16 December 2012

does somebody have a bubblegum?

Travelling to and from Baden-Baden airport for our trip to Budapest felt like it took more time and energy then  the destination itself was allotted   Friday morning, bright and early, five chipper, excited, and curious compadres set out to take a 4:21am train to the airport.  

The high quickly drained off as our first train experienced a 25 minute delay, which caused us to miss our second train, which, after being rebooked at Stuttgart Hbf, failed to show up.  Then, being over 2 hours delayed, we stood at an open train station in the middle of nowhere as snowflakes fell from the murky, gray sky to our frozen feet, trying to catch the runaway train that never showed in Stuttgart.  Eventually, we arrived in Karlsruhe with no chance of making it to the airport in time if we continued travelling with the ever-reliable Deutsche Bahn.  

A taxi, plane, bus, and train later, we arrived at our hostel, Central Backpack King, in Budapest, exhausted, hungry (Hungary!), and with ambitious expectations for our visit.  After defeating the first two obstacles with some authentic Hungarian goulash and a quick little nap(chen), we fueled up with some of the hostels coffee, gratis (this is the kind of service you get for 8€/night), and set out to see St. Stephen's Basilica, a sweet little Christmas Market with handmade Hungarian goods, and one of the most famous ruin pubs in Budapest, Szimpla, in the Jewish District. The ruin pub was adorned with all things imaginable - from bathtub couches to broken fax machine/printers to fish takes filled with handcrafted paper sea animals and accessories.  After a quick beer at the pub, we had had enough of the day, and decided to go back to the hostel and sleep in order to be prepared for Saturday.

Feeling ambitious, we awoke at 8am Saturday and took part in a free city tour.  After approximately 1.5 hours, we came to the conclusion that we were bad tourists and bailed on the tour early to take a bath at the Szechenyi Bath.  Apparently there are 15 baths inside, but we only discovered approximately 4, which I will blame on our inability to read Hungarian.  Personally, I was most impressed by the outdoor bath, which allowed you to sit in the warm water while your head was exposed to the fresh air outside, preventing you from passing out quite as quickly.  The sauna was also a beautiful experience, even though the shock of the freezing water directly after probably caused irreversible heart damage.

When we finished relaxing at the magical bath/spa, we attempted to have a nice dinner at the traditional Hungarian restaurant, which was recommended to us. Surprisingly, our plans failed once more (since we somehow didn't think to make a reservation for a Saturday night), and after about an hour of searching for a different restaurant (I hope you can imagine how hungry and desperate we were), I can say with confidence that I ate nothing more special than microwaved Chinese food.

Re-energized from dinner, we decided to take part in the hostel pub crawl.  Apparently November isn't a big tourist month because there were only like nine people on the pub crawl (including us), but it actually turned out to be pretty chill with the small group.  We went to a bar where we could play beer pong, and Chris and I (aka Dream Team) naturally dominated the table. After beer pong, we went back to Szimpla, where a tall Dutch gentleman told me I looked like Zooey Deschanel. So I guess the night could have been worse.

Sunday was cloudy, rainy, dreary, and designed especially for movie-watching and goulash soup.  But we carried onward and took the trolley to Buda Castle across the Danube.  The view was incredible and we saw a really great art exhibit in the castle.  We were relatively rushed at the end, however, because the opera which we were going to see, La Bohéme, was going to begin at 7pm. I know it sounds classy, but don't let me fool you.  They actually made us enter from the side of the building, like peasants, and when I hinted that I was considering foregoing renting binoculars, the friendly Hungarian woman glanced back at my ticket and asked, "Are you sure? You're in the last row...".  Okay, but it actually wasn't so bad.  We had chairs and everything, and the view was quite nice (with the binoculars).  After the opera, we headed back home to sleep so that we'd be ready for Monday.

Monday morning, we took a stroll along the Danube to the gorgeous Hungarian Parliament building.  Then, we walked back to the Jewish District (Budapest is incredibly easy to navigate) to see the synagogue.  After that, it was time to pack our things and head to the airport.  Less than 20 minutes after going through security, I heard myself replaying a recent intercom announcement in my head....

"hungarianhungarianhungarian KERTZ JENNA MARIE hungarianidon'tunderstand"


"Guys, did they just say my name?"


"No way."

"Couldn't have."

"Definitely not."

After picking up my Aufenthaltstitel, which I apparently dropped, from security (the purpose of which I'm not exactly certain), we boarded the plane, and I sneakily slipped past the Ryan Air flight attendants, who would have made me leave half of my backpack in Budapest if they had had the chance to see how large it was.

Although travelling all throughout Budapest was quite a breeze (there was actually quite a chilly breeze), as soon as we landed in Germany, all of the transportation problems began again.  I'll let you use your imagination as to what happened, but the most important thing is that the five curious and energetic students arrived back in Tübingen at approximately 9am Tuesday morning with as much Lust auf the warm comfort of their beds as they had for the trip to Budapest just four days before.  It was a magical and unbelievable trip with fantastic people.

25 November 2012

what's your favorite color and do you believe in god

What would you do if you found a frozen mammoth?

I think we all come to this question at some point in our lives. Well, at least some king or duke or other really old authority figure did, according to my friend.  And just what did he do with this massive chunk of animal ice?  He had it thawed out, cooked to perfection, and then he ate the giant, ancient mammoth. This makes me wonder just how long it takes to thaw a frozen mammoth... and how many people it takes to eat one... and how one manages to cook an animal that massive.  In any case, the people of the old days were very crafty and found a way to achieve all of these things.  The one question that remains, however, is: Was that that the right thing to do? The mammoths had been long extinct by this time. Should the king/duke have saved it in the name of history, preservation, or science? Or was he justified in eating it?

Well, I think really everyone would answer that question differently.  Me? Short answer: I would have eaten it, too.  Long answer: First I would have put it on display in the town square and charged people to get their pictures taken with it. Then, I would have eaten it. Why would I do such a thing, you ask? How could I have chosen to eat something with such prominent, historical authority?  Because, my friends, I believe that history is meant to be consumed, not preserved.  Figuratively speaking, of course.  We should be able to see it, smell it, touch it, taste it, and learn from it, but, at least from my perspective, we shouldn't try to make history live on, we shouldn't try to revive it, we shouldn't hold on to it, no matter how inspiring or beautiful or painful it may have been. Because everything deserves to rest peacefully.

The reason I bring this up is because I just spent the last week in former East Germany, being force-fed facts about things such as Goethe's favorite tree and how he dug up (what he thought was) his best friend's skull and put it on his desk. And, quite honestly, I don't think those little details make his work any more or any less impressive. Regardless, during my time spent in this cultural and historic hub of Germany, I was graced with the opportunity not only to hear many of such facts, but also to consume, reflect upon, and actively live in the historical space in which all of these things took place.

During the trip, which is a part of the Tufts-in-Tübingen Program, we were all given an individual host family to live with. My host family was particularly spectacular - my father spoke solely in jokes and my mother hung random things like peacock kites on the walls.  The first day I arrived, my mother and I sat together in the living room for three hours, and she told me what it was like to live in the DDR. It was immediately clear how much the DDR time still affects the people living in former East Germany. My host family was very lucky, in that they always had jobs, a secure place to live, etc., both before and after the reunification. But my host mother explained to me that there are still many people in the east that are extremely bitter toward the west (and, I'm sure people in the west bitter toward the east, as well). But like I said, trying to live in history isn’t doing anyone any good.

