Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Postcard from Lorsch


Click to enlarge!

Enjoy the photos:
Lorsch Jul 09

More info on the Lorsch Abbey here!

Beet, beet, sugar beet, beet, sugar beet, sugar beet, beet...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Gestern / Yesterday

Where we ended up yesterday:

Photos to come. :)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Reading Material

I'm knee deep in some crazy other projects right now. In the meanwhile, here's some good stuff I've read lately for you to check out at your leisure!

Since I had the pleasure today of reading a diatribe by someone insisting that health is not a human right, and that health care reform would impinge on the rights of Americans to keep their money, I present to you a document for which I (and probably every other public health nerd) have the greatest respect, the constitution of the World Health Organization. A snippet:
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and
not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the
fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race,
religion, political belief, economic or social condition.
The health of all peoples is fundamental to the attainment of peace and
security and is dependent upon the fullest co-operation of individuals
and States.
The achievement of any State in the promotion and protection of health
is of value to all.
Perhaps one needs to really be sick once or twice before realizing that someone telling you that "it is not your right to get better" (if possible) is pretty cruel. I sure as hell wouldn't be here without the proper health care, would you?

On the same topic, Jentry posted a very well-written post about health care in Germany, if you're interested. I'm always going around about how great it is, but yet people seem to think there is no solution to the problems of the US. Why not? This system works really well. Well, it may have a flaw or two, but what's that compared with the flaws of the current American system?

Ever check out oddee.com? There are some fun lists of 10 this and 10 that!

Some funny stuff I starred in Reader recently:
Why I Became a Professor - For all the poor saps who still think academics pay.
A recent post from Dr. Grumpy's blog
Toothpaste for Dinner: Vegetarian Weekend
What Women Hear and How Often They Believe It
Men and Women Have Totally Different Criteria for Attractiveness
Five Atrocious Science Cliches to Throw Down a Black Hole
Results of Searching YouTube for my Favorite Song
PhD Comics: Nature vs. Science
PhD Comics: Great Tweets of Science - Among the best, for those who don't want to click: "watson @crick It's a double helix! sck it, @pauling !!!!! 5:15 PM Feb 28th 1953 from TweaglePub.com"

Just interesting stuff:
Where American TV Broadcasts Are in Space Now
Euro Like Me rants about disrespect for 70s music
Nude playtime for German babies
From German Joys: Differences between universities in the US and Germany - Love this one. I was complaining about some uni-related thing here and a coworker asked me, "Is it really so different in the US?" Emphatic yes.

That is enough for now, I could do this all day. I have a compulsion to collect links. :/

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Public Toilets: Germany v. US


Click to see the giant version! (Sorry, I can't seem to make it bigger in the blog. I tried to just change the size in the HTML, but then it was just fuzzy.)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

AmiExpat's Frankfurter Green Sauce Challenge!

This week AmiExpat chose Frankfurter Green Sauce in her recipe challenge!! I am so convinced that you should make this recipe that I'm going to repost the recipe here this time, to save you having to decide whether to click the link.

Ingredients for 4 portions:

