Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"Guinea pig" in German is "Meerschweinchen."

So there's this woman who is always at my tram stop at about the same time as I am, and she has the cutest little puppy. It's very tiny and fuzzy and black and white and adorable, and every time I want to go say "Awww! Look at the cute little puppy! Can I pet it?"

But I don't know how. Welpe sounds way too clinical. "Junger Hund" sounds like "My, what a fine strapping young hound you have there, my man!" And I just made up "Huendchen," so I don't know if it's even a real word. So. Maybe I'll ask my brewers tomorrow if they can help me. Although I don't know if I have my brewers tomorrow...hmm.

Next week I start teaching full classes by myself. Eek. Clemens and Enrico helped me make a decent plan today, so I think it'll be okay, but still, I'm petrified. I had some classes with new people today - bakery shop assistants. Bunch of giggly 17-22-year-old girls. They were extremely talkative, which is equal parts good and bad. On the up side, it means they asked lots of questions, which means no awkward silences, but on the down side...for the love of god, would you shut up for four seconds so I can hear this person's question? Honestly! The teacher I was working with (Frau Kohs) got really fed up and talked to their primary teacher about that. But mostly they were nice.

So, that's essentially it. We talked a bit (E, C, and I) about what we're going to do with the English Club. I'd like to see it kind of like Stammtisch at Lyco - just casual conversation in a pub or something. I bet it'd get a better turnout that way, too. As-is it's held in a classroom, which doesn't really encourage conversation, oder?

A couple of students voluntarily came to me while I was sitting in the office to see if I'd help them with their homework (which I did). Makes me happy - means I'm not completely scary and terrifying. :P

So, that's it now. Outside of school, I've been quite lazy. Took a six-hour nap yesterday... But I needed it. I think I'm going to take another (shorter!) nap now.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

I beat the doener man at his own game.

Pictures from my five-hour bike ride yesterday.

So, I'm really sore from my long bike ride yesterday, with the result that I stayed home most of the day. However, around 2 or so I decided that I needed some more English-language books, so I ventured out to find Internationale Buecher, which apparently has a great selection of books in English (it's true!). Things were fairly uneventful there. I picked up four Jane Austen books at 3,10 each. Jane Austen is basically emotional comfort food - witty romances that generally turn out well. I also got a Stephen King book, and Atlas Shrugged, and Die unendliche Geschichte (just because I've been looking for that and finally found it).

So, then I left and had a complete emotional breakdown in the middle of Altmarkt. There was some street musician playing an acoustic guitar and singing "Hey, You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," and all I could think about was listening to Charlie play that ages ago, and I was so homesick, and almost sat down crying in the middle of the square. So that was kind of depressing. By the way, Charlie, you should join Facebook so I can recruit you to my pirate crew. :P

So, I made my way blurrily back to the tram stop, and made myself feel better by completely besting the doener guy. By "besting," of course, I mean "communicating with." See, I stop at the Prager Strasse doener stand a couple times a week probably, and every time I think to myself, "Dammit, self! Why don't I know how to say 'onions' so I can tell him I don't want any?" I'm too proud to say "Uhhh, das Stuff zwischen die rote Sosse und die Rotkraut." So anyway, I finally remembered to look it up, and was finally able to ask for "keine Zwiebeln" and to have it to go ("mitnehmen") without any trouble. So I'm proud of myself.

On the way back, I finally joined the orderly German hordes. See, at the intersections, you're supposed to wait for the walk signal to walk, just like in America. The only difference is that in Germany people actually do wait. If you go while it's still red, even if there are clearly no cars for miles, they'll all glare at you like you've just shot their firstborn. It's even worse if you do that when there are little kids there, because they hate people setting a bad example for kids.

So anyway, today I was standing there with a group of others waiting for the light to turn green, and these touristy types starting crossing while it was still red, and I stood on the curb and looked disapproving with the rest of the Dresdners. Self-righteous disapproval feels awesome, people! I'm such a conformist...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A story, for your reading pleasure.

