Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A decent weekend.

So, Ariana came over this weekend. We spent most of the weekend shoe-shopping, of all things. She needed winter boots, and we both kept getting distracted by the pretty shiny shoes, so it took forever to find. It was fun, though. It's nice to be able to be completely irresponsible and consumeristic for a day or two.

We also made our way over to Neustadt to do some shopping in the second-hand stores. There's actually quite a lot of good stuff over there. I really like that section of town in general. It's Lots of character. On one street, there was a featherbed store, a reptile store, a used bookstore, and an African food specialties store, all in a row. Just very eclectic. And the people are really interesting - the place is full of punks and artsy sorts.

After a productive Saturday morning thrifting, we were lured into the Devil's Kitchen by their pretty sign, and discovered it to be an awesome retro-American-style diner. We had a couple of burgers with the best fries ever and wound up camping there for about two and a half hours. That's the awesome thing about eating out in Germany. They don't pressure you to leave. So it was nice. Look at the picture I found!

So, by this point, we were both pretty broke, so our entertainment Saturday night consisted of cooking tortellini (delicious!) and splitting a bottle of cheap vodka (bye-bye tortellini :( ) between the two of us. It was the kind of vodka that tastes fine mixed with coke until you get to the bottom of the glass, at which point it suddenly tastes like pure nail polish remover. It was fun, but I am extremely grouchy today because of it. Blah.

Today we went to the Hauptbahnhof for some good ol' fast food for lunch (yay for Burger King!) and there are Polizei everywhere. There's a helicopter over the city, police cars and vans on most corners, and groups of 5-10 cops in full riot gear with batons and muzzled dogs on pretty much every street. The reason? Dynamo Dresden, the local soccer team, lost last night and is playing again tonight. Damned hooligans... They tend to get extremely violent. So, on the one hand, it looks like a police state today. On the other hand, at least I won't be beaten by an enraged soccer fan today.

Okay, so now I'm off to prepare a lesson for tomorrow. G'night.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Oh, and I got propositioned.

As I was walking to the tram stop after the first bank fiasco this guy came up and started asking me what's your name, etc., in kind of accented German, all friendly-like. I didn't feel like chatting, so I said I didn't speak any German. So he tried some very broken English. I was mostly polite, but then he started asking if I wanted to go out for coffee, and I declined, so he wanted to know if I'd go out for whiskey then (!), but I declined, and then he got huffy about it and left. It was...kind of hilarious.

Yes, I would like some cheese, thank you.

But first, a brief school-related adventure! An appetizer, if you will. So, you all remember those classes I was supposed to teach all by myself? Well, I went to the first one yesterday, and apparently the teacher I was subbing for hadn't told the principal I was subbing for her, because the class was cancelled, and no one thought to tell me. So I was all running around panicking and so forth because I couldn't find my students. It was unpleasant.

So, today's big adventure... I'm going to the theater with Clemens and Enrico on Tuesday! Weeee! That'll be fun. However, the theater requires marginally nicer clothes than I normally wear around, so I had to do a bit of shopping. To do shopping, I needed to take some money out of my German bank account (no, they haven't paid me yet - I just got the two hundred euro reimbursement for baggage charges and travel from Cologne to Dresden). So I go to the bank.

The money in in the Tagesgeldkonto of my account - the savings account. It turns out that you can't actually withdraw money directly from your savings account in Germany. You have to transfer it to your Girokonto first - your debit account. But it seems that they can't transfer the money over at the bank. You have to do that online, the lady says, and then you can just withdraw it with your debit card. Small problem, says I. They never sent me the TAN-list (which you need to do internet transactions) OR the PIN for my debit card.

Lady blinks. Looks at me. I give her some more information and she calls home office, or whatever they call it here. They're going to send out the TAN-list and PIN again, since apparently they forgot to write my apartment number on it the first time. But I do have a telephone-banking PIN, right? Yep, sure do. So she sends me home to transfer the money into my Girokonto over the phone, and then I can come back to the bank and take my money out. Fantastic...

So I go home, find my phone-PIN, find the account number I'm supposed to use over the phone, find the phone number (all three of these in separate mailings, I might add), and dial. Halfway through the computerized spiel I get disconnected and my phone informs me that I have to charge more minutes to it.



SO. I go back to the plaza where the bank is and where I got my phone. I wait in line for twenty minutes at the phone place to get some time to charge on my phone. The dude ahead of me shows no signs of being done any time soon, so I check the other stores around on the off-chance that they'll have phone cards or something I can use. Nope. So I go back and am lucky this time - no line. I get fifteen euro worth to load on my phone. On the way back to the tram stop (have I mentioned that it's below freezing out here?) I stop at Ditsch for some much-needed sustenance and then return home to try my luck again. By this time, I'm two hours into the entire mess.

It's really hard to understand automated telephone systems in English, let alone in German. It takes a couple tries to get the phone loaded, but I manage it, and then I take a deep breath and call the PostBank system again. It takes me four tries to figure out which bank account they want me to use to access the system - the one they sent along with the phone-PIN doesn't work, and neither does the one in the letter with the phone number, and neither does the extended one in the first letter they sent me. After each try, the automated man sounds increasingly disappointed in me. After finally getting the right one, I accidentally cough and it hangs up.

