Eric's Germany Journal

This is part of a journal I wrote while living in Ulm, Germany, from December 12, 2002, to September 17, 2003.

Parts

Monday-Friday, December 16-20, 2002

EADS gatehouse
EADS gatehouse.
Work went well. It is the most familiar thing about Germany, because software is software anywhere, and the work is done in English, and the system I am using is mostly English. I wrote a lot of code and am theoretically about six weeks ahead of schedule. My schedule allowed a few weeks for building or learning the development environment I needed to work in, but it turned out everything was ready to go. Also, the initial work was easier than I expected. However, if I overestimated the first stages of the work, I may have underestimated the later stages. The work so far has been easy C code. Next will come detailed assembly-language work, and then the high-performance optimization.

Office building
This is the building I work in.
Part of office building
My office is near the center of this picture.
The site is larger than I thought. I work in a building that cannot be seen from the front, so it is not in the first photographs I posted. I would have to get permission to photograph it from inside the site, but I went around the back and took some pictures from outside.

There is a company cafeteria with a fixed-price meal. The meal is charged to an account identified by the company identification card. The card is also used to get in and out of the work site. At both the cafeteria and the site gates, the card is read by some contactless system. It only needs to be (very) near the scanner.

The meal is partly subsidized by the company for employees, but not so much for me as a contractor, due to some aspect of German law. The selection is limited for vegetarians. Some days there is a vegetarian choice as one of the main meals, and there is at least a salad every day. Other than the limited selection, the food is okay.

Pfaltzgaße in Ulm
Pfaltzgaße, a typical shopping street in Ulm, before Christmas.
Speaking of food reminds me, I tried Schupfnudeln at the Christmas Market. It is a pasta and sauerkraut dish, which is interesting. I also walked around the area streets.

Lars gave me a cold, which kicked in near the end of the week.

Saturday, December 21, 2002

Traffiti storefront
Traffiti sells transit passes and other travel services.
Today was a busy day. I bought a Monatskarte (monthly transit pass) for January at Traffiti, bought two pieces of each chocolate at the best chocolate store in town, rode the streetcar to the end of the line, located a gym near my apartment, went shopping at the mall, and checked out several stores in the town's shopping guide.

Café Ströbele storefront
Café Ströbele.
The first time I went to the chocolate store, Café Ströbele, the person there did not speak English, and I could only manage to communicate a couple of the things I wanted to buy. I went back with a written translation describing everything I wanted, but the person there this morning understood enough English that I did not need it. Unfortunately, nothing in the display case is labeled, so I still will not be able to ask for pieces by name.

The Monatskarte is a good deal, €37. A single ride is €1.5. When I translated the transit system information by computer, it said the base price is good for one honeycomb. I thought that was some mistranslation until I saw the zone map. A large region around Ulm is divided into honeycomb cells. The base cell around Ulm and Neu-Ulm covers everything I will want to go to either normally or in excursions around the city. Drivers do not check tickets when you board; you are expected to pay the one-trip fare or have a pass valid for the time and route. Occasionally inspectors board the bus or train and check passengers' tickets, but I have not seen that yet.

An Ulm streetcar An Ulm streetcar
The Linie Eins Straßenbahn runs conveniently between my home and the center of the city.
I rode the Linie Eins Straßenbahn (Line 1 streetcar) to the end of the line, a block from my apartment. I did not see any sign of the #1 bus I mentioned earlier, and the streetcar appears to be running its normal route. From there, I walked to TSG Söflingen, a gym about eight minutes from the apartment. It was closed when I got there. Many places have limited hours here. However, their web page shows they have good enough hours, so I should be able to work out after work or on weekends. There are buses that run between the apartment and TSG or the mall, but they seem to be only hourly on weekends or evenings. The transit closer to the center of the city runs much more frequently. Fortunately, that includes the streetcar, which provides me with a very convenient link to the center of town.

Blautal Center
Blautal Center.
Next I walked to the mall, Blautal Center. The zoning here is different: Across from the mall is a strip joint, and slightly down the street is another strip joint and an establishment that is either a brothel or something close. For those of you who clicked on the above link at work, good luck explaining to your boss why you were checking out a German brothel at the office.