So, my apartment is furnished to cook in, but not well furnished. I have two tiny burners, no oven, one tiny frying pan, one tiny pot, a miniscule fridge, and no freezer. This means that I can't have any major cooking endeavors. For that reason, I picked up some one-pan meals last time I was at Rewe - some pasta things that you just mix with water and heat, etc. So today I tried one: Penne mit Broccoli und Fruehlingskraeuten. I think Fruehlingskraeuten are brussels sprouts, but I'm not sure. *checks* Meh, can't find it. Who knows?

Anyway, I got out a pan, put the water in it, mixed in the pasta and sauce mix, put it on a burner. Then looked at the back of the package. Realized I didn't know any of the words. So I scrambled to the computer to translate (argh, WHY did I forget my favorite D/E dictionary in Kalamazoo?), and lo... "Scheiss! I should be stirring constantly!" Run out to kitchen, start to stir, look at the next line of text... Dammit. Run to computer. Oh no! It's not supposed to boil! Run back to kitchen. Then I remembered that my stupid burners have precisely two temperatures: "#$(@*$%, why aren't you hot yet?!" and "Arrrrrgh it's boiling over!" There's nothing in the middle.

So. It's done now, after much excitement. It tastes pretty good, and it's warm, which is the most important thing. Man cannot live on Nutella alone, as they say... But let this be a lesson: if you're ever cooking in a foreign country, translate the instructions before you start it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bring on the bread.

So today one of my brewing students firmly informed me that "Yeast is a living orgasm." I just about fell off my chair laughing. Fortunately, Enrico took care of correcting his pronunciation, so I didn't have to go into explaining to this group of 25-year-old men what that means in English.

In other news, I'm going on a field trip tomorrow! It's to some kind of lab, not sure what, but I arranged it (in German!) with the lady leading it, so I get to go. Then I'm off the hook for classes until Monday. I'm trying to locate a new apartment - this one is awesome, but it's expensive, so I need to find something else soonish. But it's a lot less stressful since I actually live in the same city and all, and have a bunch of teachers who want to help me.

I think that's about all the news for today. I'm going to go explore the Zwinger and the Neustadt over the weekend, I think, so there should be new pictures and thrilling tales of adventure on the high eastern Germany soon.

P.S. - these crazy Sachsens keep saying "nu" for yes. This sounds almost exactly like the way they sometimes say "nay" for no. That is incredibly frustrating. At least I know now - Enrico just told me yesterday what "nu" means. Until then, I'd been reading it as "no."

Monday, September 17, 2007

O Peanut Butter, at last I have found thee!

I've been searching for peanut butter since I got here. It's apparently an American thing, and it's really hard to find. Nutella is great (fantastic, incredible, completely orgasmic), but it isn't a peanut butter replacement. So today I stopped at Rewe on the way home from school to pick up a few things and checked the jelly aisle on a hunch, and lo! There it was! Tiny little jars of peanut butter. Big ol' American flag on them, so everyone knows your dirty secret when you check out, of course, but still. Peanut butter! I am saved.

Other than that, it's been uneventful here. I was roused out of bed (reading, not sleeping) a couple of nights ago by some kind of rollerblade parade. It was around 10:30 pm, and I heard this techno music coming out of nowhere, so I went over to the window and looked out and there were hundreds of rollerbladers streaming by. The organizers (I assume that's what they were) were on bikes and had lights and speakers for the music. The ones bringing up the rear were pushing little kids on skates and wheelchairs so they could partake too. It was kind of cool. Terrible picture, because it was dark.

I've got some lovely bread and cheese. Ordering the meat was a bit of an adventure - I had no idea what anything in the case tasted like, so I just ordered a random name: "Bierschincken." It turned out to be delicious - kind of like uebersmokey baloney. It's best eaten German-style. You take a slice of bread (thinner than you'd think), put some cheese on top (brie works beautifully), and stick a couple slices of meat on it. Open-faced sammich.

Here is the tram that takes me halfway to school. Here is Dresden on a rainy day. Here is a man on stilts wearing techno-medieval garb and handing out flyers, and also (in the white hoodie) the third black person I've seen since coming to this country.

I think that's all for now. May post later. Ta-ta.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

I present...

...for your viewing pleasure, the Simpsons!

So I was out and about a little bit today, and I stopped and got a doener for lunch (with cold Mineralwasser - I'm developing a taste for the stuff, Mom!). It was very amusing - the guys at the stand spoke heavily Turkish-accented German, and I speak heavily-English accented German. We did a lot of pointing. Anyway, I was telling Ilya this, and he showed me this clip, and it is perfect, so if you have reasonable internet, watch it.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Can we say "taxidermy," class?

