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Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category

Trains, Soccer, and Pork…

Less than one week into our busy lives in Germany, and we took a trip to Munich. I would have preferred to rest up a bit more before venturing out on a long trip, but we had a reason. Our friend and Dan’s host brother from high school, Fabi, had tickets to a live taping of the German soccer show Doppelpass. It’s like something you’d see on ESPN in America. It’s a very well-produced and popular program taped in a hotel lobby near the Munich airport.

Now, in theory, a trip to Munich should be no longer than a three to four-hour train ride. We are in the southwest. Munich is in the southeast. But, contrary to what most people know of Germans, they are not always as efficient as they can be. Even our German friends can’t explain why there is no direct train to Munich from Freiburg. We had to go out of the way to get to Munich making our trip seven hours.

We are traveling right now on a 30-day rail pass that allows us five trips around Germany. If we do a round trip in one day, it only counts as one trip rather than two. So, we decided we’d make the trip to Munich in one day. That’s right. Fourteen hours in one day. I was not too thrilled about this and suggested we divide it into two days. But, Dan really wanted to save the extra trip on our pass.

We decided to take the midnight train leaving Freiburg. It stops in Mannheim before arriving in Munich at around 7 a.m. I figured I’d get a few hours sleep at best on the second train and get by on adrenaline throughout the day. Wrong. The short trip from Freiburg to Mannheim was fine. It was quiet except for the drunk guy. But, he got kicked off in Heidelberg. It was also an ICE train, which are very nice and comfy. When we got to Mannheim, we learned that our next train was running late. What!!?? Germans running late?? Yes, in fact, when it comes to Deutsche Bahn, this is not too unusual. So, we waited for about 30-45 minutes in the tunnel area where it was freezing cold. The train finally arrived. I’m thinking, “Okay, we’ll get on another ICE train, it will be quiet, I’ll dress myself up in my finest sleep gear, and I WILL sleep.” But, no. It was the only yet-to-be renovated train left in Germany, or so it seemed from my experience. The train was not terribly ugly, just quite a bit ugly. It looked very 70s/80s-ish.

We managed to find a cabin with one guy in it. He seemed a bit perturbed that we were interrupting his sleep, but he didn’t pay for five seats, so too bad. The seats were hard and didn’t recline, and it was cold. Very cold. We didn’t bring a blanket. We did bring ear plugs, but the darn train was so rickety that they did little good. Neither one of us slept even a little. It just wasn’t possible. And, it was one of those evenings where, even though you’ve had very little to drink before going to bed, you still had to get up and use the bathroom twice.

We arrived in Munich tired and grouchy but glad to see our friend Anna, another friend who taught with Dan at Purdue. She now lives and works in Munich. We had a quick breakfast before catching another train out to the Munich airport (which is so far out of Munich it may be in Poland). Fabi was there waiting for us with our tickets for Doppelpass. This is what the set looks like:

Dan and I sat in the back because that was the only place with seats together. Plus we aren’t German-looking enough to be on camera that much. Good looking, yes. We were on TV during audience shots. Fabi’s mom and dad saw us from their home in Stolzenau. Fabi and Anna sat on stage right behind the host and guests. Here’s a TV shot of Fabi. Anna is just behind him.

It was probably a good idea that we sat in the back since Dan had to translate a lot for me. I get bits and pieces, but when you aren’t yet fluent in a second language, any interruption to the clarity of what you hear makes it ten times more difficult. For instance, the acoustics made it a bit tough to hear and one of the guests kind of mumbled. I can understand a lot more when I am looking at the person. Even Dan had trouble.

This is how they ended the show. No surprise from the Germans.

It really was a lot of fun even if we did have trouble understanding everything. Dan is a huge soccer fan and I am becoming one. He hooked me on it during the ’06 World Cup. In fact, we rooted for Germany over the US.

After the show, Fabi drove us into Munich for a typical Bavarian lunch that looks like this:

That’s schweinebraten. It’s basically just pork in a thin gravy. That hard thing on the top? Well, that’s good ol’ fried skin. Not my cup off…skin. So, I gave it to Anna. Germans think it’s great. I’m sure a few rednecks from back home would, too. It’s basically a pork rind without the dehydration. Yummy.

