First thoughts on readjusting to life in Florida

I’ve been back in the US for roughly a week and a half now, and the re-entry has been pretty smooth for the most part.  There have been a few tricky things, however.

The currency – After three years with the Euro (and that wonderful €2 coin,) I’ve been having a difficult time readjusting back to the Dollar.  Especially the coins.   The paper money is confusing though-  with the Euro, every denomination is a different size and color.  All of the paper money here is the same size and color, whether it’s a $1 or a $100.  I’ve already flubbed at least one cash transaction.  Speaking of which….

The credit card usage – I went out to lunch with three of my co-workers, and when it was time to pay, I looked around the table-  each of my colleagues had a credit card out for their check, and I had cash out for mine.  I simply forgot how prevalent credit card usage is here, and how little Americans use cash for many things.  That will take a while to remember.

The deodorant – I forgot that some of my regular use products simply aren’t sold in the United States.  My deodorant is a perfect example of this.  During my time in Germany, I’ve become fond of a Nivea solid stick which is simply not sold in the US.    I’m going to have to choose a new deo when my current stick runs out.

The dishwasher – After three years of hand washing all my dishes, it’s utter bliss to be able to just put them in a machine again.   This one isn’t a problem readjusting, it’s just something I wanted to take note of.

The paycheck – In Germany, I got paid once per month.  Here, it’s twice a month.  Having a significantly shorter time between paychecks makes me feel a little bit like time is passing more quickly.

The elevators – Whenever I get into a lift in Germany, the ground floor is either EG or the numeral zero.  The first floor is up one flight of stairs.  Floor two is what an American would call the third floor.  Fast forward to this weekend, in an elevator-  on two or three separate occasions, we reached the floor marked 1 and I stayed in the elevator thinking I still had one more floor to go.

The sugars – I need to find a new caffeine delivery system, I think.  Three years in Germany where the Cola is made with real sugar has spoiled me.  I seem to have lost my tolerance to high fructose corn syrup – any time I drink a normal US Coke product here, I have terrible heartburn.  This is especially frustrating because these amazing Coke machines are all over the place here, and the flavor mixing is fantastic. (Rasberry Coke, anyone?)  Mexican Coke (made with cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup) is available here, but it’s comparatively expensive.

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The drink ice – Ice isn’t common in drinks in Germany, so I forgot about the behavior of a cup filled more than halfway with ice-  when I tilted the cup forward to drink, the ice shifted position and caused a splash.  This in turn caused a mini tidal wave in the glass, which then proceeded to wet my pants.   Amelie was terribly amused.

The measurements – It’s going to take me a little while to stop thinking in terms of kilometers and Celsius.    All I know for sure is it’s freaking hot outside and sub-arctic in my office.

The air conditioning – In Germany, I had no air conditioning in my home or my office.  I thought I would enjoy returning to the land of AC, especially since the temperatures have been in the 90s much of the time since my return, but I was wrong.  Americans don’t use AC sparingly, they crank it.  In Germany, it’s been around 50F and I consider that almost t-shirt weather.  In my office, I have to wear a hoodie.  Every restaurant I’ve been to is freezing, almost literally.  It’s astonishing that I feel far colder in Florida than I ever did in Germany.

The shopping – I thought the weirdest thing here would be the Sunday grocery shopping, but the thing that is hitting me more strangely is the ability to walk into the grocery store to get pain killers and basic medical needs.    After three years with that only being in an Apotheke, having aspirin at the gas station is just weird.

Expats, what differences have you noticed between your homeland and your current home?

Ampelmännchen

(This little post was written months ago, but I never got around to using it.  I’ve been hip-deep in getting moved over to Florida, so it seemed like now would be a good time to post it.  -Steven, 5 October)

One of my favorite things about visiting Eastern Germany is seeing the Ampelmännchen, or “Little traffic light men.”  This happy little fellow is left over from the former German Democratic Republic, so any city that was part of East Germany before German reunification in 1990 is likely to have these little guys on their walk signals.

The Ampelmännchen were designed by a German traffic psychologist named Karl Peglau in 1961.   Peglau wanted to create a traffic light that would be both cute and appealing to children, yet easily accessible and understandable for elderly Germans.  Also, I didn’t know before writing this post that “traffic psychologist” was a career option.