  • 1.2 kg (2.6 lbs) new potatoes (waxy sort - festkochend)
  • salt
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs
  • 1/8 liter (1/2 cup) oil
  • 3-4 T wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp spicy mustard
  • 150 g (5.3 oz) mixed herbs (chives/Schnittlauch, parsley/Petersilie, cress/Kresse, dill, chervil/Kerbel, borage/Borretsch, lovage/Liebstöckel, sorrel/Sauerampfer, burnet/Pimpernelle)
  • freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 pinch of sugar
Preparation time: about 30 minutes
Per portion: 600 calories
  1. Wash and brush the potatoes well, cook in a little saltwater, or steam.
  2. In the meantime, prepare the sauce. Shell the hard-boiled eggs. Separate the egg yolks from the whites. Press the 4 egg yolks through a sieve, mix with the oil, vinegar and mustard until smooth.
  3. Wash the herbs and dry well on kitchen paper. With a large knife, chop them very finely. Stir the herbs into the egg yolk mixture with salt, pepper and the pinch of sugar to taste. Finely chop the egg whites and mix them into the sauce.
  4. Peel the potatos - or serve them unpeeled. Serve with the green sauce.
  • Variant: Refine by making with sour creme, yogurt, creme or créme fraîche, add chopped shallots.
  • Is most often served with beef!
  • Winter-tip: Use a frozen herb mix.
We first got interested in green sauce when we were visiting a friend and saw his mom preparing herbs to make it. We tried making it at home. We didn't know what herbs went in it, so Damon just asked the herb seller at the market to give him the right ones for green sauce and she put some together. It was delicious. I've also had it in restaurants, where it is usually great, although I've been disappointed a couple of times. The herbs used and their proportions are completely variable, so it can be tailored to your own preferences easily! We were really excited to try this new version of the recipe. Previous versions we've made didn't put the egg directly in the sauce.

Damon chose a pre-mixed bunch of herbs at the market this time. After looking through them he decided to also pick up a small bunch of chervil separately. The herbs included at least kress, dill, parsley, chives, and sorrel. There was also something we weren't sure about. It looked like mint but smelled like lemon. We chucked a bit of the dill - that's an herb one ought to be careful with, in my opinion - and washed and stemmed the rest. Chopping them was a messy affair as you can see in the photo on the left, but it was easy and went well other than the mess! I guess you could do this with a food processor. We didn't want to mess around with trying to shove the cooked egg yolks through a sieve so we mashed them well with a fork. We went on the careful side with the vinegar - 3 tablespoons. And, we let the potatoes cook slightly too long, hence they were not pretty (but still good - we ended up with regular instead of new potatoes).

Previous recipes we tried always included some kind of dairy aspect so Damon tested the sauce first without that addition. He decided it was necessary and added some creme fraiche into his sauce. You can see the difference with and without in the photo on the right. Some friends came to try this recipe with us and we put the creme fraiche on the table in case anyone else wanted to add some too. I thought the sauce was delicious both with and without the addition of the creme fraiche - I ended up adding it just to increase the volume of sauce! It seemed to barely be enough for four people.

I thought it was fantastic - among the best green sauce I've had if not the best. I would make this again. It's actually rather easy despite being a little intimidating theoretically. One of the friends who came to try it was very hesitant. She arrived early enough to watch us make it and was quite disturbed that the sauce wasn't cooked! By the way she looked at it I thought for sure she wouldn't eat it all. But, she was a convert by the end and was thinking she would try to make it at home herself.


Statistical Terms in German

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One of my teachers handed out this list in class of German translations for statistical terms. I just found it again recently while cleaning out all my class binders. Maybe someone fellow nerds will find this selection from the list handy - it probably won't come up in your German class!

English - German

absolute value - Betrag
antiderivative - Stammfunktion
approach ("limit of 1 over x as x approaches infinity") - annähern ("Grenzwert von 1 durch x für x gegen unendlich")
conditional probability of event A given B - bedingte Wahrscheinlichkeit des Ereignis A, gegeben B
denominator - Nenner
derivative - Ableitung
differentiate with respect to - ableiten nach
disjoint sets - Disjunkte Mengen
domain - Definitionsbereich
extreme value theorem - Extremwertsatz
Factorial (n! - sprich n factorial) - Fakultät (n! - sprich n Fakultät)
finite - endlich
fraction - Bruch
fundamental theorem of calculus - Hauptsatz der Differential- und Integralrechnung
if and only if - genau dann, wenn
integer - ganze Zahl
intermediate value theorem - Zwischenwertsatz
intersection - Schnittmenge
limit - Grenzwert
n choose k - n über k
n over z - n geteilt durch z
numerator - Zähler
positive integer - natürliche Zahl
probability of A conditional on B - Wahrscheinlichkeit von A unter B
ratio test - Quotientenkriterium
r-tuplet (a group of r objects or numbers) - r-Tupel (eine Gruppe von r Dingen oder Zahlen)
sequence - Folge
series - Reihe
set - Menge
slope - Steigung
squeeze theorem - Einschließungskriterium
sub (Beispiel: an, sprich: a sub n) - bezeichnet einen tiefer gesetzten Index (Beispiel: an, sprich: a n, selten a unten n oder a Index n)
subset - Teilmenge
to the power of (Beispiel: x3, "x to the power of 3") - hoch (Beispiel: x3, sprich: x hoch 3)
union - Vereinigung(smenge)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

