Super Fun Fest 2010 (Day 30)

Schauinsland. It basically means “A Look at the Country” and is the name of the mountain on which we had Super Fun Fest 2010.

What it is, is you meet up at the Freiburg Hauptbahnhof (main train station) and get on a train going toward the Black Forest. After a couple stops you hop off and get on a bus that drives you up the mountain. You then get off the bus and haul yourself and your overnight gear the rest of the way up the mountain for 30-40 minutes before you arrive at some youth hostel. The purpose of the meet-up, as far as I can tell, is to be a lame-ass let’s-get-to-know-each-other orientation √† la UMass, and an advising session for those students who don’t go to Freiburg, and don’t enjoy such a close relationship with the spectacularly useless Silke, who is based in Freiburg.

I had a LOT of problems with this. In no particular order:

  • I don’t really have any desire to get to know these people. I already know everyone from Freiburg, and I’m not going to see any of the others again, except maybe at an IPO meeting back in Massachusetts.
  • Most of them were &%#$ing annoying as hell! Conversations took on this verbal Twitter quality where everyone simply informed everyone else of every mundane thought they had. Essentially giant surveys where everyone spoke and no one listened or cared. Totally infuriating, and yet listening to it, you feel strangely compelled to participate. To throw your stupid ass thought out there, lest you be lost and forgotten forever, and cease to be a human being. Here’s an example:
    • Person 1: Oh my god, I slept so badly last night!
    • Person 2: I slept really well! I like the sleeping bags; they are cozy.
    • Person 3: The blankets are really scratchy, and I didn’t fit into my bag. I tossed and turned all night.
    • Person 4: I just wrapped the sleeping bag around my head. Problem solved.
    • Person 5: I kept waking up, but generally slept OK.
    • Person 6: I would have slept better if I had my kitty with me. I always cuddle up with my kitty at night.
    • Person 7: I like kitties, but I prefer dogs.
    • Person 8: I think dogs are silly! (etc., etc., etc.)
  • The food. Germans like to eat a very light supper. Americans like to be in a food coma before bed. I would not have had a problem with them catering to our American tastes, as there were like 30 of us, and no one else there. I was hungry.
  • It is absolutely pointless. The whole thing. You don’t need to meet or hang out with anyone, or watch movies. The meetings are about shit you’ve basically heard before in some form or another. If you need to give forms to Silke, you can simply drop them off at her office or mail them to her. If you go to Freiburg, you’ve already had your advising session. If you go to Mannheim, you’ve already been here for three months- hell of a time for an orientation. So, since this only appears to be useful to non-Freiburg students who need advising, why not simply go to their universities, instead of making them come all the way to Frieburg, and then to the Black Forest? It was a long trip for some.
  • Major conflict of interest. A fee for this stupid bullshit was included in our costs for the Germany program. The hostel is associated with the University of Freiburg, but guess who owns the damn thing. Silke and her husband! Thanks, but no thanks!
    Good Things:
  • I found out more about my scholarship. I actually have to do much less work than I originally imagined. No reason why I couldn’t have learned the same information in Massachusetts, but hey, it was still useful to know.
  • Got to know Emily a little bit better. Emily, you are hilarious.
  • “The Spoon Drawer.” This was the official name of the top-bunk shared by Catherine and I, after someone made a joke about spooning. Fellow spoons of all shapes and sizes were welcome. I imagine we were actually loud, annoying assholes the whole time, but…whatever.
  • Regine is not that beastly. She seems far more beastly during the application process, (probably because the process is really unpleasant), but she’s actually a very decent lady. She can be rather helpful, and has a detectable sense of humor. Compared to her Germany counterpart- Silke- Regine simply kicks ass.
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Fish Money (Day 21)

So, we went down to Basel in Switzerland for funsies yesterday. Basel is a nice city, but everything is so goddamned expensive, it’s not really feasible to visit there often.