Well, first, here are some lovely pictures of my first foray into Dresden proper a day or two ago. There's really not much to tell about that - it was pretty, and lovely, and I enjoyed it immensely.

As far as actual events go, I've made some pretty good accomplishments in the past few days. For one thing, I'm legally allowed to live here now, at least until June 30 2008. That was an amusing adventure... I'm very glad Clemens was there to do the complicated legal talking, or I'd be expelled from the country or something. The form was hilarious. I had to affirm that I wasn't a leading member of any banned organizations (apparently rank-and-file members are fine), that I wasn't a member of any terroristic organizations (brilliant plan, that - "Are you a terrorist? *angry face*" "Oh, damn, yer honor, ya caught me. *sad face*"), and that I had no plans to bring down the Federal Democracy or Something of Germany (though it feels nice that they have that much fear of my one-person demogoguery).

Anyway, there was a bit of hassle with the paperwork, but eventually that was taken care of. I got a bank account afterwards all by myself, in German. That was fun. The people at the bank were apparently as clueless as I was though, so I didn't feel bad. "Hallo, ich bin Amerikanerin und moechte ein Konto oeffnen..." "Amerikanerin? Aehmm.....ich rufe meine Chefin." But now I have an account, but alas, I won't get my account number for close to a week, so I won't be able to get money for a while yet. Fortunately, I think I have enough to last for a bit.

I finally made a schedule in school today. I'll have Fridays off, only one class Thursdays, and only three-four classes the other three days, so it'll be very relaxing and nice to start off with. Most of my classes will be with the eleventh and twelfth groups, but I've got four with the third-year brewers and one each with the bakers and the butchers and the shop assistants. All the teachers say the shop assistants are lazy and, er, not very bright. It's amusing how blunt they are here. I go into a new class, and the teacher starts by saying "Okay, these two guys are pretty good at English, she's terrible, she's smart but very lazy, etc." No dancing around being nice, like in American schools.

I got to go to one of the twelfth-year classes today, which was amusing. They're very nice in there - I even know a few names. Stefan, Lisa, Sebastian, Michael, and two Claudias. Maybe a Lars too, but I think he might be in one of the eleventh-year classes... Anyway, I was supposed to tell about some jobs I've had and let the students guess what the job was, as a warm-up for a class on getting a job in America. I started off with Wal-Mart, but that was really easy, so I went to my Fin Fur + Feather job next. That, may I say, was awesome.

"So, at this job, I got up very early, and I walked to work. Then I sat down and read for a while. Then someone would come in, and I would show them a bunch of dead animals."

You could practically hear the class's collective brain grind to a halt. The facial expressions were very entertaining. Then we spent five minutes trying to get them to say "taxidermy" properly. They'd say it, then I'd say it. "Taaaahx-IT-airmeee." "No. Taxidermy." "Taaaaaaaaaahx-it-AIR-meee." "Taxidermy. TAXidermy." "Taaaaax-it-air-MEEE?" "Close enough. Now try 'yiffing.'"

Then I went home. The End.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

No pictures, sorry.

Well, it's been eventful here. I've started doing a little bit in the classes - not much, just introducing myself and trying to prod them into speaking English. It's really hard, but I can understand it. When the German TAs came to my German classes, we were always reluctant to speak German too. Anyway, I've worked with two classes so far - the 12 graders and the third-year brewers. They're both nice enough, but I like the brewers better. They're much more talkative. It's kind of amusing. Both classes have asked me my opinion on President Bush, and both in the exact same way.

See, it goes like this: They all sit around looking nervous and awkwardly asking how old I am, if I have any brothers or sisters, where the heck Pennsylvania is... Then one brave soul will take a deep breath and go, "Vat dooo yoooo tink ov President Booosh?" And the rest look all shocked by his daring, yet expectant, until I answer.

It's really funny how the classes have similar reactions, too. I have to be sure to speak really slowly, or else it goes like so: Everyone has an identical blank look. Then they nervously peek at each other to make sure they're not the only one who didn't catch that, and as realization sets, they start laughing (nervously, for the 12 class, or raucously, for the brewers). They find it hilarious when they don't have a clue what I'm saying. Not sure why, but their reaction is funny.

