so far away from the motherland you might wonder? Well weather.com, the source for moderately accurate meteorological predictions, claimed that we could see this fabled celestial body called the sun there. Thus far on our trip we?ve only glimpsed it for a half day in Berlin so we?re off in search of better weather.

Munich (München) was a fantastic city. We only spent a day there, but it was enough time to find my apartment, my office and to orient myself with the area. We arrived in the morning following an overnight train, and had just enough time to pickup my orientation information, see most of the city, and lose my orientation information again.
Perhaps the most enchanting thing in Munich was the line of 8 butchers in a row, some of which featured Pferdfleisch, literally translating to Horse Meat. I have yet to try this, but am intrigued nonetheless.
Also intriguing are the square pillows which are quite prevalent throughout Germany. I simply don?t understand them?why are they square? It makes sleeping very awkward without folding it over. And how are you supposed to spoon with a square object? I suppose there are still a few cultural differences that will take getting used to.

One thing I?m totally used to is eating Döner Kebob everyday for lunch. Döner is, in theory, similar to a Gyro, however it is a Turkish based sandwich which has been adapted to please the German palate. In Berlin, we literally had to travel across town to the Turkish district just for lunch so that we could have some good döner (I was having withdrawal symptoms). This magnificent dish is created my scraping/shaving the meat off a lamb shank and into a waiting piece of bread/roll. Usually lettuce, onions, tomatoes, red cabbage and possibly other things are then added to the mix. Finally, the all-important special sauce is tossed into the mix. This sauce is usually what makes or breaks a particular döner shop.

Back to travel, after Munich we took a day and visited Würzburg and Nurnberg. Unfortunately, it literally rained the entire day which made walking around miserable. It was however very nice to revisit some of these towns I?d seen a few years ago. We also visited the Residenz in Würzburg, which was absolutely stunning. It?s essentially a very large, very old mansion with amazingly ornate and opulent decorations and a wonderful garden in back, definitely a sight to see if you?re in the area. Unfortunately, they didn?t allow pictures so I can?t show you!

On the picture front, I?m still having trouble getting internet over our travels, but I did manage to put up a picture on our photo challenge blog for the summer. I?ll be posting most of my pictures there instead of on my gallery over the summer (Or maybe both!). Be sure to check out the photo challenge which will feature frequent photos from myself in Germany, my friend David in China, and suitemate Jared covering the states. Should be a pretty cool, so check it out:
http://photochallenge.tumblr.com

Currently we?re speeding across the countryland at 280 km/h towards Paris. (Which I'll tell you all about later tomorrow!) It?s still dreary outside, but there?s a ways to go yet, still hope for the sun. Till later ICE, ICE, baby, baby.

Die Hauptstadt

05/18/10 | by Charlie [mail] | Categories: The Life

This episode of the Germany Chronicles finds our protagonist in Berlin, the capital of Germany. On Saturday, we took a short train ride from Hamburg to Berlin, unbeknownst to us, the finals of the German Soccer League (I think) were taking place in Berlin that night. Thus, our 1:30 train ride got considerably more exciting when opposing legions of fans ended up seated across from each other on the train. There was a lot of drinking and a lot of dissing, and a jolly good time was had by all.

The main Berlin train station is by far one of the coolest/biggest stations in Germany. It features a multi-level setup but is entirely open, very pretty. Once there, we proceeded to our hostel located 10 minutes south around the Kreuzberg area and then to KaDeWe. If you've ever been to the large Macy's in New York, KaDeWe is about twice that size. It's 7 floors of department store goodness. I actually couldn't afford a single item in the store (Headbands ran about 30 Euros). But for those who could, one could find everything from a nice evening gown (~800 Euro) to some designer baby outfits (~100 Euros).

Again, floating throughout the store were groups of soccer fans loudly singing their teams anthem. Later that night (The game was actually at 7:30), we watched the second half at a bar where I happily cheered on my home team, Bayern-München, who won 4-0. Yay.

Sunday is an interesting day in Germany. Unlike America, all stores are actually closed on Sunday...the entire day. So instead of shopping, we took advantage of the first nice day the entire trip (It was over 50 and not raining!) and visited all the classic Berlin sights: East side gallery, Berliner Dom, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Unter Den Linden, usw. We actually encountered one of Meredith's old camp friends whilst walking under the Brandenburg Gate, small world eh?

Food in Berlin was generally hit or miss. Lunch was a struggle for us. The first day we ended up in the equivilant of a restaurant in Ikea, which was fine, but not actually that good. Hoping to salvage our culinary experience, we went to a German restaurant the second day. After reviewing the menu, it became clear that I knew about 10% of the words on the menu, so we picked the item which had the most vocab words (Mashed Potatos, Apple, Onion, Berlin-Style)...sounds good right? The only word I didn't actually know was "Leber", which in hindsight should have been pretty obvious, but I figured it was meat...maybe lamb or something. Well it turns out that word means liver...yumm. So we had Berlin-style liver, a true German delicacy?

On Monday, we cleaned up a few of the other sights we missed. Unfortunately we didn't get a chance to visit some of the museums as they are all closed on Monday, even the memorials. Still, a full day. Then we took an overnight train to Munich, and well here we are, tired and hungry in a coffee shop.

As it turns out though, Overnight trains are perhaps the best place to practice German. We met a Math grad student from Austria, a California guy who moved to Berlin randomly after college and has lived there for the past 7 years, and a crazy Bavarian history/academic type who had great stories. We discussed the (comical) etymology of various German words (Durchfall, ubergeben and ertrinken meaning diarrhea, to throw up, and to drown respectively) after which the academic explained ad nauseam the process by which beer was made, of which I understood almost nothing. But it was fun nonetheless.

That's the trip summary so far. It's been a busy few days without internet, but those pictures will come eventually. I'm off to find my apartment for the summer now, bis später!

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A collection of musings from my time at Yale along with some thoughts about my "Freshman year of life" in San Francisco.

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