Monday, October 31, 2005

In the Being there was only Void and Darkness without Form, yet out of this Chaos came a Voice, and it said: "I AM," and so It was. It ordered the Chaos and gave Light to the Darkness, yet it was not finished. So It made TV, and looking down on it, It said: "I have made this, and it pleases me. It is good. I shall call it TV, and it shall bring Order and Light to the small apartments of socially isolated Fulbright Teaching Assistants stationed on small German islands adrift in the Baltic Sea, specifically those one and a half hours north of Lübeck." And so it was.

I now have a TV! That's right, after 20 days I have fancy "moving pictures" in my apartment! Let me just say that it is all kinds of nice; sound with PICTURES! I was so enthralled that I didn't feed my mules all weekend. I live on the edge.

Of adventures in German television, I can say that if you're looking for Sumo Wrestling, Pub Darts, Snooker, or Show Jumping in primetime spots, look no further. And not only has Germany filled my sport-watching dreams by replacing the over-blown salaries and culturally misplaced affection and adoration of the NBA with the over-blown salaries and culturally misplaced affection and adoration of Sumo Wrestling, it has also broken new ground in home entertainment. Yes, here tucked between France and Poland where everything exists to be improved upon, the blissful hours of mindless and thouroughly engrossing distraction offered by the television have been merged with a desire to earn money without ever having to sweep the potato chip crumbs from the crack of your pants.

Turn on a game show, you can call in and make money. Stumble into the industrial wasteland around channel 15 and you can have the pleasure of watching a young attractive woman sporting so much lip gloss that you wonder how many Sperm Whales died for that other-worldly sheen stare into the camera and all but dare the audience to spot the mistake in the second picture. If you get it right you win € 80,000. If you don't don't, she insults your manhood.

Last night I watched a cheesy show about the differences between Men and Women (it was so damn zany, fun-loving, and downright life affirming that I had to check my blood sugar), and if you guessed who would talk the most during the coarse of the show (a man or woman), you won € 10,000. € 10,000! The Germans, aside from discovering X-Ray, the lost city of Troy, and inventing the modern concept of interstate travel, have stumbled upon the obvious truth that anyone will sit through anything if, in the end, there is the smalled whiff of €10,000. Part II is next week. I am so there.

But that's not the point. Saturday night, the day I got my TV, I stayed up until about midnight watching just about every documentary I could find. Good times. Really. Anyway, somewhere in my Gummy Bear powered geek-out I stumbled onto the 20 second sex hotline ad. I had been warned before I came here, but let me tell you: nothing can prepare you. Nothing. For those of your who don't know, they are basically 10 to 20 second spots advertising various sex talk lines complete with pictures of the "goods" (shutter) and a voice chanting the number with the subtlety of a machine gun. Then they run it over and over again. And over. And over.

And they pretty well covered the gamut from the straight "meet nice guys and girls on your cell phone" to "Hot Students" (pretty standard) to "Gays online," also pretty standard. Aside from being tremendously annoying, there wasn't anything wrong with them. I emphasis "wasn't."

"Ripe Women." That's what they called it, "Ripe Women." What is that, you ask? I don't know, and I saw it. As far as I can tell, an Orka missed its intended prey, landing in the middle a teeming Sea Lion colony while a crew filmed it.

But if you're into over-weight German women in short plaid skirts with coke bottle lenses rubbing themselves "erotically" on a bed over and over again, let me know: I have the number for you. Christ. Ugh. I guess that's what I get for asked God to please make manifest the utterly sexually unattractive.

Oh yeah, I also watched a cool show on the resanctification of the Dresdener Frauenkirche, but you don't want to read about that. No, I didn't think so. If was pretty cool, though. AND, I could understand it all. Whoohoo!


HAPPY HALLOWEEN! (I hope there are some good movies on TV tonight)

And I apologize for this post. Really, I do.

Monday, October 24, 2005

This weekend was a big one. What did I do? Well, how nice of you to ask. I went to Hamburg, Germany's second largest city three hours south of where I am, otherwise known as the End of the World. Coming from a small place like Burg, it is difficult to express my first impressions in prose form, so I have prepared a dramatic dialogue.