German words I've completely adopted

Everywhere I've been I pick up a few things from the local language that enter my English vocabulary for good. In Boston it was mostly strange pronunciations that we thought were funny ("stahhhhvin" for starving), although I've been known to still let a "wicked" slip out here and there. There are several German words that I always use now, even in English!

kippen/kip - This is the word for what you do to the German window when you have it tilted open from the hinge at the bottom. I have no idea what the English word would be because I never saw windows like that until I came here, which is probably why we always use "kip" even when speaking English.

Mief - This is what's in a room that's been all closed up with a lot of people in it, and it's all stuffy and horrible. Dict.leo says the English word for this is "fug" but I never heard it before. I don't know if we use that word in the US. In any case, it doesn't sound as awesome as Mief anyway, so I think Mief is in our vocabs to stay.

Pfand - In English I guess this is usually called the return - the money that you pay extra for a can/bottle/etc. We deal with the concept a lot more often here because recycling is a bigger thing, the Pfands are much bigger than in the US, and there are Pfands on the mugs, glasses, plates etc. that you eat off of when you go to a festival. Hence, the German word for it has really sunk in, because we never talked about returns that much in the US.

Spargel - Who could call it asparagus after learning this awesome word?

Kalk - In English this is lime or limescale. I never had a problem with it like I have here, so I never really needed to call it anything in English. Kalk is a somehow more apt name anyway.

The following are words we never bother to translate to English when talking, but which I doubt would stick to our English if we left: Rathaus (town hall), Bahnhof (train station), Nebenkosten, Betriebsarzt.

PS. My German friend made up the word "somewhen" last night when trying to think of the word "sometime". I like it.

PPS. Damon was just flipping channels and came across a show with 7 guys playing music on buckets and stuff in a vineyard, singing about how great the wine queen is. SWEET.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Aaaaaaaaaaachen! (And Cologne/Koeln!)

Last weekend's trip was inspired by Mandi from No Apathy Allowed, who gave us the heads up that Improv Everywhere was planning to stage a mission in Cologne on Saturday! I've been reading about their stunts for a while and was itching to do some kind of travel, so it was the perfect thing to plan at the last minute. We got out a map and looked around at the possibilities, easily deciding that Aachen would be a great place to visit while we were in the area. Our next real trip to Cologne needs to be a local-guided one - it's really that kind of city - and we were planning way too late to try to find a volunteer for that!

We had reserved seats on the IC to Cologne Saturday morning and when we took them, I noticed we were sitting right next to seven high school students and a chaperone. It looked unpromising to me as a good seat to relax in, since high school students tend to get a little giddy in large numbers. I had really been looking forward to plugging in the iPod and reading a bit or just daydreaming. Little did I know, the high schoolers would be the least of our problems!! At Mannheim, our entire half of the train car was filled with hen/bachelorette and stag/bachelor parties. These have become an enormous phenomenon in Germany, and when you talk to Germans about it, they want to blame it on the US. Although we have those kinds of parties in the US, they're nothing like the ones they have here. So sorry, Germany, but I don't think you can blame this unfortunate cultural intrusion on us. American drinking laws actually make hen and stag parties as they exist in Germany impossible in the US. The large groups of shrill ladies and gents wander the streets - and train cars - selling nips and cigars to passersby, fellow passengers, people sitting at restaurants (can't believe restaurants allow this!), all the while getting drunker and drunker. I really can't believe it's allowed on the train. They have no boundaries at all and were all over our seats and practically in our laps, and much louder than any 7 high school students could ever hope to be. When the ticket checker came through, he didn't say a thing about it. We asked him if there were seats free in any of the other cars and he told us a couple of cars that had space. I didn't want to give up my seats because I knew the party wanted to take them over - they'd already tried to get them from us - but leaving was definitely the right decision. The rest of the trip was heavenly in comparison.