Establishment
An establishment down the street from the mall.
I mentioned earlier the mall is much like US malls, but this time I made a couple of minor purchases. As I have mentioned, there is no self-service laundry in Ulm, and the hotel has not yet gotten me price information for their laundry service. So I plan to buy a few things to stretch the clothes I have until I move into my apartment next week and can use the washing machine and the dryer there.

Mall food court
Part of the Blautal Center food court.
There is plenty of unhealthful food available at the mall's food court, but it does not seem to have degenerated as far as the US fast food market. There appear to be a greater number of reasonable choices available, and the quality of what I have tried so far is better.

The Danube
The Danube seen from a bridge between Ulm and Neu-Ulm.
After the mall, I went back to the center of town and took a bus to Neu-Ulm to see if the self-service laundry listed in one of my guide books is still there. It isn't. However, at least I crossed the Danube and the state border (into Bavaria). So far, there does not seem to be any reason for me to go into Neu-Ulm.

The route back to Ulm gave me a chance to check out several stores for strategy games and model trains. Surprisingly, I have not found a really good source of German board games in Germany. The department stores have moderate selections, and one of the game stores has some, but I have not found a game/hobby store with a large selection.

The cold Lars gave me reached its peak Saturday, so I was dealing with that all day while running errands. When I came home and checked my email, I found the people I entrusted to ship the packages I had prepared did not do it, so now I am hoping another person will do it for me, but the delay already is disappointing. It means more delay or expense before I can get back to my usual exercise, entertainment, and study or I can print anything from my computer.

Sunday, December 22, 2002

My cold seems to be going away. Today is the last day of the Christmas Market. Nothing much is happening today, so I will report some general notes about life in Germany.

Judging by food and rent so far, the cost of living here is less. In particular, fine chocolate is cheaper than in the United States. The savings in my chocolate budget just might compensate for my airfare. The marzipan is better here than in the United States—softer and moister.

When we would say "Good-bye" or a store clerk would say "Have a nice day," many people here say "Cheers" with an English accent. They are not just saying it to me because I speak English; I have heard Germans say it to other Germans. It sounds rather odd.

As one of my guide books prepared me for, it is common for people to share tables in public dining areas. They approach and say "Ist hier noch frei?" ("Is this seat free?") [More literally: "Is here still free?"] Knowing things like that is sometimes more helpful than knowing the language, since I can tell what's going on as soon as somebody approaches, even before they speak. Strangers sharing tables will wish each other "Guten appetit," and then largely ignore each other. Another difference in restaurants is that the staff makes change right at your table, as soon as you pay. They save two trips compared to US custom of leaving the bill at your table, coming back later to pick up the money, and eventually returning with your change.

I am getting used to the climate. The cold outdoors does not bother me as much, and I even turned down the hotel room thermostat a little. The map I have with the best scale and coverage for the areas I want has no legend, so I have to puzzle it out. It shows the transit routes with circles for the stops, but there are also some semicircles. I figured out those are places where the train or bus stops when going in one direction but not the other. Another symbol on the map is still a puzzle: It is a small figure of a person with their hands upraised and a dot over one hand. They are frequent in some areas of the city, but I have no clue what they stand for.

Light switches here are on when down. More people smoke. There are more coins.

Cars parked over the curb, half on the sidewalk
Parking on the sidewalk.
The US has four coins in common circulation (penny, nickel, dime, quarter—half dollars and dollars are not common). The European Union has twice as many coins (.01, .02, .05, .10, .20, .50, 1, and 2 euros). Distinguishing them is a bit of a nuisance, especially if the light is not good. In some areas, the designated parking is half on the sidewalk. Driving over the curb everyday must abrade the tires.

Books are printed with the spines reading the other way from US books. To scan the titles on a shelf, you have to tilt your head to the left instead of the right. I noticed this with Canadian publications too. This difference was an advantage in a computer store that mixed German and English books on the shelves. The German titles were not all obviously German, but I only had to look for books with spines printed the way I am accustomed to.

Monday, December 23, 2002

Some cafés and restaurants should be open during the next few days, but I bought some food just in case. It all has to be edible without heating and not require cooling, so I just got some fruit, bread, cheese, peanut butter, and cereal. And chocolate, of course. Not great, but it will do. I have not found bagels yet.