Here is a quick summary of the trip:

Day 1 - Jena

The first real day of our excursion consisted of visiting a local school to talk with students in the English classes, taking a tour of Jena, and stopping for a few coffee breaks (because coffee is warm, and Germany is cold).  At the school, Kenneson and I had the pleasure of chatting with the fifth graders, who asked us questions ranging from “What’s your favorite color?” to “Do you believe in God?,” in their already spectacular English.  One of the sassy little girls made a friendship bracelet for me as an early birthday gift.  It reminded me of Molly and Osrui and hair wraps. Later, after our first quick coffee break, we had a tour of Jena.  Unfortunately, because of my (already demonstrated) lack of interest for detailed history and quickly diminishing attention span, I’m not such a tour person. So this made pretty much every day of the excursion quite a challenge. However, what I do find quite interesting about tours is not what the tour guide says about the past, but what the things he’s telling us about the past tells us about the present and what that will mean for the future.  If you catch my drift.. (still really great at these English colloquialisms…)

Day 2: Buchenwald, Erfurt

As you can probably imagine, Buchenwald was kind of a downer. Visiting the former concentration camp was an opportunity for reflection and remembrance.  It wasn’t an experience that can be written on paper (or typed in a blog) or captured in pictures.  Because these visuals can’t accurately replicate the atmosphere at Buchenwald, the eeriness, the feeling of walking on the soil where so many crimes to humanity occurred, the stillness of the cold air, and the absolute silence of the voices that were never heard.  If you’re interested, you can see photos of Buchenwald (and the rest of the trip) here.

Luckily, the beauty of Erfurt was an upper.  It’s a city I would love to visit again.  While having the charm of a typical German town with the cute little buildings and a river running through the center of the city, Erfurt also has a more commercial section.  In Erfurt, we visited what is easily the most gorgeous church I have ever seen. Inside lies the largest church bell in the world from the middle ages, Gloriosa, which is large enough for probably 12-15 people to stand under.

Later that night, Chris’s guest parents invited us over for dinner, and we talked more about the DDR and nylon bags and standing in line for bananas.  After dinner, Chris’s guest father took us to a place where he used to play as a child and read us the Erlkönig (Goethe) in front of a statue of, well, the Erlkönig.  It was dark and scary and cold outside, and at first I didn’t really understand what we were doing as the car stopped at the destination in the middle of the woods.  Yes, I was scared. But it turned out to be, perhaps, the coolest and most authentic experience I’ve had yet in Germany.  The story really came alive.

Day 3: Weimar, another Castle, salt thing

Weimar was yet another beautiful city. In my free time in Weimar, I got to see Goethe’s house and the Bauhaus Museum (which I thought was really awesome, but unfortunately small).  It was really cute because the guided audio tour in Goethe’s house kept trying to validate Goethe’s hoarding tendencies… “This room would have been full of pictures and statues, much like the holding room in a museum. But Goethe didn’t like to have things simply for the sake of having things…”  Okay, enough, really. He probably would have been on one of those hoarding reality shows, except for having too many statues of human heads instead of like millions of cats.

That night, we had a Thanksgiving dinner in Jena, which was executed surprisingly well.  It was cozy to sit down with all of the guest families and eat an enormous turkey, just like we would have with our real families back in the US.  I felt really lucky to have the opportunity to be surrounded by such beautiful and warm people on a day that was so special to me.

Day 4: Leipzig

By this time, I was so exhausted from the trip that my attention span was practically non-existent, and I absorbed little-to-nothing from the city tour.  We did have lunch at this really great Thai restaurant, though, that actually had spicy food (a rarity in Germany).  Then we went to this fascinating museum about the history of Germany (a must-see if you’re planning a trip to Leipzig).  After that, we had another coffee break (typical), and then drove to a castle to have dinner.  Oh yeah, and this was my birthday. So the best part was that there was a dog at the castle named Bruno and I got to pet him.  I really couldn’t have asked for more.

Overall, the trip was exhausting, informative, and insightful.  Over and over, I kept flashing back to my high school German class, where Jena was just a place on the map that was spelled similarly to my name. Never did I think that I would be one of the people on the streets, in the trains, on the buses, of that foreign city called Jena on that little map of Germany. You can’t ever really know where life is going to take you – you just have to be ready to go.

04 November 2012

die Präsidentenwahl 2012

One of the strongest deterrents in my decision to study for a year abroad was the idea of missing out on the political atmosphere in the US during the first presidential election in which I was allowed to vote.  I guess as some form of patriotism, it only seemed right that I would actually, physically be in my own country the first time I voted for the president of my own country.

Now, I'm not sure if that little detail is actually as important as it once seemed.  In fact, I think it might have even been more beneficial to be abroad during the time leading up to the election.  Somehow, I feel like I had the privilege of looking at the candidates through a much clearer lens than I would have if I were in the US.  No, I don't suggest that the cloudiness and deception that often occurs in political news was somehow washed away by the waves of the Atlantic, but when I did read, hear, or watch something pertaining to the election, I had the opportunity to reflect upon it independently, instead of being pummeled by potentially exaggerated or extremely biased reactions cycloning around me.

It has also been incredibly enlightening hear opinions about both Romney and Obama from people all over the world.  The outcome of this election affects far more than just Americans, and the small sample of Europe that I've conversed with seems to be at a consensus on which candidate they think should take the throne.

With the election just days away, every second counts.  Every single move Romney and Obama make is being meticulously picked apart by the press, the people, and, rater unfortunately, the opposing candidate.  What has perhaps become most clear to me throughout this election is exactly why the decision-making process in our country is more of a fight (at times, war), than a compromise for the good of the many.

Watching the presidential debates has been almost impossible.  Every interruption, every cry of the falsity of the other candidate's claim, every comeback, put-down, and attempt to slash the opponent's reputation in whatever way possible rapidly made me lose respect for both candidates. Their behavior literally drowned out whatever messages they may have been trying to send about their plans for the future. It also led me to question how either of these men, as president, would conduct himself as a representative of our country in an international situation which requires them to defend the US and their decisions, when they couldn't even do that for themselves in front of the American people - the people who are watching their every move, using that as a basis to decide their future - without bickering like children.

The press doesn't give political reports without clearly identifying the party affiliated with a certain opinion or quote.  As if being Democrat or Republican is more important than the individual's opinion on a topic.  The candidates' websites, at times, concentrate more on why their opponent is wrong than what they are going to do for our country.  This political culture in America, which concentrates so heavily on the faults of the opponents rather than the advantages of the candidates, is not encouraging us to vote based on capability, reliability, and faith in a candidate, but rather to abstain from voting for the [more] incapable and unreliable candidate. In other words, we're avoiding the worst instead of electing the best.

The negativity on which politics in America run today is breeding competition.  And I'm no expert, but I can only assume that a country would function better by working together, rather than ripping each other apart. That said, I hope that on voting day, you (Americans) choose not to see the election terms of red and blue.  I hope that you have acquainted yourselves with the character, the capability, the platforms (not to mention the practical feasibility of the platforms), and the potential of both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney. I hope that you acknowledge the power of your vote, have thoroughly thought through what consequences your vote will bring to the American people (and the rest of the world..), and have not simply made your decision based on the Red-Blue/Elephant-Donkey/Right-Left, hostility-breeding, political back-and-forth in which we have been fermenting, but rather according to your specific personal values and how the candidates align with those values.

Note:  For those who are still looking for an unbiased and factual summary of the two candidates in terms of the feasibility of their promises, their character, and their advantages and disadvantages in general, click here for a very well-written article from The Economist.

28 October 2012

kaffee oma

I've been experiencing some very real struggles during my past two months in Tübingen, one of them being blog-writing.  It's not that I'm not inspired or that I'm not doing anything exciting or not even that I don't have time to write blogs.  I have plenty of time, actually.  And I sit down and try to write...and try to write...and try to write... But the words don't come quickly enough.  Or sometimes I can't find the right word.  So then I try to think of a word that would be more fitting, and only after replacing the first word, do I realize that the "more fitting" word is in German, not English. And it's driving me CRAZY. Not being able to speak English very well isn't so bad.  I've never been very good at communicating verbal messages, anyway, so the struggle has just been mildly intensified.  But not being able to clearly express what I'm thinking or feeling in writing is totally driving me up the wall.

That said, please excuse any funny-sounding sentences or strange word placements.  They are bound to occur.

