28 May 2012

what do ducks eat, besides bread?

Yesterday I set out to conquer the cobblestone streets of Schenkenzell.  I opened the gate of my white picket fence, turned right, walked a little, turned right again, walked a little more, turned right again, and then realized that I had seen it all.  It turns out that I live on the main road of little fairytale town.  I never would have guessed.  I guess that's what fairytale town excursions are for - to learn things like you're not missing out on anything if you walk directly home from the train station (five minutes), because you will pass everything that fairytale town has to offer on your trip.

I'm not bitter.  Really.  Here are my thoughts about living in the middle of nowhere and not having any friends (yet):

1.  I can just relax and do whatever I want to do (assuming it's within the limits of what Nowhere has to offer).  But that actually means I have to relax.  So it's kind of nice not to have a choice.

2.  If I was living somewhere really overwhelmingly exciting, I would never want to leave.  This way, I can make as many trips as I'd like and never feel like I'm missing out on what's going on at home.  (Not to say that there isn't anything going on in Schenkenzell.  There is going to be a Zumba dance party in June.  And I'd totally be in attendance if my ACL was up for it, which I don't think it will be.)  There are AmCham interns all over Germany, so I think I'll go visit all of them and make them be my friends.

3.  It's completely dark at night, which I really appreciate.  I like to be able to see the stars in the sky.

4.  This is really a gorgeous place with wonderful people.  I like to think of it as a hands-off nature experience, which is my favorite kind.  Schiltach and Schenkenzell are all about appreciating the nature for its grandeur and beauty, but not getting too close.  And I dig that.

So yesterday may have been a smidgen disappointing, but I did have time to finish the book I brought (why did I only bring one book?) and we finally got internet access, so it wasn't a total flop.  I knew today would be better because Frau Hampel left a plate in the kitchen for me this morning with raisin bread and some kind of fruit cake.  I don't know what was in it (it might have been rhubarb, but I'm trying not to think about it), but it was delicious, and really a very kind gesture.  I think she thinks I haven't been eating because she came upstairs earlier while I was in the kitchen (Kitchen Boy was away for the weekend) and asked me if I have been using the kitchen.  At least I think that's what she asked.  Anyway, I have been, but I still wouldn't mind having her bring me more delightful treats.

Schiltach took about as long as Schenkenzell to explore.  It is a bit bigger, however, and I look forward to going there when it isn't a holiday and the stores are open.  After an hour of exploration and a few pictures, I decided to sit down in the grass next to the river and try to watercolor water, which ended up being very difficult.  From this, I learned why people seem to prefer bench-sitting over grass-sitting here, and that's because the grass is infested with ants.  Not just where I was sitting, but everywhere.  And I actually didn't even notice until I had been there for almost an hour, at which point I decided I had already been contaminated, and it wouldn't do me any good to move.  The truth is, I was finally kind of starting to figure out how to paint water, and I didn't want to interrupt my concentration.  Finally, I left, parked myself on a bench, safe from the ants, and soaked up some sun before returning home.

During my sun-soaking, this is what I realized:

In Schiltach/Schenkenzell, there are
more trees than ants,
more ants than people,
more people than bicycles,
more bicycles than motorcycles,
more motorcycles than solar panels,
more solar panels than automobiles,
and more automobiles than trains.

I'm sure I left out a few important things (such as water, but I couldn't figure out how to quantify that because there aren't necessarily tons of streams, but the volume of water is quite large), but that's about as far as my two days of exploration got me.

See my pictures of Schenkenzell and Schiltach here:  http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150911080594865.413206.501844864&type=3&l=abc651b70d

This is a duck that came to sit by me while I was painting:

