Wednesday, October 27, 2010


So today was my day off (I get one a week because my 12 hour work week is otherwise so hectic that I would probably go crazy from the stress otherwise.  I kid of course, but in all fairness having the day off to run errands is pretty nice.  Though I say that and the only thing I thing I was even remotely successful in today was getting my lamp to work (it was plugged into a dead socket on this shitty surge protector that is somehow attached to the wall so I can't throw it out).  If you count eating lunch at the Mensa and putting money on my card then I guess I did that too.  I failed to find the proper bulb at Karstadt to replace my burnt out one, I'm guessing I'll have to buy it on the internet like I do everything else. 

However, there was one cool thing about today that has nothing to do with productivity:


An artist set up shop at the park an Aasee today with an exhibition about world peace.  The subtitle to the exhibition was (translated) "All the same, but all important"  I don't remember how it connects to world peace other than we should respect each other for being the same or something?  My art history skills are clearly atrophying with my time away from college, also never having taken one outside of high school.

Also I'm seeing KK Null on Saturday, you guys probably don't know who that is!

Anyway, I'm still debating whether or not to stay up for the series.  It doesn't seem like a smart thing to do, especially because I have to get up pretty much at the end of the game.  Oh well.  

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hamburg! (More than a week after the fact, and very very long)

So I gotta apologize I guess.  I've had the past two weeks off and I've done diddley squat with my time (well that's not true, it's just that you really don't need to hear about the time I transferred money into my German account and the guy was kind of snooty about it), with the exception of going to Hamburg, one of Germany's 3 city states. 

Anyway, now that we can all forgive one another (if you were better readers you'd comment more, hint hint wink wink nod nod I don't really care) I've got the German language dub of Law and order on the TV (muted because I can't concentrate when people are talking) and some Charles Mingus on the iTunes (he is the best blogging music.  Not many people know this, but he deliberately composed some of his most famous tunes to facilitate blogging and in the process invented the form) so let's get to it.

First some background: I have two weeks off for Herbstferien, which is more than Grinnell gave me for fall break.  I still didn't get to go home (no hard feelings) but I did get to have time off for the venerable Grinnell drinking tradition of 10/10.  10/10 is a magical holiday celebrating the reception of our first paychecks, some dudes birthday, Jerry Orbach holding that gun on screen as I type this, and above all campus unity, both at home and abroad (abroad being loosely defined as off-campus, or the rest of the world).  Every year on the closest Saturday to 10/10 we Grinnellians gather and celebrate one another, and this year it was even more special because the holiday falls on 10/10/10 (which is actually a Sunday but the party only starts on Saturday, it keeps going).  Clearly something special was in order, so I hit up my friend Christine, who is Fulbrighting over in a small town outside of Kiel, to see what was up.  She said there would be a small gathering of Grinnellians (her and an alum friend of ours named Hilary plus this other girl who is cool named Lauren) in Hamburg, a city I have never been to but that is only an hour away by train.  Seriously it was pretty convenient, also the tickets were only 20 euro.


We have the scene set, Hamburg, Grinnellians, Lauren, Germans looking at us funny for speaking English.

So I rolled in around noon and noticed that Hamburg Hauptbahnhof (the central station) is a pretty big place.  I wandered around looking for my party when I stumbled across a guy dressed as Mario.  Apparently it's Mario's 25th birthday (I'm only 3 years younger than Mario, weird).  I got excited, like every 22 year old young adult who is secretly still an 11 year old boy but doesn't have access to video games, and took a couple of pictures with my phone.  While I was waiting by the Mario for everyone to show up (it seemed like a natural focal point) some drunk homeless guy yelled from above that he loved Mario, though he called him Mattheus or however you spell the Matthew in German so I'm not sure exactly who he was yelling at.  He came down later and gave the guy a hug.  It was after this that Christine showed up and we preceded to wander aimlessly around the station looking for Lauren.  We eventually found her and moved to the U-bahn where I bravely led us in the wrong direction on the U-bahn, instructed everyone to get off on the wrong stop then boldly waited 4 or 5 minutes for the next train to come that was already going in the direction we were going. 

I should mention that we didn't really have a very clear idea of where we where going.  We just knew that we wanted to see boats. 