The Ampelmann is so popular that some cities in Western Germany have adopted the symbols, and an entire souvenir industry has sprung up around them.   There’s even a store in Berlin where you can buy all manner of Ampelmann swag- t-shirts, hats, buttons, keychains, deck chairs, earrings, and more.

These particular Ampelmännchen were spotted while I was in Dresden.

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Do you own any Ampelmann swag?  What do you suppose the green Ampelmann is carrying in front of him, a baguette?

Bayern

Repatriation Day

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Today is the day that I leave Germany. I’m not leaving forever, because I have friends here. After today, though, I won’t be a resident of Deutschland. I’m heading back to Florida.  My plane out of Frankfurt is actually scheduled to depart at the exact minute this post is scheduled to go up.

While this is a travel day for me, I thought it might be fun to give my friends an idea of what my Floridian  life will be like, geographically speaking, courtesty of http://overlapmaps.com/.  I’ve noticed that Europeans who have never been to the United States seldom have any real idea of just how expansive the US really is.  Americans who haven’t traveled here are similarly bereft of clue when it comes to scale, which is part of what makes these maps so much fun.

Here’s an example to illustrate that point.  This conversation actually happened between me and a colleague back in the US:

Colleague:  Hey, can you go to the data center to look at this server?
Me: The data center is in Frankfurt.  That’s three hours away.  I might be able to get there by tomorrow, if I leave now, go home, pack a bag, and manage to catch the next train out.
Colleague:  …so that’s a no, then?

First up in our map fun:  South Florida, overlayed onto the region of Bavaria I currently live in.   While these distances are not exact, I can say that Munich roughly overlays where Miami is, and Regensburg roughly overlays where I will be living.

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These next two are just fun:  Germany overlaid onto Florida, and Florida overlaid onto Germany.

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…and just for giggles, the United States overlayed across all of Europe.  The US is a big place.  I lived in the US for my entire life before 2011, and I still haven’t seen nearly as much of it as I have seen of Europe.   I’ve gotta get on that.

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Which is bigger?  Your home town, or the place you live now?

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Regensburg Tourism

Earlier this month, I spent an afternoon checking out a bunch of the touristy things I can do without leaving Regensburg.  There’s a lot to see and do right here, and I didn’t want to leave it all unseen before I moved back to the US.  I started with a river cruise.

There are many great river cruises on the Donau (Danube) river, but I specifically wanted a short touristy river ride.   I found one that runs every hour or so during tourism season and runs about 45 minutes for the cost of eight and a half Euros.  At a touch after 11 in the morning, I set sail on the good ship Johannes Kepler.

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It’s rather interesting to see the Stone Bridge from this perspective.  I’ve been all over the surface and around the temporary construction walkways, but this is the first time I was ever underneath the bridge.  By the way, pay attention to that tower with the clock faces on it.  We’ll climb that later!

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Being on the tiny river cruise showed me things about Regensburg that I had never seen before.  For example, I didn’t realize that the villa of King Maximilian II was just walking distance down the river.

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I don’t know who Klara is, but I really hope she had a nice birthday.

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After we docked, I walked a short distance down the riverfront to the Schiffahrtsmuseum, or shipping museum.  Entrance was just three Euros.  The museum itself is contained inside two very old and beautifully restored ships.   The one pictured here is a paddle steamer.

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What would a museum be without tiny models?

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This is part of the engine room of the Ruthof, the paddle steamer which houses this part of the museum.  This stuff is absolutely huge.

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Once back on land, I finally managed to get a photograph of the Boat Captain.  I don’t know this gentleman’s story, but I see him walking around town from time to time.  He’s usually wearing all white, and he’s always  got epaulets on his jacket.  I’ve always wanted a photograph of him, but he was always walking in the other direction.

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I took a very brief detour at the Historic Wurstkuchl to grab some sustenance before I continued on my tourism day. So tasty!

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Next, I went to the museum next to Regensburg’s famous Stone Bridge.  Most of this museum is free, but there’s a tower here which can be climbed for another two Euros.

“Historic stairs” means they’re really old and rickety and made of wood, I guess.

