Friday, October 31, 2008

Deutsche Post: WHY CZERNYRING?

Why, why, why?

There are so many lovely things about the Deutsche Post. They get mail to the US fast. They have cool things like the Packstation. The offices are clean and non-sketchy. One of the bigger downsides is that they're more expensive than any other postal service I've ever used. But the biggest of all is that they still insist, if we are not home to receive a package which has been addressed to our street address and is too big or requires signature, to tell us to pick it up after 4pm the next day at their Czernyring location!!! WHY?!

For a while, they had gotten better and were putting things we weren't here to properly receive in Packstations that are more conveniently located. That was just wonderful because the locations are not great but better, and we can pick them up at any time because the Packstations are automatic and therefore 24/7. But now it's back to Czernyring. There are at least 3 post offices I can think of that are closer to our address than Czernyring, and probably more I don't know about. I can bike to Czernyring and back in probably only 45 minutes, but that's a big chunk of time! (I haven't done it yet because my bike helmet is broken so I need a new one. I know everyone else in Heidelberg rides without a helmet, but I live on a major road and when it comes to head injury I'm pretty risk-averse, so I won't do it.) If I want to take a tram over there, it will take 15-20 minutes to walk to the stop, probably 10-15 to ride over there, another 15-20 to walk to the post office, 5 to pick up the package, then I do the rest back in the other direction all over again. That's an hour and a half not including tram wait times. According to Google Maps, that's about how long it would take me to walk there - and Google Maps has a big yellow warning that the route is missing sidewalks and pedestrian paths. Yes, it is. It is located in an area that is really only friendly by car.

I thought I'd wait until Saturday morning to do it so at least Damon can come with me and I will have someone to talk to on the long journey, but surprise! Saturday is a holiday so the entire state will be completely shut down both Saturday and Sunday this weekend. No wonder Heidelberg is having a long shopping night tonight.

I do want to hand it to Deutsche Post for having an alternative to this disaster, which is to have a Packstation address. We do have one. This means packages can be delivered directly to a PO-Box type of location, skipping the step of coming to our street address, and we can pick them up 24/7. But, remembering to use a separate address for us for packages vs. regular mail is a pain in the butt for friends and relatives so I don't blame them for not doing it. I guess the alternative to that is to have ALL our mail sent to a Packstation and not give people the street address, but that is quite inconvenient as we are 15-20 minutes from our Packstation location, and we don't get packages that often.

In short, if you have sent something to our street address and are wondering why we haven't acknowledged it, please allow us some time to make the journey down to Czernyring to pick it up! It is very far away! And please....don't worry about requiring a signature!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sometimes Germans are Really, Really Great

I think I just received the most adorable email ever composed by anyone.
Subject: maybe birthday???

My dear C;
I feel like in a double windmill (in German a famous saying: ich stecke
in der Zwickmühle).
I know that your birthday is around this time, and I think it is tomorrow;
but last time I spoke with L about it (which is nearly one year ago),
he meant it was last year a monday (which would be today).

It is so unpolite to ask, and whenever I need to see Damon during lunch
in the mensa, of course he is not there!
Thus I will wait until tomorrow for congratulations, because it is
better to do it belated than in advance.

Best wishes, have a nice day and it would be so nice to let me know!


PS: I hope, I am not completely wrong and your birthday is any other day :(
Can you identify all the German things about it?

Allerheiligen, the Mummelsee, and Other Sort-of-Local Goodies

This past weekend Stef and Josh came in from London to hang out and get a little break from the big city life! They rented a car in Frankfurt with the intention of exploring some of the areas around Heidelberg, which is exactly what we did. Josh also got to have some fun zipping around on the Autobahn while there was no traffic at night - but found it to be more nerve-wracking than anything else once we were on the crowded daytime stretches around Karlsruhe.

We spent the first day driving part of the Schwarzwaldhochstraße, up from Baden-Baden to the Mummelsee and the ruins of Allerheiligen. The Mummelsee is central to some of the area mythology and said to be inhabited by water sprites and a king who dragged (drags?) ladies underwater. Scenes from the myth can be seen on a hall in Baden-Baden. It was surprisingly small, more like a pond than a full-fledged lake, and incredibly still and clear! We walked around the perimeter in only a few minutes. It was chilly but the scenery was beautiful, and it was very quiet at this time of year. The Mummelsee comes complete with a super-kitschy gift shop full of witches, cuckoo clocks, dolls with big red balls on their hats, and other Schwarzwald paraphernalia. As you can see in the pictures, I couldn't resist a little piece of Catholic kitsch myself, and Stef and Josh picked up a little set of toys that make a German scene, to match some others they have found!

Schwarzwald, Odenwald, & More Oct 08

We continued on to the ruins of Allerheiligen, a 12th-century monastery in a little valley near a creek, which leads to a huge cascading waterfall! There's also an inn there, some sort of war memorial on a hill, and a few fountains which look like they were built during a very early tourist heyday of the area. (Perhaps back when Mark Twain came through?) The ruins themselves are kind of small, but coming up to them through the woods and seeing the waterfall are more than worth the trip alone.