We eventually did find one after like 20 minutes of riding the U-3, which is a great way to see the city by the way.  Christine noticed that there was a huge boat, the Rickmer Rickmers, about sitting right outside the station and we decided to get off and check it out.  Fun fact, she knew a bunch about boats so the it was way more enjoyable! 

Afterward I think we got lost for a little bit before ending up in St. Pauli, which is the alternative district in Hamburg.  It's home to the infamous Reeperbahn district (red-light district) as well as the football team FC St. Pauli.  It's also the location of some cool old churches and a statue of a guy we are pretty sure is Bismark.  I'll post pictures later on my picassa account and you'll see what I'm talking about. 

From St. Pauli we wondered over to the beautiful old Rathaus, where important decisions regarding the city are made by elected officials.  Again I'll post pictures elsewhere to show you what that's like.  We scrounged up some dinner over at an EDEKA (grocery store) and bought some drinks to bide our time till the sun set and we could start drinking.  I called Hilary to make sure she knew that we were in Hamburg and when she asked me what we had planned for the next couple of hours I got really confused and had to hand the phone off.  I wish I could attribute that to alcohol, but I can't.

Anyway we eventually make our way over to the "cool" part of town where all the young people hang and there is much joviality.  From here on out we just kind of drank and set at bars, that being the thing to do around there.   Hilary showed up and we actually got to move inside where it was warm for a change.  We ended up at a cafe that had turned off it's coffee machine so they refused to serve us any coffee but they didn't ask us to leave (Europe doesn't make sense sometimes, though I guess we still bought beer there) so we chilled till about 2 when Hilary asked us if we wanted to head over to the Reeperbahn to check out the freak show (my collective term for the things that we saw there).

I've got to say, not being a customer of red-light districts, nor really knowing much about them, I was really underwhelmed by what I saw.  The Reeperbahn is essentially a trashier, more low rent version of Bourbon street, where people expend a lot of effort to get you to come into their clubs and spend 6-, euro on beer and look at women with no clothes on.   What WAS entertaining were the people frolicking around at 3 in the morning in Hamburg. 

By the way we also didn't have a place to sleep for the night, so we were just going to rough it till Sunday.

Anyway at around 4:30 in the morning we realized there really wasn't anything else to see and we were all cold.  Lauren's solution was the best, go to the McDonald's where they wouldn't care that we weren't buying anything, there was coffee, they had a bathroom, and it was warm.  We holed up there for a couple of hours and watched the FreakShow pour in and out.  Some guy asked me the standard question that all Germans like to ask people from Texas, "You like George Bush" being mildly intoxicated and quite tired I told him in very frank language that I did not and to please tell everyone else to stop asking.   I think he got the picture. 

We waited in the McDonald's for about 2,5 hours, I regaled Hilary with the Cheerio Joke (she slept through the end) and in general had a good time marveling at how the Europeans have elevated American trash culture to high end cuisine without actually making the food any better.  Finally 06:30 rolled around, which meant we could head over to the Fischmarkt for breakfast.

The Fischmarkt is a Sunday tradition in Hamburg, it's a truly wonderful experience.  You wake up extra early, or stay up all night, and you go to a giant hall where you buy fish and drink beer for breakfast.  Adding to the already festive atmosphere are live bands performing truly terrible covers of American and German pop songs.  Needless to say watching the rise over the Elbe as I ate fish, drank beer and did a shot at Grinnell midnight (there is a campus wide shot at midnight) made staying up all night and camping out at the McDonald's worthwhile. 

The fish market itself is also really impressive.  They've got fresh fish everywhere, but also vegetables and craft goods and junky souvenirs.  Everything and I mean everything, is sold with flair.  The people are friendly and though the crowds are actually surprisingly large, I didn't run into the kind of traffic problems I generally run into at other open air markets.  Hilary led us all around the fish market then slowly back to the Ricker Rickmers, where we got back on the U-bahn and eventually parted ways with Hilary who had to go back to work. 