That pretty much ended our day in Munich. We had to catch our train back and we’ve both seen Munich a few times anyway. They are preparing for Oktoberfest, which we will not attend. The thought of being cheek-to-cheek with a gaggle of sweaty drunkards doesn’t sound THAT appealing to me. They’ll be plenty of genuine Oktoberfestin’ right here in Freiburg and Gufi.

Next blog: a little on the history of Freiburg, Gundelfingen, and The Black Forest. I hear it’s haunted by witches and werewolves. Yay!

–Frau Jones

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1) If you take an overnight train, avoid the ones that look like they are from the cold war era and bring a blanket and pillow. For the most part, German trains are very nice, but we ended up on THE ONE that hasn’t been renovated since Reagan said “tear down this wall.”

2) If you do take an overnight train, expect to come across very, very strange people.

3) You know what, just don’t take an overnight train unless they have beds. Just don’t do it.

4) Avoid trains on the weekend, or be prepared for this:

5) If you did take the overnight/weekend train and you are going to be on a German TV show, sit in the back where the camera rarely goes.

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My Birthday in Germany

It’s come and gone. I’m 29 now. Strangely, it did not feel much like my birthday. I don’t know why, especially since Dan told me happy birthday about ten times.

The day was cooler than it’s been, overcast, and a bit rainy. We began the day with breakfast on the terrace. Dan gave me my present after breakfast. He gave me a beautiful set of earrings with a matching pendant. He bought it in downtown Freiburg. It came in this really cute felt egg. It kind of looks like a Kinder Egg. Those are chocolate eggs with yellow plastic eggs inside. There’s a toy in the egg. I love them. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten the same toy twice. Anyway, here is a picture of my gift, pre- and post-egg cracking.

For my birthday cake, we went to the local Penny Markt (kind of like Aldi, which is German) and bought a strawberry cream torte.

After lunch, we went to IKEA. Though our apartment was nearly fully stocked by the landlady, we still had some things to buy: a clock, trashcan, organizers, etc. Now, I’ve been to a few IKEAs, but I’ve never had the opportunity or reason to go in and buy several things. For those of you not familiar with IKEA, it’s a giant Swedish furniture store. They also have plants and every knick-knack you could possibly need for a home. The stuff is hip yet classic, and it’s also pretty cheap. We have them in America but only in big cities. It took us a bus, a streetcar, and another bus to get to IKEA from our village.

The trip to IKEA lasted most of the afternoon. We came back home and got ready to meet our friend Claudia for dinner in Freiburg. Claudia and Dan taught together at Purdue last year. She is from Germany and is back here working. She is a very kindred spirit (Anne of Green Gables and all). We had dinner with her at an American-style restuarant that played on the Cheers theme. You can see a pic of the tv show cast in one of the pictures below. Claudia gave me two books and a card game for my birthday. Claudia’s boyfriend, Bernadin, joined us later in the evening.

We attempted to catch the train into Gundelfingen at around 11, but we don’t quite have the arrival and departure times down pat. So, we missed it and had to wait an hour for the next train, which put us home very exhausted at around midnight.

There are certain habits and customs that you really have to adjust to with this kind of lifestyle. I’m very happy to not have a car. There is a kind of freedom that comes with having no responsibility for a two- to three-ton gas-guzzling hunk of metal. But, you do lose the freedom of having a few extra minutes to apply that lipstick. If you do apply that lipstick in a hurry, you end up running to catch your train and barely catch it before it leaves. Not that I did that yesterday. But, I did. Dan has quickly learned that he must tell me exactly when I must be ready in order to leave on time to catch the train. We live about two blocks from the train station, but that doesn’t mean the train will wait for you. Sometimes, it’s a matter of waiting ten minutes for the next. But, last night, it would have been an hour and we had dinner plans. We are definitely at the mercy of the train schedule. But, it teaches you punctuality–something I used to have in radio but have since begun to slack on.