Tuesday-Thursday, December 24-26, 2002

Not much is happening these days. I am working on my notebook computer, studying, reading the science fiction books I brought, watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes on DVD, and making plans.

Einsteinstraße sign
Einstein's head in a fountain
Ulm makes a lot of being Einstein's birthplace, but I'm not sure they really like him that much, since I would not call this a flattering portrayal.
So far, in Ulm, I have seen Einstein House, Einstein Street, Einstein Café, the Einstein monument, and the Einstein fountain. I saw two people playing backgammon in a bar/café, which is something you never see in the US. I continued my transition to German culture by setting my watch, Pocket PC, and notebook computer to display the time in 24-hour format. It's been overcast almost every day I have been here.

I was contemplating going to Munich (München) after moving into my apartment next week. I finally decided not to. I will have the opportunity to see Munich when people visit. After they fly into Munich, we could spend some time in the city before going to Ulm. The Ulm-Munich train ticket isn't cheap. There is a 25% discount for buying three days in advance, but I can't be certain I'll have the day free since something may come up when I move into the new apartment. It would take all day, and there isn't much need. I originally planned to register with the US consulate, but I may be able to do that by phone or mail.

Friday, December 27, 2002

I tried to get a long-term residence permit today, but the information from my short-term permit has not been typed into the computer from paper yet. I will have to try again in a few weeks. After that, I walked to TSG Söflingen. I signed up for membership and use of the Fitness-Studio for six months.

Bank in mall
The Blautal Center branch office of my bank.
I told Lufthansa I will not be using my ticket for the return flight on January 1. So now I am stranded here. A lease, a bank account, phone service, a gym membership—It is like a real life. I should have shipped more of my kitchen equipment though. The furnished apartment will not have everything I want, and buying replacements is too expensive. I have to figure out how to close everything down when I leave. The German bank account has to stay open for a while to receive my final pay and pay my final phone bills, after which the balance should be wired to my US bank. That is a lot to communicate accurately in a foreign language.

The streets are smaller here. Many streets appear designed for mixed pedestrian and slow-speed automotive use. In certain areas, the streets are bricks and blocks in lieu of smooth pavement. I suspect that is to slow traffic and alert drivers. This is particularly so in the approaches to the downtown pedestrian shopping district. That seems to work okay. The large street near the hotel, like a number of other streets, is divided into three sections, two for each direction of traffic and one for the streetcars. Each section has its own pedestrian signal, and they are not synchronized, so you have to cross the street in stages. Sometimes all three signals are tantalizingly green, but you cannot reach the third section before it turns red.

People obey the walk/don't-walk signals much more. I saw three teenage boys crossing the street. One reached the final section at the last moment, or perhaps even a bit late, and raced across it. The other two stopped. The first boy gestured for them to run across, but they declined. Can you imagine teenage boys in the US resisting peer pressure to cross the street?

Modernistic white building
The left part of the Stadthaus contains a café and restaurant.
The Café-Restaurant im Stadthaus has a marzipan-torte dessert that I will have to go back for. I didn't know it was on the menu, so I wasn't ready, and I don't think I should have it until my gym membership is active. However, I think I have visited all the good chocolate stores in town. One of the stores notes it has been in business since 1811, and it likely isn't one of the oldest around.

Saturday, December 28, 2002

Marktkauf storefront
Marktkauf on Einstein Street.
I have been walking around more than two hours most days to partially replace my usual exercise, and that has given me opportunities to investigate the area. Today I went into Marktkauf to see what it was, and it seems to be one of the most useful stores around, with a large (for Ulm) selection of groceries and household goods.

I have managed to complete a few transactions, even ordering a meal in a restaurant, without the other person realizing I did not speak or understand more than a few words of German (which is not to say that they did not think I had an atrocious accent). This involves a good deal of bluffing and a very occasional word here and there. For example, if I order something, and I hear a question beginning with mit, I just say nein. Mit means "with," and they are just trying to sell you something else. (Incidentally, upselling [trying to increase a customer's order] is less prevalent here than in the United States.) Language is going to be a problem for a long time, though. Several times I have looked at packages in stores with descriptions written in four languages, none of them English.