The following day, we wandered up in the direction of the Odenwald and happened upon a little trailhead on top of a hill somewhere east of Weinheim. We had a nice walk through the meadow with beautiful panoramas of trees, farmland, and villages all around. One of the great things about Germany is the availability walking and biking trails everywhere you go!

On Sunday, Stef and Josh took in the castle, where a clever reporter identified them as Americans and interviewed them about the upcoming election, which is ever-so-appropriate since they have a blog about it. He had them pose next to a big cutout of their preferred candidate and maybe they will be quoted in the Frankfurter Allegemeine next weekend! (Or at least, maybe an interesting translation of their quotes will appear.) Stef is a big fan of the Deutsches Apotheken Museum at the castle, so I join her in urging you not to skip it if you are visiting. It's free with castle admission! After the castle, we took a walk on the Philosophenweg, and then it was time for them to be heading back to London.

After all this travel and friend-time over the last two weeks, I'm feeling ever so grateful for the truly awesome (to be American about it) people in my life. I know I am really lucky. Thanks to all of you for being who you are. :)

Wrocław (aka "Ro-claw. No wait, I think I have it, really. Vro...VROT-slaw... er...VROTS-waf!!")

We rented a car in Berlin to make the trip to Wroclaw, which promised to shave about 3 hours off the travel time as compared to the train, plus afford us the ability to make stops on the way whenever we felt like it. It turned out that they only let certain cars make the trip across the border and the car they'd originally reserved for us was substituted with a different one when they found out we planned to go to Poland. I'm not sure what the difference was.

Jason was the only one who could drive a stick, so he was our driver and had to obtain an International Driving License in order to drive in Poland. (That is not required to drive in Germany.) He enjoyed the lack of speed limit on the Autobahn while I cowered in the back. I am just not used to being in cars anymore, especially fast ones! At least there wasn't very much traffic.

Shortly before the Polish border, we passed a cop car and he tried to slow down. Then the cop pulled in front of us an flashed a little sign on the top of his car saying, "Bitte folgen" - please follow! At first we debated whether he was getting pulled over for speeding or if it was just a general border patrol that had selected us (at random?). It ended up being the second. The cops were really friendly and switched to English so everyone could understand them. They checked all our passports, the car registration, the rental contract, and Jason's driving license, asked us where we were headed, and were a little incredulous that we were just going to Wroclaw for two days and then coming back. Americans and their funny travel habits, I guess. Then they let us go. When we hit the real border, we weren't checked at all.

The border area was forested and the roads were terrible after we crossed into Poland. We started to wonder if parts might just get vibrated right off the car! There were guys selling mushrooms right at the side of the road! The off-ramps were cobblestone! And best of all, we couldn't read a damn thing all of a sudden. All within minutes! Border crossing is fun!

The roads improved as we neared Wroclaw, but the traffic got much worse. After leaving the motorway it took us an hour and a half to reach our rented apartment, partly because we got lost, but partly because the traffic was really terrible! We were just on the off-ramp for at least 10 minutes, and it didn't improve from there until we were well into town.

The entrance to our apartment was in a back alley and looked sketchy as all get out. The owner confided in Mike that Germans found it totally scary when they came here, but the English seemed to have no problem with it. As Americans I guess we felt sort of mixed about it. It was indeed rather sketchy, like something in a movie. At the same time, that made it feel all the more authentic - that quality which Americans are completely obsessed with! The stairwell smelled like gasoline and cigarettes and there were exposed wires, graffiti, and a large variety of different types of doors. But, our apartment was huge and completely gorgeous. It was 90 EUR a night, right on the pedestrian zone, and could hold up to 6 people all for that one price!

We wandered around and had dinner right in the center in a restaurant with white tablecloths and interesting decor. The final bill was about 71 złoty - or 20 EUR for all three of us!!

Over the next day we visited a few sights, which are better seen than described here, so I took lots of pictures!

Wroclaw Oct 08

The main squares in the old town, the Rynek and Salt Square, are completely surrounded by colorful facades. In Salt Square there's a 24-hour flower market, in case you ever need some fresh flowers in the dead of night. (Is this a major issue in Poland?) There are Catholic churches, nuns, and priests everywhere you turn, and the religiousness of the country is obvious, as we saw people kneeling and praying in nearly every one. You don't see very much of that in Germany. We had lunch at a milk bar, a cheap cafeteria-style restaurant which is apparently a leftover from Communist times. It was indeed ridiculously cheap. And, we managed to fit in some kebap as well, of course! And it was even cheaper than Berlin!