And where were the hen and stag parties headed? Cologne, of course!! Without a local perspective, all we know of this city is the Dom/cathedral, museums, and beer beer beer beer beer beer beer. Beer beer beer. It's laid-back, but not in the same way as the south. I can't really describe it, but I don't like the vibe in Cologne. I say this, though, not being very familiar with it outside of what a tourist sees.

After arrival, we had a few hours to burn before the meeting time for the Improv Everywhere mission. We checked out the meeting location just to be sure we could find it, then wandered off to find some cake. The first time we were in Cologne, we had Herren cake for the first time at Cafe Merzenich - so we went back there again. They didn't have anything quite that chocolatey this time, but we got some other goodies and enjoyed them while debating what is and is not a "meaningful question" and whether that's a very good term for it. Then we checked out St. Ursula's Church, where St. Ursula is buried, and some kind of gate near an area with lots of Turkish formalwear shops. Check out the pictures for the full story!! The weather was not good, unfortunately reinforcing my already-existing association between Cologne and terrible weather. It did clear up enough to get a blue-skied Dom shot, though! The Dom never ceases to amaze. It is just huge.

Koeln Jul 09

Then it was time for the IE mission!! We were totally nervous, having no clue what kind of stunt we'd be asked to try to pull off - but figuring that if we didn't like it, we could just bail if the crowd was large. And it was!! There must have been at least 150 people there already when we arrived at the meeting point, and more just kept arriving. Most looked like college students, and other than the IE people from New York, we didn't notice any other non-Germans there.

The mission turned out to be easy and a funny concept, so we were in! The main IE guy explained that we would divide into two long single-file lines (when he used the words "like schoolchildren" to describe this, the crowd found this inexplicably hilarious - I think it says something about Germans, but I don't know what). These two lines would enter the back doors of the Cologne train station and cross through the station single-file. Upon reaching the front doors, the leaders of the lines (already chosen) would choose a random stranger exiting the station and follow them through the plaza until they left it (by whatever means they left). If the stranger held an umbrella or turned around or anything else, the rest of the line was to imitate this. When the stranger left the plaza, the line would turn in place and be led by the people at the other end (also already chosen) back to the back of the train station, where the line turned around - rinse, repeat! We did the whole thing three times, following a total of six random strangers. If anyone asked, we were only supposed to say we were just following the person in front of us, as if there were nothing strange going on at all. I was about halfway back in the line, or maybe in the first half, but I usually couldn't see all the way up to the stranger to see how it was going. None of the stranger's actions that we were supposed to be mimicking made it all the way back to me, either. But, merely having giant single file lines in public was a complete spectacle that mystified everybody! This goes double for Germany - as anyone who has ever boarded a plane going to, from, or within Germany knows, they are not big on lines. The official videos of the mission aren't up yet, but I found already a Flickr album and Youtube video of the event which should tide over the curious for now. You can see us in both of them! I didn't take any photos or video myself, so as to be fully participating.