The rest of the day was spent consuming caffeine and trying to stay warm.  I honestly don't think we did anything spectacular during the day.  We found our hostel for the night (a really nice, clean place that was only 12 euro!) and Lauren and I took short naps.  Feeling refreshed and alive again we headed out to the ferry which runs up and down the Elbe.  I took a bunch of pictures of the sun setting, which dramatically outlined the city scape and industry blah blah blah.  Truth be told it really was an impressive site, but that one hour nap had only really just made me more tired.  At this point it was a continuing struggle to stay awake.  We found a nice cafe that would serve us food and drinks and around 10:30 somehow found the energy to crawl into bed for blissfully calm night's rest.

I woke up early because check out was early and I didn't want to miss my train.  I said goodbye to Christine and Lauren (who headed out to Berlin, I didn't go because I was tired of traveling) and made my way back home.  A Russian girl asked me a whole bunch of questions about the train station that I didn't know how to answer, and thus my adventure in Hamburg came to an end.

Sorry this entry was so long.  Maybe there were a couple of sections that could be shortened or excised entirely, I'll leave that for the internet to decide.

Bis Später, y'all. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010


will update tomorrow

should have updated sooner, but will make a better report either tomorrow or during the second week of my vacation

or I will visit Bremen.  Not sure yet.

I'm posting later.  Probably not going to visit Bremen.  Am considering visiting Utrecht.  Seems nicer.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


So one of the perks of living in in NRW is that the US consulate here is small enough that they can email you and invite you to come in and enjoy free cookies and beverages while they explain that they basically love you forever and please sign up for this program where we pay you to go to schools in NRW and talk to German students about what life in America is like (easy money!). 

So yeah yesterday I was in Düsseldorf for the day doing exactly that, the consulate there invited all the Fulbright ETAs in NRW to come and essentially meet the important people at the US consulate in Düsseldorf because that is essentially what they are there for. 

Anyway I'm supposed to be working on a translation of an internship packet for the school, but I'm having trouble focusing because translation is boring and requires a lot of energy.  Instead I'll briefly inform you of two things:

1. Düsseldorf, the city that never sleeps (though I wasn't really there at night so who knows)
2. This insane game I saw played on Sunday that I forgot about till now (weirdly).

1. Düsseldorf

So yeah, I was only here a couple of hours, but I did manage to take some pictures!

The meeting itself was only 2,5 hours long, and since there was zero indication in the email as to how long it would be I gave myself a generous 6 hours in Düsseldorf because I do like to explore.  Afterwards they gave us a bunch of swag (including Twain's semi-famous essay, That Awful German Language) PLUS 3 poster sized American flags, because one clearly is not enough.  I plan to add them to my walls such that they can never be removed.  I want all following tenants to understand who lived here at one point. 

I walked through the Altstadt after the meeting, I didn't take any pictures because once you've seen one Altstadt you've seen basically all of them.  However, given that my knowledge of German geography is very poor I forgot that Düsseldorf essentially sits on a long stretch of the Rhine, so I sat out and watched the sun set for a while,

Yeah, it's pretty spectacular, photos can't capture it etc.  this picture may not seem like much to you (I was actually trying to get the wall to unfold into the river, I'm a pretty bad photographer) but that's because you can't really take a lot of interesting pictures of a river.  The Rhine has to be seen to be appreciated, also there were sheep:

I have no idea who was watching the sheep, but they were definitely making sure the grass along the Rhine doesn't grow too much. 

So after a while I decided that just sitting along the Rhine wasn't enough, and that my favorite past time in Germany has always been to appreciate the scenery with beer and some kind of food.  Unfortunately the first grocery store I walked into was an ALDI, which if you don't know is the bargain bin of the bargain grocery stores in Germany.  I've never found anything I need at an ALDI and like an idiot I always forget that until after I've entered the store and it's too late for me to duck out (German stores have dedicated entrances and exits, and the only exit is through the cash register) so I figured well crap I'll just pick up a crappy beer and some chips or something and it'll be fine.  No, I somehow managed to find the one grocery store in all of Germany that somehow doesn't sell beer.  It sells wine, but not beer.  Seeing as I was essentially trapped until I bought something, I picked up a cheap can of peanuts and moved onto a REWE, which was quite nice.  Thus my dinner was an Altbier (one of the few ales you can get in Germany) and a can of peanuts.  The peanuts were a little disappointing, but then they came from ALDI so I don't know what I was expecting.  I'm guessing the Altbier would have been better had it been cold, but everything is cheaper warm in Germany. 