Surprisingly, given its beauty, Wroclaw did not seem to have a very big tourist industry at all (which is mostly a plus!). We only saw 3 places where we could buy postcards the whole time, and 2 of them were tourist information offices. One of these offices offered free internet (20 minutes) for tourists, which was a really incredible perk! They also sold a Wroclaw guide which was much more helpful than my Lonely Planet Eastern Europe. At our request, the guy there tried to teach us to say "thank you" in Polish and we basically failed to imitate him to his satisfaction. There are some things in German and English, but not to the extent I've seen in other countries.

I found it to be approximately as friendly as Germany, in the limited experience that we had. We actually got much better customer service across the board when we were in Berlin (a place I've always found to be friendlier than its reputation). A girl working at a confiserie where we stopped for cake was downright nasty to us, and overall no one was especially welcoming, with the exception of a girl who sold us ice cream minutes before her shop closed! Maybe it was our lack of Polish. Perhaps my expectations were too high because I've heard many people bubbling over with enthusiasm about the friendliness and hospitality of the Poles, so I was expecting something more like Ireland. However I was extremely pleasantly surprised to have the door held open for me several times by Polish teenagers!! I can't say that has ever happened in Germany, and maybe not in the States either!

Overall - sure, I'd go back to Poland. Maybe I'd want to learn a few more things to say first, provided I could manage to wrap my mouth around any of them. Or, maybe in larger cities, Polish is not as necessary. Anyway, it was cheap, beautiful, and interesting!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Berlin! Third Time's a Charm! Plus Special Bonus: Cottbus!

Whew! I spent 6 days going around Berlin, Cottbus, and Wrocław with my friends Mike & Jason (for work reasons poor Damon had to sit this trip out), then had a day to throw in some laundry and clean the bathroom before more friends, Stef & Josh (editors of The Informed Voter) arrived to spend 3 days relaxing in the lovely fall setting we have here around Heidelberg! So, I'm a bit behind.

I met up with Mike & Jason in Berlin on Friday afternoon after arriving by Deutsche Bahn (about 5 hours from Mannheim) and we wandered around the Alexanderplatz, the Nikolaiviertel, and Unter den Linden for a bit before starting on the weekend goal of consuming as many döner kebap as humanly possible - something that is unfortunately not available in their current home of NYC! This döner was at the Friedrichstraße train station and was okay. After our rather late dinner I crashed while they, still wide awake thanks to jet lag, went out to discover that the gay club scene in Berlin is perhaps a bit less tame than that in New York! (Note: link not for the especially conservative) In the morning Mike dramatically told me it was probably better that I hadn't tagged along.

Berlin Oct 08

The next morning it was off to the Ku'Damm area to check out the cakes on the top floor of KaDeWe and the Gedaechtniskirche, after which we got to watch some spontaneous public breakdancing by Berlin Skillz, who were actually pretty impressive! We watched the big goofy liquid clock in the Europa Center turn to 2:00, then rode over to meet Snooker & G at Cafe Einstein! They managed quite a feat in keeping a table free long enough for our rather late asses to show up! (Yeah, we got distracted a few times on the way...) After cake and hot beverages we wandered past the Brandenburg Gate over to the two Holocaust memorials - the larger one for Jewish victims, and a new one across the street in the Tiergarten for gay victims. Along the way we had the pleasure of meeting Snooker's wife N. as well! We continued on to a section of the Berlin Wall near the Topography of Terror, an open-air museum showing excavations of a former SS building. Afterward we wandered past Checkpoint Charlie, then Snooker showed us where to get a great döner in her neighborhood! (It turned out to be the best one of the trip!) Afterward we got some goofy ice cream treats at the mall near Potsdamer Platz (Spaghetti Eis and Hamburger Eis) before turning in for the day.

Sunday we went to Cottbus and Wroclaw (fodder for a separate post)! Cottbus was just a stop on the drive between Berlin and Wroclaw, so we figured, why not check it out? The town isn't mentioned even once in any of my guide books, leading one to think it has nothing to recommend it. I guess that's only relative to other German towns, as if you stuck Cottbus in the US, it would be a big tourist attraction with its 15th-century church, cute market square, and brick clock tower with a nice view of the region.

Cottbus Oct 08

We returned to Berlin on Tuesday afternoon and spent the rest of the day in Prenzlauer Berg, where we ate yet more döner, searched the grocery stores for Nougat Bits/Pillows/Pockets cereal, wandered all over, and took flash photos through broken basement windows. (Result: creepy.) The next morning we enjoyed breakfast in the rented apartment (including the some ever-so-healthful Kinder eggs - I think Mike actually got the prize in the photo on that site!) and went to Friedrichshain to check out a shop called Mondos Arts, which our guide book said was a trip back to East German times. I didn't find that too accurate a description. I was expecting something more like the DDR Allerlei shop that we found in Leipzig, which sold lots of goodies that were actually things available in DDR days. This shop was more nostalgic (or Ostalgic, I guess), with Ampelmann tie tacks and such. They did have a lot of videos/music from the DDR era but we were hoping for some more everyday stuff. Afterward we looked around the Karl-Marx-Allee at the buildings built during the DDR, which didn't seem to us so terribly different from some of the buildings you see in non-DDR areas, but seemed to fall into the same urban planning traps that were going on all over the place in the 50s and 60s. Then I had to catch my train back to Heidelberg!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Continued Adventures Coming Soon

I'm off to Berlin and then to Wroclaw, Poland for a few days. Here's some entertainment for the interim.

