Time, etc. (part 2)

Getupp told me this morning that it was time to write another blog post, so here we are!

Where did we leave off…still in January?!  Oh man.  Well, not too much happened right away after I arrived once again in Hamburg, except that I tried Turkish food for the first time the night I got back and IT WAS AWESOME.  I had a Döner sandwich , which is not unlike a Gyro, except that it’s made in a delicously airy, crusty flatbread with either chicken or beef, lettuce, and sometimes some spicy sauce.  One can also get the sandwich as a burrito-style wrap, which is also pretty great.  Overall it’s a little more subtle in flavor than the typical fare at Greek House or Oakland Gyros (gotta holla at MKE!).
The guy running the Döner stand was really cool and made me laugh, which was also awesome.  I hadn’t laughed in a while.

I really didn’t get out much for the next week or so after that.  I was still waiting on my financial aid from OU and didn’t want to exacerbate my already precarious finances.  However, fun was definitely in order for Super Bowl night!  (What a great time to be a Packers fan, eh?)
I found one bar in Hamburg that was showing the game–an Irish pub called Finnegan’s Wake.  They’d advertised their Super Bowl party on an American ex-pat website, and I was really nervous that the place would be packed completely full already a couple of hours before the game.  When I arrived (at 11:30 PM, an hour before the game), there were still a couple of open seats at the bar, one of them next to a fellow Packers fan.  What luck!

Crazy Swede, claimed to have played at UCLA with Troy Aikman.

Robert, the crazy Swede. Claims to have played at UCLA with Troy Aikman. (photo credit: Damian Helbling)

Upon learning that I was also a Packers fan, Robert, pictured here,  insisted that I sit by him.  (In other circumstances, I would not have done so, but my judgement was already impaired from having had a glass-and-a-half of wine on the train en route to the bar.  Cheap nights are always better, right?)  He proceeded to buy me a Guinness, and we started yammering on about our team and why the heck he’s even a Packers fan to begin with (something I still don’t understand).  Pretty soon his buddy showed up, and he bought me another beer!  I decided these guys were all right.  For a while.
Then things started getting weird.  Some random girl came up and got pretty friendly (heh heh) with Robert, who later claimed that he had no idea who she was.  Then the heckling started.  First he was bugging the other guy sitting next to me about his Bills shirt, then it was the quiet Steelers fan standing behind us.  Em-barrassing.  Bills shirt guy went somewhere else, which made it really difficult to ignore weirdo Robert, until someone my age (!) sat down next to me.  The guy was a Steelers fan, and I don’t remember exactly how our conversation started, but we ended up as friends by the end of the night.  I made friends with the afore-mentioned heckled Steelers fan, too (to whom credit goes for the picture).
So, at the end of the night, I’d paid only for one drink of my own, and a drink for my new friend Leonard as consolation for his team’s loss.  Packers and cheap night FTW!

Oh, I almost forgot!  The day before I went to Schwerin, Natalye’s and my friends Jan and Uli invited me to go with them to Ikea.  (Natalye was away that weekend.) It was a total coincidence that they’d invited me to go there, since I had planned to try to figure out how to take the public transportation there that same day.  The best part about the Ikea here is that they have a cheap hot dog and soda deal (€1!), and a self-serve fixin’s area with all the stuff I like!  After that, we went down to the harbor and took the public transport ferry, which was really cool (and also really cold).  Later, we decided to go for dinner, and they happily obliged when I said that I’d like some traditional German food.  Jan, Uli and their friend convinced me to get the Leberkäse (pronounced lay-buh-kay-seh) plate, which came with a fried egg and potatoes.  Now, for all the non-German speakers out there, Leberkäse literally means liver cheese.  Like, weird, right?  The name and the appearance of this meal (it resembled a slice of meatloaf, except pink and with the texture of bologna) made me a little nervous, but it actually tasted really good!  After an internet query, I found that there’s actually very little, if any, liver in it.  All in all, my first authentic German meal in Germany was awesome.