But before I talk about that, I should probably explain our difficulties with money conversion. First of all, Euros can be a real pain in the ass with no less than 8 circulating coins in the following denominations: 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, 1 euro and 2 euros, and then four common bank notes: 5, 10, 20 and 50 euros (not so common are 100, 200 and 500 euro notes). Compare that with U.S. currency, which has 4 commonly used coins (5 if you’ve ever foolishly put a 20 dollar bill in the ticket machine at a T station and received handfuls of dollar coins in return, and 6 if you’ve done that and also like to gamble, in which case you may see a dealer crack open a roll of half-dollars, but for argument’s sake, we’ll stick to 4 coins) which are of course the 1 cent (penny), 5 cent (nickel), 10 cent (dime) and 25 cent (quarter) pieces. We also see 5 common banknotes in 1, 5, 10, 20, and 50 dollar amounts. Less common are 100 dollars bills (so-called “Benjamins”) and just about mythical are the 500, 1000, 5000 and 10,000 dollar notes. Yes, those are real- Mr. Salmon P. Chase is on the $10,000 dollar bill- he was the Secretary of the Treasury immediately following the Civil War and was responsible for creating the modern system of banknotes. But we’re off-topic. Converting amounts between dollars and euros is child’s play compared to figuring out all these silly coins. And then, try juggling all those silly, foreign coins while attempting to pay with correct change (which Germans apparently love to do), all the while bagging your own groceries, because Germans haven’t learned to utilize the mentally disabled to perform simple work (it’s merely logical to do so; that’s not intended to be an insult. Everyone deserves to get paid for honest work). Anyway, the moral of the story is, the money thing can be tricky.

So back to Switzerland. After all the shenanigans with dollars and euros, visitors to Switzerland will quickly come to realize that they are not a member of the European Union, and thus, do not use euros at all. In our formula for money confusion, Swiss francs are now the variable X. We came to refer to them as “fish money” after story that Catherine shared about being in Iceland. During a layover in Iceland, she decided to purchase something in Euros and received their “stupid fish-money” in return.

We didn’t really know the dollar-euro conversion rate (only that the the euro is stronger than the dollar), and we didn’t know the euro-franc conversion rate (only that the franc is weaker than the euro), so we super didn’t know the dollar-franc conversion rate. Judging by the prices, I sort of assumed that the dollar was significantly stronger than the franc. I was wrong- they are roughly equivalent. This means that that 16 Fr. plate of spaghetti I ordered was really a $16 plate of spaghetti, and we ate at the cheap place. This also means that I payed about $15 for a small bag of so-so chocolate truffles.

Like I said before, Basel is a really lovely city, but it wasn’t exactly super-fun, and I was less than enthused about the cost of doing things there. The highlight of the trip was probably visiting an old church. It wasn’t really the church part that was cool (because let’s be honest- if you’ve see one old church, you’ve seen most of them) but we got to climb up the crazy, windy, medieval stairs to the tower (for a fee, of course, and fat people need not apply). The view of the Rhine was really nice.

After that we went back to Catherine’s new room to watch Watchmen. I didn’t think it really worked as a film, but I’ve been assured that the graphic novel is far more fulfilling, so I may read that.

Germany, Day 14 (133 Left to Go)

So, not much new has been happening with me, aside from the fact that I now have a stable Internet connection in my room. Because of this, today has been a typical lazy Sunday- I’m dicking around on YouTube and sitting here- filthy- in my PJs. Actually, this whole post is pretty lame, but I figured it was time to post something.

I went to the Black Forest yesterday and bought some kitsch touristy things (like the wooden bear pictured below). I didn’t take my camera, so no pictures from me, but once Catherine gets hers up, I’ll link you to them. It was a nice trip, but too cold for it to be all that fun for me. It’s not far away, so we’ll probably return when it gets warmer.

We also spent an extremely cold day taking pictures in Freiburg. I kinda forgot about them, but once they’re edited, those will go up too.