So what has happened in the past month/since my last blog post?  Basically, classes have begun, I've had a couple miniature adventures, and I've been in contact with many sharp objects.

Let's start with courses.  I'm visiting two lectures - European Economic Integration (in English) and An Introduction to the History and Culture of the Middle East (or, as the professor explained to us on the first day, "An Introduction to the Language, History, and Culture of the Middle East"... looks like I'm going to be learning some Arabic).  And that one is in German, which is fun because after the standard ca. 45 minutes of being engaged, I tune out and don't really hear anything for the second half of class.  So we'll see how that goes. Besides that, I'm taking a course about formulating arguments, having discussions, and making presentations, which I think will be really useful.  Also, I'm doing two studio art courses - portrait sketching and ceramic.  My ceramics professor told us that our project for the semester was just to make something big, which I dig.  Still trying to decide what I like enough to try to make into a two-foot sculpture.  In any case, I am very happy with my courses thus far, especially because they don't begin before noon, and I don't have any on Monday or Friday.  The mother of a wise friend of mine once said not to let school get in the way of your education.  I'm excited that I will have plenty of time to explore and discover in addition to my studies.

So what would a typical four-day weekend look like?  I hope that at least a few will be consumed by longer, overnight, perhaps out-of-country trips, but the most will probably be spent much like this weekend.  Friday, we decided to make a trip to see Schloss Lichtenstein.  This required taking a train for approximately 10 minutes, a bus for no less than 30 minutes, and then getting off at a bus stop in the middle of a field, wandering down a nearby path, and then hiking through the woods for about 1.5 hours with little to no direction before finally stumbling upon the majestic castle they call Lichtenstein.  No less than a hike, it was, but the beauty of the Autumn leaves falling from the trees and crunching beneath our boots proved to be an experience just as pleasing as seeing the castle itself.  After returning back to Tübingen completely exhausted, Loren and Charles threw a Raclette dinner party. There's something really powerful about it when friends share a very typical part of their life with you, when you experience it together.  Even after the simple Raclette party, I felt somehow closer to both Loren and Charles.

The next morning, I awoke to a freezing room, and when I turned my head toward my still-open window (also the direction of my still-off heating unit), my eyes were greeted by the sight of white, flaky sprinkles falling from the sky and powdering the roof of the building right next to ours.  It continued to snow the entire day on Saturday, but unfortunately almost none stuck to the streets of Tübingen (at least in the city itself).  In honor of Halloween, Chris and I invited a few friends over to carve pumpkins on the kitchen table.  I must admit, it was a little dangerous using kitchen knives as carving tools, but no one got hurt (yes, this is one of my encounters with sharp objects... I began to carve a bit hastily, but before I could cut myself, my dear friends encouraged me to stop).  We separated the seeds from the pulp and baked them, just like home.  I also bought small, cooking pumpkins and improvisationally made two delicious pies, one of which I took to Vittorio's dinner party that night.  Not that we needed any more food.  Vittorio, being the fabulous chef that he is, had already prepared a three-course meal, which was served in only the classiest of fashions, with the little garnishes that you aren't supposed to eat.  He lives a bit outside of Tü in a real house with a real table, real dishes, and real wine glasses.  I can't serve wine out of coffee mugs anymore.  It just doesn't feel right after that level of sophistication.  In any case, it was delicious food and wonderful company.  Vittorio and his friend/roommate told us tales about the Schwäbisch man that lives above them and sometimes invites them to drink with him outside.  Vittorio's friend said that even though he can't understand anything the Schwäbisch man says, the man is still his best German friend....and even though the man just drinks all day and shoots deer, he know's he's a good person because "he does it with a beautiful smile on his face."  It was a great night.

I got home at about 2am this morning and had to wake up at 7am in order to be at the soup kitchen by 8.30.  Not knowing whether the clocks were going to turn an hour forward or an hour backward (or if my phone would do it automatically...), I waited up until 3am to see for myself.  Luckily for me, they went backward (of course.), and I was allowed five hours of sleep instead of three. At 8.30 punctually, I was at the soup kitchen with my sleeves rolled up and ready for action.  It was fun to get to know the different characters in the kitchen and to listen to them yell at each other and speak in Schwäbisch.  There are a particular few that I found especially endearing.  

First: Gisella.  Gisella is the boss, the big man.  She likes to yell at people and tell them what they're doing wrong and how they should do it better.  I like her because she has everything under control, and she won't let anyone mess things up.  She yelled at me because I took the dishes out of the dishwasher too early by like five seconds.  She's really great.

Then there's Kaffee Oma.  I don't know what her real name is because I can't understand anything she says to me, but I call her Kaffee Oma in my head.  As you might have guessed, she brews the coffee.  She's super duper sweet and blabbered to me all day.  It went like this:  She would tell me to come over to her and then point at a dish or pot or pan or something, say something in Schwäbisch, and then look at me.  I would look back at her with an eyebrow up, look from side to side, shrug my shoulders, then try to finish whatever I was doing before.  Then she would grab my arm and drag me around the kitchen, showing me what she was doing.  It was really cute, and I decided that she's officially my best friend in the kitchen.

There are also a few others, who I would describe in short as Jan the Dish Man, The Evil Stepsister, and Lazy Linda Lou.  The soup kitchen was a little different than that which I once worked in in Boston, in that the visitors were served by volunteers because there was not a good setup for a serving line.  Also all of the food was homemade, which was definitely not the case back home.  There was even pumpkin soup, a little of which I got to bring home with me.  It was a very nice establishment, and I'm excited to go back next month.

Really, the only other mildly exciting things in my life would be the scar that's forming on my knuckle from breaking a wine glass as my hand was inside washing it, the glass bowl I dropped in the kitchen on Thursday morning, tripping over cobblestones daily, and almost getting run over by a few cars.  Luckily, I've made some really great friends that don't allow me to touch glass, pull me off the street when cars are coming, and turn on the light for me when it's dark in the hallway and I can't see.

It should be a fun year.

19 September 2012

wir sind immer dabei.

aaaaaaand I'm finally in Tübingen.

Technically I've been here for 19 days, but only today did I think to myself, Holy shit, I'm actually in Tübingen. I think this delay can be attributed to a few things.  First of all, like you probably already suspect, I have been so busy getting settled, unpacking, figuring out where to buy groceries/how to buy groceries, doing laundry, registering to be a student at the University, ETC. that I haven't really had time to think about what it actually means in terms of my life now that I'm here.  Second of all, most of my free time has been devoted to working on the whole Making Friends task, which means that I'm too occupied with sitting on the steps of the Stiftskirche with new people I've met to stop and think about how these people and these steps will play a role in my life.  And third of all, I experienced this grandeur realization right after I woke up from an hour long nap, when the sun was shining brightly through my window, my eyes were still a little bit squinty, and I wasn't completely awake.  So it was kind of just a dreamy exaggerated reality.  But I'm going to roll with it, nonetheless.

A couple memorable things that have happened since I've been in Tübingen:

I spent the first night awake until who knows when, emailing back-and-forth with my mom because my stomach hurt so badly, I thought I was going to die. For real. I actually believed that. After notifying various family members and friends of my condition so that they could spend their precious time being concerned about my health from halfway across the world, Mum and I came to a conclusion that my nervousness (which I had not yet come to terms with, but suspected existed) and the coffee and espresso I drank throughout the day were probably to blame.  The next day, Ute, my resident director, recommended that I buy this really nasty-tasting stomach medicine that is made from plants.  It's so old school - you have to swallow the liquid.  She told me that if it doesn't taste bad, then it isn't going to work.  Life lessons.

I lost my phone.

Some kind person found my phone and used practically every resource my phone had to offer to figure out who it belonged to.  I was really shocked and impressed that someone would even return it, but then my friends reminded me that no one would want to steal my phone anyway because the screen is shattered and it's falling apart. But I still like to think he was just a nice person.