So, friends, we’re sort of getting caught up…now we’re stuck at the beginning of February.  I think I ought to try a little harder at this, no?


Time, ticking out of control (part 1)

Do you ever feel like time passes you by; as if you and time are in a race, and time makes it around the track before you do?
I often feel like this, but never has time’s passing felt so swift or overwhelming to me.  I really feel as if I have lost track of life, and this makes me feel rather uneasy.  What I’m about to say may make you think that I don’t appreciate what I have (in being here), but to me it seems like not all that much has happened in the last month and a half.  I feel like I haven’t done much.
Maybe it’s time’s fault for moving so quickly, or maybe it’s mine for not proceeding through time with enough care.   Maybe it’s just a matter of my memories being scattered and disorganized.  Hopefully both you and I will feel that I haven’t squandered these last several weeks when this post is through.  (Hah, I bet you can’t tell already that I harbor some guilt about how things are going…)
Enough introspection!

I’ll start from where I left off in January.  A couple of days after my McDonald’s trip, I went on a day trip to see Schweriner Schloss in Schwerin, Mecklenberg-Vorpommern.   The folks from the UH Environmental Wind Tunnel Laboratory graciously invited me along to go sightseeing that day, as they were entertaining visitors from the US Naval Research Laboratory.
The train ride to Schwerin was pretty, and I was surprised to see that there was still green vegetation in the countryside.  Schwerin itself is gorgeous, with charming and typically European buildings and several small lakes scattered in and around town.
After a coffee break downtown, we walked a short distance to our destination.  The Schloss (castle) was originally the seat of the Duchy of Mecklenberg; now, part of it serves as the parliament of Mecklenberg-Vorpommern, of which Schwerin is the capital.  From having seen the castle’s interior, it’s not overtly apparent that the region was poor; the place is full of intricate parquet floors, silk-covered walls and beautiful antiquities.  I’m still pretty bummed that photography was not allowed inside, but what can you do?  The castle is currently undergoing exterior restoration, most of which is finished. The sun was just about to set as we were leaving, and the castle really glowed.  It was awesome.  My pal Martin took this (unedited!) picture of me and the beautiful luminosity:
I have several more pictures of this place, but I don’t have enough space for them on WordPress.  They’ll end up on my long-neglected picture blog…eventually.  (I know without being told that I’m bad at blogging! ; ] )
After a delicious dinner, we rode back to Hamburg, making sure to grab a couple of six-packs for the (rail)road.  Beer + train rides = good times, just so you know.

So.  That was the day before I got some bad news.  The following Friday, I flew home, and I was really dreading the 15 hours of travel on which I was to embark.  In hard times like that, it’s really hard for me to be alone.  I thought, here I am, flying home alone, and nobody is going to talk to me all day.  I’ll be seated next to nobody, as always, and I’ll get home and break into a million pieces.  After arriving in Chicago, I was to take the bus to Evanston, where I’d meet my Uncle to catch a ride back to Wisconsin that evening.
Well friends, this did not happen as expected.
When I arrived at London Heathrow, I decided that instead of exploring the airport like I usually do, I wanted to sit at my gate and try to nap, since I hadn’t gotten any sleep the night before.  I quietly sat down next to a girl who I later noticed was wearing a UW Cycling jacket.  Wisconsin or Washington? I thought about asking, but didn’t.  Pretty soon she got up and went away, and I fell asleep.
When we boarded the plane a few hours later, I saw this same girl a few rows in front of me.  Now she looked quite familiar, but I couldn’t put a name to her face.  Somehow my eagle-sharp eyes (har-har!) were able to see the name on her boarding pass (which she conveniently held in my line of sight), and I realized that I knew this girl.  Actually, not only did I know her, we’d been friends since elementary school!  This was an incredible surprise, and catching up with her was super fun and even a little cathartic.  She and her dad gave me a ride home, which created somewhat of a fiasco for my Uncle (but worked out perfectly for me, since we were all going to…well almost the same place).  I still feel guilty about how that went down.