After the mission, we had dinner at Frueh am Dom, then hopped on the RE to Aachen, where we relaxed at our hotel to gear up for the next day of sightseeing! Aachen is the most westerly city in Germany - right on the borders to Belgium and the Netherlands. It was Charlemagne's favorite hangout and thus his capital of the Holy Roman Empire, and its cathedral was the first German place to be put on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Aachen Jul 09

The next morning we enjoyed brunch at Nobis Printen, a bakery/cookie shop near the Dom that was really a madhouse! The counter was packed the whole time we were there. We both had breakfasts that came with scrambled eggs and a big pile o' bread, plus some cake that we just couldn't pass up trying. The Donauwelle there was really good. We dawdled in there for a long time before moving on the the Domschatzkammer/cathedral treasury. We heard that there was some particularly cool stuff in this treasury, so we went ahead and paid the 4 EUR for admission. Admission came with a great little booklet full of information about all the goodies on display. The Schatzkammer was really well-organized and the stuff inside was amazing, if you find the whole concept of relics as fascinating as I do. There were all kinds of gold-plated gem-encrusted ridiculously ornate objects built to hold bits of bone and cloth and whatever other strange relics the cathedral came into the possession of. There were also some neat altars, statues, and vestments. It's definitely worth the price of admission and we spent about an hour and a half looking over everything and reading the descriptions in the booklet.

After the Schatzkammer (I love that word, by the way) we paid 2.50 for a tour of the Dom. With the tour, you're allowed to take pictures inside the Dom without paying the photo fee, and you get to see the coronation throne where many kings were crowned, which you can't see without the tour. This is also really worth the small price you pay. Our guide's English was so perfect Damon though she might be Irish (until, toward the end of the tour, she made a cute/embarrassing mistake which seemed to definitely indicate she was German) and she shared lots of details about the different bits of the church - what is original, what is not, stuff about the pilgrimages to Aachen and the relics, why they think it really is Charlemagne in the big gold box, etc.

We then wandered over the the Rathaus/town hall. In the door they offered a "special price" of 2.50 for admission - normally 5 EUR, it said. We decided to have a look. They gave us a free audio tour which was really fancy - it detected what room we were standing in automatically. They had a couple of other interactive displays and tons and tons of staff on hand to answer questions. The best thing in there were some replicas of Charlemagne's crown and other fun royal shiny things, but the rooms weren't that interesting. 2.50 was a reasonable price to go in, especially for the nice view of the Dom you can get from the windows in the stairwell.

In the discussions surrounding the choosing of a location for this year's expat meetup, another blogger mentioned that Aachen is very pretty, but Heidelberg is prettier. I would agree with that assessment. It's not as beautiful as Heidelberg (let's be clear - Heidelberg's natural setting is very hard to beat), but it really is very nice, and we liked the layout better than Heidelberg. There are many quiet little squares hiding here and there where you could have a drink. Perhaps we'll swing by there again sometime - maybe on a trip to Belgium or the Netherlands!! (I certainly hope we manage to visit those countries soon!!)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Crotch shot in Die Zeit

We've just come back from a short trip to Cologne/Koeln and Aachen! More on that soon. Damon picked up Die Zeit, a big newspaper, for the train ride home. On the cover of one of the sections was a huge photo of shaven lady-bits. Whoa, nelly! That's not something you'd see in an American newspaper. At first my inner American was having some objections to the photo, but as I went over them in my head and tried to hold them up to the light, I didn't think I could really defend any of those objections. At any rate, it was attention-getting. I doubt Damon would have really noticed the article (which addressed this practice as yet another beauty standard everyone has to deal with, plus some other stuff - I only read a bit over his shoulder) if it had some kind of chick-lit-style illustration to go with it instead of that particular photo. Instead he didn't just notice it, but he read it.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Back on the Commencement Thing