All in all, it was a wonderful birthday. I received many email and facebook birthday wishes. I got a card from my mother in the mail today (Saturday). Vielen dank, everyone.

–Frau Jones

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I’m not sure my lovely wife quite captured the essence that was old-Indian-woman-peeing-with-the-door-open fiasco. So, here’s my version. Enjoy.

I had just come out of one of the stalls on the opposite side of the plane from our seats. (Referring to airplane bathrooms as a bathroom is more than overly generous. We all know it. Why not admit it?)  Before I could cross the corridor back to my seat, a man appeared and blocked my way as he tried desperately to get into a bathroom. Probably because he had looked over his shoulder, and being Indian himself, knew what was coming. I mention him mostly because his interference is proof that fate had it in for me at this particular moment.

Anywho, as a result, I wasn’t able to cross the corridor because my mother taught me to be polite (Oh fiddle my upbringing!), so I let him go through first. After he finally closed the door and there was room for me to pass, I again attempted to make my way back to my seat, but alas that was not to be—two very old Indian women at least in their 80’s, and yes they did look like goblins, made their way into the corridor and opened the closest bathroom stall blocking my way yet again.

Now as the first elderly woman entered the stall and the door began to swing shut, my life to that point had been relatively normal and unstained. The second hag had other plans. At first, I thought she was simply catching the door to quickly remind the woman to flush, as they seem to need reminding of that. Then, as the first woman began to shift her skirt, I thought maybe they were unaware that I was there and that the second woman had only held the door open so wide for so long because she was maneuvering herself to join the first woman in the narrow stall. The physics of that having quickly been calculated along with the realization that the door was still open…still open…still open… I gasped as the skirt continued its journey upwards as the first elderly woman began to squat. Thankfully—and I do find it hard to use that adverb in any way associated with this tragedy—there was a screen within reach that I used to obscure my view.

I waited patiently, checked, waited patiently some more, checked, waited less patiently, and then prayed a little. Finally, the ladies finished their bladder matinee and waddled their way out of the corridor. They did not flush. I cautiously made my way back to my seat, ashen and speechless. The torture was dragged out further by the fact that the ladies were trapped between the bathrooms and our seats by the cursed flight attendant who was now serving beverages. After returning to my seat, I realized I would have to endure more as the wretched goblin-woman sat down in the empty seat next to me to rest her smelly, weary bones whilst waiting for the service to finish and allow her to return to her seat. I smiled at her weakly and vomited a little in my mouth.

It took me a while to express what had happened in words. Adding to this blog has helped me deal with my emotional scars. I hope to be a whole person again some day soon.

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We Made It

We made it to Deutschland with nary a hitch. Our travels thus far have been really quite smooth. I do need to file a report here on Air India. I know some of you are curious.

We decided to go with Air India because it is considerably cheaper than flying with Lufthansa or something else. AI is a major airline. They stop in Frankfurt on the way to India, so many Germans fly it.

I was a little apprehensive about it. I was most concerned about it just being uncomfortable. I envisioned us being packed in like curried sardines. In other words, I expected it to be tight and a bit smelly. Thankfully, it wasn’t that crowded. There were a lot of open seats. We even had an extra one to ourselves.

The smell? It did smell a bit like curry, and there was the occasional not-so-fresh passenger, but it wasn’t all that bad really. They served us traditional curry dishes for dinner. Dan and I happen to be very fond of good Indian food. It’s nothing new for me. But, since it was airplane food and they are limited with consistency and such, it was more like a curry mash rather than the more common creamy texture. Dan had the lamb, which he said was quite tender. I hate lamb. I think it tastes like musky fur. So, I went veggie.

The food was fine, we had some space—this is all good. There was a screen in front of every seat, but they didn’t seem to work right and there was no in-flight movie. No biggie. We had our own entertainment.

So, overall, I have to say that Air India was good for the price. But, one thing happened that disgusted us greatly. The last time Dan had to use the bathroom, there was a line of little old Indian ladies. Well, one of them went in to use the bathroom within Dan’s sight. She began to lift her Sari…..with the door open!! Dan freaked and pulled the curtain. Also, Dan figured that these ladies were the ones leaving their goods behind. They weren’t flushing the toilet. I did not see this myself. And, no offense to the lady, but she kind of looked like a 200-year-old goblin, which made things considerably worse for Dan.