Being back in Wisconsin was really difficult.  I don’t think too many people care to read about super depressing stuff like Grandmas dying, so I’ll spare you the details.  As selfish as it sounds, I was really glad to be back on a plane to Germany the following Thursday.  Even though I left much of my stress back in Wisconsin, it still took me a very long time to readjust.  I’m not kidding you when I say that it was almost a month before I had any sort of motivation to get out and do stuff.  But, no worries, things are much better now!
I would really like to thank all of you for your thoughts and well-wishes during that time.  I know I haven’t been too vocal anywhere about it, but I really appreciate all of the friendship and understanding I’ve had through everything.  I know I have the best friends ever!

Maybe this is a good stopping point…we’ll have a multi-part series of catching up!  How’s that?  (Actually, I don’t care about what you think.  Okay, well, I do, but this is kind of a my-way-or-the-highway thing, you know?)

Hope you’ve been well.  Don’t be a stranger!  You can call or text an American phone number to reach me, or leave a comment here.  Even better, you can mail me something!  Let me know if you want my address or phone number.

Bis nächstes Mal!

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for…

…a trip back to Wisconsin!

My family ended up arranging a funeral for Gramma, so I spent this evening trying to figure out whether or not I could make it home. Turns out my travel insurance covers “trip interruptions” for family deaths, so I get to travel home for free. This is truly wonderful; I’ve had such a hard time coping with her passing, and being able to go home to pay my respects is quite comforting.
I’ll be home on Friday and leave again Thursday evening. I hope I’ll have enough time (unlike at Christmas) to visit with my family and perhaps a couple of friends.

Thank all of you for your sympathies and thoughts. I am still utterly heartbroken and really appreciate having such great friends right now. I miss everyone so much.

Oh man…

I really hate broadcasting this all over the Internet, but it’s hard for me to talk about anything other than my Gramma passing away the other night.  She was 85 and in great health, even in her last hours.

I intended to write another “normal” update today (since I had a very eventful and enjoyable weekend), but I need a little time to process things and probably won’t feel like updating for a few days.

Gramma didn’t want a funeral, and I am not sure what plans exist for a memorial service (although Mom says we’re having one eventually).   Mom told me not to come home, so for now I’m still in the Hansestadt.   Please don’t worry about me–I’m dealing with it the best I can.   I’m really trying to stay positive and keep life as normal as possible, as I know Gramma would’ve wanted.

So…hopefully I’ll have something more cheery to share on Wednesday or Thursday.   And maybe some pictures, too!

Let’s talk a little about McDonald’s.

I couldn’t resist it anymore…after going in one the other day, I decided that today was the day I needed to try McDonald’s.

Getting there was a little ridiculous.  Even though there are McDos sprinkled around Hamburg, the only one I really knew how to get to was just outside of the south end of the Hauptbahnhof (main train station).  In my mind, this worked out fine because I had to go to the Hauptbahnhof anyway to figure out which platform I should be at on Sunday (more about that later!).  So, I went; the particular U-bahn train I took dropped me at the north end of the station, right by the Deutsche Bahn platforms, so I found my platform right away.
After deciding to get lost in the station for a little while, I decided I was hungry enough that I should start looking for that McDonald’s.  I walked all around the north end of the station trying to figure out how to get out; the station was packed full of people, and through the bustling crowd it was almost impossible to tell where I was going.  So I went back to my starting point and followed as many U-bahn signs as I could, and then just walked through the U stations until I magically arrived at the south end.  Hooray!

I was starving by the time I finally made it to McDo, and I was so excited to try foreign(ish) fast food.  My original plan was to try only the fried brie wedges, but I was hungry enough that I needed a sandwich, too.  Here’s what I got:

What you see here are deep-fried brie wedges with raspberry dipping sauce and a Big Tasty Bacon burger.  Now, hear me out…I’ve had fried brie before, and it was awesome!  I knew I was taking a chance on the burger, but in the end I actually liked the burger more (edit: a smidgeon more) than the brie wedges.  I never like a burger more than any kind of cheese, much less brie…but this brie was totally flavorless and kind of tasted gross with the sauce.  The burger had tomato, lettuce, “swiss” cheese, onion, bacon and special sauce on it.  This made for almost too many flavors, although I did enjoy how sloppy it was!