The brewers are the best. They're a bunch of 20-30 year old men (all male - Enrico tells me there's one woman in one of the other brewing classes, but that's it) who are obsessed with beer. Apparently they all keep their own beer (that they make themselves in the breweries they're apprenticed at) in their cars for school use. They volunteered this information when I asked them what kind of beer I should try while I'm over here. One guy was bragging that he has thirty liters in his car.

So, anyway, that's what I've been up to. Just getting to know these people a bit. They're very nice, if sometimes reluctant to talk, so I think the year will be pretty good.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Pictures from my adventures.

So, today was fairly uneventful. I slept in until 2, then I fooled around a bit at home and decided to do some shopping. I needed a watch, an alarm clock, some flowers (for Clemens and his wife tomorrow), and something for dinner. So, I took a look at my map and set off for the Altmarkt.

I really like it here, but the shopping is going to take some getting used to. You have to get essentially everything at a different store. In the US, if you need, say, a watch, and a clock, and some flowers, and some food, you just go to Walmart and you're done. Today I had to go to a jewelry counter to get the watch, and an electronics store to get an alarm clock, and the flower store to get some flowers, and a glasswares store to get a vase for the flowers, and an Aldi to get some spaghetti and sauce (I'm lazy, what can I say?). It's kind of fun popping into all these stores, especially when you get to go to the produce market or a bakery or butcher or cheese shop or something, but it's very time consuming, which is frustrating when it's rainy and getting dark and all the shops close at 8. Crazy Germans.

I also discovered that a college education does not prepare one adequately to ask the florist what kind of flowers she thinks are appropriate for a hostess gift. Fortunately, I have mostly lost my fear of looking ridiculous, so I was asking directions and for help and stuff all day. I'm glad I did - I would've taken a couple hours extra if I hadn't.

Germans are weird about their flowers, by the way. They insist on putting vegetables into most flower arrangements. The ones I got at school yesterday (the principal gave me some in addition to the ones Clemens brought) had a cabbage mixed into the roses, and the woman today tried to sell me an arrangement with a squash in it. Weird.

So, there, nice short message. Tomorrow, I'll check out the Altstadt if I have time, and go to dinner at Clemens's house, and ride my new bike home. Yay! At any rate, with biking to work and walking everywhere for shopping (I'll have to do that a lot - I have no freezer), I should be getting plenty of exercise...

Friday, September 7, 2007

Gruesse aus Dresden.

This is going to be really, really long. Here are the picture links, first.
Train ride to Dresden.
My new apartment.
Random stuff.

So, so, where to begin? We wrapped up the orientation, of course, and set sail, in a manner of speaking, for Cologne. I was lucky and got the back of the bus almost all to myself, so I could stretch out and nap a little. A little before noon we rolled into Cologne and made our giant luggage parade back to the Hauptbahnhof (main train station - remember that, kids, you'll be hearing it a lot in this message...). Ariana was there, so we chatted for a minute, and then she offered to watch my luggage while I went to a Moneygram station in the plaza. Ilya totally saved my bacon, yo. He wired me money so I wouldn't have to live in the train station while my bank transfer went through. :) So, I got my money, and Ariana and I went inside to wait for our trains.

After wandering around a bit, we decided to sit under the stairs - comfy, not in anyone's way. It was effective, except for this one time when a drunk guy wandered in, holding a bottle menacingly in his hand, and sat down with us. We exchanged nervous glances then ignored him and kept talking, and he got up and walked away. He dropped his bottle right in front of the Kamps bakery next to us, and it smashed all over the place. Then some Polizei came and escorted him out. Public drinking is fine here (they sell travel-sized Jaegermeister and other stuff at most of the snack counters). Public drunkenness is fine. Smashing stuff isn't, apparently.

Anyway, that was the only excitement there. Ariana's train left at 3:30, so I hung out alone reading Louis L'Amour until a little after four, when I went up to the platform and read there for a bit. The platform is actually really pleasant at the Cologne station. It's covered and heated and very airy and nice. So, my train came, and I crammed onto it with my bags, which were a trial to me the entire trip, being very heavy and all. Fortunately, this train wasn't too long - a little over an hour - and then I was standing at the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof waiting for the next one.