27 May 2012

my first trip to Offenburg

I went to Offenburg today to find a cell phone.  They’re called “Handys” in Germany, but no one seems to understand me when I say that I need to find a Handy.  My colleagues asked me if I had plans for the weekend, and, in anticipation of this question, I had already pre-planned my reply.  Ich muss ein Handy finden. I don’t know whether the idea of using a three-day weekend (Monday is a national holiday!) to find a cell phone was just extremely underwhelming, or if I can’t get the accent right on Handy, but regardless, it took a couple tries for me to clarify. 
Anyway, I had to go to Offenburg, which is about 45 minutes away, to find anything resembling a cell phone store.  I felt American enough after speaking to three different cell phone salesmen about getting a phone, so my tourist quota for the day was approaching capacity, and I wasn’t very keen on the idea of adding to it by taking pictures of Offenburg.  Luckily, I am sure I’ll have to go back again, so no one is missing out on pictures of the beautiful city.
In Offenburg, I saw stores with the names Roth, Armbruster, Mueller, and Schaefer.  The streets were cobblestone (aren’t they all?), the storefronts looked like houses, and there were Biergartens on every corner.  I visited three mobile phone stores.  Each one was a little more helpful (and had better salespeople) than the next, and I became a little more exhausted after each stop.  Whether it was because they really offered the best deal, because they were the most persistent about selling me a phone, or because it was the last store I visited and I didn’t feel like returning to the other stores, I ended up buying a phone from T-Mobile.  It’s a prepaid phone, which is good because I don’t have anyone to call yet, so there’s no need for me to pay a monthly fee.  Maybe when I have more friends a monthly plan will be in order.  I realized on the train ride home that I don’t actually know my phone number, so I guess that’s my next task.
It’s really nice not to have deadlines or commitments that I have to keep in mind.  If I miss the train, waiting an hour really isn’t that big of a deal.  It would normally seem like a huge inconvenience, but everything about this place is just so much more relaxed. 
There was a bachelor party on the train I took home from Offenburg, which was fun.  I needed some excitement in my life.  They were all wearing orange shirts and made me sign them.  Then Markus and Tobias tried to sell me underwear, at which point I pulled the American card and told them I only speak a little German.  They offered me a beer (apparently it’s also chill to drink on the train) and then invited me to Freudenstadt to go to a pub.  Still having not completely mastered the 24-hour clock, I thought it was much later than it actually was, so I declined their offer, got off the train at Schenkenzell, and finished the beer they gave me.

Last night I made two discoveries that are going to change my stay here in the best way possible:  (1) there are cactuses in the bathroom, and (2) I can listen to music in the shower.  Tomorrow is Sunday, and apparently everything is closed on Sundays, so I’m going to explore Schenkenzell, and then probably sit by the river and paint.  Then on Monday, whatever holiday it is, I’ll probably go to Schiltach (unless I still have more to see in Schenkenzell, but it’s unlikely that will take more than a day), and see what Schiltach has to offer.  It should be a delightful weekend.

As for now, I’m going to take a shower, watch Clueless, and go to sleep.  And maybe try to figure out what my phone number is.

bathroom cacti


Three days in Germany, two days at work, and still no internet access.  It’s kind of nice to be cut off from that world.  For like a second.  And then you realize your Gmail inbox is probably overflowing since you haven’t been able to sort your emails.  And you accumulate five pages of blog-writing that you haven’t gotten a chance to post.  And then you’re kind of ready to be back in the 21st century.

Maybe we’ll get internet tomorrow.

Yesterday was my first day at work.  My boss met me in the lobby, and then we had a brief introductory meeting.  She asked me during the meeting whether or not I would prefer if they held their conferences in English, as they are usually in German.  Her boss (the man I interviewed with) told her that they would have to start speaking more English when I came, but she wanted to ask me to make sure.  So I told her they could carry on their meetings in German because I’m here to learn the language, yadda-yadda-yadda…  Okay.  So it’s all German, all the time (with the exception of today when I royally screwed up clocking out for my lunch break and had to explain myself in English).  You’d be surprised how much Germans appreciate an American who can speak their language.  Even if it’s broken and you have a terrible accent they’ll tell you how good you are at German.

It’s almost like the more German I hear, the less I can speak.  Everything on my computer at work is in German.  The keyboard is German.  (Who knew there was a difference?)  The most challenging part of the new keyboard is that Y and Z are switched, causing me to often type “Kerty.”   I’m convinced that this whole language barrier thing will get easier when I can master the keyboard.  The most difficult part right now isn’t understanding what other people are saying, but being able to express what I want to say.  I find it comical when I say a sentence and then look at the person across from me, and their face is totally blank.  They didn’t understand a word.  Not a single word.  And it’s funny because I’ve totally been in that situation before—just staring at a person, trying to repeat their words in my head and make some sort of sense out of them.  But I’ll try again or they’ll ask me a question, and we’ll finally be back on the same level.  I’m beginning to be able to pick out different accents.   Sometimes when I can’t understand a person, it’s not because they’re talking too fast or using words it don’t know.  It’s just because people speak in an accent here, and they’re really, really difficult to understand—even for other Germans!

