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.

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