Last Looks

The last time I was in Hamburg, back in late March, I spent some time with Sarah and Tobias.  After lunch, they walked me back to the U-Bahn, and as we said our goodbyes, I had a flash of realization- after that moment, I might not ever see either of them again in my lifetime.

I know it seems like a negative point of view, but it’s a simple truth: In just thirty days, I will be leaving Germany. Sure, I’ll travel to Europe again in the future, but I probably won’t be in Hamburg again.

After that realization, I started noticing it in other places.   Sometimes it’s silly (will this be the last time I buy a fricking heavy six-pack of water from the Getränkemarkt?) but usually it’s a little more bittersweet.

I saw this image in one of those ridiculous Buzzfeed lists, and the sentiment is exactly what I’m talking about, even if the image they chose is terrible:

stalls-batroom

For the last six months, I’ve been thinking a lot about the transition back and about what I’m leaving behind here.  I started making these comparisons in another post a while back, but I’ve got more.

Some of it isn’t great.

  • I won’t miss riding with patient zero on the bus.  Every time the temperature drops even the tiniest amount, there’s hacking and coughing and sniffling like you would not believe.
  • I won’t miss the smokers everywhere.  Standing at the bus stop.  Walking through the city.  I can smell it from half a block away.
  • I won’t miss the crazy spin-art vomit stains on the sidewalk at the end of every weekend.  Most Germans can hold their beer, but this is a college town and Universities are where people test their limits, and then spill those limits all over the sidewalk before passing out.  Walking through the city on a Sunday morning can be a little bit like walking though a slightly squishy minefield.
  • I won’t miss the fucking cobblestone.  I haaaaate  cobblestone.  No, seriously-  cobblestone is charming when you first arrive, but it’s hell to walk on for long periods of time.    I can’t begin to count the number of times that my ankle has turned a bit on a cobblestone step.  It’s a miracle I haven’t injured myself in all this time.
  • I won’t miss the specific style of outdoor chairs that you find at beer gardens and restaurants with outdoor seating.  See the crossbar halfway up the back?  Those things always dig into my back.   Seriously, they’re the least comfortable seats in the universe.  How to people sit on these for hours?  Oh, right:  The beer functions as a muscle relaxant.damnchairs
  • I won’t miss the random people who seem to do nothing all day except hang out in front of the Bahnhof, or in front of the park directly opposite.  Every city I’ve visited has these people- they’re around the train station with a beer in hand.  Often, it looks like they’re sleeping there, in front of the station.  It’s such a waste-  I won’t ever understand people who don’t have the desire to go other places and do other things.
  • I won’t miss the way Germans line up for things.  At the bakery, or waiting to board a bus, or a train, there’s never a single simple line.   If you’re trying to get off of a bus, you generally have to push through the people waiting to get onto the bus because they don’t stand to one side to let people through.   Germans, by and large, are terrible  at lining up for things.    It’s usually a large cluster of people with no real sense of order.
  • I won’t miss my shower plunger.  I have a standard wood-handled rubber plunger, of the type commonly associated with toilet issues.  This particular plunger has never been used in a toilet, however.  The drain of my shower has been finicky for as long as I’ve lived here, and I keep the plunger in my shower so that whenever I find myself ankle deep in not-draining water, I can plunge the shower drain for a minute and things will even out.  This happens at least once every few weeks, and has for as long as I’ve been here.  I’ve tried the local equivalent to Drano, and I’ve tried a few other things without much success.  I won’t miss having a shower that backs up at random intervals.

But there are things I will  miss.