A brief note before we begin: Hamburg is abbreviated as "HH," or "Hanse Stadt Hamburg," it's official name. I could talk about what that means, but that's a history lesson, and I don't feel like going into that. OK, on with the show.

Places people! You?! What are you doing? Put that down and get the lights ready. And remember, your motivation is: you're a small rabbit, scared, away from home. You're singled out as a sexual ambiguous character on a highschool Texas football team, but you know you're just a late bloomer. That's where your stength comes from.


ME: Well goooooooolly, Wilbur! There sure a lot of people here.

HH: Who, who's Wilbur?

ME: Where you reckon they keep all the horses at for all them people?

HH: What are you talking about? I, I can't understand....horses?

ME: And it's so bright! How they do that, make it bright when the sun's not out and all?

HH: Those are called street lamps. Listen, maybe you should just stand over here in the corner for a while and....

ME: Shit, man, did you just see that? Right there! Look! It was like, I don't know, like a train in the street. Man, that's crazy. Man.

HH: That's the Staßenbahn, the....

ME: The "Straß-a-what?"

HH: The Staßenbahn. Street cars. You know, public transportation.

ME: Public....Man, you guys think of everything! Next thing, you'll be telling me you got, like, stores and restaurants that sell all kinds of funny foreign foods like fish and chicken.

HH: Actually....

ME: NO WAY! Honey, cancel that trip to Myrtle Beach, we're staying here! Hot Damn!

So, yeah, that was me. Seriously. I was blown away. I just stood in the corner of the Hauptbahnhof for about twenty minutes watching while I got adjusted. Of the city itself, I can say this: It's gorgeous. The Hamburg Theater is just across the street with its greened copper dome and horse statues on either corner. I must have stared at that for about fifteen minutes.

The group of Teaching Assistants arrived about a hour after my train got in, at which time we all decided to go get some food and something to drink. To do so, we had to pass Das Alster, the long lake that sits in the middle of the city. Wow. It was all lit up, naturally, and the Rathaus looked like a castle instead of a town hall. It was a lot different from the little red brick building with painted wooden relief carving I pass everyday going to the store.

But there aren't any really tall buildings in Hamburg, no glass monstrosities housing corporate fat cats with bad toupees. Oh no, the Hamburger corporate fat cats with bad toupess work in beautifullly restored low buildings that look like somthing you'd see Bond frequent in the early films. Connery, people, let's be serious. I don't want to here any George Lasenby talk around here, either. And, yeah, I spelled his name wrong, but you know what, I didn't look it up because I don't care. Because he sucks. George Lasenby.

Anyway, we all ended up eating at a small French themed bar somewhere. I had fish. Yum. AND, we got stared at something hardcore when we walked it, which is always fun. After food, a couple people wanted to go Salsa dancing....I was not one of those people, but since we all didn't feel like splitting up, we went along anyway. We couldn't find it. I know what you're thinking: You counldn't find a latin themed club in a city of 1.5 million Germans? No.

Actually, we did....much later, but we went to a bar instead anyway. The point really is that I got to see a lot of people in Hamburg and talk, fluently, which is something I had missed. I will most definitely go back. But it also reaffirmed my affection for small places too, funny enough, but that's another post. Long and short: Hamburg rocks. Hardcore. I will visit it again. Later

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

So I guess it's time to talk about Fall Break. Yes, I know, what is more interesting than the fact that Hagrid is from Schleswig-Holstein in the German translation of the Harry Potter books? Not much.

Anyway, I'll start with the train ride. The train system in Germany is a mixture between a highly developed public transportation system with a Kindergarten class when the teacher's not in the room. If you know where you're going, meaning what track you have to be at, and at what time, you're good. Just go there and wait for your train. If you don't, you're screwed. In that case, my suggestion is to sit in a tight fetal position and murmur some kind of liturgy or sentimental piece of poetry until the room stops spinning or you beleive in God again.

