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.