Beirut: Mount Wroclai

Beirut: Prenzlauer Berg

Beirut: Brandenburg

Gebrüder Blattschuss: Kreuzberger Nächte

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I have voted.

My absentee ballot from Massachusetts finally arrived yesterday! It is all filled in and ready to go. Two days previously my dad called me to say I'd received an absentee ballot from the state of Iowa, where I haven't voted since 1996. I used the site J recommended to check and discovered that I am still registered there, as is Damon, even though we've been voting in Massachusetts since 2000. Why haven't they taken us off the rolls? Do we have to tell them to? Isn't this an opportunity for fraud?

I can't wait until the election is over. This morning I received no fewer than 5 emails from my aunt full of brilliant stuff about how Obama is an America-hating terrorist and side-splitting jokes like, "Why are there so many more supporters at Obama's rallies than McCain's? Because McCain's supporters are at WORK!!! HAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAAHHA!!!!"

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Piccadilly English Shop

There's a place called Piccadilly English Shop in the Kurfuersten Passage across from the Heidelberg Hauptbahnhof. Unbelievably, I never went in there until yesterday. I'd seen it many times, but when passing by, all one can see is the windows filled with hideous mugs and other such useless junk. So, I never bothered going in, since I don't need anything like that, and I've never been jonesing for Cadbury chocolate or anything.

I was saying something about Skittles and Damon said someone at his lab found some at the English shop, so I finally went in to check it out, and there's quite a bit of useful stuff there! For one thing, they have Rice Krispies, which I had trouble finding before. As soon as I can muster up the will to pay whatever price they are asking there (it's not a cheap place), I'm totally finding some marshmallows and making bars. They also had canned pumpkin and evaporated milk and, yes, Skittles and also Butterfinger. There's also a big selection of whiskey. Of course they also sell a wide selection of hideous mugs. But don't be fooled, it's not all junk. :)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Is Germany . . . ?

I don't know if it's something new in Google, or some kind of upgrade in Firefox, but suddenly Google is giving me search suggestions as I start to type into the search box. Presumably these are the most popular searches starting with the letters I've typed. It turns out this feature can be pretty entertaining so I started typing in all sorts of things just to see what would come up.

If Google is any indication, here's what everyone is apparently wondering about Germany. I'll try to provide some answers for these poor Googlers, some of whom seem quite desperately in need of more information on this fine country!

Is Germany in the EU?
Is Germany part of the EU?

Is Germany expensive?
This is all relative, of course, and it depends on where in Germany you're going, but as far as Western Europe is concerned, I'd say Germany is not expensive at all. Relative to Eastern Europe, it's expensive. If you're coming here from the US, it's expensive because of the exchange rate for US dollars, although that's been improving over the last couple of months. Of course, just how much more things cost depends on where in the US you're coming from. Everything will seem ridiculously expensive if you're from rural Illinois. From Boston, it's not bad.

Is Germany socialist?
Is Germany a socialist country?

I'm not sure what it means to be "a socialist country." Many things in Germany are socialized, for example, health care coverage. From my perhaps naive perspective, it seems that it really makes for a nice quality of life here.

Is Germany a communist country?
No. East Germany was communist.

Is Germany a good place to live?
Like any country, there are ups and downs, but my overall answer would be: Absolutely!

Is Germany a European country?

Is Germany in Eastern Europe?
No. It is centrally located. By the old political boundaries, it is in the west.

Is Germany in Western Europe?
See above.

Is Germany in UK?
Good Lord. No. The United Kingdom is a separate country.

Is Germany landlocked?
No. Germany has coastline on the North Sea and the Baltic Sea.

Is Germany racist?
A country itself can't be racist, but its citizens can, and some citizens of Germany are racist. There is definitely a line between Germans and non-Germans, and that line for many may be or feel stronger if race is also involved.

Those in Germany: Would you answer any of the tougher ones differently?
Those not in Germany: Any other "Is Germany" questions floating around out there?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Continued Adventures in Our German Kitchen

We've had problems with our terrace door's fancy mechanism (German windows/doors like this one open at the top, on the side, and lock all with the turning of the knob lever) ever since moving in to this apartment. It just continued to deteriorate, until we finally got our landlord to take notice last November. He sent someone over to take a look at it. The guy looked at it and said it was so old that he would have to order special parts. He said it would be a couple of weeks. We never heard from him again. We gave him a lot of time to show up, then started bugging the landlord again. Early last month, the landlord came by to check out the door. Yup, still broken! He said he'd find someone else.