The Frankfurt --> Leipzig train was actually quite empty, so I was able to put my luggage behind a roomy table seat and sat there across from an older gentleman. This was the long leg of the trip, so we both sat there in silence, occasionally glancing at each other, as he did his sudoku and I read my book.

The silence finally broke when we were departing the final station before Leipzig. He asked if I were going to Leipzig too. So we got to talking a little bit. I revealed that this was my first trip to Germany, and I was pleased to find out that he spoke no English (like, really no English - he thought "uno" was "eins" in English), so we had fun communicating with my inadequate conversational German. I was telling him it was my first time travelling by train, so I was kind of nervous, and he was allaying my fears.

So, we got to the Leipzig station, and I was having trouble getting my luggage out from where I wedged it, and he was really nice and got it out for me. I started to thank him, but he said we needed to move (since I only had eight minutes to get to my next train), and he carried my big bag up the stairs to the platform I needed, then saw that they'd swapped the platform on us, so he carried it for me all the way to the one they moved it to and helped me onto the train. So, basically, not only did he carry my bag for me, but he stopped me from missing my train to Dresden. I couldn't thank him enough.

It's kind of strange. I've been pretty much alone for a week, a very stressful busy week, with really no one to help me. And this one stranger helps me with that, carries my bag for me, helps me find my platform, even though he's just getting off his last train to go home after a long day... It was just incredibly nice of him. It's strange how a random bit of kindness from someone who didn't even know me can just about make me cry after that kind of a week.

So, emotional bit aside, I made it to the Dresden Hbf. around one in the morning. I found a taxi and asked for the hotel I'd reserved, but it turned out to be waaaaay outside the city, so I just asked the driver for the nearest cheap hotel that would have a room at that hour, and he took me to a nearby Jugendherberge (youth hostel) that gave me a single room (no shower, but that's par for a hostel) for 38 euros. Slept there, got my wakeup call at 6:30 am, and took another taxi to my apartment.

It took a few minutes to get into the apartment, but once I did, I was glad I went with this one. It's really quite nice. I'm on the top floor (17th), so I've got a beautiful view of the city, and the apartment itself is good. It's very new. Very small, too, but it has everything I need and is fully furnished, including dishes and cooking utensils for one person. It's also conveniently located from my school.

So, speaking of my school... I got into my apartment around 8-something in the morning, and Clemens was picking me up to take me to school at 9:30. So he got there, and he was really nice. He brought me some flowers to welcome me, which was really nice of him. He's also giving me a bicycle (one of his wife's old bikes), and I'm having dinner at his house on Sunday. So yeah, he's very very nice.

The school is cool. It's a standard old DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik, or basically socialist East German) model - square, lots of windows - but it's cool. They painted it bright yellow, and there's graffiti (not how you're thinking - it's nice graffiti, really colorful and artistically done) all over it. It's very cheerful and nice.

So, I met a lot of teachers. The ones I'm going to work with most are Enrico (he's my main teacher, my Betreuungslehrer) and Clemens. They're both very nice - in their thirties, I think, and very relaxed about stuff. Easy to talk to. They showed me around and introduced me to people. Everyone there is very nice.

It's strange. I think East Germans are a lot nicer than West Germans, from what I've seen. Yeah, I know, that's horribly judgmental of me and broad generalizations are terrible, but it's the impression I got. In Cologne, everyone was brusque to the point of rudeness. In Dresden (and definitely that guy from Leipzig, which is also East German, of course), people aren't always friendly, per se, but they're nice and polite and willing to stop and relax and talk a little and help out. I've had multiple people hold doors for me (when I had an armload of groceries). People don't run into you on the street like in Cologne. It's just much more pleasant and laid-back here.

Not to mention, of course, that the city is just cool. The area I'm in is this really awesome mix of old baroque architecture mixed with colorful heavily graffitied DDR block buildings and the occasional bombed out relic still left from WWII. It's really interesting walking around.