So I do it all again. I put in the right number. I hold my breath while it states approvingly that I did it okay. I enter the PIN. It gives me options! Finally! Unfortunately, the only one of the options I understand is "Tagesgeldkonto." So I say that. It doesn't get it. I try again. Nope. Tagesgeltkonto. "Es tut mir sehr leid. Ich habe Sie nicht verstanden." Tagesgeldkonto! "Verzeihung. Koennen Sie das wiederholen?" TAGESGELDKONTO!!! "Wir verbinden Sie mit eine Beratungs-something or other."

So it decides I need to talk to a real person. I could've told it that twenty minutes ago. The wait is very irritating. It's got about a thirty-second loop of muzak, which it breaks up every fifteen seconds by a guy apologizing and telling me to be patient. On the plus side, I'll never forget what "Geduld" means again. Of course toll-free is not a German concept. I'm getting charged nine cents a minute for this pleasure.

Finally I get to talk to a woman. And it's extremely easy. "Ich moechte 160 Euro von mein Tagesgeldkonto zu mein Girokonto ueberweisen." I probably messed up the prepositions, but she understands me fine, and it's done in about fifteen seconds. Danke sehr.

So, German efficiency apparently means taking three hours to transfer money from one bank account to another, and I have nothing in my wallet to show for it still. I think I'll save the shopping for tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Terrors abound.

I have no idea if I mentioned this or not here (I think I did, but I'm not sure), but starting next week I have two classes a week ALL BY MYSELF for three weeks. First-year brewers, never met 'em before, they don't speak much English, etc. Anyway, this morning I had a meeting regarding that with the teacher who is supposed to be in charge of the class. Or at least, I thought it was supposed to be a meeting. What actually happened was this:

Me: *arrives precisely on time*
Teacher: Oh. I didn't actually prepare anything for you.
Me: I see.
Teacher: Um, here, have these. *stuffs a sheaf of papers into my hand* You ought to be able to stretch that out to cover three weeks.
Me: Thanks... I my best?
Teacher: Great, see you in a month. *shuts door*

So. This is kind of what I expected from that teacher, but it's unpleasant to have your fears confirmed, no? Although I must admit that my self-righteous pleasure at my dislike being vindicated is almost enough to counterbalance the almost overwhelming terror.

Bleh, it's not that bad, I suppose. I can easily eat up the first week with introductions, and if there isn't enough there for the other two weeks, it shouldn't be too hard to just make smalltalk (that's my job, okay? :P) for a little while.

I hope.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Kirche Jesu Christi der Heiligen der letzten Tage

So, you really can't escape the Mormons anywhere.

There were a couple of Mormon missionaries (one from Georgia [the state, not the country], one from Scotland) proselytizing in my building today. It was difficult to disentangle myself from the conversation, but kind of funny. They gave me a tract, in German, inviting me to their church to get a free Buch of Mormon.

The front of the tract.
The back of the tract.

Also, Leberkaese is delicious.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bah humbug.

So, I've got two weeks of vacation right now. And, as most of you know, my foot is busted. Well, not busted - just out of order. I did something to it last weekend, and after walking on it for a full week after that, it's feeling very cranky. So, it looks like most of my vacation will be spent not using my foot, which means staying inside or riding my bike (bike doesn't bother it) to a cafe or something where I can sit further. It's kind of depressing - I was planning on going to Leipzig and then Prague with Ariana, and now I...can't.

But I can't stay down for long! *breaks out the cane and straw hat, starts humming "Ragtime Gal"* Since I can't have geographical adventures, I've decided to go with gastronomical adventures instead. I've purchased canned fish (these Germans love their herring), liverwurst, and horse-meat sausage (in order from least to most terrifying).

Adventure the First.

I started off with some not-very-German fish - good ol' sardines. Which I haven't had in ages (I remember eating them when I was little with Dad, even though Mom thought they were gross), but I figured they couldn't be too bad. I discovered it's actually kind of fun eating them - you feel like a giant putting these almost whole fish in your mouth and crunching them up. Tomorrow (or tonight! if I'm feeling brave) I'll give the liver a go. Yum yum.

So, aside from my broken-foot-induced culinary risks, there is one other thing of interest going on. One of the teachers I work with is going to be in the hospital for three weeks for a minor surgery after the vacation, and she wants me to take two of her classes each week until she gets back. All by myself. No one else in the calssroom. Eeeek. They're first-year brewers, and I've never met them. It should be...interesting. I'm really very nervous. Enrico thinks I'll be fine, though he said if I'm not comfortable it's okay to just say so and someone else will do it, since this is explicitly in the guidelines as something I don't have to do (teach by myself). But I kind of think it'll be fun/interesting. So, we will see how it goes.