My language course made a trip to Blaubeuren, which is in the middle of nowhere.  We were there for 5 days and weren't [technically] allowed to speak English.  It was a really great opportunity to get to know everyone and to have a week that was really, specifically devoted to speaking in German.  We went on a hike one day to go see these ruins, and just as we came upon this beautiful field mid-hike, it started raining and hailing.  It was so incredibly magical that I couldn't help but spinning around in the rain/hail, even though it was freezing. I was pretty sick the next day, but I guess that's the price you pay.

I've been really homesick.  It's not that I expected my friends from home to be in Tübingen when I arrived at the beginning of the month, but I didn't realize that out of habit, my mind would expect that friendly reunion that always follows summer.  And instead I was just met with more challenges, more things to adjust to, more things to adjust, more, more, more.  So that has been really exhausting.  But it will get easier eventually.  I have already begun to develop relationships with some magnificent people in my language course, and I'm looking forward to spending the year with them in Tübingen.

I live in a room. I'll post pictures of my new room at some point, but right now I'm tired and don't feel like taking pictures. Or tidying up. Some infos for the purpose of creating suspense:  Aside from the fantastic location (right in the Altstadt), it's pretty large and fairly nice (the building is ancient - I'm not going to be picky).  There is a downside though. The downside of my room is closest to the door, and the upside is closest to the window. What do I mean? The building is sinking or falling apart or something else probably dangerous, and the slant of my floor makes walking from one side of my room to the other similar to climbing a mountain. Also, judging by the gigantic cracks in my ceiling, I can probably expect my friend that lives above me to end up falling through his floor into my room at some point this year.

That's all for now folks. Stay classy. (America, I mean you. Our rep over here in Europe is not as attractive as I'd prefer it to be.)

18 August 2012

three months, inspired by faucets.

Three months.  That’s a quarter of a year.  That’s 1/3 of ACL reconstruction healing time.  1/16 of the time I’ll be a college student.  Approximately 1/83 of the time I’ve been alive.  

It’s too long to be a vacation.  Too short to be a new way of life.  Enough time to lose sight of your targets.  Enough time to realize new ones.

Three months is a chapter, it’s not a book.  It doesn’t have a beginning or end.  It grows out of what was already established, but it is the basis for what follows.

And while I think the power of this period of time – three months – is a beautiful thing, I must also admit that it intimidates me.  Because in three months, you don’t really get to experience the luxury of leverage.  You meddle and discover.  You ponder.  You experiment.  You make conjectures.  But three months, by no means, is enough time for you to actually know.  To settle.  To establish a direction.

And that’s why, after the past three months in Germany, I don’t actually know anything about living in a foreign country.  Even though I had my own apartment, I still have no idea what it’s like to be living on my own and to be settled.   And although I had the amazing opportunity of doing an internship at Hansgrohe, I wasn’t there long enough to feel like I was part of it.

During this past week, my last week at Hansgrohe, I was asked what’s better – living in Germany or living in America.  First of all, I think that’s kind of a difficult question for me to answer considering the extreme differences of the living environments I’ve come to know in each country.  America:  either small town in the Midwest, living with parents, going to high school, or city on the East Coast, living on a college campus around tons of students my age, attending university.  Germany:  a tiny storybook village, living on my own, working full time.  Yeah, it’s tough to compare.  Anyway, later that night I was thinking about the question again, and, I mean, I don’t know...  I don’t really think that I necessarily even live in either country.  As if it’s my territory, I’m grounded to it, I’m a part of it.  I feel more like we all just live in the world.  And there are different places that we choose to spend our time, to establish relationships with people, sights, and adventures, but those places can’t be ranked.  It isn’t our location in the world that makes us favor being there over being somewhere else.  It is the relationships we form, the connections we have fused in that location, the feelings we have when we’re there.  So, really, to get back to answering the question, it’s not a matter of where I’m living – whether it be Germany, America, Ireland, Chile, whatever – but rather how I’m living.  And that will differ from person to person, from place to place. 

So where is the next place on my agenda?  Tuebingen.  But I will never make it to Tuebingen on the train with all of the things I have to transport.  Today I tried to squeeze all of my belongings into two (what I thought were large) suitcases.  And this whole process was a little bit of a slap in the face – not only because I couldn’t fit everything, but also because of the sheer fact that I had to fit everything.  This charming little apartment is not mine.  I must relinquish my reign of the terrace.  My spices do not get to stay settled next to the stove.  My bedroom door was just a temporary home for that weird lemon-lightbulb wall hanging.  …And it wasn’t ever my bedroom door.  But just when everything started feeling a little bit like it was mine, just when I dug a tiny baby hole in my heart for this apartment, just when I started looking forward to going “home,” it has to fade away.. And this is where three months gets complicated.  Because it’s a taste, a trick, a tease.  You’re almost there, you feel like you have it, but then it’s over.  And my morning rituals – making coffee, playing music from my computer on my bed, balancing my straightener against the bowl of the sink – they lived a short life.  They’re all meaningless now, things of the past.  And they must be recreated to fit a new place, a new way of life. 

Every morning on the way to work, walking down the mountain, saying hello to the man with white hair, turning right at the intersection and listening to the English music on the carpenters’ radio, actually feeling my nose get stuffy when I took the path between the trees and bushes, watching people take their cars through the carwash as I walked behind the gas station, observing the apples that fell from the tree on the walkway next to Norma, listening to the splashes of the fountains while approaching the Aquademie, seeing the green light that signaled I could pass through the Hansgrohe gate, and hearing the beeeeep when I stamped my time in the mornings – those things are no longer a reality for me.  The smiling faces to which I said Morgen and Tschuess everyday will no longer be part of my routine.  And that makes me really sad, because those smiling faces were some of the most kind and welcoming people I have ever met.  They were patient with me, even though it was sometimes hard for me to understand their German.  They included me, invited me to lunch, to concerts, to Tupperware parties.  They taught me about the products, Hansgrohe’s philosophy, how the company functions.  They trusted me, they taught me, and they inspired me.  And just as soon as I thought I was figuring it all out, when I started to feel like I was really a part of the team, when I started to take more chances speaking in German, it was over.  And that is very disappointing for me because I struggled all summer feeling like my performance and my personality were lacking, knowing that by speaking English my work would be easier and I could really develop relationships with my colleagues.  But wanting to improve my German and wanting to respect the German people by speaking their language, I refused to let myself transition to English at work.  And in some ways, I guess this held me back.  Or caused relationships to develop more slowly.  Or made it difficult for me to express my opinion or my gratitude.  So I struggled under my own principles.  But, after three months, I was finally beginning to find direction, delayed as it may have been.  And even though it feels like it was over before it even started, my internship at Hansgrohe is an opportunity that I will always be grateful for, treasure, and remember.  I was truly lucky to have met and worked with the people at Hansgrohe and for the company itself.

So, while three months, quite frankly, sucks in a lot of ways, it can provide a lot of enlightenment and lessons for the future.  It’s an outcome of one set of decisions and an input for an entirely new set.  And I’m excited to discover the direction in which my past three months will lead me.

31 July 2012


"We learn by example and by direct experience because there are real limits to the adequacy of verbal instruction." 
- Malcom Gladwell

So I've had this quote on a sticky note on my computer for probably about 6 months now (not a real sticky note, but a digital sticky note, of course. otherwise I would have lost it.), just waiting for the appropriate moment to finally use it.  And I think that moment has finally come.  (Also I think I'm starting to forget English capitalization rules.  What on Earth am I supposed to do with the sentences in the parentheses above?)

It seemed like it would be okay when I discovered the night before my trip to Amsterdam that my phone was not only failing to make calls and to text, but the internet was also no longer working.  After all, I could still receive calls from my Mitfahrgelegenheit on my old phone, and when I got to Amsterdam and met up with Devin and Braden, I wouldn't really need my phone anyway.  Amiright?

Totally right.  That is, totally right IF everything goes according to plan.  But sometimes things don't exactly go according to plan.