So, back to the narrative, I got back from school around 2:30, maybe, and went out to get some food, since I hadn't eaten since 2 or so the day before, at the Cologne Hbf. I found an Aldi, so I got the groceries there. German grocery stores are kind of weird. They pretty much all follow the Aldi model - rent the cart, and you have to buy/bring your own bags. They have a different selection of stuff than American, too. For example, there's no peanut butter, and only three kinds of cereal ("white flakes," "honey something-or-other," and "cinnamon chips" - I got the cinnamon ones, but they aren't very good), because Germans really don't eat cold cereal. German breakfasts are awesome, actually. They're a variety of rolls, and some cold meat, and some cheese, and butter, and jam, and fruit, and juice, and beer if you want it, and milk, and general awesomeness.

So. Distracted by the yummy. Anyway, I bought my groceries (six euros and thirty-eight cents for bread, jam [I think it's jam, anyway...the label said Erdbeere Konfituere or something, but it looks like jam], milk, cereal, bananas, and Knoppers) and carried them home by hand, because I forgot to ask for a bag, and it was very heavy. It's kind of odd. The milk here comes in a box. The cereal is kind of icky, so I shan't get it again. The Knoppers are a kind of candy bar thing, and they're delicious.

So. That's my day. Tomorrow I'm going to try to make it to the Altstadt and have a look around and buy some fruit and vegetables if I can find the market. Goodnight.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Two groups of pictures! Some random people from before I left Cologne while I was bored waiting for the bus, and some pictures of the place I'm in now: Haus Altenberg.

So, today they split us up by school type. I am one of the few, the proud, the fourteen of us (out of 200) who are destined for a Berufschule (career, job, technical, professional, etc., school). This makes us special because A.) our schools will be focused on a profession (electrical engineering, accounting, nursing, and in my much-envied case, baking and brewing) and B.) our students will be in the 16-30 range rather than the 9-18 range, as with the rest of them. So we get special attention.

This was actually really useful. The teachers were an English/computer programming teacher at a Berufschule in this general area (he looks like an aging British rockstar, and he's very funny), and his English teaching assistant from last year. They were very blunt and straight-forward, unlike everyone else here, and so we learned a lot. I'm not sure how glad I am I have to teach the older kids, but it beats 9th graders, anyway.

We watched a few training videos, in which other assistants do stupid things in class. The best of them was this guy who decided to do a song ("Homeward Bound" by Simon and Garfunkle) in class, and instead of playing it, just handed out a handout, and read it himself first in a hilarious rendition, and then forced the class to go around reading it out loud in hilarious German accents, and so forth. It's funnier than it sounds - the whole group was in hysterics. The other video of note involved adorable children with thick German accents discussing in English what their favorite day of school was. Eight year olds with German accents can't be beaten. Well, they can. Fairly easily, the scrawny whelps. But they're darn cute.

Additionally, the guy in charge of the American Consulate in Duesseldorf came to talk to us. He was the worst public speaker I've ever heard - I've no idea how he got so far in diplomacy. He seemed very nice and knowledgeable, but he spoke in a very rapid low monotone interspersed with plenty of "ummmmmmmmmmmm"s. Irritating as all hell.

We also made a lesson (three of us) and are presenting it to the class tomorrow. Scary.

So, that done, I had supper with some people - not as good as last night (breakfast was good, though). The conversation was pretty good. We (well, mostly me and Adrian) talked politics a lot, after discussion about each of our education and homeplace and destination. Afterwards we walked to a local village (Odenthal?) - me, Adrian from San Diego, Trevor from Oregon, and Ariana from Indiana (we're getting to be rather friendly, Ariana and I). It was pleasant. It's really pretty around here.

So, yeah, that was my day. Now I'm posting this. Ta-ta.

Ohhhh, holy _cats_ it's cold!

I'm sitting near the WiFi hotspot so I can check my mail, etc., and someone decided it'd be a good idea to keep the door open, and it's like maybe 50 degrees out there. I'm freezing to death. :(

Monday, September 3, 2007

Weee, human contact.

Hurray for internet at the monastery!

So, clearly, I'm here, and it's okay. There are too many people, and it's cold, but other than that, it's okay. There were some adventures this morning with finding a duffel bag (after purchasing things, I didn't have enough room...), but other than that, all was well. I wound up waiting on the steps of the Dom for four hours for the bus to take us to Haus Altenberg for the orientation. About an hour into it, I noticed a couple other people with bags sitting on the steps and speaking English, so I asked if they were from the Fulbright group, and they were, so I joined them. Gradually, we grew into a mighty throng (seriously - about two hundred people) of Americans (with a couple Canadians, Brits, Irish, Australians, and Kiwis) with way too much luggage and formed a procession to the buses when they arrived. Must've made a pretty sight.