Okay. Maybe I'll post tomorrow about horsemeat. Or hot air balloons. I accidentally flashed a hot air balloon today. Maybe I'll post about that tomorrow. I'm tired of typing.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Clean cups, clean cups!

New post, new post!

So, this weekend I had a friend over that I met at orientation (see Mom, not being completely antisocial and reclusive). It was rather fun - it's nice having another clueless American to explore the city with. We checked out some of the places I've already been (Frauenkirche, Altmarkt, etc.), went to the international bookstore so she could get an English fix (she's in a teensy eensy little town, so can't get anything there), and went to Neustadt and the Garten, both of which I hadn't been to yet.

Neustadt is cool; really, there's not another word for it. The buildings are old and multicolored (just how I like 'em :)), but they're not as well kept as in the Altstadt, so they're all kind of toned down to a similar shade. I'll have to take a picture - I like how it looks. And there's a lot of graffiti all over the place, and some buildings that are in disrepair, shall we say, from DDR days and before. There are little restaurants and cafes everywhere - a couple with standard German fare, but mostly very ethnic. I saw Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, African, Australian, American, Russian, Czech, Polish, Hungarian, Algerian, Albanian... Pretty much any food you have a craving for, you can get here. I need to make it to the American bar and grill, actually, just for amusement. They advertise themselves as having "cheeseburger!!"

There are also, of course, a plethora of bars, clubs, etc. Some of them are dancey poppy places, but more often they seem to be subculture oriented - raves, goth/industrial clubs, metal bars. If I were a particularly social person, this is where I would go. Thrift stores abound here, and also just...weird...stores. There was one that appears to specialize in selling nothing but hookahs. I need to go investigate the place further - it was Sunday when we went, so everything was closed.

The Garten was very nice, but in a completely different way. It's really huge - one kilometer by two kilometers - and as soon as you're thirty paces off the street it's very peaceful and quiet, easy to imagine that you're not actually in a city. At one corner, there's a botanic garden, run by the university and open to the public. I see myself going there rather a lot, partially because it's just pleasant, and partially because they have a North American section that feels like I'm in my woods back home.

I discovered over the weekend that German restaurants are completely infuriating. The middle is fine, but the beginning and end completely baffle me. First, when you go in, you just wander in and sit down wherever the heck you want. I find it slightly nerve-wracking - what if they don't want me to sit there? What if they don't notice I came in? But eventually they do notice that you're there and bring you a menu. You order, very easy, except that some things are impossible to pronounce (Quarkkeulchen!), and they bring your food in a reasonable amount of time. Seems to take a little longer than in the States, but I'm a patient person, so that's okay. After that, though, they leave you completely alone for the rest of the time you're there, and you pretty much have to hunt down and grab someone to ask for the check. Then, of course, they come to the table and tell you how much you owe and stand there staring at you until you find your money and hand it directly to them, and you have to tell them how much you want to pay. Tipping is very small here, and you don't leave it on the table - you tell the waitress how much you want to leave. Say it's 12.55 for your meal, you might say "Fourteen." and hand her a twenty and she'll hand you six back (probably in coins, dammit - they never give me bills as change). So. It's weird. But the food was tasty, granted...

Anyway, that was my weekend. It was fun. We get along quite well, surprisingly. I never expect to get along with people... We're making tentative plans to meet up in Leipzig and head to Prague over the vacation (two weeks vacation starting Friday!), or maybe to Vienna - she has a friend living there that we could stay with.

Yesterday I impressed myself. I've been having trouble with the bank - they were supposed to mail me my account number, which I need in order to get paid (!), but I never got anything in the mail, and it'd been two weeks. So I finally bit the proverbial bullet and went to the bank all by myself to talk about it. This being East Germany, they don't really speak English there (East Germans all learned Russian in school, not English, so only the youngsters really speak much English, I'm finding), so I had to explain my situation and why it was problematic and what I wanted them to do all in German. It was terrifying, but I actually managed to explain myself clearly and coherently and in good enough German that they understood it all immediately. So the situation is now taken care of, for which I'm eminently grateful (imminently? blast you, English language!), and I'm feeling a hell of a lot more competent in my German than I did before doing that. It was tough doing it on my own (well, honestly more scary than actually tough), but I'm really glad I did.

Today I had a slightly different sort of experience - I taught my first two lessons ever. It went a lot better than I expected, actually. I used a picture of the Naked Cowboy in Times Square for a picture description lesson (Clemens and Enrico wanted me to do one to prep them for their exam), and it was an amusing enough picture to keep their attention for the lesson. It's much easier to think of questions about a picture when it's a good picture - why is he playing a guitar? on the street? in his underoos? Clemens and Enrico both said it was a good lesson, especially for my first time, so I was happy.

So, now you are up to date. Tomorrow's der Tag der Deutschen Einheit (German Unity Day - celebrating the reunification of East and West Germany), so we have off school. I'm probably going to sleep quite a bit, then do some grocery shopping (have to do that pretty much every day... no freezer, and must transport groceries by bike, making it impossible to get much at a time), and maybe wander over to Neustadt to explore some more. I'll try to update again tomorrow.