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.

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