In the meantime, I made another list:

Things I Love About Germany

  1. Trains.
  2. Bread that actually has stuff in it.
    The first time I went grocery shopping here, I marveled at the selection of freshly baked and pre-packaged breads. They were dark, they were heavy, they were dense with nutritional content. While browsing, I noticed a bag of what appeared to be white, shit-awful Wonderbread-esque bread. I pulled the package off the shelf, asking “What the [bleep] is this [bleep]?” to no one in particular, and I read the label: American Style Bread. Right below it, shitty hamburger buns, similarly labeled “American-style buns.”
  3. Sliced Edam. They have Babybell too, but they also sell this cheese sliced. Nooommmmmm.
  4. Mustard
  5. Mustard in a damn TUBE
  6. This shit-
  7. The relative ease of obtaining alcohol. Not that I am a drinker, I just think that’s good for everybody.
  8. The healthy attitude towards security. In other words, no security douche on the first level of my building checking my identification every time I try to enter the place where I live.

In conclusion, adorable sammiches:

My Digs

Germany, Day 5 (More Stuff, and an IRISH PUB)

So, a few more things:

  1. The water is awesome. When I was in Berlin, the water was super hard, meaning that soap didn’t lather at all, and you came with that scummy, wrong-end-of-a-bukake-party feeling. Also, the water had a tendency to turn yellowish and smell like sulfur. Gross. Not only is this not the case in Freiburg, the water is better than in Massachusetts.
  2. I have very friendly flatmates. One is German, and one is Mexican. The Mexican girl goes to school in Texas, and speaks flawless English, so I’m guessing that she’s been hanging out in the US for a while. The German guy I actually ended up talking to for a couple hours when I first met him. He’s a law student, and is into a lot of the goodies American culture has to offer, especially American crime and courtroom dramas. Get this: one of his favorite shows is Boston Legal. I’ve decided that he is my new best friend. No hard feelings, former best friends!
  3. The majority of Germans will not cross the street if they do not have a walk signal, even if it is obvious that nothing is coming, and they could not possibly be in any danger.
  4. Sick of going to the bakery each morning, I bought some milk and cereal for myself today. Honey Bunches of Oats has nothing on this shit. It’s got sweet, crunchy oat clusters, WHOLE HAZELNUTS and little chunks of chocolate. Fantastic.
  5. My language classes are going pretty well. There is a wide variety of people in there from the US (Massachusetts, North Carolina and Minnesota), Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Finland, Denmark and France. I think I’ve spoken more German with Japanese people than with actual Germans (and I either impressed or creeped out a Japanese girl by naming every Hayao Miyazaki movie. She seemed to be a fan though, as she whipped out her ticket from the Studio Ghibli museum in Tokyo. Maybe I should learn Japanese. I’ve also met people in other classes from Australia and the Dominican Republic. To top it off, the professor looks sort of like Rene Auberjonois from Star Trek and Boston Legal. In my head, I usually refer to him as “Odo”, since I forgot his actual name. Nice guy though.
  6. If you are wondering what Germany is like, it’s kind of like the US was two months ago. For example, The Men Who Stare at Goats opened in theaters yesterday. They are into a shocking amount of American things which were trendy two months ago.

So, on Wednesday, Catherine and I were wandering around for food, and discovered the trick to this city. This is important- if you are planning on going to Freiburg, then you will want to remember this. Ready? Here it goes:

If you wander around Freiburg long enough, you will find exactly what you need.

What happened was, I was in my room taking a nap. Shortly after waking, Catherine called me up and told me that she and a few others were going to the Markthalle, which, according to a pretty cool dude who worked at the bank, was a food utopia. He said that this place had food from every sort of culture one could imagine, and hyped it pretty hard. I met up with them there, and we browsed this supposed foodtopia only to find that it was really just an expensive food court. Maybe this was a bad day to go, but the food didn’t look appealing at all. Underwhelmed, Catherine and I set off to test this theory of mine about the city. We saw some other places to eat, which were still out of our price range. We then saw a sign which read IRISH PUB. We walked inside this building, which was sort of a mini-mall containing restaurants and shops, and began looking for our Irish pub. It didn’t seem like anyone was there, and I was concerned, as one usually can usually hear such a place long before one actually sees it. Anyway, we went downstairs and found our destination. Browsing the menu, we saw that it had 1) pub food at ok prices and 2) JAMESON whiskey, which is Catherine’s all-time favorite, and something she had been moaning about not being able to find since we got here. Needless to say, we went inside.