We took advantage of this opportunity (his wife was here too, and she's a bit more free-spending) to remind them we still had concerns about the oven and stove. Only one burner on the stove worked well. The others would eventually heat up over about 20 minutes or so. But the worst was that the oven didn't seal closed all the way around, so heat came pouring out of the oven. It just seemed like a fire hazard to me. (I should note here that we are lucky to be in an apartment which came with a landlord-owned kitchen. Many, or even most, apartments come with nothing, not even the kitchen sink.) And, miracle of miracles, they agreed to replace it this time!

Less than a week later, some guys from MediaMarkt wheeled a new stove top and oven into our apartment, only to immediately note that the hole in the counter was way too big for the stove top. Apparently they don't make them that big anymore, so the landlord had no choice but to buy a smaller one and hope it could somehow perch in there anyway, I guess. So, they left the new oven in our living room and left the old one still installed in the kitchen. We had to put the landlord directly on the phone with the installer to convince him that we were not lying and just making it up - there was going to have to be a new counter installed. He argued with the installer about just putting a piece of metal or something on the counter to cover the hole. The installer was not impressed. He was also disturbed at the heat damage he saw on everything around the oven.

So, things are getting worse for our landlord, who must be Schwaebisch or something, because he is extremely, uh, frugal. Now he has to buy a new counter too. He came by with his wife to look at the new stove and the counter and measure a few things and confirm for himself that a new counter was, indeed, necessary.

Over the next two weeks, he had trouble getting a new counter cut. The first place he went kept coming up with reasons that they hadn't gotten it done yet. Then he showed up here with his son, to have another look at it and again prove to himself that the new counter top was going to be the only solution to the problem. I guess he decided it was. He then tried somewhere else to cut it. A week and a half later, he finally showed up with some new counter pieces and a grumpy, grizzled friend to help him out. (Not the same friend as last time, but equally as cheerless about his Freundschaftsdienst.)

First things first: the new countertop is horrifyingly ugly in my view, and doesn't make any sense in our yellow-and-puke-brown kitchen: it's white fake marble. Ew!! But, beggars can't be choosers. It's not like we cared for the fine fake wood counter that was there before. Just install the damn proper oven before it burns the place down.

It took them the entire day. Sawdust was flying everywhere. Many Scheisses emanated from the kitchen. There were trips to the Bauhaus to buy, at least, a new faucet, and who knows what else. By 7pm, they couldn't stand it anymore and called it a day - even though there was no hot water coming out of the tap, and it was flooding under the sink. He said that the oven installer would fix it when he came to put in the oven - in 3 days' time. Until then, our stove top was sitting above the hole in the counter. He wired it back up and said we could use it. Um, no. Not going to use the stove that is sitting right on the counter top! Do you want the kitchen to burn down, buddy!? Am I being a crazy safety-obsessed American here again?

So, Damon and I celebrated Convenience Foods Week while we waited to get a stove. We don't even have a microwave. It was take-out and frozen pizza and cold sandwiches every night. We didn't want to dirty too many dishes either, what with the lack of hot water in the kitchen and the bathroom sink not being a really great option.

When the oven installer came, he was appalled at the horrible job that had been done cutting the counters. Not only was the whole thing cut crooked (resulting in part of the wall we hadn't painted now being visible, as everything was pushed back to accommodate the new fucked-up counter), the hole for the stove was crooked too. The hole for the faucet is too big, so right by the sink there's a hole where water can drip down under the counter. (Did they think we wouldn't notice?) And the reason for the leak down below was just some moronic thing they did wrong. He tightened a few things and we had hot water again. But, there's still a small cold water leak because we apparently need to replace some pipe down there where a gasket is all worn out. (The gasket is attached to the pipe, so no replacing just the gasket.)

Despite the fact that we can't generally afford crap for this apartment that we don't even own, we'll be trying to replace that part and put it in ourselves. We are just not up for another comedy of errors with the landlord again at the moment!!

The new stove is great. It's so nice to have four working burners. We're so used to just having one that we don't even really know what to do with ourselves! We keep forgetting!

As for the terrace door, it was repaired only two days after someone came to look at it. He was horrified at how bad it had gotten and told us to stop using the door until it was fixed. They spent the whole morning putting in a new mechanism and it works like a charm now. The landlord made sure to tell us that the repair cost him 700 EUR.

Photos: Old stove & oven with fine fake wood counter. New stove & oven with fine fake marble counter.

Unrelated Note: It seems my silly Quietscheentchenlied post was the 300th one on this blog! And I didn't even notice until just now.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The American Culture War: Now Also in Coffee Advertising


It's not only in politics where we Americans have the crazy idea that everyone must fit into one of the two following categories: snotty liberal arugula-eating wannabe Europeans, or clueless conservative "real" Americans. Now we can also find it in the advertising realm. With all due respect to PapaScott, I think this ad is pretty lame. By getting lattes and whatever other fancy coffee drinks at McDonald's, aren't they trying to target the same folks they're insulting here?