The ATMs are a little nicer, at least for German speakers. They accept your PIN as soon as the fourth digit is entered instead of making you press another button. And they deliver money in assorted denominations instead of all twenties.

Two floors of the mall
Erdgeschoß below and Obergeschoß above.
The mall directory listed a store as being on both Erdgeschoß (ground floor) and 1.Obergeschoß. The "1" did not confuse me because I know floor numbers here start above the ground floor, so their floor 1 is our floor 2. However, "1.0" seemed overly precise to me, and I wondered where I might find something on floor 0.9 or 1.1. But the "O" is the letter oh rather than the digit zero; the word is Obergeschoß (floor above). Germans put periods in places where I do not understand what purpose they serve, like in dates, as in "1. Januar". It makes me think they are floating-point instead of integers. While I am writing about numbering, there seems to be no standard way to write phone numbers. Not only are various delimiters used for area codes (parentheses, hyphens, slashes, or spaces), there is some variation in what is grouped with the area code and a lot of variation in how the other digits are grouped.

People here are buying fireworks, and costumes are on sale, so I presume something is about to happen.

Monday, December 30, 2002

On today's walk for exercise, I decided to investigate the last game store in the area. It is in Neu-Ulm and toward the east, which is why I put it off for last. It turned out the store was in a mall with several useful stores. First, the game store has the best selection of board games I have found yet. Second, there is a natural food store larger than the ones in Ulm. Third, there is a large department store with various useful things. They have a good steamer set for €29.90, which is on my shopping list, and I had not found a good set at a reasonable price in Ulm. It is actually a spaghetti cooker, but it should serve well for cooking rice and steaming vegetables.

Mutschler Center
Mutschler Center.
The German word for mall is apparently Center, since the first mall is Blautal Center and today's discovery is Mutschler Center. Now I have a reason to go to Neu-Ulm occasionally. The mall is far enough away that I will usually want to take a bus there, so I have to look up the best routes to use. If any of the game players reading this want me to pick up some games for them, say the word. I am tempted to buy one of everything on the shelves at some point during my stay.

I have mentioned before that the cost of living here is cheaper. It seems to be about 25% cheaper. Instead of a dollar store like we have in the US, the mall has a € .75 store. There must be a strong economic force for that price, since there is no convenient coinage for it.

I have not mentioned previously that most of the stores here use one-way gates to control customer egress. You cannot easily go out the way you came in because the gates will close as you approach. They are only waist-high bars, not real barriers, but they are a nuisance. Since I am learning my way around, I need to go into many stores and look around without buying anything. Many of the stores have no provision for customers exiting without making a purchase, so I have to squeeze by the people at the registers to get out. In that big department store at Mutschler Center, this traffic control is even worse. I took an escalator into the store, walked around a bit, and then realized there was no escalator out! I found an elevator but managed to translate enough of the sign on it to learn it did not stop at the ground floor, so that was not a way out either. To get out, you have to walk through the store, and then you come out at the other side of the mall. What a nuisance.

The store cashiers have seats and sit while they work. That makes sense; why should cashiers be forced to be on their feet for hours on end? On the other hand, I don't imagine that sitting for hours on end is good for you either.

It is common and somewhat expected to bring your own bags to stores, particularly grocery stores but many others as well. The stores may have bags available, but sometimes for a fee. I think I knew this, because I brought three cloth bags with me from the US.

I bought detergent today so that I can wash clothes as soon as I get into the apartment. At least, I think I bought detergent; I still have to translate the German on the packages (two, one for colors and one for whites). The detergent for whites has Aktiv-Sauerstoff—Active oxygen. Stoff is just material, but you would not normally think of oxygen as Sauer (sour). They like oxygen here; the maids keep opening my room's window. My book on German culture mentioned it is a custom to air out a room daily even in the coldest weather. However, Säure is acid, so I suspect oxygen was named Sauerstoff because it was a material gotten from some reaction with an acid.

I returned to the hotel to learn that Frau Moser, my landlady, won't have the apartment ready until January 1. That is when the lease starts, but she had earlier said December 31 would be fine. I would prefer December 31 because I could move in and get to the stores to buy groceries and supplies right away, and my new apartment would be functioning that day. On January 1, everything will be closed. Also, the hotel will cost me another €56.