Example 1:
My Mitfahrgelegenheit (to be referred to as MFG from here forward) to Amsterdam apparently texted me to tell me that we were not going to meet at the Hauptbahnhof in Stuttgart, but a different train station.  But due to my spastic and unreliable crazy German SIM card, I did not receive the message, and I waited at the Hauptbahnhof.  So there I was, bright green backpack, bright pink shirt, looking like a strawberry, standing outside of the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof, incapable of calling my MFG, and kind of freaking out.  Then my phone rang.  Due to my shitty phone quality, a bit of a language barrier, and a hint of a lisp, it wasn't immediately clear that we were at completely different train stations.  Luckily, though, after we did figure this out, my MFG was kind enough to come pick me up at the Hauptbahnhof.

Note:  MFG is a really cool platform, but it is kind of a hippie attraction.  And that's cool with me, except for that this means that I'm always kind of risking the chance of having to ride with a SuperHippie - You know, like one of those people who thinks deodorant is just a socially constructed necessity.  Yeah, well she sat next to me on the 7 hour trip to Amsterdam.

Example 2:
Besides SuperHippie Girl, everything seemed to be going perfectly well.  My MFG arrived in Amsterdam just before 5:30, when Devin and Braden were supposed to get into Amsterdam Centraal.  I promptly found my way to the track they were supposed to be arriving on, 8b.  As I ascended up the stairs, I slowly discovered that there was, in fact, no train on track 8b.

Double-check the track number.
Check my watch.


So I paced back and forth on track 8 for like 15 minutes and then decided that I wasn't making any progress. To the information desk I went, and I was unlucky enough to be helped by literally the only rude Dutch man in all of Holland. (Truthfully, he was at least a little justified in being frustrated with me, given that I didn't know anything about the train Devin and Braden were supposed to arrive on, except that it was probably coming from Germany, and it was supposed to arrive on track 8b at 5:30.)  He searched the system and found what he thought was the train I was looking for, and told me it was supposed to arrive on track 5a at 5:30.

This was our conversation from that point forward:

"Was that train delayed, though?"
"But could it be that the train was delayed?"
"It is possible-"
"5a. 5a. 5a.  ...5A-5A-5A-5A-5A.."

Okay, asshole.

So off I went to find 5a.  Much to my surprise (and raging anger slash frustration), track 5a was under construction and there was -200% of a chance that any train would have arrived at that platform.

As I stood looking over the construction site of track 5a, tears welling up in my eyes, feeling completely helpless, I heard the sweet familiarity of "InterCity Express" mumbled across the loudspeaker.  Koeln, Bonn, Frankfurt.  Track 2b.  It would be arriving 1.5 hours after Devin and Braden were supposed to arrive, but this HAD to be their train.  

This is exactly what I wrote in my Axor journal during this sad, pathetic moment:
"Right now I'm just crossing my fingers that this train, which is arriving 1.5 hours late, on the wrong track, and from what cities I just guessed were likely points of departure, is actually the train that Devin and Braden are arriving on.  If not, it looks like it will be a lonesome weekend in Amsterdam."

...Nope, that wasn't their train.  After roaming around lost, frazzled, and helpless for nearly two hours, I made a last attempt at trying to find them by having Devin's name announced over the loudspeaker...

(Also, in case you're wondering, there no payphones in Amsterdam Centraal, because, according to the kind Dutch train station attendant, they all have cellphones.  And they also won't let you use any phones at the train station.  And everyone in the train station is a tourist whose cell phone is not working in Holland.  So it's just really screwed up.)

Defin Merloo from England, please repoort to ze Infoormation Desk.

Even if Devin had been at the train station, I'm fairly certain he wouldn't have guessed that Defin-Merloo-From-England was actually him.  But I didn't want to lose faith completetly, so I convinced myself that there was at least a tiny chance this final effort would be successful.  After about 20 minutes of repeatedly hallucinating that every old man in the train station was actually Devin walking toward me (I was really losing it by this point), I decided that there was nothing left to do but go to the hostel.  It was getting dark, and I didn't want to deal with travelling through a foreign city at night.

Luckily the hostel was in a really nice part of Amsterdam (actually, I don't know if there's even a part that isn't nice. it's a magical city.) so I wasn't sketched out when I got out of the cab.  I had finally reconciled with the fact that I would be spending the weekend alone.  All I wanted to do was get into the hostel, hopefully get a room, and go to sleep.  But I couldn't figure out how to open the door.  I tugged.  And then knocked.  And then looked back at my cab in despair.  And then wondered if it was safe to sleep on the street. And then a man on a bicycle across the street yelled at me and told me to "push the button."  Thanks.

Reception buzzed me into the hostel.  As I turned the corner into the main room, my senses were completely unresponsive to anything besides the familiar voice coming from the right side of the room.


I felt like a lost puppy who just found it's way home and didn't expect it's owner to be there, but unexpectedly heard it's owner calling it's name, and then ran up to it's owner and licked their face.  In my hopeless and frazzled state, I ran to Devin and hugged him (but did not lick his face, such as the puppy)  and cried a little bit for dramatic effect.

Then we spent like 10 minutes talking about how awful we were at communicating our travel plans.  And then we laughed and decided to begin our Amsterdam adventures.  Like in a movie.

Let me just say that Amsterdam isn't a real place.  The people are too beautiful, the language is too ridiculous, the streets are too clean, the architecture is too gorgeous, the freedom is too pure.  The city is too perfect to be real.

Friday night, post-disaster, we found a really cool pub that had the most magically delicious beers.  (Yes, the beer was too tasty.)  It was actually better than in Germany (meiner Meinung nach).  So it couldn't have been real.

Then, as all tourists must, we went to see the fully regulated Red Light District.  Honestly, I was slightly hesitant about this, imagining a narrow street with bashed in windows, full of drunken and drugged-up, stumbling people.  But this is Amsterdam.  Let's get real.  The Red Light District was just as refined as the rest of the city (okay, maybe there was a little more trash on the ground), except there were prostitutes in the windows.  It was quite fascinating, really.

Saturday, we went on a canal tour and saw lots of sights from the canals of Amsterdam.  After that, we walked around aimlessly, exploring the big streets and the little alleys of the city.  Sometimes the "attractions" aren't really what is exciting about the city - it's the city itself.  We accidentally stumbled across the house that Anne Frank hid in.  It was so surreal. Then we laid on this really cool grass/roof/building thing right before we went to the Van Gogh museum, which was, again, absolutely unbelievable.

Example 3:
The weekend ended much too quickly, and I bitterly departed the hostel Sunday morning to find my MFG back to Deutschland.  We were supposed to meet at this train station a bit outside of the city so that we could avoid the traffic of Amsterdam Centraal.  However, the station was kind of in the middle of nowhere and I didn't know where I was supposed to wait for my MFG.  A tram driver kindly let me text my MFG from his cellphone.  Then I waited on the street flashing my bright green backpack and trying really hard to look like a traveler (not difficult) so that so that my MFG would be able to find me easily.  And they did.  (I was a little disappointed because I really didn't want to leave.) And back we drove to the unquestionable reality of Germany

Now, I realize that this particular post provides numerous reasons to be concerned about my safety.  But like Malcom Gladwell implies, the experiences you have are how you learn.  And whether they've been good or bad or scary or hopeless or magically surreal experiences, they are, in the end, all equally important and valuable.

25 July 2012

things i do

July is nearly over, and I realized that according to my blog, all I've managed to do this month is get soaked by the rain, fail at riding a bicycle, and write a bogus post about silly things Germans do.  The bad news is that this makes my life seem really lame.  The good news is that my life isn't actually as disappointing as my reporting suggests.  The other bad news is that I'd rather write about really insignificant things than, well, anything that has actual relevance.  However, for documentation purposes, and to restore whatever level of interesting my name lost in the past month, let me just backtrack and tell you about the actual real events that took place in my life.