And let's look at the things that are implicitly negative according to the ad:
* jazz
* women wearing flats
* reading books
* disinterest in reality TV shows
* knowing how to speak French
* knowing where Paraguay is located or even that it exists
* women wearing clothing that covers their knees

Funny stuff, eh!?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


He makes Quietscheentchen seem so easy to say...


Monday, October 06, 2008

Indulging in a Meme

I thought I'd get one post in tonight to help cut back on my enormous backlog of things on my to-do list! It's late so I'm picking an easy one: Yelli asked me to do the following meme! Here's the link to her version.

I have done two similar versions of this meme in the past, so I will try to avoid repeats.

Rules of the meme:
1. Link to the person who tagged you. (Okay, I did this.)
2. Post the rules on the blog. (Here they are.)
3. Write six random things about yourself. (About to do that.)
4. Tag six people at the end of your post. (Okay, I'm breaking this rule.)
5. Let each person know they have been tagged. (Okay, if I tag anyone I'll tell them.)
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up. (Okay, after I write it I'll tell Yelli I did it.)

My six facts, hopefully not overlapping with the previous versions I did!

1. I have naturally curly hair. But not on my whole head, just most of it.
2. I think cilantro tastes like soap.
3. Generally I hate all things fake. However, one of my favorite smells is completely fake: the smell coming from a dryer with a scented fabric sheet in it.
4. My iTunes reports that the six songs I've played the most are the following (counts are since June 2007, when I accidentally deleted my iTunes library and had to start over):
  • Beirut, "Rhineland (Heartland)" with 71 plays
  • Arling & Cameron, "I Don't Need It" with 66 plays
  • Architecture in Helsinki, "Heart It Races" with 59 plays
  • And a tie for the last three with 58 plays each: M.I.A. "Boyz," Shantel "Dubstar Bugarskji," and TV on the Radio, "A Method"
5. I have two siblings. I'm the oldest.
6. I like most people I meet, but among those I have a harder time getting along with, Californians and people born in August are hugely overrepresented.

I'm going to only tag two people, as six is just way too many. I'm tagging two people whose blogs I just found in the last 3 days, An American Frau and Anne's Blog. Any and all voluntary takers are also welcome to do it.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Kloster Maulbronn, Burg Trifels, & St. Martin!

Yesterday we had the pleasure of joining a super-cheap university-sponsored bus trip for international students to visit Kloster Maulbronn, a former monastery and UNESCO World Heritage site south of Heidelberg, and Annweiler, Burg Trifels, and St. Martin in the Pfalz! This was kind of a last-minute thing and the day was very planned out for us and very busy!

We left Heidelberg at 8am and first visited Maulbronn, where we got a tour inside the Kloster. It's very well-preserved, and the monastery building itself is surrounded by an old wall and a few cute half-timber houses.

Maulbronn Oct 08

After Maulbronn, we stopped for lunch in Annweiler, a town in the Pfaelzer Wald at the foot of the hill where Burg Trifels is located. We had time to find our own place to eat, and Damon and another friend and I ended up in a nice little cafe outside of the busiest area of town, where we enjoyed Saumagen, pizza, and Toast Hawaii, respectively. It's chestnut season now and Damon's Saumagen had chestnuts in it, and they had lots of other chestnut offerings too, including noodles made from chestnuts!

Annweiler & Burg Trifels Oct 08

We then rode up to Burg Trifels, where we had another tour and a little bit of time to look around at the beautiful view over the forest for ourselves. The castle was restored in this century and seems to get a lot of use for local events.

Afterward we continued on to the adorable little wine village of St. Martin, where someone from the local Winzergenossenschaft (vintner's collective) gave us a short tour through town, then hosted a wine tasting! This must be one of the best things to do with a crowd of people who don't all know each other well, as everyone ends up having a great time. This is the third one we've been to in Germany and they are always really memorable and fun. Wine people are always so jolly and easy to get along with, too. I really envy Diane for getting to live in Bad Duerkheim!

Sankt Martin Oct 08

You should visit Bremen.

A week ago we headed Bremenward to participate for the 2nd time in an English-speaking expatriate meet-up now known as the infamous WEBMU.

As we rolled out of bed at some ridiculous hour and trundled northward on the Deutsche Bahn, I was having some serious doubts about whether the whole trip had been a good idea. I had gotten a wicked cold after my aunt left and felt like crap. Bremen isn't known for its pleasant weather. I made a mistake setting my alarm clock and had to rush to make the train, not looking or feeling very together. A woman with ridiculously strong perfume sat behind us on the train, making me an exile from my reserved seat, because it was exacerbating my sore throat and making the air taste like soap. The next train went the other direction odor-wise: it smelled like ass. I only ate half my lunch because the smell was making it very non-palatable. Grumble grumble grumble! I was the poster child for White Whine.