I called Lars (who speaks English) and asked him to ask Frau Moser (who doesn't) about the apartment being ready. As long as there is heat and a place to put my stuff and I can sleep there, a mess will be fine for a day. So I asked him to get her response to that, saying I would move in on January 1 if necessary but I would like to move in on December 31 if that were possible even if preparations were incomplete. Lars called her and then called me back with the results: She did not answer, so he left a message saying I would show up on December 31. I am not happy about that, because I do not know why she wanted to delay, so I do not know that December 31 will work. But now she will be waiting for me in the morning, so I have to show up. So I have to pack everything and take my stuff over to see if I can move in. If not, I have to bring everything back to the hotel. Communicating with Frau Moser will be cumbersome.

Using the English-German translation software I bought in the US, I translated the detergent instructions. I just realized I haven't mentioned the software before. It works okay. The interface is a bit clunky, and it makes some mistakes and omissions, but you can get the idea of the translated material. There were no surprises in the detergent instructions, and I seem to have bought the right stuff. However, I decided it would be useful to have a measuring cup, so I went out to find one. One of the things I worried about before leaving was what would I not be able to plan for because it would be a surprise. My research has turned out to be quite useful, so I have not had any major surprises, but this was a minor surprise of that type. Finding a way to measure detergent was difficult. The powders are concentrated, so I may need only 45 milliliters for a load of laundry. That is about 3 tablespoons, so an ordinary kitchen measuring spoon would be just the thing. I looked in the kitchen sections of three department stores and could not find a single measuring spoon. There were plenty of other kitchen accessories—serving spoons, pots, pans, strainers, fruit peelers, pizza cutters, whisks, spice grinders, spatulas, the works. Everything you could want in the kitchen, except I could not find a single device for measuring small volumes. Not a teaspoon, not a tablespoon, not a 5-milliliter spoon, not a 10-milliliter box, not a calibrated scoop, not a screw of Archimedes, nothing. I did find a precision digital scale (up to 200 grams by .1 gram) and some measuring cups. The smallest measuring cup I found was 250 milliliters, and it is adequate for measuring detergent in the quantities I need. However, measuring cups are good for liquid and not so good for powders like baking soda, and a 250-milliliter cup is no good for teaspoon quantities. I am left to wonder how Germans bake.

I should have been making notes about interesting linguistic things as I noticed them over the past few weeks, but I have been too focused on other things, so they just passed by. Some of the connections between the languages are obvious, but there are a few connections that are interesting because words seem to be related but have separated quite a bit. I will try to remember to write about these as they come up. Just now, I was translating "tomorrow" to find out it is morgen. The thing is, "morning" is Morgen. I do not know why the dictionary shows different capitalization, since they are both nouns, but they are pronounced the same. That would seem to be confusing, because people would not know whether you are talking about morning or tomorrow. I have created a hypothesis. In English, we might say something will be done "in the morning." In that use, "morning" refers to tomorrow. I wonder if, in German, that use of morning evolved into meaning tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

My home away from home
My apartment is on the bottom floor.
The move to my home-away-from-home went well. Frau Moser is worried about getting me clean pots and pans. But that can wait a day. I am in the apartment. I am getting junk mail in German. I went grocery shopping. I am doing laundry. The washing machines are more interesting here. They spin (not just agitate) in both directions. The motors make high-tech machine noises. They get the water moving in complex arrangements. They have more controls, settings, and doodads. We're talking 14 programs, a temperature dial, three optional modifiers, and a detergent tray with separate compartments for prewash, wash, and fabric softener and two adjustments for water hardness and liquid/dry detergent. They take a lot longer than US washing machines, partly because they heat up the water themselves and use a lot higher temperature for whites than in the US. A load of whites takes two hours! Fortunately, the washing machine is new and came with multilingual instructions. The dryer I will have to experiment with.