If there is a heaven, I think it looks like an Irish pub. We found ourselves a table, and soon enough, a cheerful (and adorable) German fella sauntered over to give us the menu…and the whiskey menu. As he danced around the pub serving a few other people, and singing along to the Queen songs playing on the speakers, Catherine called a third person, Eliza to come meet us. German fella overheard our English and explained in really good English that he studied at Penn State. When Eliza arrived, we ordered- with Catherine treating everyone to a round of whiskey. German fella obliged us, but encouraged us to try some other varieties of whiskey, explaining “we have a shit ton of whiskey here.” Eliza later ordered a Guinness, and received a green card with eight boxes printed on it. German fella explained: “Order seven more Guinnesses and you win a stupid hat. Look, you are already on your way!” as he stamped one of the boxes with a little four-leaf clover. Later, after we had mostly finished eating, a crowd of people came in and a DJ set up for karaoke. He started off by singing Can You Feel the Love Tonight from The Lion King. Not wanting to spoil what had turned into a perfect evening, we paid and left.

An Irish pub in Germany may sound wrong, but trust me, it’s so right.

Germany, Day 2

So, I finally found Internet in Germany. It would appear that bars in this country perform every variety of social function- one can drink (alcohol, coffee, whatever), use the internet, listen to music that doesn’t suck (I have yet to hear a single song I didn’t like), and play Magic…in a Gathering. There are seriously a bunch of 16-40 year-olds drinking beer and playing Magic at the tables next to me. The bar I am currently in is all about relaxation and fun, and not simply about getting shitfaced…but you can do that too.

If I may put this crudely: Germany is basically the same shit as America. Yeah, there are a lot of little things that are different, but it’s still the western world, and common sense is king. I think people tend to blow this out of proportion. Here, I made a handy dandy bulleted list.

Little Things That Are Kind of Different in Germany But Still Not a Big Deal

  • Toilets are shaped a little bit differently in that they are generally more circular and deeper, with less water in the bowl. There is no handle, and I have yet to encounter a motion sensor. Rather, there are two buttons- usually one will flush the toilet, and the other will stop the water running. Or, sometimes on other toilets, it seems that one button flushes the toilet with great force, and the other more gently. This is for the purpose of conserving water. For instance, if you were take a dump that awes with its hugeness, you’re gonna need hurricane-force water to suck that shit baby down. And if not, why waste the water?
  • All doors are designed to make you look silly. Every door is different, but a general rule is, when you expect to pull it, you’re supposed to push it (and vice versa), locks don’t simply lock and unlock. They unlock, lock, and MEGALOCK, when the lock pushes even further into the door frame. Lastly, some door knobs don’t turn at all, but are just for show. On these, you have to hold the key in a certain position and push or pull on the door.
  • BABIES. They are making a lot of babies over here.
  • People range from the very polite, friendly (and funny) to the extremely impolite and salty as hell. A lot of the salty types are middle-aged folks who have wasted their lives working in retail. It’s not that they do anything¬†terrible (look at the name of this handy dandy list), they’re just not super friendly and sugary sweet.
  • As another general rule, if you expect it to be expensive, then it will be dirty, dirty cheap, and the opposite is also true.
  • In Germany, they basically wear all the same kinds of clothes, except in different combination and different proportions. For example, jackets, boots, and skinny jeans are very much in right now for women, while hoodies are rare. I have yet to see Uggs or sweatpants though.
  • Doors seem to always be closed, while knocking on doors and barging into rooms seems more acceptable.
  • A lot of bathrooms don’t have the space at the bottom where you can peek for legs. You have to knock, and try each doors.
  • Classrooms don’t seem to have that pane of glass where you can see what’s up inside the class, and while not ever usually stated or pointed out, this is basically universal in the U.S.
  • Pidgeons are the new squirrels
  • There is a Magic the Gathering tournament going on behind me.
  • They speak German.

Before I end this, I’m just going to say that jet lag sucks. I’m not even going to describe the shitshow that was my first day here. It’s done and I’m rested, I’d like to forget about it. Anyway, the Finns are here, so I guess we’ll chat a bit.