Haus Altenberg is nice. It's gorgeous, really, but my enjoyment is marred by the presence of so many people. Argh. I was properly sociable all day, which took a major effort, but...bleh. I prefer people one or two at a time, not two hundred at a time. Plus, I have to share a room with two other girls, neither of whom are really my type at all, but I will survive, I suppose.

Anyway, the place is good. The guy in charge of the ceremonies and so forth is a very amusing German guy (who speaks in English). The heads of education or delegates or something from each of the Laender introduced themselves, in German, which I followed easily (even the jokes, yay). Supper was tasty. We (me and my roommates) sat with some funny guys who are stationed in Leipzig. The cooking staff are pretty good - we had really good mashed potatoes and some kind of meat dumpling things. We broke up eventually into groups by Bundesland (states, essentially) to discuss things. The woman in charge of Sachsen (Saxony) is very nice. Nice nice nice, everyone is nice. There are about a dozen people besides me stationed in Sachsen, Thueringen, and Sachsen-Anhalt - one in Dresden (one of my roommates), three or so in Leipzig, and the rest in smaller towns.

After all that, they started serving beer, and I escaped the ruckus to check my e-mail, etc. So, I've got internet access. Yay. Get online or e-mail me or something. Crowds stress me out.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Are there no alarm clocks in all of Germany?

Pictures ahoy!

Well, today I started off with the intention of finding an alarm clock. Alas, it's Sunday, so pretty much everything is closed here. I had a few things to do, so I went to the Haupbahnhof first to get a train ticket from Cologne to Dresden for when I get back from orientation (the 6th - not sure if I'll have internet access until then). I handled it pretty well, no issues with the language, so now I have a ticket. I'll be changing trains in Frankfurt and Leipzig, but only for about ten minutes each, so I won't be able to see anything. I'll be getting into town after midnight, which is kind of scary. I should probably make a hotel reservation now. *does so*

Anyway, that taken care of, I wandered around town for a bit and made my way back to the doener place I tried a couple days ago (NOT the one where I dropped the money in the hot sauce), and was actually able to remember how to say things like "cucumber" (Gurke!) so I could get precisely what I wanted without embarrassing myself much. I did ask for lots of the white sauce, so that was a bit, ah, humorous (stop smirking, Noah), but other than that, no issues. My pigeon friend came back and helped me eat until some shrieking children chased him away.

After that, I decided to explore a bit more down by the river. It's very pretty down there - lots of those tall thin brightly colored houses, plus the river itself is nice. There was some kind of festival thing going on which involved Wurst stands (alas, I was full from the doener) and a race. The most amusing part is that the loudspeakers were blaring "Living in America." Made me laugh when I realized it. There were some people playing drums, too, and they were very good, but very loud. It seemed like everyone had a dog, which made for some amusing situations. At one point, there were two middle-aged couples walking towards each other, and each couple had a miniature poodle (one black, one silver), so of course they stopped to congratulate each other on their excellent doggies. In the midst of this congratulating, the dogs simultaneously let out a roar (or at least as much of a roar as miniature poodles can produce) and lept at each other, and they turned into an almost-literal ball of whirling black and silver curls. It was a great scene - the dogs were snarling, the owners were shrieking, and everyone else was laughing. Really, there's nothing funnier than a poodle fight. I mean, they're poodles. And they're fighting. Poodles. Fighting. If you can't see the humor, there's really nothing I can do for you, sorry. Maybe you should read the Wall Street Journal instead.

So yes, that done, I came back. Although the Roman-German museum itself was closed, it has a corridor running through it that you can use to get to the courtyard by the Dom without walking around it, and there were some interesting things in it. I didn't look too closely, or I'd describe in painful detail. I took a picture of this really awesome statue lady. She was better than the gold guy - she held the pose without moving face or body for ages, enough to make me look twice, and if you gave her money she did a sort of dance like in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when they're trying to be clockwork, remember? So yeah, she was good. And then I got a milkshake (yum!) and saw a guy playing a grand piano by the Dom. He was excellent, too. Most enjoyable.