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Andrew over at German Joys had a few things to add to my earlier post about attending my friend's PhD commencement. The comments on his post went in all directions on the broad topic of education in Germany versus the US. I have to admit, I was a little surprised. If I was going to address the entire university philosophy and experience in the US vs. Germany, I would have written an entirely different post. However, that is a post that I will never write on my blog. Doing so only makes one of my degrees look bad, as I've got one from each country now. Also, my experiences mean I can only compare the University of Chicago, my US school, with Uni-Mainz, my German school, and that doesn't really feel like a fair comparison.
Anyway, go over there and check it out. Hopefully those who had the college experience in the US similar to mine (or even not that similar to mine) will find it just as amusing as I did.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


Paying for your apartment and all the related needs in Germany is a somewhat different experience than in the US. Never mind all the other differences - like the lack of kitchens in many German apartments, or the fact that a much higher percentage of Germans are renters. Even just paying is totally different.

In the US, each month we paid rent to our landlord. This covered whatever the landlord's costs of owning the place were - property taxes, repairs, etc. - and water, which by law is paid by the landlord in Massachusetts. All other utilities were billed to us directly by the companies - electricity, gas, whatever else. So, each month we paid a little set of monthly utility bills as well.

Here, we pay the landlord rent monthly, but we also pay a monthly sum called the Nebenkosten. The Nebenkosten is intended to cover certain utilities, such as heat and water. (Ours is 130 EUR/month.) The bills for these go to the landlord, not to us. We do pay our electricity ourselves, however. At the end of the year, if the actual cost of our utilities (etc.) is higher than what we paid to the landlord in Nebenkosten over the course of the year, then we have to pay the remainder at that time. If we pay more than the actual costs, we get some back.

Here's where the problem comes in. By law, the amount that renters can pay in Nebenkosten per month is capped according to the size of the apartment. I think they need to revise the caps. Per the utility companies, the amount we use of everything is right on for two adults. But at the end of last year, we still owed 840 EUR in Nebenkosten at the end of the year. This year, we owed 800 EUR. This is a pretty painful payment to make! But we aren't allowed to pay more per month in Nebenkosten. So, of course, we just have to set it aside ourselves. The landlord sends us a big itemized list of everything we're paying for with the Nebenkosten. I don't know - seems to be everything there - water for the garden? Trash pick-up? Electricity for common areas? I'm starting to wonder if the base rent goes to anything at all other than just pure income for the landlord. Some of these things - like electricity in common areas - are also illegal to explicity charge renters for in Massachusetts. That is supposed to be covered by the rent. I guess it's nice to know what we are paying for. But it only ends up begging the irritating question of what the rent itself actually covers!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Tidbits for the weekend

* Happy 4th of July!

* Okay, I've been holding back for a week and a half now but I can't anymore. I gotta complain about it. It's too humid!!! Please stop with the humidity already!! Our bathroom fan broke a few weeks ago and in our cavelike, ventilation- and airflow-free apartment, this is the worst possible weather in which to not have a fan in the clothes-washing/showering/pooping room. Seriously, there is NO movement of air in here. We have one window and one door to the outside, and they're right next to each other. The bathroom is nowhere near them. MIEF. Everything in here is sticky and disgusting, laundry is piling up like mad because everything has to be washed more often and it's not drying fast enough on the line, all food has to be in our tiny fridge or it will rot quickly, mildew builds up in the bathroom faster than you can clean it, etc. The temperatures aren't even that hot, really.

* The $ key is easier to find and type on the German keyboard than the € key. You have to use a special shift called "Alt Gr" which is used less often than regular shift (which is what you need to get the $).

* Last night we were at a big party where the DJ went way off course, first skipping around a few not-too-danceable hip-hop songs before going into a 25-minute streak of only Latin music, follwed by AC/DC's "Thunderstruck", followed by one of my least favorite songs from high school, the completely undanceable Counting Crows with "Mr. Jones". This is possibly the most bizarre string of music together ever, and I have to say, the dancefloor was suffering for it. :/ He tried to revive it next with "Billie Jean", but too late, buddy!!! But could this be totally cultural? Maybe "Mr. Jones" is a totally iconic party song in Germany.

* Check out forvo.com - it's awesome.