  • I’ll miss having a vibrant concert scene just one hour away, or three, or six.  Many of my trips have started with concert plans.  I’ve been to the Royal Albert Hall in London twice now.  Many of the bands I want to see play in Berlin, or Cologne, or Hamburg.  Sometimes they even come to Munich or Nuremberg.    The concert scene is a little more dead in Florida, alas.
  • I’ll miss this view, as seen from Neupfarrplatz in the Regensburg Altstadt:
    thatview
  • I’ll miss the Deutsche Bahn.  From Regensburg, a single train will take me to Prague in four hours.  Salzburg in four hours.  Berlin in six hours.  Frankfurt in three hours.  Anywhere else in continental Europe is within reach, as long as I’ve got the time.  The trains here are fabulous.
  • I’ll miss my crazy-fast Internet.  The picture below is a photograph of my screen when I did a speed test.  I’ve never used anything this fast back in the US.  I know it’s possible, but in South Florida, it’s mostly DSL and Comcast cable broadband, and it’s nothing like the blazing fast speeds I’ve been enjoying here for the last three years.
    speed
  • I’ll miss the dogs everywhere!  Germans take dogs with them on the bus, on the train, into restaurants, and pretty much everywhere that will allow it.  Little dogs wearing sweaters are just adorable, and they always make me smile.
  • I’ll miss the bakeries.  The bread and pastries and pretzels here are beyond compare.  Apfeltaschen and Butterbreze and Kurbis Krusti… nom nom nom.
  • I’ll miss the scalp massages that are a regular part of any haircut here, during the shampoo portion of the visit.  When you get a haircut in the states, they’ll wash your hair but they never linger  on the shampooing like they do here.  It’s really heavenly.
  • I’ll dearly miss a few very close friends.    My social life in Germany has been fairly limited, but I have made a few friends who will be part of my world in some fashion for the rest of my life.  I’ll be back to Germany to see them.

Of course, all the things that I will and won’t miss have their balance:  Things that I’m really looking forward to back in the United States.  In just thirty days, I’ll have access to some really wonderful things.

  • I’m looking forward to screens on my windows so I can open them without getting those little bugs that like my laptop screen so much.  And no more indoor mosquitoes when it’s warm!
  • I’m looking forward to electronic dishwashers.  After three years of hand-washing everything, it’ll be nice to just let the machine do it.
  • For that matter, I’m looking forward to having an actual in-sink disposal unit again.  I don’t have that here.  If I have something that I need to dispose of here, I have only two real options:  The trash or the toilet.  Yes, I’ve actually flushed away expired apple sauce here.
  • I’m looking forward to having a full sized kitchen again.  My refrigerator here doesn’t even come up to my waist.  The freezer is roughly the size of a shoebox.  I have roughly ten inches of counter space in the form of a drainboard.  There are four cabinets overhead for dishes and food storage alike.    It’s more of a kitchenette.
  • I’m looking forward to Golden Oreos.  And other cookies.  While Germany excels in cakes and pastries and other baked goods, they really can’t seem to figure out cookies.  With a few very limited exceptions (primarily Oreos and Subway cookies,) I’ve been profoundly disappointed with the cookies here.  I’m looking forward to that American cookie aisle in the grocery store again.
  • And while I’m on the subject of the grocery story, I’m looking forward to shopping on Sundays!  Or after 8pm, for that matter.    I’m so tired of having to do all of my grocery shopping in the two hours after work or on Saturday afternoons.  I miss the flexibility of being able to do whim-based grocery shopping at 2am on any random Thursday!
  • I’m looking forward to having a car!  Right now, when I do my grocery shopping, I have to limit myself to what I can carry in a single trip.  I miss being able to get a ton of groceries and load them into my car.   I miss being able to travel to places that are outside of public transportation range without walking or biking to get there.
  • I’m looking forward to American-style customer service.  Sometimes it can almost be a mythic challenge to get the attention of a waitress here.
  • I’m looking forward to reliable cellular signal again.  The only place I ever had weak signal in South Florida was the men’s room at work.  (And let’s face it, that’s the one place I really don’t want to take a call anyway.)  Here, on the other hand, I see my phone drop down to Edge speeds all the time-  on the way to or from work, on the train, or just walking down the street on a sunny afternoon.
  • I’m looking forward to video without significant Geo-blocking.  I can’t count the number of times a friend has posted a link to something on Ye Olde YouTubes, and I’ve clicked the link to see this little angry-maker:
    gemagrr
    Annoying, isn’t it?  GEMA is a music licensing entity whose sole function seems to be making Americans so angry that they want to kick puppies.  To get around it here, you need to use data redirection techniques-  either a browser plugin or a VPN.    The same thing applies to Pandora, to Netflix, to Hulu.  Even the Daily Show and the Colbert Report geo-block now, although they didn’t when I first arrived to Germany.    Geo-blocking is a pain in the butt, and I’m glad that I’ll have less of it to deal with.
  • I’m looking forward to being able to go about my day to day life without needing translation help.  I’m looking forward to being able to sign an apartment lease without someone parsing the bullet points for me.  I’m looking forward to being able to understand all my junk mail without bringing it to a friend to review.
  • I’m looking forward to seeing my family! I have a three year old niece and I’m going to be back in time for her fourth birthday.  I’ve only been there for a handful of the days of her life so far, and I’m looking foward to changing that.
  • I’m looking forward to seeing my friends again, and I’m looking forward to having brunches at the Moonlite Diner, lunches with my coworkers, movie dates with my favorite girl… I can’t wait to get back to my life.