I would just like to say how completely wrong I was. This was one of the most worthwhile trips we made all year. All the complaints of the trip and the symptoms of the cold were totally forgotten as we had a great time checking out the beautiful and interesting city of Bremen and hanging out with fellow expats, all itching to connect with the kind of people who allow themselves to connect with each other! (Germans are known for their very reserved nature. It is very hard if you are not from this type of country.)

Before doing anything in Bremen, we first met up with Cliff and Sarah of Regensblog, Adam of That Queer Expatriate, and J of Germany Doesn't Suck to ride up to Bremerhaven, about 30 minutes north of Bremen, to visit the German Emigration Museum.
Bremerhaven Sep 08

Around seven million emigrants left Europe via Bremerhaven in the days of passenger ships to the New World. The museum traces the journey, starting with waiting outside a ship, looking at some personal details of many of those whole left, boarding the ship and checking out the accomodations, and arriving in, as an example, New York City. In the next room after the mock-up Ellis Island immigration office, the current status of a few families of emigrants is shown, along with a map showing US towns that share their names with European cities, and a whole library of US phone books to show the European names that can be found in them. Two short movies are shown, one focusing mostly on immigrants to the US, and the other on immigrants to Argentina. The one for the US was particularly well done, showing those who came over from Germany employing the new immigrants: from Mexico, and drawing parallels to themselves when they first arrived. More Americans would do well to think about this a bit more closely.

In a final room, there are computers to look up information on emigrants who left through Bremerhaven, as well as a display on how we think about the rest of the world and how open we are to new experiences. Many of the ideas were very familiar to us as a group of expatriates, people who have left our own countries. Unfortunately the computer lookup wasn't much more helpful than just having a paid account on

After returning to Bremen, we met up with Ian from Letters Home for dinner, and were joined later by the crew from My Life in Germany. The restaurant was right across from the famous Bremen Rathaus in a building with a slogan about the former separation of Germany written on it, and the food was quite good, although drinks were expensive! (Note to Ian: Although our pointed use of the word moist was intentional, our exploitation of your primary weakness by doing so was purely an accident!)

The next morning we met up with most of the group, including such minor celebrities as Papa Scott, Mausi, and Heisse Scheisse! There, our fearless and incredibly generous and organized leader, none other than Claire from Cheeseburgers and Sauerkraut, led us on a tour of all the important sights in Bremen's beautiful center. See the photos! The tour was followed by lunch on the Schlachte, an eating-focused area along the River Weser. Claire didn't plan which restaurant we were going to eat at, so we wandered along, and surprisingly, made an almost unanimous choice! There was a Mexican restaurant!! This is a no-brainer for a bunch of expats missing Mexican food, and we apparently haven't had our spirits crushed yet by previous bad Mexican food experiences here in Germany. The food actually turned out to be pretty decent and we had great company at a table with the Regensbloggers and Snooker. Afterward, the five of us found a great Konditorei for some dessert!
Bremen Sep 08
We parted ways for a bit of a break in the afternoon. Damon and I tried to get inside some churches to see them, but all were closed by that point. We wandered over to a cute narrow-streeted shopping area called the Schnoor and looked around, which took up just enough time before we headed back to meet up with Snooker and Adam to walk over to the chosen meeting spot for dinner, the oddly-decorated Spaghetti Haus. There we had the privilege of mingling with yet more cool bloggers like the authors of Deutschland Ueber Elvis, 50% of My DNA, From the Big Apple to the Big Bear, Martinis for Two, and a couple of blog readers who met on a Depeche Mode website! Unfortunately there were a few others that I missed getting to know; the group this year was just so huge! Next year we will need corporate sponsorship and a convention hall!

After dinner, we were all itching for some drinks, and the ever-organized Adam had already pre-selected a little hole-in-the-wall gay bar over by the train station, internet map printout and all! Not only was the music pretty good (Damon's old boss swears by gay bars for this reason) but it was so ridiculously friendly I was starting to wonder if I was still in Germany! For the second night in a row, we cabbed it back to our far-out hotel...a bit pricey, but we were completely exhausted again.

On Sunday morning we enjoyed the brunch buffet at Alex near the Dom, then went our separate ways. Damon and I finally snuck in a look inside the Dom, which was open, right before we boarded our train for the long, crowded journey back to Heidelberg. (Apologies to anyone at the meet-up who may be finding themselves starting to show symptoms of a cold now. By the train ride home I was burning through zillions of Kleenexes and had turned sort of pink.) Can't wait until next year, wherever it may be!!

Catch-Up Time! Wuerzburg, Freudenstadt, and Alpirsbach

Two weeks ago, my aunt and a friend of hers came to visit Germany! On the first full day, we went, along with a friend of mine here, to Wuerzburg, a town in Franken (Franconia) with a World Heritage Residenz (castle), set among vineyards. Because of the location of the different types of rails, it takes just as long to get there by IC or ICE, the fast trains, as it does to get there by the cheaper and slower RE and S-Bahn, so we went on a Schoenes Wochenende ticket and it was really cheap!