Not THE Indian women. Some random ones.
I was fully appalled by his tale of public toilet woe. We aren’t sure if this is just custom for them or what. God bless their sweet, old souls but sheesh. Air India should make it a policy that using the bathroom with the door wide open is NOT policy. Dan will likely send an email to Air India. Yeah, we’re those kind of people—the one’s that send emails to complain about stuff. But, it’s always things that should be fixed. We figure this is one of the few ways we can help change the world a little.

Beyond the Frankfurt airport, we caught a train into Freiburg and Gundelfingen. There is a train that runs just about two blocks from our place. Our landlord was waiting at the station to take our luggage to the apartment.

Gundelfingen

Our first full day was today–Wednesday. We went all over Freiburg. Well, it felt like we did. We visited the university where Dan will work. It’s called Albert Ludwig University and is very prestigious. I will take a class or two there and there may be a teaching opportunity for me. More on that later, as well.

I have lots of pics to post. Oh, and we do have internet at home now. One of our neighbors, the house master, is letting us borrow his wireless while we wait for ours. We could not be surrounded by nicer people.

But, we still miss the nice folks at home.

Much love to all,

–Frau Jones

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The Jones Go to Germany

Greetings, all. The blog I have long promised is up and running. This will be where you can read and see all about our adventures in Germany.

Let’s recap. We are moving to Freiburg, Germany because Dan is doing a lecturer exchange between Purdue and Albert Ludwig University in Germany. Though he is a German teacher, he will teach English in Freiburg. He’ll run the writing lab there established earlier by another Purdue grad.

Me? I hope to tutor English and maybe teach piano lessons, too. I am seriously considering pursuing a grad degree in music when we come back to the states. But, I need to really brush up on technique and revive my repertoire. I hope to take advanced piano lessons (maybe organ, too) again once we are settled in Freiburg. I also plan to do some freelance writing and/or reporting. I’m hoping NPR will get desperate for an ex-pat stringer with a flash recorder. Other than these serious pursuits, I will spend a good deal of time walking, watching, making new friends, sipping coffee, working on my German, and maybe writing some songs for singin’. Maybe pluck on my banjo, too.

Now, let me tell you a bit about the lovely city of Freiburg. It’s a bustling university city in the southwest region of Germany. It sits just near the Black Forest where I am sure we will do some hiking and picnicking. We will actually live in Gundelfingen–a quaint township on the outskirts of Freiburg. We have a lovely apartment there. It’s just a few blocks distance from the butcher, pharmacy, cafes, and more.

Right now, it’s the night before we leave, and we are still packing. Airlines have this thing about luggage dimensions. Well, I have a thing about bringing my cute brown boots to Germany with me. We’re working on it.

Really, I hope to live a very simple life in Germany with fewer materialistic things to distract me and more doing and going rather than sitting. Now that I am released from the office-dungeon life, I intend to really find my path. I need to get my mojo back. I’ve lost a good bit of it in the last few years–where is the girl that once jumped out of an airplane at 4,000 feet? I guess being the owner of a full and loved heart rather than a lonely one has tamed my daring side a bit. Something about that settles you, and it’s a good kind of settling. I think that daring side has also fallen victim a bit to my nearing 30. That whole maturity thing. I miss being young and a little stupid sometimes. But, I still hold on to my sense of adventure, and I found a guy who has one, too. I’m just a little less daring than before. But, this also means fewer embarrassing moments and no gimpy leg from hitting the ground too hard. That’s okay, really.

So, we depart on our adventure tomorrow. We’ll fly out of Louisville at 4 p.m. We have a layover in Chicago before we go on to Frankfurt. From there, we’ll take a train to Freiburg and arrive Tuesday afternoon. It will be a long day within two.

I’ll blog later in the week about how things are going. I’ve got pics running on my Flickr stream at the bottom right on this page. I’ll keep it updated.

BJ

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