Locking device on a shopping cart
Locking device on a shopping cart.
Grocery shopping in a foreign language is an experience. Thank goodness for pictures and diagrams—on cans, on shopping carts, on automated scales. The differences start at the door. To get a shopping cart, you have to put a euro into a mechanism that unlatches a chain from the next cart. When you return the cart and put the latch back in, the tray with the euro pops out. Another big difference is that you weigh and price your own produce. I am glad I noticed somebody else doing this, or I would have gone to the checkout line with several bags of unmarked produce. After you bag a produce item, you put it on a scale and push a button for the item. The machine spits out an adhesive label that you put on the bag.

It helped that most of the buttons have pictures, although I am learning the words for various fruit and vegetables, and the pictures do not do all the work (like distinguishing between potatoes and sweet potatoes or beefsteak tomatoes and vine-cluster tomatoes). I got broccoli and iceberg lettuce and thought those would be sold by the individually wrapped Stück (piece), but I had to ask to be sure I did not need to weigh them.

Groceries are taxed here, but at a lower rate (7%) than other stuff (16%). However, I think the total was still lower than it would have been in the United States. (All prices are shown with the tax included, so you do not have to think about it, and the cost of living appears to be lower even with the tax.) I got almost everything on my list, but still no bagels or soy milk. I also did not see black beans, but I did not try very hard. The potatoes and onions were fewer in variety (one each) and smaller.

#1 streetcar
The Straßenbahn passes by.
Since I had too much to carry in one trip, I had to make two trips to move everything. The move went quickly anyway. The trains and buses are running on a normal weekday schedule even though it is December 31. The #1 Straßenbahn runs every five to ten minutes most of the day, and the trip from my apartment at the end of the line to the center of town is only about 12 minutes.

Now that I am in the apartment, here are some pictures.

Dining area Kitchen Bedroom
Dining area. Kitchen. Bedroom.

Having left the hotel, I have no Internet connection until my phone line here is enabled. That should happen on Thursday, January 2. Two days without the Internet! Another problem with leaving the hotel is trash. In the hotel, I could throw anything into the garbage can and let them deal with it. In the apartment, I cut a light cord off a bag of pasta, and then I had to go to my computer and open the translation of the garbage information to see what category the cord goes in.

Some more random observances: There are a lot of driving schools here. Driving must not be a part of the regular school curriculum. The plural apostrophe has crossed linguistic boundaries and infected Germany. I saw a sign for "crepe's" and another for "modem's."

Speaking of language again, I will never learn German. I may learn some words, but I know I will not learn the declensions and cases and conjugations and so on. The grammar section of one of my books tells me in one place that word order is extremely important and in another that word order is extremely flexible. It gives a table of 36 forms of the personal pronoun. It says the definite article is declined for the three genders, two numbers, and four cases, and there are three declensions of adjectives, which depend on what articles they are used with.

Uh, oh, I just cleaned the lint filter on the dryer. Where does the lint go? Time to open the translated garbage information again. As long as I have translated the information, I will share it with you. Perhaps somebody can explain the things I have noted at the bottom.

I just tried some of the chocolate I bought yesterday. Chocolate with yogurt filling. Yum. The dryer is done. Yay, I have clean clothes.

Wednesday, January 1, 2003

Wallplate
Mystery panel.
My apartment has a small panel on the wall with strange controls and markings. It is five centimeters by five centimeters and is next to the power and television outlets. Take a look at the photograph. The symbol at the top-left is the mark of the German post office, Deutsche Post. The symbol at the top-right says something about power, but I do not know what. I am guessing the bottom markings indicate the controls there adjust amplitude and frequency, but amplitude and frequency of what?

Everything is closed today, so I cannot shop for the things I need for the apartment. I did go out and take some more photographs.

My Söflingen neighborhood Entry to Im Baindtle End of Im Baindtle
Part of my neighborhood. The entry to Im Baindtle. The litter is New Year's Eve fireworks. The rest of Im Baindtle.
Two racks full of bicycles in front of a natural food store Münster and the plaza in front of it Gears and cables for streetcar system
Bicycles are used much more here than in the US. The Reformhaus behind the bicycles is a natural food store. I tried to get a photograph showing the height of the Münster, but it won't fit in my camera frame from any unobscured viewpoint in the area. This image does convey the impression of height though. Use the people directly in front of the cathedral for reference. I think this device provides tension for the streetcar cables. I did not have time to investigate this hypothesis because the streetcar arrived while I was taking the picture.
Ulm shopping district, part 0 Ulm shopping district, part 1 Ulm shopping district, part 2
These photographs show most of Ulm's central shopping street. There are additional smaller streets around the area that are not shown.
You can also see in the Münster photograph that the plaza in front of it and the Stadthaus is quite large. It is used for the Christmas Market, the weekly farmer's market, and other events.