I was considerably more satisfied with my choice at the McCafe a few hours later.  (I went back.  I’m only sort of embarrassed to say this.)  They have this delicious Apfelkuchen, which is what Americans might consider to be a deep-dish apple streusel pie.  Oh, was that tasty!  They have other delicious looking treats, like cheesecake and petits-fours and muffins and chocolate swirl bread.  I wish I would’ve tried the coffee…it’s a lot cheaper than some other places I’ve been.

So, the verdict: the regular menu is about as underwhelming as any other McDonald’s, but I might go back for their desserts.  Maybe.

Let’s try that again.

After the brain dump that was yesterday’s post, I decided that a few of the things I mentioned deserve a little more detail–especially since the plane rides got a big paragraph.

RE: the most delicious hot dog ever.  In the city’s major shopping promenades, there are outdoor stands called Mö-Grill that serve several kinds of sausage–among them hot dogs, bratwurst, their famous currywurst, and I can’t even remember what else.  Most of the sausages are served cut-up, bun-less, but with a brötchen (roll) or french fries on the side; the hot dog is served in a bun with toppings typical (like ketchup, mustard and pickles), slightly atypical (mayonnaise), and heretofore unheard of (french fried onions).  I guess the combination of french fried onions and everything else I listed is a Danish thing, which makes sense since we’re pretty close to Denmark here.  It’s a mountain of stuff on a hot dog, aber es schmeckt so gut!

RE: shopping, in general.  As we all know, in America, pretty much every place that isn’t a taco truck takes Visa/Discover/MasterCard for payment.  This is not the case in Germany.  Except for at H&M, Starbucks and maybe (?) McDonald’s, NOBODY takes American-style debit cards.  I heard before coming here that most places only accept cash or the German-style debit card, but I was not prepared for the intensity of this Visa shunning.
Shops tend to be very specialized here; the only thing remotely resembling a Walmart is METRO, which is pretty much a Sam’s Club copy, all the way down to requiring membership.  Clothing shops are plentiful, and there are are a couple of designer boutiques in my neighborhood, which makes going on walks very entertaining.  (Yohji Yamamoto?  Dries Van Noten?!?  Yes prease!!)  There are paper stores, shoe shops, bakeries, luggage stores, drogeries (like CVS without the pharmacy), flower shops and produce markets all over the place. The discount grocers Aldi and Lidl are exactly like Aldi in the States, which I appreciate.  These stores have pretty much every food and personal care item anyone needs to survive.  The Edeka market is our other option, but it tends to be much more expensive.  I’m glad we learned that quickly.  Liquor, beer and wine are sold in every grocery store and even in some unlikely-seeming places (like TK Maxx), but there are still liquor stores.  People here grocery shop much more often than does the typical American; because public transportation is so widely used and stores are within close proximity to peoples’ homes, it is both difficult and nonsensical to haul a weeks’ worth of groceries home in one trip.

RE: going out.  There are bars scattered throughout town, but the ones outside of St. Pauli tend not to be of the rollicking, weekend live music/party type.  Weekend revelers flock to the area for cheap food and long nights of drinking and dancing; most of the bars and clubs are situated along or near the main drag, the Reeperbahn.  The bars are smoky and packed to the gills, and sidewalks are busy with people walking from bar to bar or taking a snack break.  On weekends, the U-bahn (subway) stop at St. Pauli is busier at 4 AM than it is during weekday rush hours.  Many people stay out late enough to attend the early-morning Fischmarkt for Sunday breakfast!  I tried to do that last weekend, but succumbed to fatigue from wearing heels.  {Ladies, as a rule of thumb, never wear heels for a night out in Europe.  You will hate the cobblestones and your ankles will hate you.}
It’s hard to talk about the Reeperbahn without mentioning that it’s considered to be one of the largest red-light districts in Europe; I have not experienced that aspect of it and plan not to include it on my to-do list.  I will say, though, that women are generally not allowed in the most red-light of the red-light, and that the façades of the sex shops are of varying degrees of gaudiness and not unlike the ones people drive past on American interstate highways.  Just in case you were wondering.  (Mom, I promise I’m behaving.)