So the day I headed down to Cologne (October 3) was The Day of German Unity, celebrating the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the following reunification of the country. Everyone has that day off, so naturally, they all decide to travel. I didn't have any reservations for the train ride to Cologne, so I just hopped on and hoped that I could find a seat. From Hamburg to Hannover, no problem, but from Hannover to Cologne, no dice.

I got stuck in the small hall in the train car for about 15 minutes while this massive group of Bavarian (the train continued to Munich) tourists tried to sort out where their seats were. How did I know they were Bavarian? Because it sounded like they were gargling marbles at high-speed. Really, you haven't lived until some German guy you've never met trys to squeeze by you so tightly that you wonder if you should be doing that if you're not married. At least take me out for dinner first. Anyway, after about 15 minutes of that, I turned around the other way and ended up sitting between cars on the floor next to the door.

As a general rule, Germans do not communicate while "unterwegs." They just stare out the window, read a book, or, in the most extreme cases, stare blankly at the seat in front of them, or, if you're sitting in a four facing-seat area, they stare at you. That's not awkward at all. BUT, when you find yourself sitting between cars, they can be downright chatty. I think there exists a sense of solidarity when everyone's hanging on to the wall so they don't get pelled across the train when it puts on the breaks around a curve. While sitting there between cars, an older lady was flung against her standing suitecase as the train went around a curve at 150 kilometers an hour and nearly went backwards over her head. Ice officially broken.

We started talking, in German, and she asked where I was from. There was a small delay. "Are you Swäbisch?" she asks. This question confused the hell out of me. I just kind of stared at her blankly for a few seconds. I had been asked if I was a lot of things, but mostly it ended with a quick "you're American, aren't you?" Now for those who don't know, Schwäbisch is a dialect in southern Germany that has a reputation slightly better than Bayrisch (Bavarian) on the Unterstandability Scale. It's really sing-songy with one of those fantastic rolled R's southern Germany seems to like so much, but most Germans who aren't Schwäbisch have no clue what Schwäbish means.

Anyway, when I didn't answer after a couple seconds, she said "you're American, then?" I said yes. We talked a little more and we decided the rhythm of my southern American accent makes my German sound a little Schwäbisch. I still haven't decided if that's good or not. She then gave me a quick lesson on the German R sound in words like "Kraft." Long and short of it is that people in southern German like to play with their R's (listen to some of Hitler's speeches; he has a pretty righteous Austrian R going on), while the people in northern Germany pronouce it like they're clearing the back of their throat. I think I'll go for option two, sense the first one is impossible for me to do.

At least I passed for a German for about 30 seconds. That's my record so far. Progress!

So that's the train ride down. Coming up, I have a castle, Beethoven's birthplace, and the Bonn Market. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 17, 2005

I've been reading Harry Potter for the last week or so, in German, and I just thought I would share something that made me a lot happier than it should have....HAGRID IS FROM SCHLESWIG-HOLSTEIN! Yes, that's right, the translator of the Harry Potter books makes Hagrid speak in Northern German slang. As far as why, the only thing I can think of is that Hagrid has a Southwestern English accent in the original books, kind the English equivalent to an American Southern accent, so the German translator gave Hagrid the German accent that best conjures up pictures of quaint farmers....Schleswig-Holstein.

And Hagrid says "moin" with the best of them, not to mention every negative with an enthusiastic "nee," the stock "no" answer around here. God, I'm sad. But that doesn't change for fact that it makes me excited. I'm cool in spite of myself, so there.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

So as of today I have eaten Herring. Actually, it was Herring in a can, but it still counts. It DOES sound disgusting, doesn't it? I wasn't really planning on trying it a month ago, but the desire to eat something other than pork drove me too it. It was kind of a culinary satori, actually.

I was walking through my beloved Jens Markt hungry as hell, but finding myself swallowing hard everytime I looked over at the meat counter. I for one believe in listening to what my body tells me, especially when it comes to eating, so I went around the corner and found myself staring at the absurdly large variety of canned fish. Long and short of it is, I walked out with one can of Herring in a pepper cream sauce and one can of smoked Mackeral. I haven't eaten the Mackeral yet, but of the Herring I can say: YUM.

