Archive for January, 2010

One Night in Munich: A Very Full Friday

January 31, 2010 Leave a comment

I have an almost uncanny ability to remember funny things, even, or perhaps especially when I’ve have a drink or two. It’s a useful ability especially after the events of Friday. Simon’s party went off with a bang. Between the incredible nut-cracking efforts and the strange attempts to make things explode with the mind, it’s no surprise to me the beer went so fast. Roberto and I had to cut out at 6 to for our overdue meeting with our landlord, an incredibly old, slow-talking guy whose only job as far as I can tell was to make sure we put our garbage in the right bins and don’t break anything in the place. Simon came back and we said goodbye one last time, although he may be back to get more of his stuff so it might not be too long until we see him again.

Ross had invited Roberto to come out with us but he wasn’t feeling too well so around 9:30 I ventured back onto the trains, beer in pocket for a night on the town (I actually accidentally bought diet beer. A mistake I never want to make again, it’s just awful). I met Ross at his stop and together we made our way to that now familiar apartment, the weekend party pad steeped in beer, fun, and exotic accents. As we walked in, Morgan was winning at Speed, Eva and Mauritz were chatting and smoking in the kitchen, Kristyn was mixing a drink and Fraser was just starting to get ready. Jamie came up not too much later, having gone shopping, and I settled in for a good time. Ross immediately went into picture taking mode (he does so love that flash) while I discussed the merits of various Dutch cities with Roel (apparently Rotterdam is quite nice, and I should visit Utrecht). Barbara, the Dutch girl from the previous night showed up and also gave me some counsel on the Netherlands in between attempting to catch up on drinking and microwaving some leftover noodles to the approximate temperature of the Sun. She probably burned her tongue, and brought her tongue stud dangerously close to the melting point, but she had to eat quickly as it was apparently time to head out. On a side note, the whole just beginning the night out after midnight is vastly amusing to me in light of the incredibly short hours most Bavarian businesses (except restaurants) keep. But it does certainly add something to not go out at night until it’s technically the next morning.

I had no idea where we were going, so Read more…

Categories: Germany, Personal

Irish Oz, Dr. J, and Die Bank (x2)

January 29, 2010 3 comments

It’s important to remind myself how lucky I am, living and working here in Germany. The temptation to fall into thinking of my current lifestyle as routine and dull is always there, especially when I’m dealing with the tedious chores attendant upon any big move. Opening a bank account is boring wherever you are, the only exciting aspect of doing so on Wednesday was how I was signing documents I could not read and had to simply trust that they said what the banker helping me said they did. The driving snow and cold, windy air isn’t very conducive to blessings-counting either, but opportunities to appreciate this strange foreign environment abound if I look for them.

Such was the case Tuesday evening. I met Ross after work and went into the city, meeting a former ESO employee named Chun near the Ludwig Maximilian University. We went briefly into one of the buildings, a gorgeous structure that was clearly what American universities try to emulate in baroque architecture and large neo-classical statues of lounging philosophers. A block down, we went to a cheap Italian restaurant. Well, mostly cheap. The food was very reasonably priced, but we were all shocked at the expensive non-alcoholic beverages. The waiter was the first I’d seen who didn’t speak English, but I did get some good tips on basic German from Chun, in between discussing the merits of San Francisco (where he’s from) and Seattle.

After dinner, we made our way to a nearby Irish pub, where a large Australia Day celebration was in progress. As it was also Karaoke Night as well, I was treated to badly sung renditions of “Land Down Under” and “Beds on Fire,” accompanied by shouts of “Ozzie Ozzie Ozzie.” The Germans in the bar sang too, although they tended to pick rather depressing songs, and not a hint of Bon Jovi or Journey did I hear. Colleen, another ESO employee, met us at the bar not long after we got there, and did an excellent job on “Son of a Preacher Man” and then a duet with Chun on “Love Shack” that made me laugh out loud. Read more…

Categories: Germany, Personal

Dr. StrangeCelsius or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Kilogram

January 26, 2010 1 comment

It’s -5 degrees out. Now when I hear that temperature, my first thought is to wonder when the glaciers will get here, but then the penny drops. In Celsius, -5 isn’t immediate frostbite weather, its mid-20’s Fahrenheit. While that’s cold, it’s certainly not wooly mammoth territory. But temperature conversion isn’t the only tricky adaptation I’ve had to make. The metric system for weights and distance and everything else takes some getting used to for a staunch mile/pound thinker like me. For short-term trips I was fine with doing approximate conversions in my head but staying here long-term, I’ve decided to do my best to think in kilograms and meters. The bag of noodles is a kilogram, there’s two kilometers between my apartment and work, a liter of water costs 1.29 Euros. The hard part is to not do automatic calculations in my head when I see a distance or weight but just to accept the metric term. So far I’ve had limited success but I’ve only just begun. Perhaps by the time I’m done I’ll be able to slide over sentences like “I had to walk half a kilometer with a 10 kilogram bag in my hand and now its 25 degrees and I’ve sweated 2 liters in half an hour.” I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to think of Euros as real though, they just look too much like Monopoly money.

Categories: Germany, Personal

Keeping Busy in Munich

January 25, 2010 Leave a comment

The best thing about German nightclubs is that I am not the worst dancer there. Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s the sauerkraut, but whatever the reason, most Germans have as much rhythm as a broken metronome.

I needed the laugh after a suddenly hectic work day on Friday. There was a flurry of assignments sent my way that afternoon, which for the most part was quite nice since I like writing and now that I’ve finished going through all the press releases I’m finally doing a lot more of it. Still, it was a relief to take off in the evening and spend a quiet night reading and generally vegetating on my couch/bed with a glass of wine and turkey and cheese (gouda) sandwich.

The main reason I took an easy night was so that Saturday morning I could sleep as long as I wanted and still get up reasonably early. It didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped but by 10:30 in the morning I made it to the train for my planned day of sight-seeing around Munich. With my trusty guidebook and a vague understanding of the geography of central Munich, I emerged in Marienplatz (basically the very center of town) in time to see the glockenspiel show atop the Neu Rathaus (New Town Hall).

I can describe what I saw, but no mere words can capture the experience. I watched as a lovely tune rang out and wooden statues of Duke Wilhelm V and his bride Renata of Lothringen (from the 16th century) watched a joust where a Bavarian wooden knight jousts and defeats a wooden knight of Lothringen.  As if this were not enough, the show continues with medieval coppers (also wood) performing their celebrated “let’s prevent the plague” dance. The small golden bird atop the building chirped three times, and the show was over. I imagine that’s what being in a cuckoo clock is like, only even louder because of the bells ringing in all the nearby churches.

And wow, are there a lot of them. Wandering down the pedestrian corridor I went to five separate churches (the ones mentioned by Rick Steves) and gawked at the elaborate architecture, the exquisite paintings and sculpture, and the sometimes spooky crypts and coffins. My favorite art is in St. Peter’s church with the huge fresco on the ceiling. My other favorite, in a “boy that’s amusing” way was the Damsenstift Church, whose life size wooden replica of the Last Supper was so realistic it actually made me hungry. Luckily it was but a few blocks to the Viktualienmarkt, a large open-air market that reminded me of Pike Place Market in Seattle, only with a lot more beer and a lot less fish throwing. Trying various goodies as I wandered from stall to stall, I settled on a turkey bratwurst and called myself content, if chilly. Read more…

Categories: Germany, Personal

Toytown and Cheese Sandwiches

January 22, 2010 5 comments

Making original observations on the differences between Europe and America is as difficult as…well, as finding cheddar cheese in Germany. As far as small but critical differences go, that one may have been the biggest surprise. Germans apparently love Gouda and abhor the rich, tangy bite of the king of cheese. I’m not sure how original that observation was, but it makes a nice change from the standard “look how easy it is to get alcohol here” stereotype I notice many Americans (including myself) are tempted to fall into when comparing cultures. Cheese is on my mind mainly because as far as cheap and easy lunches go, that’s what I’ve found is best. With so much pork (in everything) I find myself becoming, if not a vegetarian, then something very close to.

I’ve been so busy with work this week I really only think about food when I’m making my sandwich in the morning.  Between going through nearly 800 press releases to fix formatting errors and reprioritizing all 30,000 images on the website, I always have things to do. Luckily not all my work in menial, I’ve completed my first press release (although I’m not thrilled with the editing) and written material for several web pages, not to mention writing a support letter for another astronomy organization and doing quite a bit of editing (with my “native polish”) for others.

After work I’ve mainly been too tired to do much of anything until last night. My colleague Ross, from North Ireland, invited me to a bar for a Toytown event. Toytown is an organization in Germany for expatriates (usually English speakers) to meet their fellows and create connections and friendships while in a foreign land.  That sounded good to me so at about nine pm I met Ross in Marienplatz (the main center of Munich) and went to the Clubhouse Bar. With its English menus and old–time American film star pictures decor, the Clubhouse was clearly for non-locals. Still there were about forty people (the event was for “indecisive 20-somethings”) crammed into the pretty small area, crowding the bar to get beer or other drinks (each drink that night came with a free shot of some fruity, awful liquor that tasted like cough syrup) and I quickly met many fellow foreigners. What was most interesting to me was that none of the people I met were American, but instead came from every other corner of the English-speaking world: Ireland, England, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, it was a veritable smorgasbord of accent and dialect. Apparently its not uncommon for British companies to send young employees for six months or a year overseas as I learned from Roisin, a North Irish girl working for an aerospace company. It was strongly reminiscent of Semester at Sea, including the bartender pouring shots directly into the mouths of several girls (I didn’t meet them but I think I heard American accents there) and the inevitable “Don’t Stop Believing” playing over the bar sound system.  One thing I’ve noted among Europeans, especially those who haven’t been to America, is they all want to know if American colleges are like they are portrayed in movies and television, which can lead to some pretty lengthy, if funny explanations and comparisons with their own schools. I left about midnight and managed to make my way back to Garching to get up for work today. I expect I will do more Toytown events in the future if only to discover more bars and pubs in town.

This weekend I have big plans to explore Munich although some of the stuff I really want to see won’t be open until spring. Nonetheless I am very much looking forward to it, especially the prospect of being outside during daylight hours.

Categories: Germany, Personal

Police, Drugs, Blogs

January 21, 2010 Leave a comment

If you read my post about Salzburg yesterday and then saw it again today you might have noticed there is now a bracketed space with the words [substance removed] inside. My roommate Simon informed me, quite seriously, that it is not unheard of for German (or Austrian) police to search the internet for keywords matched with places and names and to actually investigate, based on one word, a large city name, and a few first names of people, the presence of illegal substances and put them on a list.  As barabaric, not to mention ludicrous, as this sounds to my American sensibilities, I respect his concern and changed it to what it is now. In the future those brackets will indicate similar such “protecting the innocent” moves on my part.  A glimpse at an unflattering piece of European culture…

Categories: Germany, Personal

Salzburg: More than Mozart

January 20, 2010 1 comment

The rest of my first work week went pretty smoothly, if a bit dully. The whole rising in the dark and leaving work in the dark aspect of my days puts a damper on making plans, although I did have a nice time hanging out with my roommates in our apartment. Friday though, I took advantage of an offer Simon had made Monday night at our oh so delicious Mexican dinner to travel with him to Salzburg where he lived (pre and soon post ESO) in a house with his girlfriend, his sister and four other housemates. Eager as always to grab opportunities like these when they come up, I accepted and Friday at 5 we hurried out from work to catch a series of trains leading from the office to Munich, and then onto the hour and a half train to Salzburg, crossing the apparently unimportant border into Austria without even a wilkommen sign or any sort of passport check. Simon, who makes this trip every weekend, bought some beer for me and him to share on the ride, and the conductor who took our tickets didn’t even blink at the sight, itself a surreal experience to one used to the rather more uptight views of transit personnel in America. Quite randomly, we saw someone Simon knew from his last train trip who totally coincidentally had also just graduated from Boston University, just a reminder of how small the world is I suppose. Once we arrived in Salzburg we took a bus to Simon’s place, a converted barn (really) on the northeast outskirts of the new city.

How to describe the house and the inhabitants? Well the most all-encompassing description would perhaps be “bohemian.” From the scattered cushions and strange homemade oil paintings interspersed with Asian or abstract wall hangings to the miasma of tobacco, incense, and cooking that clung to every nook and cranny, the house was like the distilled essence of teenage independence dreams. The constant reggae or similar sounds played in the living room for hours merely complemented the Bob Marley/Rastafarian shirts won under the dreadlocks and headbands sported by several of the housemates. Not that they were burn-outs by any means, just that they had taken certain aspects of American and general pop culture to their logical extremes. I met Simon’s girlfriend Nina, his sister Silvana, and most of the rest of the group living there/ hanging out there for the evening. Everyone spoke at least passable English but much of the time they spoke German amongst themselves with me straining to pick out a word here and there. One of the housemates was among other things a chef of some sort and made us a delicious and fancy cake with chocolate and raspberry sauce in between playing with devil sticks (shades of my time in Israel), and I spent an enjoyable time getting to know the group a little bit before eventually heading to bed. Read more…

Categories: Germany, Personal