First of all, I went to Berlin at the beginning of the month with the AmCham group.  I don't even know how to describe my level of happiness as my train arrived in Berlin.  There were people and buildings...it was 8pm on a Wednesday, and stores were still open...no old men in spandex in sight.  Yes, you could say I was in love with Berlin from the get-go.  With the AmCham group, we took a boat tour on the Spree, visited the Bundestag, and had a really sick conference at the American Embassy with one of the economics men. (My apologies for not knowing his actual title - and for not being able to come up with anything more interesting to call him than an economics man.)  At the American Embassy, I JUST HAPPENED to run into one of the Fletcher students that was in my German class last semester.  He's casually doing an internship at the American Embassy this summer -- no big deal.  Also, Thursday night Germany played Italy for the Euro Cup, and we got to watch the game at the Brandenburger Tor, which was absolutely incredible (even though Germany lost...).  After all of the AmCham things were over, another friend from my German class who is doing research reasonably close to Berlin came to meet us.  Then, for the rest of the weekend we did whatever 20-something-year-olds do when they're in Berlin.  For example, we took a three hour walking tour and saw the site of Hitler's bunker, the Holocaust memorial, Berliner Dom, etc.  All of that cultural stuff, you know.

The following week was a struggle returning to Schiltach.  First of all, I was extremely bitter that I had to leave Berlin.  Second of all, this was the week of the rain/bicycle incident.  It was also the week of the Fourth of July, so I decided that I would throw an Independence Day party that weekend and invite my German friends from work and some American friends from the program.  Stefi and David ended up coming to Schiltach.  They were totally enamored by Schiltach's charming facade during their three-day visit, which kind of renewed my appreciation for this little village (which had seriously depreciated after being in Berlin).  We tried to bake american cookies for the Independence Day party, which is practically impossible in Germany (I don't know if it's the ingredients or altitude or what..).  They turned out to be flat and crunchy, so we called them cookie chips and decided to tell the Germans that it's an American favorite.  Hansgrohe's 111th Birthday Party was also the day that I threw the birthday party for America, so afterward we all hung out on the Kinzig and celebrated Hansgrohe.  Let me just say that there aren't many times in your life where you'll be in The Middle of Nowhere, Schwarzwald, surrounded by mountains and forests, and have the chance to party on the river, listen to live music, and dance with your friends.  It was a seriously cool experience.

Last weekend was a little more relaxed, but still very cool.  Friday night I went to the WG where all of the interns at Hansgrohe live (except for me) and played games with the Germans.  We played two games of Yahtzee and a game of Blackjack (I think that's what it's called...you have to get 21 points?)..  Whatever the games were called, I kicked serious ass at all of them.  Then I promptly left before my winning streak could be interrupted.  Monday after work, I went to the Zelt Musik Fest with my friends Henni and Carolann.  It's a festival that lasts the entire month of July, features free concerts (no fee for admission), takes place in the middle of a corn field, and includes a petting zoo with camels.  Could anything possibly be more wonderful than that?

And to wrap up the month (kind of), I visited my future home in Tuebingen on Saturday.  The Tufts kids are still there finishing up their semester, so I got to meet up with Carly (also from my German class), and she told me a bit about life in Tuebingen.  Then I got to see the room I will be living in, which has a slightly slanted floor and is directly in the center of the Altstadt, where everything happens.  I was told twice that it is "the best room in Tuebingen."   Therefore, this will be my competitive advantage in friend-making.  The girl who is living in my room right now also studied in Tuebingen the entire year, and she was SO INCREDIBLY HELPFUL in telling me what to expect and how things work.

One month, six days, and that will be my new home.  Time  has been moving so quickly.  I can't believe I only have three weeks left at Hansgrohe.  I can't believe I'll be moving into my fourth home in four months.  And especially, I can't believe I'll be there for an entire year.  I'm nervous and scared and excited - but more than that, I'm mostly just confused.  I haven't even completely adjusted to Schiltach.  I don't feel finished here.  I don't like that as soon as I've figured it all out, I'm going to have to leave.  And I don't like that when I leave, I'll have to start the adjustment process all over again.  It's so long and exhausting and difficult.  The positive part about this is that I will be in Tuebingen for a year.  So maybe it will take some time to adjust, but I'll also have plenty of time to enjoy the city, see Germany, and explore Europe after I've "figured it all out" again.

17 July 2012

things germans do (more often than most americans i've met)

At the risk of perhaps skewedly influencing your perception of the entire German population based on my approximately two months of experience in a single, secluded village in the middle of the Black Forest, I've decided to dedicate this blog to explaining the funny things that most Germans probably might do.

1.  Use their utensils properly.
Today we had spaghetti for lunch.  I noticed my colleague, who was sitting across from me, looking down toward my plate while we were eating.  Oh god.  I knew at that moment there was a wad of spaghetti smeared across my chest.  There had to be.  I can never eat spaghetti without making a mess.  But having experienced the embarrassment of spilling my food and staining my clothing time and time again, I knew to play it cool and act oblivious.  Then, when her gaze drifted away, I casually looked down to inspect my blouse.  Nope.  Nothing there.  Then what could she have been smirking at?  And that's when I realized, disappointedly, that I was once again committing a utensil faux paux.  Instead of eating my spaghetti with a fork and a spoon, like any refined European, I was using a fork and a knife.  (I even cut it up a little bit before I started eating, which was probably more amusing for my colleague than my incorrect utensil choice.)  How embarrassing.
And just when I was starting to get used to holding my knife in my right hand, politely directing my little foods with onto the prongs of the fork in my left, and steering that dysfunctional left hand with perfect precision toward my mouth, the Germans throw me another curve ball and propose that I use a SPOON to eat spaghetti.  It's going to take me months to master this one.  I'll never make it here.

2.  Run around in the mornings screaming good morning at everyone.
This is one of my favorite things about Germans and probably the only reason I'm halfway a real person in the mornings.  I have to be on my game and ready to say good morning to everyone before they say good morning to me.  So I drink my coffee in the mornings and then I practice on people I pass as I'm walking down the mountain.  By the time I get to work I'm pretty warmed up and can 'morning-out pretty much any German that crosses my path.  Also Germans are funny about this because they don't even necessarily wait until they see someone to actually direct their good morning greeting toward.  They kind of just walk around saying different variations of "Morgen!" every five-or-so seconds, turning their head back and forth, not particularly expecting a reply.  And don't you think that's how it should be?  If it's really a good morning, do we need to wait until we SEE SOMEONE to declare that fact?  No.  The answer is no.  We should just announce it over and over again to whoever (and whatever) surrounds us.

3.  Drive fast and run over pedestrians.
I don't know.  This isn't cool, guys.  Germany is a real-life game of Frogger.  That is not an exaggeration.  Germans will run you over with their BMW or their Mercedes, and then your bloody spatters will be left to dissolve into the pavement.  And no one will feel sorry for you because it is apparently your fault if you cross the street right in front of a car.  Well.  That's not how it works in Boston.  In fact, in Boston, cars WANT you to cross in front of them.  It's like a game -- see if you can stop before you smash the jaywalker.  But seriously.  I am not conditioned  to look before I cross the street.  This is just a really bogus thing Germans do, and I'm only including it in this blog to call them out on their bullshit.  If you have a car, and it's raining (and I am a pedestrian without any protective rain gear), it would be kind (and human-like) for you to pause so I can cross the street.  But that's not how it works here.  And that's (partially) why people end up wringing out their rain-soaked dresses in stairwells.