There are many young workers at Hansgrohe, which pleases me because I was afraid I would have no one to hang out with on the reg.  We had an intern BBQ after work today, and I got to meet many of the other interns.  They’re all very nice.  I hope I see them at work tomorrow so we can be friends.  I met a girl who studied in Tuebingen, so she gave me her contact information and a few recommendations for good economics professors.  Most of the interns are from the area, but there is also a girl from Canada and a boy from Egypt.

All of my colleagues are fantastic.  We go to lunch together.  I met with my boss today to discuss my first project (yay!), and then I met with her boss to get an overview of the company, our department, and to tour the Aquademie (aqua + academie).  It’s basically this really sick building where you can see all of the Hansgrohe and AXOR products and test some of them. 

This weekend is a three-day weekend because Monday is some sort of national religious holiday.  I guess there’s no separation of church and state in Deutschland.  Whatevs, I get the day off.  I have no idea what I’m going to do because apparently nothing will be open Sunday or Monday and the only friend I’ve made so far is going to be out of town.  I think I’ll just explore and maybe post these blogs and some pictures—if I have access to the internet.  Saturday, I think I will travel to Offenburg to find a cell phone.  Offenburg is 45 minutes away by train.  Apparently I won’t find anything closer.  I am literally in the middle of nowhere, imaginary land. 

On another note, there is also a deaf and mute boy who lives in my house.  He is ALWAYS in the kitchen, sitting at the table.  Last night, I cooked my first meal.  I took FOREVER in the market.  Not only could I not decide what I should buy, but I couldn’t read many of the labels.  In a rush to check out before it closed, I accidentally bought pig head. (I can just imagine Molly cringing when she reads this.)  Anyway, I didn’t realize that I bought pig head until I was cooking it and I read the label.  Schweinekopf.  Ew.  But the deaf, mute boy was sitting in the kitchen, so I couldn’t just make a scene and throw it away, mid-cook.  No, I had to finish cooking my pig head and then leave the kitchen to dispose of the meat in a different trash can.

That was last night.  Tonight, I came home from the BBQ and went directly to my room, as per usual.  The boy from the kitchen knocked on my door and motioned for me to follow him.  Guess where we went.  The kitchen!  He pointed to the remote and TV, signaling that it wouldn’t work.  I honestly don’t know what he expected me to do.  Considering that he spends 100% of his time in the kitchen, he should have realized that I spend 0% of my time in the kitchen and therefore, do not know anything about how the television works.  So I shrugged my shoulders and went back to my room.  Three minutes later, he knocks on my door again, points toward the kitchen, and gives me a thumbs-up.  Great, the TV works.  Smile, thumbs-up, we part ways, I close the door.  A couple minutes pass and he’s back again, this time with a pen and paper.   Writing notes in German is totally my thing since I’m much better at writing than speaking.  That was nice because we hadn’t formally been introduced, and it’s nice to know the person you’re living with, I guess.  But after that he knocked on my door TWO MORE TIMES.  Come on, man.  I’m trying to write my blog.  And I have to get up at 6:30.  Give me a break.

I’m going to need to get coffee in the morning.

zwei Koffer

*thirteen hours later*

Lesson of the Day:  Just because the train doesn’t have baggage regulations doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to pack your weight in luggage.

Today was unquestionably the longest day of my life.  The adrenaline/delirium combination that was keeping me awake and happy at the airport wore off right before I met all of the other AmCham interns.  Jet lag encroaching, I struggled to roll my two 50-pound suitcases down the sidewalk, seizing every opportunity I had to explain my excessive packing. 

I promise I have a reason for packing so much.
No one asked.
You see, I’m studying in Tübingen for a year after the internship is over.
Uneven surface.  Blue bag topples over.
Oh thank you, but I can take care of both of them myself.  I need to practice for later.