We had lunch at Cafe Michel right near the Marienkirche, and it was very cheap! For Damon and I, it was only fourteen Euro for 2 meals, 3 drinks, and 2 desserts! Plus the location is great. We sat inside because the weather wasn't cooperating, but there's plenty of seating right out the square and inside it's reminiscent of cafes in Vienna or other points east.

We checked out the various sites (see the photos below) and had a tour of the Residenz. Parts of it actually survived World War two, including an enormous ceiling mural depicting European ideas of Europe, Africa, Asia, and America at that time. Unfortunately a visitor in our group from Colombia was very disturbed at the depiction of the American continent as full of savage cannibals and took multiple opportunities to try to defend it to the tour guide, who tried again and again to explain that it's not what's thought now! A woman in the group from the US fit stereotypes well by expressing particularly strong horror at the thought that they used to not bathe back when water was considered (and often actually was) dirty. One room full of painted mirrors was completely destroyed in the war, and entirely restored by one Wuerzburg artist in the 1970s. All in all it was fun and interesting.

Wuerzburg Sep 08

The following day they wanted to check out the Black Forest, so we drew up some ideas based on what would be cheapest to get to and not take so long. Getting down there by train can be pretty time-consuming, and the only locations we were already familiar with down there are Ottenhoefen (takes too long to get there) and Freiburg (not really the more rural atmosphere we were looking for). So, we just took a shot in the dark based on some maps and guide books and ended up in Freudenstadt and Alpirsbach.

Just like on our trip to Freiburg, this southern friendliness reared its lovely head again as we rode a little train from Karlsruhe into the forest. A guy sitting across the aisle from us gave us the English-language insert from his newspaper to read, as he heard us speaking English. Once the train got quieter (it had been full of super-excited kids on a field trip - who upon learning they'd crossed into the forest were all screaming "Wir sind im Schwarzwald! Wir sind im Schwarzwald!") he struck up a long conversation about, especially, politics. He was going to an appointment in Freudenstadt, our destination, so he walked us from the station into the center of town, took us to the tourist office and showed us a couple of things. Then he had to get to his appointment, so he left. We went to a restaurant they'd recommended at the tourist office, and about half an hour later, he showed up at the restaurant to make sure we were okay!! Then he was off again before we could even ask him to join us for lunch.


About the lunch, the restaurant is called the Jaegerstueble and the food was quite good and the service very friendly! After lunch we walked around the huge, arcaded square a bit and into the residential streets, then checked out the strange L-shaped church before heading onward to Alpirsbach.

Freudenstadt Sep 08

Alpirsbach caught Damon's eye on the map because of the beer that's made there. There's a former monastery there, as well as some cute houses and some touristy things like a chocolate shop and a glass shop. After looking around the town, we stopped for Kaffee & Kuchen (coffee & cake) at a little Konditorei, then started the long trip back to Heidelberg.

Alpirsbach Sep 08

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

It's Almost Time to Vote!

I'm still slogging through photos from the last two weekends! But I wanted to pass on some good information I got in the mail from the Overseas Vote Foundation. I haven't gotten my ballot in the mail yet, but I know some already have! Have you?
Ballot Question #1: What if my ballot is late?

If you don’t have your ballot by mid-October, OVF can provide you with one.

OVF’s new Vote-Print-Mail Ballot system automates the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB) process. Dynamically-generated candidate lists allow you to point, click, vote, and then PRINT your ballot and send it to your election office.

Watch the Video: take 3 minutes to learn about the new Vote-Print-Mail Ballot system from OVF and you’ll have your back-up ballot plan in place.

Note: The following states: AZ, IA, MT, ND, NE, OR, SC, and WA will accept the FWAB as a simultaneous voter registration application and voted ballot; or have no voter registration requirement.

Ballot Question #2: How can I get my ballot back in time?

Express Your Vote – OVF’s new ballot delivery solution supported by FedEx® Express will get your ballot back in time to be counted. Highly-discounted rates or even free shipping for overseas and military ballots - brought to you by Overseas Vote Foundation.

Express delivery service, low rates, ballot tracking and automatic confirmation of ballot delivery are key benefits of this special program. Available now. Visit:

Ballot Question #3: Is my ballot on the way to me now?

Your election office sends your ballots. To confirm the status of your ballot request, please look up your election official in the OVF Election Official Directory. Contact them directly to confirm that you are on the voting rolls and when your ballot will be sent.

If your ballot is still not with you by mid-October, refer to Questions #1 and #2.

Ballot Question #4: Can I still send in a ballot request?

Check the OVFState-specific Voter Information Directory for the filing deadlines in your state and get going! Remember you must PRINT and send in the Registration/Ballot Request Form that you generate from the site.

Ballot Question #5: Where can I get more information?

The OVF Voter Help Desk provides instant answers to your questions. Check out the updated Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot section today.

And to end with a famous quote:
We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.
Thomas Jefferson