That’s enough for now…you don’t need a complete history and culture lesson in one post.  See on the left that I’ve posted the link to my “where I’ve been” map…I try to update it daily with notable places I went to.  Pictures will come eventually, I guess?

The first week

Well, this certainly took long enough.  I’m afraid everything is happening too fast for my memory to hold it!  I’ll see what I can still recall.  (Where has the time gone?  I can’t believe it’s already Tuesday!)

I apologize for the long delay in posting.  After getting most of the essential stuff settled late last week, relaxation mode kicked in and I haven’t done much other than that until today.  True, I might’ve been a vegetable most of the time I was at my parents’ house for the holidays, but that was just catatonia brought about by the semester from hell.  That didn’t count as unwind-time.  Now I’ve had some real rest and can deal with the world normally again.  (End of digression.)

I’m going to start with a little bit from day one, since I never really discussed arriving or anything like that.  The plane flights were rather more pleasant than I’m used to.  British Airways does a nice job of taking care of their passengers!  They kept me well-fed and entertained.  The transatlantic flight was probably the best; each passenger had their own little touchscreen entertainment system with a smorgasbord of movies, tv shows, albums and games.  Highlights: The Big Lebowski, 30 Rock, Björk, and the Talking Heads.  Two meals were served, and they didn’t charge for wine!  Heaven at 36000 feet.  After getting on the plane at Heathrow for an hour flight, the crew served (my second) breakfast.  I couldn’t believe I was being served a meal on such a short flight!

It was sunny in Hamburg when I landed, but I couldn’t see much of the skyline through the icy haze in the air.  It was beautiful, still, and I caught my first glimpse of the city’s charm on the car ride with Anne to my apartment.

That first day was pretty lazy, but we (Natalye and I) did venture out to find internet and to see a little bit of our neighborhood.  Napping so much during the day really hampered my night’s sleep; I was awake from 2 AM until quite late the next night.  Oops!  Luckily, jet lag was never an issue after that.

German class started the day after we arrived and, to my delight (yes!), it was taught almost completely auf Deutsch the first day.  (I’m a weirdo.)  So far we’re still going over things I have forgotten since German class in high school, so the review is nice.  Speaking German is not as easy as I thought it was…I suppose that speaking German in an American classroom seemed simpler because there weren’t native speakers around.  Class is four hours every morning, from just before 9 until 1 PM.

Having class for so long each morning did not make it easy to finish the rest of our errands during rather limited business hours.  Shops, cafés and restaurants here are required by law to close by 8 PM, and most businesses are closed by 5, if not earlier.  (Restaurants with bars are open later, but I have yet to find out when they close in our neighborhood.)  With so much to do, if we were finished eating lunch by 2, this gave us only two or three hours to stop by the Geomatikum to meet up with our lovely German-speaking helpers (Anastasia and Anne) and go on our errands.  On Wednesday we tried to get our bank accounts and health insurance, but the particular Deutsche Bank we went to didn’t have any appointments open for a week, and the health insurance provider had just locked up for the day.  That was frustrating, but everything got taken care of Thursday.