I should have accepted their help when they offered it because I was carrying my weight in luggage, looking at three solo train rides and five hours of travel.  All of the credit for my punctual arrival in Schiltach therefore goes to the mastermind of the German train system.  It is incredibly organized and easy to use.   Any questions that might arise can be answered by one of the many friendly passengers of the rail.  In fact, I’d like to give a shout out to a few who helped me along my way.

Frankfurt to Mannheim

My first train.  When I arrived in Mannheim, I was supposed to only have a 12 minute layover to find my next train, which was causing a lot of anxiety.  Luckily, I was at the Frankfurt station an hour early, and the next train stopping in Frankfurt was also going to Mannheim.  If I could take that train, I’d have plenty of time between my trains in Mannheim.  But I don’t know German train rules, and everyone looked too scary to ask, so what did I do?  I located the most American-looking person I could find (he was wearing a “Michigan” shirt) and asked him.  It probably wasn’t the best move strategically, but luckily he was actually German and knew the train system (yes, I could take the earlier train!).  He even helped me with my giant suitcases!  This man, Michigan Man, was exactly the person I needed to meet just as I was taking off on my own.  After I told him why I was in Germany, he would only speak to me in German.  So that set the tone for the rest of the day (has it only been a day?) and, really, this trip as a whole.  Thanks for putting me in my place, Michigan Man.

Mannheim to Offenburg

No one really great helped me out here.  The train was 15 minutes late, I watched an elderly lady feed her middle-aged son cookies, and some snarky woman hissed at me for having one of my pieces of luggage in the aisle.

Offenburg to Schiltach

This is what I saw when I deboarded the train in OFFENBURG.

Hey, Ste. Genevieve:  New Offenburg….Armbruster… See the connection??

A really nice elderly couple waited patiently for me to take this picture so they could help me with my suitcases.  I had to go down a level and then back up another level to get to my next platform.  Frau und Herr Loer literally WOULD NOT let me do it by myself.  That tiny little lady snatched my bag from me and pushed it all the way to platform seven.  When we discovered the elevator was broken and I would have to carry the suitcases up the giant staircase, she insisted on standing at the bottom and asking everyone who passed if they would help me!  What a woman.

I finally reached the top of the grand staircase with my 100 pounds of life and lifted my weak, tired head only to see a platform completely stuffed full of rowdy, screaming, pubescent middle-school-aged children.  This literally made me so nervous that I thought I saw a tarantula climb across the train tracks. 

While waiting for the train, a man who appeared to be returning from a hiking trip with his family approached me and asked if he could help me with my bags.  I willingly accepted his offer, and he rode with me all the way to Schiltach, checking with me along the way to make sure there would be someone waiting for me at the station, etc.

The train ride from Offenburg to Schiltach was basically out of a storybook.  There are valleys and mountains and rivers and castles.  The cities are nestled into the woods, little white houses with deep brown accents, cobblestone paths connecting each one to the next.  Schiltach is no exception (except that it might be the most beautiful of them all).  Even the Hansgrohe headquarters mesh well with the picturesque, romantic little fairytale theme.

I’m living one train stop away from Schiltach Mitte, where I go to work.  This is my house:

My landlord is a 65 year old lady who is extremely sweet, super clean, and doesn’t speak a lick of English.  SCORE.  She also speaks with an accent (many people in this area do), so I can’t always understand everything she says.  But we’ll get there.  Baby steps.

My room is spacious and old-fashioned.  I love it.  I can see the mountain out my window.  There’s a Bäkerei (dangerous) across the street, and the train station is just down the road.  The only downside is that I don’t have internet access yet.

What. A. Day.  And I start work tomorrow!  Better get some sleep so I’m not useless.

More pictures....

Having a sink in your room is really quite handy.

 Exactly the '70s style/color curtains I would have chosen for myself.

I like the way this lamp shines on the wall.

 Ironic how this closet is 8 million times bigger than the one in my dorm, but I only have a fraction of my clothes here.

 The view from my window.

 Shower room.  Sometimes I forget there is a window.

Bathroom sink.

Toilet.  I really like the green-turtle-stone thing going on in this room.