This post has changed pretty drastically from where it started.  I originally intended to talk about the emotional impact of leaving a place, and I wound up just making another bulleted list.  I guess for the poignant emotional stuff, I’ll have to turn the floor over to the inimitable Peter Cincotti.  This is the song that has been playing in my head for the last few weeks, and it’s almost exactly how I feel: 

What do you look forward to the most when you go home?

Observations At Six Months

As of today, I have been in Germany for six months- I arrived on Saturday, November 12th. During that time, I’ve been keeping a list of things that I wanted to mention on the blog, but that aren’t long enough to carry their own blog post. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • In German, Kerze means candle. Katze means cat. Mishearing one or the other can lead to a very silly conversation.
  • They sell the perfect size Coke here. .2 Liters is enough to accompany most meals without being as small as a shot glass.
  • Movie theatre popcorn here is not salty by default, it’s sweet. Not all theatres even sell the salty version that I’m used to. I was very surprised the first time I took a bite of movie theatre popcorn here.
  • Many Germans are very, very tall. I’m still convinced that someone boinked a Frost Giant at some point in the past.
  • There is one German word, Entschuldigen, which can be used for both excuse and apology. This is yet another way that conversations between native English speakers and those for whom German is a second language can be very complicated.
  • The German approach to child-rearing is a little bit different. The American “stranger-danger” paranoia doesn’t exist here, so it’s not uncommon to see a list of children’s names on the back of a proud parent’s vehicle. They also rig up these ingenious skateboardy things that are attached to the back of their strollers with a little hinge like the one pictured at right- this woman is pushing the stroller with the infant, and the smaller kid stands on the little board with the wheels, so he gets a ride as well. I think it kind of looks like fun.
  • Where an American would say “I’m crossing my fingers for you,” a German would say “I’m pressing my thumbs.” It means basically the same thing- wishing luck or good fortune. It is done with the thumb of one hand only, bending it inside the index finger and pressing on the outer joint of the thumb with the fingers curled around it.
  • It’s a small difference, but I’ve noticed that public restrooms here are not constructed the same way that they are in the US. The area where toilets and urinals stand is usually separated by the area with the sink and hand dryers by a door, so each restroom is actually two smaller connected rooms. This is not the case in private bathrooms or very small restaurants, but most of the restrooms that I’ve been in here outside of my own apartment are built this way.
  • Germany uses the letter ß. The letter is pronounced as ‘ss’ and that is an acceptable alternate spelling. This is especially common on street signs. For example, one of the main streets downtown is Maximilianstraße. This can also be typed as Maximilianstrasse, or abbreviated as Maximilianstr. The reason I bring up the letter ß is that it comes up several times in the next bullet point.
  • Elevator buttons are different here. The ground floor is usually labelled EG, which means Erdgeschoß, the German word for the ground floor. I first thought it had something to do with ‘Entrance.’ A parking level below the first level is often labelled with UG. I thought at first that it meant ‘Underground,’ but it really means Untergeschoß. An upper level would be OG for Obergeschoß. A parking garage is usually called a tiefgarage, but don’t expect to see that listed on the elevator buttons. Sometimes, the ground floor is labelled with 0 and a level below that is marked as -1. The first level above the ground floor is labelled 1 because Germans consider the first level up to be the first floor. In other words, I climb a flight of stairs every day to go to my first floor apartment, but in the US I’d call it a second story apartment.
  • Speaking of things being different underground, the duplex parking here can be a little nerve-wracking. This may exist in the US, but I’d never seen it until I got here- underground parking where a space can have multiple stacked vehicles. Each person who uses a parking space has a key to raise and lower the parking ramp. I would be constantly worried that I would drop my keys down into the Pit Of Souls beneath the lowest cars. Still, it’s an impressive use of space. And hydraulics.

vier Monate (four months)

Four months ago today, I boarded a plane in Miami to move to Germany.  One third of an entire year has passed.    It’s kind of mind boggling to me-  the time has passed very quickly.  I feel like I’ve been here no time at all.  And I simultaneously feel like I’ve been here for so much longer than four months.

Since I arrived, I have:

  • Survived my first three weeks in a hotel.
  • Found an apartment.
  • Learned to bank in Germany.
  • Successfully navigated German bureacracy with help from my colleague Michael – I have a residence permit, permission to work, and a German tax ID and social security number.
  • Equipped that apartment with furniture, mostly from Ikea, as well as an Internet connection.
  • Worked a lot.  I don’t really talk about work on this blog, but it’s there.  It’s what brought me to Germany in the first place.
  • Survived my first winter in Germany.  My first winter anywhere, really- I lived in Florida for my entire life before this, so snow and ice is very new to me.
  • Learned to grocery shop in a new country.
  • Learned a great many food words in German, become fairly adept at reading menus.
  • Tried an enormous amount of restaurants and bars in Regensburg. (Special thanks to Jenny for being my semi-constant mealtime companion.  She has really great taste in food.)
  • Become a regular at an Irish pub.  (I’ve always wanted to be a regular at a pub. Neat!)
  • Learned to navigate the alttstadt (old town) better than some folks who’ve been here for much longer.
  • Learned how to use the bus and train systems in Germany.  Acquired a Bahncard.
  • Travelled on my own to a concert in Kempten, near the Alps on the Austrian border.
  • Travelled to Munich to see an Orchestra perform the entire score to Pirates of the Caribbean.
  • Travelled two Nuremberg twice, once with a friend and once on my own. (The second trip to Nuremberg will be a coming-soon post.)
  • Met another American blogger who lives in Germany. (Hi, Heather!)
  • Met a lot of people from at least eight other countries besides Germany and the US.
  • Had a Russian girl named Elena drink me under the table.  (My Russian ancestry cries every time I can’t keep up.  Need more practice.)
  • Learned and embraced a lot of very German customs and behaviors.
  • Watched The Lion King and The Muppets in German.  Also, lots of Big Bang Theory, Futurama, Star Trek, Family Guy, Simpsons, and How I Met Your Mother in German.
  • Learned a lot of German- still not enough for a conversation, but that will come in time.
  • Tried very hard to never fit the “stupid American” stereotype.
  • Discovered the tasty, tasty addiction that is Butterbreze- buttered pretzels.

…and most importantly:

  • Met a lot of really great people, and even made some friends.

Things that are still very much on my to-do list:

  • By the time I’ve been here for one year, I want to have basic conversations in German.
  • I still need to file my German taxes from 2011. D’oh!
  • More blogging.  Always more blogging.
  • More travel. I still need to see Vienna, Salzburg, Budapest, Prague, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Paris, London, Cardiff, Barcelona, Berlin, Heidelberg, Zurich, and many other places that I can’t think of right now.
  • Less McDonald’s.  Having two McD’s within a short walk from here is somewhat lethal-  when you’re really hungry and/or tired, it’s too easy to slip in for a burger and fries.  It’s especially tempting after a night of drinking at the Murphy’s Law.
  • Acquire a traditional Bavarian outfit complete with lederhosen.  Maybe.

Unfashionably Random

So about the fashion sensibilities here in Regensburg:

  • Skinny jeans are in fashion.  So are Converse of all colors and materials.  I’ve seen some really neat ones.
  • Among the younger set, the Justin Bieber haircut is very popular.  I giggle quietly every time I see it.
  • Every so often, I’ll see someone wearing an outfit that would seem normal in New York or Miami and it makes me do a doubletake- track suits, New York Yankees ball caps on sideways, gold chains.  You know the style.  This made a lot more sense after I took a different route through the city one night last week and passed a “Thug Life” store.  I can’t make anything that amusing up.
  • For the most part, people here tend to be pretty well dressed.  So much so that I feel a little bit shabby every time I walk outside.  I’m sure I’ll get used to it after a little while.  Or maybe I’ll just start dressing better.

pax-lyngdalOn the subject of clothing, and where to put it, I purchased a wardrobe yesterday at Ikea, the “Pax Lyngdal.”  I paid a bunch of extra Euros to have it delivered and assembled here, but it will be worth it because that thing was heavy to even get up to the cash register- I don’t want to think about what a pain it would be to get it up a flight of stairs.  And the front doors are frosted glass and aluminum- I’d much rather someone else do the heavy lifting and assembly on this one.  The only down side to having them deliver and assemble is that I won’t have it here until the 22nd of December, but in my opinion, that’s totally worth the wait.   My clothing can stay in boxes for another week and a half, no problem.

I went back to the Christmas markets last night with new friend Elena, and I wound up having bratwurst to counteract the alcohol in the Gluhwein. Blueberry this time, and it was delicious.  I wanted to get the bratwurst with sour kraut, but I waited too long and they ran out, which was a shame because it smelled amazing.  Instead,  I had what the girl behind the counter called the traditional way.  Spicy mustard, horseradish, and something else I can’t remember.  I think she was just messing with me on the horseradish.  It was damn tasty though.

I’m still not sure what to do with myself on Sundays here-  it’s forbidden by law for businesses to be open on Sundays here.  One of my friends told me that they’re challenging that law now, but I doubt it will change while I’m here.  There are only a few exceptions.  The business in the train station stay open because they’re ostensibly for travelers.  The Arcade opens for a few hours in the afternoon- not the shops, just the restaurants.  Lots of small business run on Sundays; call centers and the like.  Emergency services like police and fire are on duty.  And of course the bus system runs.  It’s just the shops.  If you need medicine on a Sunday, I’m pretty sure your only option is a hospital- the apothekes (sort of like a pharmacy, but not precisely the same) are never open on Sundays.  My routine on Sundays now that I’m in an apartment with no Internet connection (Damn you Kabel Deutschland!) is to sleep in, then hop over to the Arcade for some tea and Internet time in the afternoon.  I’ll probably wind up going over to the Cinemaxx today to see der König der Löwen, in 3D.  I don’t know enough of the language yet to really follow everything, but I know the movie and the songs well enough to still enjoy it.  Plus I really want to hear James Earl Jones dubbed in German.

A note on the Cinemaxx- they do some movies in originalfassung (original language) on Monday  nights- I’m really hoping that the Muppet Movie makes it over here soon; I really want to see that one quite badly.  Right now it’s Puss In Boots, which I have no interest in seeing.  Come on, Muppets!

Arrival

I got in earlier today, after being awake for nearly 24 hours.  I’m too tired to write a substantial entry right now, but I wanted to jot down a few thoughts.

  • I really profoundly dislike the Dusseldorf airport.  Lots and lots and lots of stairs.  No ATMs or other means of getting Euros inside of the secured area.  And I had to go through security *again* there after clearing passport control.  (Still less annoying than Miami International though.)
  • I had no idea just how much of the land between Munich and Regensburg is farmland.  According to the shuttle driver, much of it is hops.  For Bavarian beer.  I approve.
  • The cold isn’t what’s bugging me about the climate, it’s the absolute zero humidity.  My skin has already dried out and I’ve been in country less than twelve hours.  I’ll have to hunt down some moisturizing stuff tomorrow; I can’t stand this papery dry feeling on my hands.
  • I’m tickled to death at television here.  I put on a station this afternoon and it’s played Big Bang Theory, Scrubs, How I Met Your Mother, The Simpsons, and Futurama- all in German.  (And the voices in the German dub on Scrubs were spot on!)
  • I am ashamed to admit that my first meal in Germany was Burger King.  I was tired and just wanted to grab food and get back to the hotel room, so I went with vaguely-familiar-and-easy.  I’ll try to experiment more later, I promise.
  • I feel like I had a lot more to say here, but I’ve been awake for a looooooong time and I’m not thinking too clearly.  Stay tuned for more!