That's right, the Herring was good. And not only was it good, it wasn't fishy. I know that the United States has an interesting opinion of the olfactory qualities of Northern Europe's favorite Shad (I know, I was among that number until this morning), but I can tell you that it isn't true. It's actually less fishy than Sardines. True, a dirty warf bubbling under a Ugandian heatwave isn't as fishy as Sardines, but it's true.

It's actually quite nice. I think the difference is that Sardines are manufactured for college students too cheap to pay for a real snack (me), or people so secure in their own qualities as a human being that they don't need to be bothered with human contact, and Herring is made for Breakfast, and therefore actually tastes good. The pepper cream is was packed in was really good. With some Schwarzbrot it makes a good meal.

On another note: Jesus Herbert Christ, is "Twelve Angry Men" a good movie! If you haven't seen it, you should, and you can take that to the bank, because my opinion is just that informed. I bought it yesterday at the deparment store. In German it's called "Die Zwölf Geschwonenen," or "The Twelve Sworen." Cool, no?

So, what have we leaned today? 1. Herring is actually a very tasty and under-rated fish, and 2. "Twelve Angry Men" is one of the greatest movies ever made. And I hope you brought your decoder rings, because today's code is: XYASB CD BWSAX

Have fun!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

So as of today, I am a legal alien in the Federal Republic of Germany. I payed 50 € for my Aufenthaltserlaubnis and have a really cool looking addition to my passport to go along with the luxary of not getting deported in 60 days. It's got holograms, stamps, and a monstrously official looking eagle over on the right of the page. Badass.

As for what I've done lately, not too much, just drunk two liters of orange juice mostly and saying rather inpolite things about my nose and this stupid cold. Today I did pick some apples in the backyard, which was, despite what it sounds like, unspeakably cool. There are apple trees everywhere, and on top of that, they're really good. Badass.

Just a general observation: old ladies here are awesome. Let me explain. While I was in Cologne last week I went to a birthday party for Inge, who was turning 85. You're all asking "who's Inge," and to that I say "tough, I'm not going to tell you." That's a lie, actually. She's the mother of the person I was staying with in Cologne.

Anyway, while there I feasted on smoked salmon, eel, and trout. I know what you're thinking. It's OK, be that way, I don't care. No, really, I don't. But it was really good. How do you know if you've never tried it, huh? That's what I thought. Smoked salmon is actually really good. It's kind of fishy tasting at first, but once you get past that, it really starts to grow on you. It has the texture of good sushi but isn't raw. And I'm a sucker for salmon anyway.

Smoked eel, just so everyone knows, is MUCH better than fried eel. The fried eel was good, but it was, you know, kind of on the "Christ, that's greasy!" side. The smoked eel was also a little firmer and the texture was really nice. And eel tastes yum yum yummy. Now, aren't you glad you know that?

I also tried Alster Wasser the other day (2 weeks ago), a 50\50 mixture of beer and limonade. Also sounds disgusting, no? Well, it's actually really good. The bottle was too big, so I got tired of drinking it after a while, but if it were smaller, it would be nearly perfect, especially when you want something cold and kind of refreshing.

A note on my method of keeping time. I say "the other day" all the time, but in reality, it has nothing to do with the recent past. In fact, it could, in extreme circumstances, refer to an event several years ago, but that's kind of rare. When that happens, you can just blame that on my inability to have a broad concept of time in general. Most of the time it refers to something between now and 6 months before. So just keep that in mind if I use that in the future and don't bother to explain further.

This post, as I'm sure you've noticed, has nothing to do with old ladies. It happens. Next time. Maybe. I have a lot to put up here, but since school's out, and I have to pay for my internet access, I keep things at shorter intervals. So until next time. And don't forget your decoder rings!

Monday, October 10, 2005

To all you worried readers out there, because I know there are hundreds of you, I'm OK, just a little tired and with a cold. So tonight won't be the night for updates, but stay tuned! So EXCITING!