Archive for February, 2010

Fast Stars, Dark Matter: A Narrative Journalism Article by Eric Hal Schwartz

February 26, 2010 Leave a comment

As part of my last semester of graduate school at Boston University, I had to write a long-form piece of narrative journalism. This was extraordinarily difficult at almost every step, but the final product is something I’m very proud of. I’ve decided to publish it (under the cut so you don’t have to scroll past it if you don’t want to read it) for people to see. I hope you read it and enjoy it, and I welcome any thoughts or comments you may have to share with me about it. The article is titled: Fast Stars, Dark Matter. Read more…

Categories: Professional

Writing for Work and Amusement

February 26, 2010 1 comment

It’s been a busy week here at work. I’m working on several news and photo releases, not to mention more subtitling, and helping Colleen with ideas for a video on Hubble’s 20th anniversary. Between that and going to the gym I’m falling asleep exhausted every night. Of course, that doesn’t prevent me from wanting to go out, so yesterday being Thursday, I took myself off for another Toytown evening.

I had gotten to work early a lot this week, which worked out for me leaving a little early yesterday to get to the gym. Normally I would have waited for Ross and gone to the gym with him (as I will this evening) but I wanted to get my workout in earlier so I could get into the Munich and buy a phone card before everything closed at 8. Closing at 8 is one of the less fun aspects of living in Bavaria, but I’m learning to work around it. After my run and some weights, I took a quick shower and ran out to catch the train, getting into town and buying the card just ten minutes before all of them closed.

I knew that most people wouldn’t be showing up until 9ish, but having nothing better to do, I went over to where Favorit bar where the event was to be held. I couldn’t find it. I ran into some other Toytown people who told me that apparently the bar didn’t open until 9 and didn’t even have lights or signs out. While we waited, we went to the next door hotel bar, a decidedly locals only kind of place, full of smoke and knickknacks and American classic rock. It was a little uncomfortable, especially when the bartender decided there was enough of us and locked the door from both sides, meaning new people couldn’t get in and we couldn’t even get out until after everyone paid and we were ready to walk back. Strange, but apparently not to the locals.

Back in front of Favorit, a small crowd had gathered to watch Read more…

Categories: Germany, Personal

Trains, Trains, and….Trains

February 23, 2010 Leave a comment

After getting back from Dachau, I rested a bit and tried to figure out what I would do in the evening. It was up in the air due to some people being out-of-town, others having visitors and just general confusion at my end over what was happening. Luckily, with enough persistence, and the magic of Facebook, I put together enough of a plan to start with, and as always was happy enough to see where the night would take me.

To start with, it took me to Fraser’s apartment or as I like to think of it, my weekend home. I headed into town around 9:30, meeting up with Ross on the way and the three of us settled down to drink (I borrowed some of Ross’ whiskey). Mauritz, Eva, Klaus, and Morgan were out at Hofbrauhaus and Fraser said we would meet up with them later, so we chatted and drank, waiting for Sorcha, who had informed us she would meet us there soon. When she arrived (after some difficulty getting in), Fraser finished getting ready (including putting in some of that fabulous hair wax) while Sorcha caught up in drinks to us. We walked over to Hofbrauhaus (with a short stop to give directions to a stranger) and I enjoyed the night air, which while chilly, was no longer the unbearable cold I had come to expect. I also quite liked the company, partially because of Ross and Fraser’s bantering skill, but also just the foreign appeal (enthusiasm for soccer, strange town rivalries and other Scottish/Irish peculiarities). At Hofbrauhaus, the bouncers weren’t letting people in anymore because it was so close to closing time, and the same was true at the Augustiner bar across the street, so we ended up at the Hard Rock Café.

This turned out quite well as the four of us talked, listened to music, tried strange cocktails (my lemon drop was almost pure alcohol and may have had salt on the rim), and just generally enjoyed the atmosphere of American music. The photos of KISS reminded me of our makeup adventure of the week before, and it was certainly funny to see the gold record from the New Radicals (who only had one popular song).

Not too long after, the other left Hofbrauhaus and we all met up at Killian’s, the Irish pub where I had watched rugby. As we walked in, I coincidentally ran into Brooke and Jessica who had just finished a six-hour drinking and listening to a cover band evening with Lydia and others. Both were very drunk and very funny but I couldn’t convince them to stay. I shrugged and followed the others down into the bar. It was nice seeing Morgan, Eva, Klaus, and Mauritz after what seemed a long while. I also met a friend of theirs, a Danish girl named Tennr, another Au Pair. Many of them were already quite far gone, and the rest of us did our best to keep up, in between Sorcha trying to cajole Ross into dancing, and getting pushed by people trying to squeeze by in the crowded bar. The last call bell soon rang and we all made our way up and out of the bar, herded along by bouncers who apparently weren’t keen on having us too close by. I enjoyed hearing Eva speak Swedish while Tennr replied in Danish yet both could understand each other. We also acquired some new guy, or at least he was new to me as I didn’t see him at the bar. Everyone else accepted his presence so I didn’t say anything.