Thursday, January 2, 2003

Today was a busy day. It began with waiting. Frau Moser told me there was a COD package for me, so I waited for that. Fortunately, it came in the morning, so I had time to go out afterward. The package arrived by UPS. This was an odd experience, because much of it was just like in the US. The driver was wearing the UPS uniform, and you have to sign on the electronic box they carry nowadays, and getting a package is a very normal thing, but the driver is speaking German. Usually things around here feel like a foreign country, and you expect people to speak German. The UPS guy was just so familiar that German seemed out of place.

Device for taking core samples of chocolates
The Original Sneak-Peek.
Anyway, the package contained a gift from my uncle-in-law, including The Original Sneak-Peek. It is a chocolate corer, used to take nondestructive (albeit invasive) samples of chocolates, so you can find a filling you like without ruining the other chocolates. It comes with funny instructions, the gist of which is that you unobtrusively turn over a chocolate in the tray, insert the hollow sampler with a twisting motion, pull it out, and push the plunger to expel your sample. If you do not like it, you turn the chocolate back over. Probably nobody will notice the small hole in the bottom.

Next it was off to Mutschler Center to pick up that steamer I had my eye on. I also got a whisk, but there is still no sign of measuring spoons. I did find macadamias, so I may be able to make my raspberry-chocolate-chip macadamia brownies, if I can find a measuring spoon. The Reformhaus in the mall had peanut butter without additives, so I am hoping it tastes better than the adulterated peanut butter. Also in Mutschler Center is Kaufland, a truly huge supermarket. I have allocated time to go through it next Saturday. Then I went back home to drop off the steamer and have lunch.

After lunch, I went downtown. I used an ATM again and found that not only does it give you an assortment of bills, but it gives you choices about what assortment you would like. In Galeria Kaufhof, I bought a very nice digital kitchen scale. I have been looking for a successor for my home scale, and this one was a bargain. It measures up to 5000 grams by one-gram increments. Most consumer scales measure up to 2000 grams by two-gram increments or worse. So, it has a better range and better precision, but it was only €59.90. It can also be set to power up in metric or English units, but it can be easily changed while in use. The weighing surface is flat and above the rest of the scale, so containers larger than the scale rest on the weighing surface, not on the housing. It updates quickly when weight is added. The only defect I have found is that you cannot tare it and then show negative weights. That is a shame; I often want to know how much I have taken out of a container rather than how much I have put in.

In buying the scale, I got to use a complete German sentence. The scale was the last one on the shelf, the package was unmarked, and there was no matching price tag on the shelf. So I had to ask a clerk Was kostet das? (What does this cost?) Three whole words. Actually, I have done four: Ja, das ist Alles (Yes, that is all) and Das ist gut so (That is good, said to a waiter to mean keep the change). Also among the scales, I noticed one model of European scale that costs more here than it does in New Hampshire.

Then I went back home, changed, and went to use the gym for the first time. The trainers speak enough English to show me how to use their machines, and they are telling me to do my stretches differently. New exercises and new stretches mean new sore muscles. The gym also gave me my first use of a scale since I got here. It says I have lost a (very) little weight, so it seems the walking did me some good, and I did not go overboard on restaurants. Now that I know my weight and can exercise regularly, it is time for some serious chocolate.

My neighborhood at night
My neighborhood at night.
I mentioned before that more people here smoke. Leaving the gym, I saw a guy smoking on his way in. There are cigarette machines all over the place, many in walls along the streets. Walking back home at night, I took this picture of my neighborhood.

The trash schedule says Biotonne and Restmülltonne were supposed to be picked up on my street today, but I did not see anybody put containers out, and the containers for my building have not been emptied. Maybe we are on the four-week schedule and not the two-week schedule. Hmm, the web page changed since I checked it. (I have a saved copy; it is not just my imagination.) They must have changed it for the new year or something. Oh, well, I probably do not need to deal with that; the landlady takes care of the containers, I think.