4.  Stare at you.
The German Stare. This is what happens:  You are anywhere.  There is a German around.  You look at them, but they aren't looking back at you.  They're looking THROUGH you, inside of your soul.  Finally their gaze connects with yours, they stare icily into your eyes, and then they carry on their way.  Totally normal.   I was warned, I won't say I wasn't, but it was still scary the first couple of times.  And then I was like, Um, excuse me, but this is my soul, and it's not on display at the moment, so back off biotch.  Or something like that.  But now by the time their icy gaze meets mine, my eyes are so full of fire and ferocity that they melt and look away, ashamed that they tried to take advantage of my soul.  
Hm... Well.  At least I like to think that I'm being that intimidating.
But this street stare that I described above is child's play.  The really scary German Stare is the one you don't usually notice - it's the German with a permanent frown painted onto their face, who wears an apron and has dissheveled hair.  They stand on their balcony and hold the railing with a grip so tight it looks like their knuckles are going to burst.  And then they lean their upper bodies over the ledge and suck all of the happiness out of you as you're passing by (kind of like a dementor, but more frightening).  I haven't really learned how to deal with this kind of German Stare yet.
The most important thing to remember is that no matter where you are or what you're doing, there is some German watching you.

5.  Eat bread.
Funny thing that people eat bread here in Germany, because we don't even have bread back in America!  Oh, what's that you say?  We do have bread?  False.  And if you've ever eaten bread from a bakery in Germany, you'll know exactly why I say that's false.  It's the most deliciously fresh and pure, crunchy and chewy, price-worthy and fabulous grain you've ever consumed.
Germans also like to eat pretzels and Broetchen and toast and other grainy things which we, as Americans, might confuse as bread.  But according to the bread experts (and who can dispute the bread experts?), these things are, in fact, NOT bread.  And we are completely unwarranted to debate the subject because we don't even have bread in America.

[Facts above taken from an actual argument between Germans and Americans at the Independence Day party which I threw.  Not until my friend Henni revealed to me the harsh, but true, fact that there isn't bread in America, did I agree that toast is not bread.  But how could I argue with that after I realized that I don't even know what bread is?]

6.  Wear coats during the summer.
It's been off-and-on cold and hot and rainy and sunny.  Usually sunny and hot pair up and cold and rainy go together, but, hey, you never know what's going to happen here in the Black Forest.  So, apparently this weather is really weird, and it's normally just hot in July.  Here, you might think, Oh, well the Germans have to wear their coats because they don't know what the weather will be like.  Well.  I still think if it was just hot just all the time, that Germans would just still wear their coats.  I don't know what it is.  Maybe it's a habit, like they put it on in the morning and by the time they stick their left arm through the hole and realize that it's completely unnecessary to wear a wool pea coat in 26 degree weather (we're talking Celsius here) the coat has already melted to their back and then they figure it's too much work to peel it off before going to work.  So they just wear it.  Maybe that's why they wear coats during the summer.  I really can't figure it out.  Because, seriously, I've been thinking about it, and if you live in a place that's normally cold (like Germany), shouldn't you be extra sensitive to heat?  Girls break out their bikinis in Boston in like 65 degree weather (back to Fahrenheit).  It just doesn't make any sense.  Maybe we're biologically different.

Well, I hope these six little tidbits didn't influence your perception of Germans too much, because who knows if they're really true.  I mean, I've only been here for two months.  I have absolutely no authority on this subject.

03 July 2012

when rain attacks (and you still haven't bought an umbrella)

I now know it's time to buy an umbrella.  Honestly, I wasn't convinced the first five weeks or so of rain.  But today.  Today was just too much.

Now that I've moved into my new flat on top of the mountain [see pictures below], I have to walk approximately 20 minutes to work every day.  Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't find this to be a problem, or even much of a nuisance.  But today.  Today was a different story.  This morning in particular was an exception because I woke up (or rather dragged myself out of bed after snoozing for 30 minutes straight) to the soft pitter-patter of raindrops on my window.  It was a beautiful sound, and I wasn't leaving for work right away, so I brushed it off and told myself that the shower would be over by the time I left for work.

This was not the case.  As I heaved open the heavy wooden door in the foyer to depart for Hansgrohe, I was met with a solid wall of water, the beginning and end points of which were indistinguishable.  Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed an umbrella sitting next to the door - a shining glimpse of hope for my suede boots and highly-soluble dress.  But what if I take it and Herr or Frau Weisser need an umbrella today? Well there were two umbrellas.  But what if they both need an umbrella today?

As you have probably guessed by now, I ultimately decided not to take an umbrella after convincing myself that the downpour of rain outside really wasn't that bad and if I just held my fleece jacket over my head, everything would be peachy.  After the first minute of my trek in the rain, I found the spots of water spattered across the front of my dress to be quite comical (kind of like when David spilled his hot coffee on my shoulder in Berlin).  This is funny.  I have water on my dress.  [In Berlin: This is funny. David's coffee just burnt my shoulder and stained my new dress.] I don't know what was funny about any of that, but I definitely remember being amused.  After two more minutes, the drops of water on my dress were no longer distinguishable, bleeding into one another like a wet-on-wet watercolor painting.  By the time I finally made it to Hansgrohe, I could literally wring water out of my dress.  Which I did.  In the stairwell.

I sneakily slipped past my coworkers without saying good morning, trying to avoid having to answer questions about my soggy state. Just saving us all a little embarrassment.  On the bright side, my fleece did  protect my hair, and it turns out that whatever fabric that dress is made out of dries almost as quickly as it moistens. Good deal.

At lunch, when all signs of the rain-attack had faded, my friend Heike told me that Hansgrohe has bikes (!!!), and if I asked, they might let me use one to drive back and forth to work.  So naturally I got right on that and got permission to snag a bike for my ride home.  This seemed like a really, really perfect idea.  And then I thought back to the last time I rode a bike.  Which I couldn't remember.  [Now that I think of it, it must have been the weekend that Emily and I decided to bike literally all over Boston and almost ended up on the interstate.]  But never fear!  If I did it once, I can do it again, right?  I adjusted the seat to its lowest level, and then mounted the Hansgrohe monster.  On tippy toes, reaching the ground was still a struggle.  Feeling nervous and unsure of myself, I decided that this bike thing was not going to work.  I tried to dismount, flinging my right leg over the back of the bicycle.  But there was a basket there, which my leg was not prepared to hurdle, and the Hansgrohe monster and I went tumbling down onto the asphalt.

Stand up.
Look around.
Run my hand through my....helmet.
Okay, I don't think anyone saw.

This should have been the point where I walked right back into Hansgrohe, returned the key, and complained that they don't have any bike options that are more suitable for short legs.  That's what should have happened.  But today.  Today was different.

This new surge of determination shot through me [Kind of like when Dustin and I were skiing and we were almost to the bottom of the mountain.  I was sliding down on my butt, crying.  Come on Jenna, just try one more time.  I pulled myself up and started flying down the mountain, nailing the turns I had been trying to master all day.  Then I tore my ACL.]  So, naturally, I plotted a new dismount technique and hopped back on the bike. Then I wobble-ily rode it to the bottom of the mountain, where I realized that there was no way on earth I would ever be able to ride this monster bicycle up the mountain, even if I had two good knees to work with.

So I pushed the bike up.  And up.  And up.  And now I am back in my new apartment trying not to think about what is going to happen tomorrow morning if it's raining.  Because instead of an umbrella to take to work tomorrow, I now have a bicycle.  And I don't forsee that being especially helpful in terms of shielding myself from water.

On the other hand, I did get a roll of plastic bags from the Rathaus today when I went to register.  The lady told me they're supposed to be for plastic recyclables, but what was the first thing that ran through my mind when she handed me the roll?  Poncho.

Follow this link to see pictures from my weekend in Berlin:

Pictures of my new apartment, to which I might be am definitely allergic:

this is the view from my living room window.

dining room/living room 

living room/dining room



kitchen again

bedroom - really excited about not sleeping on a twin bed

bedroom.  i bought the lemon-bulb picture to decorate my new place.  i'm really excited about it.

also foyer

entrance to the bathroom.  the first room has a sink.  the second room has a toilet.  the third room has a washing machine, bathtub, shower, and sink.

19 June 2012

how to fail at being domestic

I woke up Saturday morning and thought to myself, I'm going to be really, really, ridiculously domestic today.