Then I came home. I had an actual interaction with the people at the desk. For some reason, they're convinced my name is Weishans (pronounced Vice-hahns), so I now answer to Frau Weishans. Anyway, I was pleased with myself for not having any issues at all in that conversation, even though it required words that I don't use often. I looked up two words before talking to them ("Weckruf," a wake-up call, and "verlassen," to check out) and was otherwise fine. The language thing is weird. I know my German is good enough, but it sometimes hides from me. I don't understand perfectly simple things like "Bier aufmachen?" (ya want your beer opened, lady?), or I can't remember how to say something like "Ich moechte ein Stueck ______" (I'd like a piece of _____). So it's nice that it appears to be sinking in a little. Three interactions today (yes, I'm shy) - the ticket lady, the doener kid (he was like 13, maybe - turkish kid, I think), and the hotel guy - and I didn't screw any of them up. I'm getting used to it.

Okay, that'll be it for now. Hopefully I'll have internet at the orientation so I can update tomorrow, but if not, I'll talk to you all Thursday or Friday or something.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

I dropped two euros into a vat of hot sauce.

Today's pictures (just four, sorry).

First thing today, I had to go down to the Bahnhof and get a BahnCard50 (that gives me 50% off all tickets with DeutschBahn for a year, which is great). I'm pretty pleased with myself with that, because I had my first conversations beyond "Ich moechte Kuchen bitte!" There were a few irritating moments (for example, I know what gueltig means, but it completely escaped me even though I knew that I should know it - argh), but overall, I handled myself...almost competently. Oh, by the way, Mom and Dad, they're mailing the permanent card to your house since I'm not sure what my address here is, so you'll have to mail it to me. :)

Anyway, after that I went to get some breakfast at the same bakery as yesterday. I got this excellent little apple thingy. It was absolutely delightful in every way - flaky, crumbly, delicious. I watched some kind of crappy skateboarders near the Dom while eating it. There are only two in the picture, but there were more like six or seven actually there. I also sat my laptop bag down in a pile of whipped cream someone thoughtfully left on the ground, so I was grateful for the wipesy things Mom made me buy (which I now carry everywhere).

Following that, I went further into the shopping area, where there were some weird girls in top hats and external underwear trying to give everyone shots of something or other and candy, and bought a jacket and two sweaters quite easily. Sizing is all new here, so I had to figure that out. I'm apparently a 40 in tops, and a 37 or 38 in shoes, and don't know for bottoms.

Anyway, after that I went looking for an alarm clock. ARGH! There's apparently nowhere in this bloody city that sells alarm clocks. How hard can it possibly be, I thought, but I was wrong, horribly tragically wrong. So I spent three hours searching for a clock and couldn't find one and almost died in the process from my own unvented rage. Tomorrow I shall ask the guy at the front desk of the hotel if he knows some place that sells an Uhr please please please. It wasn't a complete loss, though. Lots of pretty things around, none of which I photographed because I was annoyed.

There was another adventure after that. I went into a random shop to get another doener (they're everywhere, seriously), and, first off, my German completely abandoned me. How can my German be fine yesterday and fine today through complicated train conversations but leave me when I need to order supper? Enfuriating. Anyway, the doener places are set up kind of like sub shops in the US - there's a clear glass counter thingy arching over the toppings and stuff so you can see them make it. So I got my doener, and I payed with a ten-euro note, and the guy shoves my change in coins back over the countertop. Alas, I wasn't expecting him to push it at me so fast, so one of the two-euro coins bounces off my hand, back towards him, and.....into the vat of hot sauce below. Plop. We kind of look at each other. " tut mir leid?" I say. He cracks up, gives me another coin, and orders a minion to come pour it out and find the money.

The doener was delicious, incidentally. Chicken or something (some white meat, could've been pork) instead of lamb, with shredded cucumbers and tomatoes and onions in with the lettuce and cabbage, and way more sauce... I think I liked the lamb better, but this was a better sandwich.

So, that was my day. Tomorrow I need to get a ticket for the train from Cologne to Dresden on Thursday, and I'll try to find an alarm clock again. Hopefully I can.