My telephone line was connected today. My first call was to my own number to check it, and I got what may be the German busy signal. My second call was to connect to the Internet. My modem even recognizes German dial tone. The hotel had some munged dial tone that the modem did not recognize, and I had to go through inordinate Microsoft menus to tell Windows to dial without waiting for a dial tone. (This involves getting to a modem-configuration dialog that is different depending on how you get to it, which is a user-interface abomination.)

So, I am connected again. Now it is late, and there is no time to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Friday, January 3, 2003

Neighborhood stream with small waterfall
Neighborhood stream with waterfall.
There are several streams and rivers here and there in the city, and there is an impressive volume of water flowing through them. The current looks quite strong and fast, and the waterfall shown here is loud. This stream is a few hundred meters from my apartment.

I did some more shopping this morning, and now I am pretty much ready to get into a normal daily routine. That is good, because I go back to work Monday. Life should approach something resembling normal, so my updates will be less frequent and less voluminous.

Rows and rows of bicycle racks
Bicycle racks for mall customers.
At the mall, I found soy milk in Reformhaus Freitag, even chocolate soy milk. It is a different brand from at home, and I have not tried it yet, so I cannot report if it is as good. Outside the mall, I noticed the numerous bike racks. There are not many bikes in place because today is not a big shopping day, but I expect there are days when these racks are full.

People have asked me for directions three times so far. That is much more than I was ever asked for directions back home. I must look like a native. If it keeps happening, maybe I will start pointing in random directions.

Dogs are commonly walked off the leash here, and they seem well behaved.

Dinnertime. The bottled pasta sauce here is better than in the US. And the green pasta isn't just green; it actually has a spinach flavor.

I am not paying much attention to the news, but George Bush's warmongering has made me several thousand dollars, because the expense of war impairs the US government's economic position, lowering the value of the dollar against the euro. I am being paid in euros, so I will have more dollars when I am done, given the current situation.

I have taken about 200 pictures, some with flashes, and the rechargeable batteries in my camera are still working on one charge. The camera eats alkaline batteries; a set would only last for about 15 pictures. So I am pretty satisfied with rechargeable batteries and recommend them.

I am receiving Info, the German Broadcaster, here—an unwanted small newspaper that is mostly ads. Well, newspaper is allowed in the Biotonne barrel, and I need something to wrap fruit and vegetable remains, so Info will serve some purpose.

Now that I am caught up, I decided to check out the nightlife, so I tried the Roxy. One guidebook describes it as "a huge, multivenue centre with a concert hall, cinema, disco, bar, and special-event forum." The tourist bureau pamphlets also seem to indicate it is part of a cultural center and is suitable for families. Well, finding it was a challenge. You would think with the Danube as a landmark and the specific building identified by name on maps, it would not be too hard to find, but the location was deserted and had no signs for the Roxy. Eventually I found it. You cannot get in from the street nearest the building. It is in an old fortification and behind a high wall. You have to go around a big museum to get to a plaza inside the surrounding buildings.

The Roxy itself is a graffiti-covered warehouse sort of building. Some of the graffiti looked artificial, but it was too dark to discern much. Inside was pretty lifeless. Some folks were buying movie tickets, but nothing else was happening. The other parts may be closed for the winter break. Perhaps I will go back later, although I am not much for nightlife. Maybe the Roxy isn't, either.

Another choice is the Pufferbar, which bills itself as Für Freaks ohne Finanzierungsplan, for freaks without finance plan. I don't think that is my kind of place either.

Meanwhile, I continue to learn something new on every trip out, although the tidbits of information are getting more trivial. While waiting for the Straßenbahn, I looked at the instructions on a pay phone. They seem to have put more effort into the design here. The phone will give change after a call, but can only give change in certain denominations, which are larger than the billing unit. So you may end a call with credit due but no coin available for it. I do not know the specific denominations, but let's say the machine owes you 10 cents but has only 20-cent and 50-cent coins. It cannot give you the 10 cents it owes you. According to the instructions, you could put in a 50-cent coin, and then the machine would give you back three 20-cent coins.

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© Copyright 2002 by Eric Postpischil.