Anyway I sat, drank, ate and watched the Rhine go by.  It was pretty cool.  My trip home was fairly uneventful, which was nice because due to a mistaken impression that tickets purchased online can be printed out at the Münster Hbf I had to run from the internet cafe across the street to the platform on my way to Düsseldorf.  The Regiobahns are slow, but you really can't beat the price. 

Anyway part 2:

Radball (Bike Ball)

A brief overview:

So on Sunday as I mentioned previously, there was a big bike race in Münsterland that ended at the Schloss.  At the festival that took place afterwards there was a giant demo area where various aspects of biking could be shown off.  By chance I happened to catch the final minutes of Radball (Bikeball) which is essentially soccer, but played on bikes. 

Now I earlier referred to this sport as insane, let me explain why. 

The game itself is not fast paced, the playing field is barely the size of my apartment which basically means it's impossible to get any kind of momentum going.  What makes it insane is that at no time are you allowed to exit your bicycle, that would result in a penalty.  Instead you have to use your bicycle to kick the ball into the opponents goal.  Your bike has no gears, no brakes and you really can't sit down either.  The game is structured so that each team has an opportunity to attack the goal, while the other team must defend.  This means that you as an attacker have to somehow maneuver a tiny ball through two guys on bikes who are allowed to ram into you to stop you from shooting, and to shoot you essentially have to throw your balance completely off and hit with your wheel. 

Nobody was wearing a helmet obviously. 

It was good fun.

Anyway I need to work on this translation.  This entry went on longer than I wanted it to go. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Another week?

So we've gotten another roommate here, his name is Max.  He seems nice.  He immediately figured out my foreignness (John just isn't a common name here) but did not figure that I wasn't from England.  I guess us real 'mericans are real scarce 'round these parts.  Seriously though, I had a student in one of my classes ask me what part of England I was from after hearing my accent.  I'm not making fun of her (I would never make fun of my students, at least not for trying to speak English) but it was just weird that she couldn't tell is all. 

I was supposed to see Despicable Me (hilariously translated here as Ich-Einfach Unverbersserlich) yesterday with some people, but I got a call on Friday (which I answered in German) that we would instead go on Tuesday, a Kinotag or discounted day) because, "You and I can't just throw money away John,".  I think I've found a new friend, or at least someone to hang out with.  He's cheap, just like me! 

Oh man, Television is sounding so good right now, that's the band not the TV.  I have one of those by the way, but it only works if I put it up on a chair right next to my door.  There are no antennas here, just cables, and the cable to my room only extends to the door frame...

It's not like there's anything on anyway.

Speaking of TV and I how I'm not watching it (the internet is my television, please) today was and is a beautiful day.  There was this huge bike race in Münsterland that finished off by the Schloss (it's this big Schloss in the middle of the city) so I went to check out the carnival afterward.  It was pretty cool actually, they had standard German fare food (brats, currywurst, pommes etc) as well as Pott's Beer, which is now my favorite beer.  They brew beer not far from Münster and both their Pilsner and Kellerbiers are amazing.  Not so much an assault on the senses but instead a gentle restructuring into their proper place.  Totally excellent beer that comes in unfortunately small packages and is pretty expensive.  Oh well, at least I've still got Köstritzer. 

I get the next two days off from work, well I get every Monday off, but since the students are doing mid-terms this week I don't really have to show up for class.  Wednesday I also don't have any class because the students are on Praktikum, but my school is having a grill thing so I'm definitely going to check that out.  Thursday I think I have to go back to work, Friday I definitely do.  After that I get two weeks off!  I'm already headed off to Hamburg to celebrate 10/10/10 with some Grinnellians (and a fellow Fulbrighter) for the weekend.  I was going to go to Berlin but I think that fell through (I won't mention any names but my travel partner's name rhymes with Mathan Mallus) so instead I think I might go to France.  I have a Bahncard which lets me travel on the cheap (and for which I only payed half price!) so I can sort of travel freely nowadays.  I'm pretty excited about the next couple of weeks for me. 

I promise at some point I'll get off my lazy ass and take pictures.  And post them, and that they won't just be stolen from the internet like the last one. 

Also my body craves meat.  That's sort of apropos of nothing so just ignore it.