Preparing for the residency permit appointment was pretty overwhelming in itself.  I wasn’t aware of this until about a week before my trip, but the German government wants temporary visitors to prove they have enough money for their stay, which is (apparently) €15000 for a year.  Proving this means printing bank documents and perhaps making someone write a letter of financial support.  The government wanted original copies of these things.  Well, I was an idiot and left trying to put these things together until an hour before I was to leave for my first flight, having misunderstood AND forgotten parts of what Prof. Schatzmann’s email said.  So, stress, stress and more stress…I decided that the Germans would have to settle for a scanned copy of the letter my parents wrote and a printout of my financial aid notice.  And they did.  They gave me a residence permit!

{Now, if you’re planning to study in Germany anytime in the near future, I would suggest being more on top of these sorts of things.  Don’t leave anything until the last minute, because the stress of trying to diffuse the problems that inevitably arise makes everything unfun.}

So, this post is getting pretty long and is probably an arduous read.  Here’s a quick synopsis of the first week:

Monday: Class; met with Prof. Schatzmann and other Meteorologisches Institut people; got lost when we got off the train in our neighborhood; tried for hours to find food (because I was an idiot and didn’t get any Euros at the airport) and finally ended up eating at a combination tailor/café after I finally surrendered to the cash machine.  Also was denied groceries (on the first try) because I didn’t have cash, but eventually made it home with a loaf of bread, some cheese and three (very expensive) pieces of some quite delicious ham.

Tuesday: Met with the dorm manager to settle our housing contract; class; met at the Geomatikum with an American post-doc at the MI and got advice on EVERYTHING; went to Saturn, the most ridiculous electronics/appliances store ever; finally got internet access.

Wednesday: Class; sightsaw (is that correct verbiage?) around central Hamburg (which is a very short walk from our language class) and ate the best hot dog ever (with ketchup, mayo, mustard and french fried onions); tried to settle insurance and banking but failed; grocery shopped again.

Thursday: Insurance stuff; class; more bumming around central Hamburg; residency permit appointment; bank appointment; took the wrong bus in trying to get back to our apartment, ended up taking an hour detour on the one night we just really wanted to go back to the dorm and sleep.

Friday: Class; sightsaw around central Hamburg; went to talk to Prof. Schatzmann again; went shopping at TK Maxx (I bet you know what that is! ; ] ) for jeans and leather boots and failed; went to the Lidl next door as consolation and discovered paprika-flavored potato chips (here, paprika=bell pepper) which are a delicacy!

Saturday: Slept in; shopped my little heart out all over Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg (thank God for H&M); had Thai food and loads of sparkling wine with pretty much random people (Natalye met some guy while getting her hostel membership who knows the guy whose house we were at); partied until 3 AM in St. Pauli with said people and had a blast.  !  Yes, I was in the Reeperbahn, and no, I did not enter the red-light district.  No girls allowed!  (Mom, don’t get too upset.  I didn’t see anything I hadn’t seen living in Milwaukee.)

(St. Pauli/Reeperbahn might be [not quite sure yet if it’s true] the only place in town that actually has clubs or live music venues.  It was crowded enough to seem that way!)

Sunday: freakin’ nothing.  And it was great.  This might be the only time I’ll appreciate everything being closed on Sundays.

Monday: Finally settled insurance; class; amazing bagel sandwiches at the shopping center down the street from our language school; tour of the Wind Tunnel Laboratory at the Uni; went on an epic hunt for Persil laundry detergent (apparently the best in the world?) which led us to Metro (which=Sam’s Club, which meant that we couldn’t get in) and then to good ol’ Lidl, where we found it; did laundry (which was not as mundane as usual–the wash machine had an electronic display in several languages and almost as many wash cycles!).

Today: Class; cheap lunch at the Mensa cafeteria with classmates; tried to go to the Dungeons but decided not to, so we went to St. Michaelis Church and the Beatles museum instead.  I think those were much better choices anyway.

It’s been a wonderful time, and even more so now that I’m settled in and really important stuff has been taken care of.  Now it’s all about learning German and trying to not act like a jerk tourist all the time.

Good lawd, I hardly want to write any more, and I’m sure your eyes are about to fall out of your head from reading so much.  I’ll try to keep it shorter and with fewer parentheticals from now on.