We headed to Lola Ludwig’s, with a brief bathroom stopover at McDonald’s, where Klaus and Morgan decided to stay and eat. Somehow, Sorcha, Eva, Tennr, the new guy, and I got separated from the rest of the group and even got a bit lost, which was frustrating. Sorcha was trying to convince her friends to meet us but they were ensconced elsewhere and unlikely to come out. Eventually we did find Lola, although without Mauritz there we had to pay to get in.

Lola was hopping when we got there, although they didn’t seem to have changed their playlist at all in the five weeks since my first visit. It was very loud and crowded, but not overwhelmingly so. For some reason there was a table where three men were dancing and stripping, and the whole club had a gay club vibe to it that I hadn’t noticed before. Not everyone enjoyed the show, I saw a few girls mock gagging at the shirtless guys, but all my attention was on the floor show, where Ross and Eva were having some sort of dance-off, including a splendid display of the running man. Tennr and the new guy (whose name I never learned) and Mauritz and Eva were not long after that paired up against the wall, acting like there was a sale on saliva and they wanted to stock up. For Fraser, Ross, Sorcha, and I, that was a sign it was time to get going. I was already quite tired, having been up early and busy all day, so I was happy to go.

We made a stop at McDonald’s for a late night (or early morning) snack, digesting our night and our food at the same time. Ross almost fell asleep before we left, but he roused long enough for he and Sorcha to split a cab back to their respective domiciles (after a group hug that still makes me chuckle) and Fraser and I began the walk to his place. Fraser commented he rarely walked home so sober, which, reflecting on our previous walks, I had to agree with. We went in to his apartment and saw that Mauritz, Eva, Klaus, and Morgan were already there, as was another couple I didn’t recognize. Fraser, in his ninja fashion went straight to bed, and after a brief discussion on future drinking with Mauritz, I tried to do the same. The extra couple left, Mauritz and Eva went into his room, Klaus and Morgan went to Sven’s room, and Tennr and her fellow staked out the couch bed I normally used, leaving me with the smaller couch to lie on, which wasn’t too bad, especially given how fatigued I was.

As I was drifting off to sleep though, I heard a sound, and when it repeated, I woke up all the way, and realized that the two on the couch were moaning, with everything that implied. Distinctly uncomfortable, I huddled on my couch and tried my best to ignore the sounds and sleep. Somehow, I did manage to drop off, awakening around ten, and heading out. Once back in Garching, I showered and changed and decided to get a little work and recreation in at the computer at work since mine is kaput. When I got off the train though, I received a phone call from Jessica, inviting me to meet up with her and Brooke to go to a museum and enjoy the rather nice, sunny day. So I turned right back around and went back into to town to meet up with the two of them (looking only slightly worse for drink) and we walked/rode a train/rode a tram to Alte Pinakothek, the old art museum. There were some amazing piece there, including Da Vinci, Rubens, Titian, and others, though the religious themes do get a little monotonous after a while. To amuse myself and my companions, I would occasionally make up stories to go along with the pictures (And here’s Jesus getting ready for his fashion show…) which were funnier due to all of our fatigue. Museumed out by the time we were done, the two of them went to run errands and go home, while I yet again took the train to Garching, spending the evening doing not much at all, and nearly over-sleeping the next day after my busy weekend.

This week looks to be rather full as well, but I am looking forward to it. I am also planning a trip to Vienna soon if I can arrange all the details. And so endeth my weekend post.

Categories: Germany, Personal


February 22, 2010 1 comment

On Saturday I visited Dachau. Since before I came to Munich I had planned on going at some point, not because I thought it would be fun, but because I knew it was important, on several levels, for me to go. Luckily, I had met Ally the weekend before and she too was interested in visiting. Going to museums or monuments, especially such serious, sad ones, is always better with people, so early Saturday, I rode the train to Marienplatz to meet her. We bought the ticket that would get us there and took the 20 minute train ride out to the town of Dachau, discussing books and other light matters. On arrival in the town, I was struck by how the town seemed so normal, with shops, houses, even a McDonald’s. I couldn’t imagine people asking where I was from and replying Dachau. From the station we took a short bus ride out to the actual camp where, despite the cold and snow, there were dozens of people moving in and around the site (I learned that Dachau gets over a million visitors every year). Walking through iron gate inscribed with “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes You Free) was distinctly uncomfortable for me. Ally and I looked at the parade grounds, reading the posted descriptions of what prisoners had been forced to go through there every morning and night before making our way into the museum, formerly the administration center. The museum overwhelmed me. So many pictures, so many horrific stories, such large numbers (over 32,000 dead in Dachau’s 12 years), I could barely stomach it. Ally and I talked about how it was possible for the guards, especially the SS, to do what they had day in and day out and still consider themselves human. The cold air outside was a relief afterward. We then walked through the special political prisoners barracks, where it was somehow even colder than outside, looking at the horrible conditions they lived in, and I marveled that these were the ones who were actually treated much better than most of the prisoners. We went into the crematorium, which included the apparently never heavily used gas chamber. I went through very quickly, it was all too easy to imagine what the building had been like when it was used, and the pictures, often taken by prisoners and hidden from the guards, made me feel distinctly unwell. It was especially disturbing to think that the very pretty trees around us, and the grass that grew in spring and summer, was all grown on ashes from the dead.

After another walk around the grounds, Ally and I decided that was enough, and headed back to Munich. It was nice to put aside what we had seen for a bit and discuss other things. I got to know her a bit better, chatting about her life (14) and plans, and discussing where else we should visit. When we got back to town, we had a drink at Starbucks, and then she went home to finish recovering from a cold, while I went back to Garching to get ready for my planned night out.

Categories: Germany, Personal

Working Hard, Working Out, Getting Published, Give a Shout

February 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Written Friday but published Monday due to WordPress issues:

Foreign can jump out at you from nowhere. Sometimes the trickiest bit is just telling apart which of my own thoughts, habits, and actions are universal, part of Western culture, purely American, or entirely personal. Take following rules for instance. As any of my friends would hastily attest (sometimes insultingly hastily) I’m not one to rebel, at least openly. Yet in Germany, with their honor system trains, newspapers, and vending machines, not to mention their rigid adherence to obeying walk signals, I constantly feel like Kevin Bacon in Footloose, a real outlaw (except that sometimes when I see Germans dance I want to ban dancing like that town did, at least until they get lessons).

The gym I recently joined exemplifies this fondness for structure and authority. My first session was with a personal trainer, whose main purpose seemed less to train me in the use of the exercise equipment, but in how to use the high-tech electronic key that I must use to check in and out of the gym and plug into every machine I use, where it tells me what settings to use, counts my reps, and even guides how quickly or slowly I move in the rep. At the end, it even calculates how much I’ve done in terms of energy and weight and compares it to what it thinks I should do. On the one hand it’s like having my own trainer, on the other hand, it’s not much given to variations and change, and would force (if I followed it all the time) a real rigidity on my workouts. The trainer told me it was a hugely popular idea in Germany, a surreal moment.

In other news, work is progressing nicely now that I have more real writing to do. I wrote a theme page for the International Astronomical Union about Careeers in Astronomy that you should all read, which goes along with the first press release I helped write, and the ESOcast (basically a video podcast) about the Orion Nebula for which I wrote the script is up as well. Please read/watch them and send nice compliments about them to me and ESO. None of them are what I would call perfect, but they’re a start.

Yesterday being Thursday, I went to Toytown, this week at Cafe Am Hochhaus, near Sendlinger Tor. After work Ross and I went to the Italian restaurant under my apartment (food wasn’t great, but not bad either) and though I tried to convince him to come, he wasn’t interested. Still I wasn’t too upset as both Barbara and Morgan had told me they were coming. Alas, as I learned too late, they both ended up not appearing. Still I had a nice time, the bar was interestingly decorated (apparently nude men adorned the women’s bathroom) and the beer was cheap. When I walked in, the only people I recognized were Lydia and Brooke. Lydia’s accent was amusing as always and I told her about my brother Zack being in Melbourne (where she’s from) and she said he is sure to have a great time (unsurprisingly). After a brief foray outside to talk on the phone with Kristyn (who wanted to know where Morgan was) I went back in find that Jessica, another Australian, her German boyfriend, and his roommate had also arrived. It was a mellow evening, chatting about Australia, things to do in Munich, and how Lydia apparently couldn’t remember much from the night at Jaeger’s. I also learned the funny story of her first week dating her current boyfriend and his doctor’s note. A fit of yawning hit me a little after 11, and as it had been a long week and I had to rise for work the next day, I took my leave, and made my way back to the apartment. Now it’s Friday and I expect much mayhem and merriment from the weekend, though the specifics are a trifle vague right now.

Categories: Germany, Personal

The Rugby, The Make-Up, The Masquerade, The McDonald’s, And Sleep

February 15, 2010 Leave a comment

Halloween is not a big deal in Bavaria, or so I am informed. Most people do not dress up, or if they do, it’s strictly scary costumes, not the fount of creative dress (occupations and animals for those without that creativity) that it is in the United States. Instead they save all of that energy for Fasching, the celebration before Lent culminating in Mardi Gras, known as Carnival in other countries. And it’s fun, as I learned this weekend.

But I am getting ahead of myself. After such a fun birthday, I was more than happy to have a leisurely Friday, with some new, non-urgent tasks at work and a quiet night at home to help me recover.