22 May 2012

i always feel like my tongue is swelling on airplanes

I tried to put on some eye shadow to disguise the film of grime covering my body after my seven-hour flight to Frankfurt.  Not only did it fail to make me look any less disgusting, but I now also appear to have not slept a wink in months instead of looking only slightly sleepy, which I am.  I got a pretty decent five hours on the plane once the NyQuil kicked in and I couldn’t hear the babies screaming anymore.  Of course, I was interrupted by the TWO MEALS and FIVE ROUNDS OF DRINKS they served us.  I mean, come on.  It was only seven hours.  Plus, my reservation mentioned nothing about being served a meal, so I naturally bought a sandwich right before I boarded to prevent starvation.  So three meals in seven hours.  You might be thinking, “Well, Jenna, why didn’t you just not eat one (or two) of the meals?”  Here’s the deal:  Molly and I have spent the past week at Tufts eating off of a Pay-For-Chipotle-In-Coins kind of budget, so I’m not currently in the position to turn down any type of free food.  [Note:  Lufthansa serves beer and wine like they’re apple juice and offers you cognac or Bailey’s after your meal.  Hello, Europe.]

Once I woke up from my nap, the Italian man sitting next to me had just finished his coffee and was feeling quite chatty.  For those of you who don’t know, Jenna Kertz is not a morning (or even post-nap) person.  But I decided to suppress my anti-sociality (trying new things, right?) and entertain him.  He talked about his 17 year-old nephew who is in America trying to make it as a hockey goalie and how European homes are built better than American homes.  He also told me a story about how he got arrested in America once for trying to parachute down a ski slope.  I’d say, overall, it was worth sacrificing an hour of napping.

17 May 2012

foot theory

I think it's due time that we discuss how limiting the idiom "getting cold feet" really is.  As if your feet only feel one way right before you're about to do something really incredibly scary.  No, no, no.  It's more like getting sometimes-freezing-occasionally-sore-and-sweaty-monster-feet-with-sores-and-blisters.  And that actually doesn't even begin to cover it.

Based on my experience the past month and my anticipations about the future, I have (with the help of my dear friend Alie Glaser) developed a four-phase foot-changing theory about the basic process that individuals go through in stressful situations.  Except this post is mostly just about my feet.

One particularly important thing to point out, and perhaps the reason "cold feet" has been so often used as the overarching foot feeling for scary situations, is that feet are initially really cold when they first get involved in the whole process (that is, when you really begin thinking about what you're going to do and the consequences you're going to face for doing it).  This phase hit me hard around the end of April when I started thinking about not seeing my friends for a year and missing out on timeless Tufts traditions such as Winterfest and Jumbo Day.  I'd like to say that my personal determination and support from friends and family is what got me through these dark periods without backing out, but let's be honest.  My plane ticket was expensive.

So once you get past the "cold feet" stage (which is by far the longest most painful, according to my speculation), your feet begin to warm up a little.  It's as if a good friend just let you borrow their wool socks--still a little uncomfortable, but you're not crying anymore.  (That is, unless at the end of your cold feet stage, you're bombarded by final exams and all of your friends decide to leave you.  Then the transition is a little bit more rocky.)  This is currently where I am right now.  It's kind of a weird in-between gray area that I don't really enjoy because there isn't enough definition about how I'm supposed to feel.  And I need guidelines.

The third foot phase, hot feet (footo caliente), is fast approaching, and should be an interesting ride.  I anticipate it setting in at its most definite point when I'm waiting for my cab to go to the airport.  The scary thing about hot feet is once you reach this phase there's no turning back.  It's kind of like getting stuck in a mosh pit at a sweaty concert--while you're really uncomfortable and kind of scared you might get trampled and die, the intensity is thrilling, and you're having a great time overall.

Sometime between the point when I pop my Tylenol PM on the airplane and when the landing gear makes contact with ground in the homeland, I'll transition to phase four: numb feet.  It should really be called Phase Oprah because you can literally do anything (like walk across hot coals!).  It's pilot mode, you know?  Zombie mode.  Robot mode.  You do whatever you have to do.  I'm actually really excited about this phase.  It will be like finals week all over again (but with less Tisch and more windows).  [Note:  I have no idea why I not only said that this phase would be like finals week, but also that I would enjoy it.  I've tried to reevaluate those two statements, and both stand.  I don't understand either.]

What happens after numb feet?  I guess shit gets real and I can stop talking about my emotions in terms of foot feelings.  No promises, though.