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The top part of this tower used to be someone’s living quarters.  These are the rooms inside.

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The benefit to living at the top of the historic stairs is the view-  this is looking East from the tower.

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This is the view North from the tower.  When the bridge is not being renovated, this must be a fantastic people-watching view.

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Here’s the Western view.  This picture was taken during HerbstDult, hence the ferris wheel visible in the distance.

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One of the more interesting things about climbing the tower is seeing the mechanism that drives the clocks.  This tower has clock faces on three sides, and they’re all driven by a single mechanism.  This amazing little gearbox has long rods which connect to each clock face, and the electric motor beneath.    One motor for all three clocks.

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After climbing down from the tower, I walked around the free part of this museum for a few more minutes.  I’ve always liked that the Wappen, or coat of arms, for Regensburg is a shield with two crossed keys in it.

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Next on my tourism day was  walk up the street to the Kepler Memorial House.  Johannes Kepler lived in Regensburg at the end of his life, and he fell ill and died in this city.  His old house is a museum now, with an entrance price of two Euros and twenty cents.

J-Kep says science is cool!

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They could probably stand to give his bust a good cleaning.

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The entire museum was in German, so I didn’t get much out of the description cards, but I still liked seeing the old equipment in glass cases.

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This globe is utterly fantastic.  Back in those days, they really took the whole “here be sea monsters” thing very seriously, I think.

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After I was done at the Kepler House, I walked over to the Dreieinigkeitskirche, one of Regensburg’s many, many churches.

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Here’s that key logo again.

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…and again with the keys!

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I’m always a little bit fascinated by the incredibly old glass you find in places like this.  These windows are not as crystal clear as modern glass, but the effect is kind of charming.

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While the inside of this church is nice, that’s not why I was here.  I came to the church because for another two Euros, you can climb the tower.  I’ve been meaning to do this one for three years.  This is another place that wasn’t built for tourism-  they actually taped Styrofoam to one of the beams to prevent tourists from knocking their heads.

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This is another historical stairway, I think.

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Near the top, there’s a sign asking that you don’t touch the bell.

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It’s quite tempting, though.  This is an amazing old church bell.

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Why do I climb all these towers?  For the views, of course.    This is what the city’s main cathedral and the other clock tower look like from this church tower.

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Panning a little bit to the left, you can see another very, very old tower.   This city’s full of ‘em.

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On my walk to the next touristy location in my day, I stumbled across some furries having a date.  At least I think that’s what was going on here.

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For my last stop of the day, I went to the Regensburg Historisches Museum, for an admission price of five Euros.  The last time I was there was the first full day I was in this city, back on November 13, 2011.  At the time, I knew absolutely no German at all, so I was completely lost.  It turns out that even with some knowledge of the language under my belt, the museum didn’t seem all that different to me.

I didn’t remember seeing these stained glass windows last time, though.

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I did remember seeing the Jewish headstones before.  There have been several Jewish settlements over the centuries in this city, and most of them have been forced out or simply eradicated.  Some of the old headstones survived and were brought to the museum.

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A big medieval city demands big medieval swords.

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I said before that museums love their models, and this is another fine example of that.

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Here’s what I spent on my tourism day, not including food:

€8,50 – River Cruise
€3,00 – Schiffahrtsmuseum
€2,00 – Museum and tower next to the Stone Bridge.
€2,20 – Kepler Memorial House
€2,00 – Dreieinigkeitskirche Tower
€5,00 – Historisches Museum

Grand total:  €22,70.   Not bad for an entire day out, with sun, boats, stairway climbing, history, and culture.

Have you ever been a tourist in your own town?  What did you see?

 

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WEBMU 2014: Nürnberg

Every year, a group of ex-pat bloggers living in Germany gather for a weekend of fun, tourism, food, and drink.  This gathering is called WEBMU – the Whiny Expatriate Bloggers Meet-Up.  The location is different each year-  in 2012 the gathering was in Berlin.  In 2013, the group gathered in Prague, but I didn’t make it to that one.  This year, we met in Nuremberg roughly halfway through the month of September.