The next day I slept in, then headed into the office to work a little. I saw that I had received an invitation from Cris to a Masquerade that night. Though I wasn’t sure how the evening would go, I figured that if the opportunity came up, I would try to find some sort of mask. Around 3, I left and went home to get ready to meet Ross. As usual, he met me at his stop and we rode in together to Marienplatz to see the rugby (Ireland versus France, so Ross was very excited). We arrived a bit early so we checked into the bar, Killian’s, where Scotland was playing Wales, and then went to a local department store for me to get a mask for the evening. The store was incredibly crowded; I could barely get through the press of people, especially around the costume area. I couldn’t find any mask section but purely by chance I found a black domino mask with a black cloth hanging from it to cover the rest of the face sitting on a ledge. I bought it from a store clerk dressed as some sort of Raggedy Ann style doll, and made my way back outside with Ross.

We went to the fountain outside the Rathaus to meet Sorcha (who apparently had been unaware there was a fountain there, understandable since the whole square is mostly dominated by the central statue). We then walked over to Killian’s (passing an awesome dragon gargoyle that looked like it was about to eat some saints) and went down the warm tunnel into the bar. Sometimes it seems to me that there’s only one Irish pub in the world and Read more…

Categories: Germany, Personal

My International Birthday

February 13, 2010 1 comment

Turning 24 is not a milestone the way 18, or 21 was, or the upcoming 25 will be. Nonetheless it was a milestone in the sense of being my first real post-education birthday, which is why I’m glad it worked out so well. I had sent out invites to pretty much everyone I know in the country to come out and celebrate and after an online debate over where to eat, booked reservations (with the help of the linguistically talented Claudia) at a Thai restaurant called Tem Thai, near the Toytown destination of the week. Or at least it looked close on the map.

After work, Ross, Roberto and I headed out to the train station, riding into town and getting off at the closest U-Bahn station. It had snowed for a couple of days straight, which made the otherwise quite reasonable kilometer walk to the restaurant more of an adventure than it should have been, but we got there in reasonable time. We even picked up Roel, who had gotten a little turned around along the way. When we went inside, it was to discover that Barbara and Kerre (plus Brooke, Kerre’s friend whom I had also met at Toytown the previous week) were already there. We sat down and started to look over the menu and ordered drinks as the rest of my guests trickled in: Jamie, Fraser, Claudia, Sorcha, and a bit later Colleen and Kristyn.

The food was excellent (it goes without saying the beer was too), and the conversation was even better. Discussing how Friends got the Dutch accent wrong with Barbara,  the merits of snowboarding with Sorcha, and the aftermath of the  previous week’s party with Jamie and Fraser, the meal flew by, although not too fast for me to miss enjoying my chicken and rice (thanks to the handy translators at the table). It was amazing to realize how international the group was, with representatives from the USA, Italy, Holland, Scotland, Ireland, Portugal, and New Zealand all sitting together at a Thai restaurant in Germany. That right there was enough to make this birthday one of the best.

All too soon, the waitress cleared the plates away, the inevitably complicated bill paying was arranged, and it was time to head to our next destination, Peaches, for the Toytown event. Not everyone could make it alas, Colleen and Claudia both called it a night, but the rest of us walked essentially back to the U-bahn to get to the bar, over the protestations of some who wanted to get a taxi, but it was a nice walk. Peaches was an interesting bar. Far too smoky for my taste, it had a large back room as well as the main bar area. What most jumped out at me was the group sitting in a window booth all dressed as devils (some even in full face paint).

Barbara, Sorcha, and I all did a shot with a beer chaser and I settled in for a nice night at the bar. There were some funny experiences, like the “Massage Attack” people giving massages (pay what you want) to people. There’s less rules about solicitors in Europe so you see them about in bars although the massage thing was new to me, the flowers guy was more expected. I got a massage (it was my birthday I thought, so why not) which was nice if strange.Kerre also had a plenty to drink, and didn’t even spill thanks to the smaller holes in the glasses.

Ross, Sorcha and I made plans to see a rugby game (the rugby as Ross called it) on Saturday, which is exciting.

I actually learned the name of the English girl I had met the week before (Katherine), who had a friend visiting, and stood out in my memory mainly for the cameo she wore (you rarely see girls in their 20’s wearing cameos to bars in my experience). She still doesn’t like loose-leaf tea though.

By midnight I was getting pretty tired and I knew I had to work the next day, so Ross, Roberto, Sorcha, and I headed off the train, just missing the one Roberto and I needed, so the two of us had to wait for a while. It wasn’t terrible as we saw a girl in a huge pink afro wig, which entertained us for several minutes. Eventually we got back, and after a shower to get the smoke residue off, I collapsed into bed, happy with a really great birthday and looking forward to a wonderful year.

Categories: Germany, Personal