I'm kidding, of course.  It was more like, I want to bake a cake and clean my room today.  But that's close enough.  Anyway, what's really important is that I failed.  So if you're interested in what you can do to prove to yourself that you're completely unqualified to ever do anything domestic, just follow these simple steps...

Decide to bake a cake without having any ingredients or measuring appliances.  
Also, make sure you follow a recipe with metric measurements, which you're completely unfamiliar with (it has to be authentic, right?).  I didn't actually realize that I didn't have measuring spoons, cups, etc. until AFTER I had already gotten really pumped about this raspberry chocolate torte recipe I found on www.chefkoch.de.  But since I had so much faith in my improvisational capabilities, I decided to continue on with my baking endeavor and make a trip to the store to gather the ingredients I didn't have on hand (ahem, all of them).

Fill your grocery cart to the brim, then try to carry everything home.
I figured since I was going to the store anyway, I would just grab a few things to fill my cupboard for the rest of the month.  This certainly would not have been a problem if I lived right next to the grocery store, or if I had a car.  Unfortunately, neither of those things apply to me, so I ended up waiting for the train for 45 minutes with my three giant (and heavy) bags of groceries.
Also, make sure you wear a sweater and jeans to the store in the blistering sun.

Attempt to hand wash your laundry.
This needs no further explanation.  I clearly set myself up to fail.

Fortunately, the torte turned out to be wildly successful and saved the day, even though I had to use strawberries instead of raspberries (raspberry shortages, naturally).  I finished off the night drinking champagne, eating torte, and skyping Rose and Catalina (guest starring Stephen Walsh!).  It was great to see their faces/hear their voices/see them in their new habitat (37UP).  By the time we finished catching up, I realized that baking an entire torte was, in reality, a really awful idea...


Terrified - and secretly a little excited - I thought the answer would have to be me.  Alone.  An entire torte.

But who wants to eat cake alone?  (I'm having flashbacks to Matilda when they make the boy shove that giant piece of chocolate cake into his mouth, except that it would be me in a dark room by myself.  No one to cheer me on.)  Luckily, I dug myself out of that hole (and avoided an extra 10 pounds) by inviting some friends over to cook dinner and eat torte last night after work.  We made spaetzle like real Germans (because they are real Germans) and then sat around and ate the torte, drank champagne, and talked about educational and cultural differences between Germany and America.  Probably my favorite night so far here in the Schwarzwald.  It felt like something I would have done with my friends back home (FAMBUSH, hollaaa), which was super comforting because everything has just been so foreign, and that felt a little bit more familiar.

More good news: I'm starting to get used to the keyboard at work.  I now write "you" instead of "zou" on the first try.  The only downside is that I'm starting to type "Germanz" at home.  But I suppose that could pass as American slangz.  Either way I'm not complaining because I know that getting used to the keyboard is a sign that good things will follow...und die Sonne wird scheinen!

leckere Spätzle und Zwiebeln

11 June 2012


We were off last Thursday for another public religious holiday, so I decided to hitchhike to Munich for the weekend.

I didn't really, ACTUALLY, hitchhike, but I did pay to ride in a car with three strangers.  I know, I know - it sounds super sketch, but it really isn't.  People do it all the time here.  There's a website called mitfahrgelegenheit.de, where, if you're going to be travelling, you can post your beginning and end location, the dates you're travelling, and how many seats are in your car.  Then other people (like me) say they would like to ride with you and you talk to them on the phone or whatever and BAM!  You just saved (at least) 80 euros.

So I'm still not sure if the fact that I decided to do ride with a rando (his name was Omar) means saving 80 euros is more important to me than my well-being, but I don't think it does.  (Actually, if I hadn't saved the 80 euros, I probably wouldn't be able to eat this month.  So I think it was a good call.)  Also, I was super cautious and decided to document my trip in my brand new Axor organizer that I got at work, just in case something went wrong.  Then the police would know everything that happened.  This is what I wrote (please excuse my fragmented, choppy stream of consciousness):

"I find myself always in need of chapstick here, probably because I'm always biting my lips at work out of constant frustration and confusion."  [This was on the train on the way to meet my Mitfahrgelegenheit. It actually has nothing to do with anything.]

"I knew Omar would be a good guy from the beginning.  Maybe I just trust mitfahrgelegenheit.de too much, but I like to think I have an exceptionally good read on people.  For example, I knew the lady on the train to Offenburg was a terrible wench as soon as she scowled at me for stepping on her foot.  It was one of those really overdramatic situations, where you (1) don't even know what you did wrong, and (2) apologize only to be given the cold shoulder.  Well, anyway, Omar isn't like her.  I think he would have moved his feet before I stepped on them."  [Initial reaction to Omar + reflection of recent train ride]

"She's one of those ladies who always runs her hand through her hair - from the front of her forehead to the back.  And when she let's the pieces go, they fall right back into her eyes.  Her breath smells like mint (which is making me crave American Orbit) on top of the smell of her recently smoked cigarette (which isn't making me crave any type of cigarette), and her skin is the tight, leathery kind, where the sun-kissed wrinkles stretch out with a waxy glow.  I decided I like her because she told me I speak perfect German, and she exaggerates her stories, emphasizing just how beautiful everything is.  And I can really appreciate someone who sees such beauty in the simple things."  [Just observing the lady who was sitting in the back seat of the car with me]

"Somehow it seems totally normal to be driving through Germany right now in a car with three strangers (one, a Tunesian man [Omar] living in France, one an Iraqi who lives in Italy, and one a real, live German [Orbit lady]).  Maybe it's the American pop music (call me, maybe) that's making this all feel so familiar."

At this point, I decided that my attempt to document suspicious actions for the police was a lost cause because these people were, in fact, just normal people. Schade.

Looking back on it, I guess I kind of went into the whole Munich trip kind of blindly.  I was meeting Stefi in Munich, with whom I spent no longer than 4 hours total three weeks prior to this.  And we were staying with a girl that neither of us had ever met, but she used to be a student of Stefi's mom, who teaches at a German school in New York.  So none of us really knew what to expect.

What I did not expect was for the trip to Munich to take 5.5 hours (normally ~3.5) because of traffic.  Then I also did not expect to watch a man roll a doobie and try to sell it at the train station while I was waiting to meet Stefi.  But that was all very interesting.

Then, on Thursday, I did not expect to wander right into the middle of the giant church celebration in Marienplatz (this was for the public religious holiday).  Then, when we tried to escape the enormous, suffocating crowd (suffocating because of the incense the priest choked the crowd with.. this might be easy to do in a small church, but this priest was especially talented because the celebration was outside in the open air), I did not expect to be given atrociously dirty looks by the bystander nuns.  My attempt to avoid these glares by moving my lips and pretending to sing along with the choir was unfortunately unsuccessful.

What was most of all unexpected, however, was running into Morgan Fisher and family in a completely random Eis Cafe that we accidentally stumbled into after a five hour, self-guided tour of Munich (aka getting lost).  For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about at all, the Fisher family is also from the town I come from in Missouri.  Random, right?  I'm still not sure if I completely believe it happened.  What a small, strange world.

In addition to all of those crazy things, we saw the Englisher Garten, had a couple beers (and pretzels with obatzda) at the Hofbräuhaus, experienced a little Munich nightlife, and watched Germany's first game of the European Football (soccer) Championship.  I'd say it was a successful weekend, given that I am alive, saved 80 euros, got to experience Munich, and, most of all, made two really great new friends.

I started to get weirdly homesick while in Munich.  Just leaving Bavaria and watching the scenery transform into something more familiar as we reentered the Schwarzwald was a little comforting, but I still came back home and immediately wrapped myself up in Crazy Dave's Tufts sweatshirt. (It was beer-soaked and too big to fit in his bag when he left campus, so I inherited it.  Good thing I washed it because I have to pay an arm and a leg to do laundry here, and there aren't even dryers. Crunchy towels. Baggy pants.)  I'll have to make a trip to Tuebingen soon to see some familiar faces.

Miss you all dearly.

Pictures of the Feiertag: