I didn’t know that was German!

There are a number of companies that I’ve known my entire life, without realizing that it started here and not in the US.   I knew that BMW, Mercedes, and Audi were all German companies.   I was clear that Bayer (the pharmaceutical company) was from Germany.  But there are a bunch of European names that surprised me.

Red Bull is an Austrian company.  The tiny Smart car was a joint venture between Swatch and Mercedes.  There are two that really surprised me, though.

Adidas and Puma:    Adolph “Adi” Dassler and his brother, Rudolf “Rudi” Dassler founded Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik (the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory) in the 1920s.   They split in 1947, and Rudolf created a competing shoe company, called Ruda at first, and later renamed to Puma.  In 1949, Adi renamed his company to Adidas.

I spent my high school years thinking that the name Adidas was an acronym for “All day I dream about sports,” but it’s really named for the founder.  Adi Dassler.  As a result, I’ve always mispronounced the name.  I was pronouncing this ah-deed-ahs, but that’s wrong.  The emphasis  is on the first and third syllables, not the middle syllable:  Ah-dee-das. 

Haribo, the company that made the first Gummibärchen, or Gummy Bears, is from Bonn, Germany.  I thought Haribo was a Japanese company, but it was founded in 1920 by Hans Riegel, Sr.   The name of the company is a portmanteau:   Hans Riegel, Bonn.

Are there any companies with origins that have surprised you?

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?

Functionally Stupid

http://www.itchyfeetcomic.com/

All credit for the image goes to Malachi Rempen’s amazing comic about life abroad-  http://www.itchyfeetcomic.com/

Please permit me to go on a brief navel-gazing expedition.   I have a singular frustration which has been building up and I’ve wanted to write about this for a while.

In the past seven days, three different people who know perfectly well that my German is terrible have switched to full Deutsch in the middle of a conversation and gone on for several sentences, looking at me the whole time as if I’m going to just intuit what they mean. It’s as if the part of their mind that knows that I won’t understand has gone on vacation.

It’s frustrating that I don’t understand- I know the basic vocabulary and grammar.  I understand more written German than spoken, but still not nearly enough.  After almost three years here, I really should be able to understand more.

I know that I am smart as hell. I know that I am competent. I know that I have an amazing grasp of some pretty sophisticated concepts and that I have an aptitude for trivia. I am, by no possible definition of the word, stupid.  Still, living here makes me feel like a perennial dunce.  In Deutschland, I can be verbally outpaced by a five year old.

It’s exhausting being in a place where I can’t handle simple governmental bureaucracy, or get a haircut without getting confused, or parse my junk mail without help.  It’s grinding me down.

I know quite a few Americans who live here, and most all of them just sort of fall right into the language.  They pick up other languages without a struggle.  That’s never been me.  Living for nearly three years in a place where I don’t have any degree of fluency has been a trying experience.  Living in a country where you don’t have fluency in the local language takes a toll on your self esteem.  Every day here is a challenge. Every day I feel more and more stupid.

I don’t really have a good closing thought for this post, or even a real point beyond just venting.    On Monday, I’ll pick up the Nordic Adventure posts again with Reykjavik, Iceland.  That’ll be fun.

ballooning-5

Hot Air Ballooning Over Bavaria

We interrupt this barrage of travel posts to bring you a post about something that I did a little closer to town.  Thanks to my partner-in-crime Jenny and her fiancé Robert, I had the opportunity to go hot air ballooning.  They wanted to try this, and if enough people joined in, the balloon company would come to us instead of us going to them.  Arrangements were made, weather was checked, and on the very last Saturday in May, the balloon company traveled to us in the afternoon.

The first order of business was setting up.  We were all enlisted to help set up the balloon and basket.  The actual balloon was packed into a giant canvas bag.  Most of the material is a very lightweight nylon, but the material closest to the hot air burners is a slightly more flame retardant canvas blend.

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First the balloon has to be inflated.  It’s connected to the basket, and pulled out over a large field.

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I large gasoline powered fan is used to begin the inflation of the balloon chamber.  Two of us had to hold the mouth of the balloon open at first.

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After enough  inflation is done with the fan, the flame jets can be used to heat the air inside to give it lift.

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The burners actually have very fine control-  they can do hotter blue flame or cooler (but more visible and thus cooler looking) yellow flame.

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Lift off was quite subtle-  there’s no acceleration like an airplane.  One minute you’re on the ground, and the next you simply aren’t on the ground any more. Once we were aloft, the navigation was simply based on which way the wind was blowing.  The blue vehicle with the white trailer is the balloonist’s partner following along from the ground.     They kept in contact via nearly functional radios.

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Once we were fully aloft, the view was pretty spectacular.  There was, surprisingly, no wind noise at all because we were moving at the speed of the wind.  It was very quiet, except for the occasional use of the burner to adjust our altitude.  It also wasn’t cold, to my surprise, because of the burners.  Incidentally, the plume of steam coming up from the ground in the far distance is a nuclear power plant.

ballooning-1

In this part of Germany, there are really only a few larger cities.  Most of Bavaria is really just villages of various sizes surrounded by fields of crops.  This was only fifteen or twenty kilometers outside of the center of Regensburg.  I’m not actually sure what village we’re looking at in this photograph.  From above, they all kind of look alike.

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This field, I am told, is where the Battle of Regensburg took place in 1809.  This is where Napoleon was shot in the ankle, apparently.

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Fields of solar panels are a common sight in Germany.  I didn’t realize until we were directly above one that sheep sometimes graze in between the panels.  Much easier than using a lawnmower around the solar panels, I imagine.

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Just after we passed the field of solar panels and sheep, two trains passed, one in each direction.  The first one was a longer Munich to Prague commuter line, and the next was a shorter commuter train which probably only went from Landshut to Munich.   The furthest wagon to the left is the engine, and the second from last is a two level wagon with upper deck seats.  The other three wagons all contain compartments of six seats each, which is much less fun than the double-decker wagon, but is much much quieter.

ballooning-11

After a while in the air, we had to look for a place to land.  This is the tricky part-  you have no steering other than the wind, and you want to avoid crops and powerlines.  Ideally, you need another field of just-grass.   While we were looking for a place to land, we passed fairly low over this village.  Lots of people came out to wave at us and shout things.   Most people are kind of fascinated to see a hot air balloon, particularly one this close.

ballooning-12

As we approached an ideal landing spot, the sun was low on the horizon and we got some pretty neat perspectives.

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After landing successfully at the edge of a crop field, we were joined by some neighborhood children who wanted to watch us break down and pack the balloon.

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Once the enclosure was completely deflated, the balloonist scrunched it together to prepare it to go back into the canvas bag.

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Last, but certainly not least, our wicker steed was ready to be disassembled and put back into the trailer.  This is the point at which a carload of random dudes wearing Lederhosen pulled up and helped us muscle the thing back into the trailer.  Bavaria is a ridiculous and hilariously fun place at times.

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Have you ever been up in a hot air balloon?

Going Postal

To anyone who grew up in the United States, the United States Postal Service uniform and vehicle livery is such a common sight that it’s immediately recognizable.  In the US, there’s only one postal carrier, and it’s a government agency.  Not so, in Germany.  Here, mail is privatized.   There are many different carriers in Germany, and the available carriers vary from city to city.  Here, the two big postal carriers are Deutsche Post and CityMail.

The Deutsche Post began life as Deutsche Bundespost, originally a government agency like the USPS.  It was privatized in the 1990s, although there is still governmental oversight.  The Deutsche Post went on to acquire DHL in 1998, and now it stands as the world’s largest courier company.   The distinctive logo for the Deutsche Post is visible on signs and bright yellow mailboxes all over Germany.

postalsignpostal01

Most places you can mail or ship things are just counters inside other stores, but there are a few main branches. The inside of the main post office near the Hauptbahnhof in Regensburg contains the same sorts of things that you would find in a US post office-  counters with lines of people, and displays of shipping and mailing gear you can purchase.

postoffice

As in the United States, postal vehicles are a pretty common sight.

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A much more common sight in Germany, however, is the postal delivery bicycle.  I see these on the street year-round- small packs of yellow-and-black-clad postal bikers traveling together in the morning.

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The postal delivery bike isn’t just limited to the Deutsche Post, however.  CityMail, Regensburg’s other often-seen postal carrier has the same delivery modes.  Here’s a CityMail delivery bike.

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As for packages, there are many carriers that have a presence here, but the Deutche Post owned DHL is by far the most often-seen one.  They have a rather nifty innovation in place all over Germany called a Packstation.  The Packstation is a sort of as-needed post office box.  When you sign up for the service, you’re issued a plastic card with a magnetic stripe, and you specify which Packstation location is closest to your home.    When you order a package, you can use the Packstation address and your unique Packstation account number as a shipping address.  On delivery, the Packstation service will send you a single-use PIN code to retrieve your package.  With your plastic card and PIN code, the Packstation machine will open a door so that you can retrieve your package.  It’s really, really nifty.

packstation001packstation002

Here’s one last picture before I wrap up this post.  While I was in Amsterdam, I noticed that DHL has adapted to the tremendous number of canals in the city by switching to a delivery boat.  I thought this was kind of interesting.

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Is the postal service where you live government-run or privatized?  Do you have more than one option for sending stuff?