The attendees were:

A WEBMU weekend typically runs Friday through Sunday, with the early arrivals taking a day trip to an alternate location in the daytime in Friday.  This WEBMU was no exception, and we met up at 10am to visit scenic and moist Bamberg.  Most of the pictures I took in Bamberg are similar to the pictures I took the first time I visited Bamberg, so I’m not going to include too many of those here.  If you’re curious, you can look at the previous Bamberg post.  (Also, it was raining all day, so many of my new photos have rain drops on the lens.  I really need to get a lens hood.)

One of the first things we saw in Bamberg was this randomly placed elephant.  We’re all pretty sure it’s an advertisement, but it was still random enough to warrant a photograph.

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We went to the Altes Rathaus, and to the local cathedral to look again at the Bamberg Rider.

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We were in Bamberg on the same day that there was a party for the closing of U.S. Army Garrison Bamberg, so we stumbled across the Burrito Bandito.  It was a little strange seeing US Army guys in fatigues while out and about in Germany.

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While waiting for the train back to Nuremberg, we were witness to the Hochzeit of two smaller trains.  The coupling is almost entirely automatic for this type of train, so it was kind of fascinating to watch.  We were all mesmerized, to the great amusement of the conductor from the train on the left.

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Fast forward to Saturday, and we started the day with a small city tour… in the rain.

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Here’s the tour route, just for fun:

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This is one of the two brass rings embedded into the wrought iron-work in Schöner Brunnen, a rather nifty fountain in the city’s main market square near the town hall.  It is said that spinning the brass ring will bring you luck.  The fountain itself is a reproduction; the original lives in the city’s historical museum.

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It’s rather amazing to me that I’ve been in Germany for this long and I didn’t manage to get a picture with a section of the original Berlin Wall until this trip.  Here it is.

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Albrecht Dürer is kind of a big deal in Nuremberg.  His house is near this statue.

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One of Dürer’s most celebrated creations is this creepy-ass rabbit.  The dude with the pink umbrella just makes it so much more surreal, don’t you think?

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This store’s sign caught my eye because it’s a rather nifty play on words.  Bohne & Kleid in German is “Bean and Dress,” but it sounds quite a bit like “Bonnie and Clyde.”  It made me giggle.

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One of the nifty things about Nuremberg is that a large portion of the old city wall is still intact like this section on the right.

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A bunch of these old cities have St. George and the Dragon themed stuff floating around.  It’s all very Trogdor-oriented.

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Nuremberg also has a reasonably well preserved castle, part of which is pictured here.

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Big castles have big doors.

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Here’s the requisite view of the city from the castle’s ramparts.

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Later in the day, Cliff and I ventured in to the Deutsche Bahn Museum, a place I had wanted to visit for quite a while.  It had some fantastic vintage carriages.

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An old rail-running bicycle looking thing was on display.  This reminds me a little bit of the scene from Blazing Saddles with the quick-sand.

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What would a train museum be without incredibly detailed models?

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The DB Museum had a ton of great photographs up showing the construction of the railways and bridges.  Most of those pictures didn’t come out well enough to post, but this will give you an idea of how amazing and fascinating the historical photographs were.

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Any good train museum would also cover that uncomfortable part of Germany’s history where the railways were part of the World War II experience.  Here’s a train conductor’s uniform from that era.

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The best part of the exhibit was the various trains  set up along the outer edges of the museum.  Here’s a mostly-plastic model of an ICE train.  You couldn’t even sit down inside.  The real thing is much nicer.

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Apparently, 6th class train rides involved standing up in a giant rectangular train carriage with no roof.  Still beats walking, I guess.

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Compare that last one to first class, which has velvet seats and a nice terrace from which you can have champagne toasts.

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Speaking of first class, the Prince’s carriages were present in the museum.  They’re very fancy.

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The Prince’s carriage had a green room that Cliff thought was amazing.

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I was more partial to the blue room in the Prince’s carriage.   What can I say? I like blue!

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There were also some massive old steamers in the museum.

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When I say massive, I mean massive.  These wheels were nearly as tall as I am.

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…and you can step up into some of them for hammy moments.  Here’s Cliff, waving hello from the conductor’s window.

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Have you ever been to the DB Museum?  Have you visited Bamberg or Nuremberg?