Nov. 10th, 2008 09:45 pm
beige_alert: (somethingahead)
I went to my very first live-action role-playing game in Germany, with rather minimal knowledge of the German language. Overall, I'm glad I did it, though next time I want to be sure that, one way or the other, I can reliably understand what everyone else is saying.

lengthy thoughts )


Oct. 8th, 2008 09:32 pm
beige_alert: (Emden)
It was an absolute delight to be back in Germany. I'm very grateful to have had the chance and very thankful for my friends who make these visits so wonderful, and, really, make them possible in the first place.

Last year Germany seemed, unsurprisingly, foreign. Everything was different, unexpected, and sometimes surprising. This year, I got off the plane, walked to the now-familiar passport control area, and thought, "I'm back." I've been in Germany for a total of a month now, and while that's not really long at all, it feels almost like a second home, one that I unfortunately don't get to spend much time in. All the things that seemed oddly foreign last year now seemed oddly familiar. I visited people who are now old friends, stayed in their familiar flats in the neighborhoods I remember so well. Homes where I can get up at night needing to use the toilet and move about in darkness with no difficulty.

The Freusburg castle is now a familiar place, operating in a familiar way. Last year I spent the first day feeling very much like a confused foreigner, not sure where anything is. Now I've also been to that LARP at a hostel in the Harz, and, really, at this point sharing a bedroom (and bathroom) with a bunch of total strangers/brand new friends in a youth hostel in Germany seems like situation normal. Kein Problem.

Even coming back home is less jarring than last time.


Oct. 26th, 2007 08:50 am
beige_alert: (Emden)
Some things in Germany are quite familiar, like the ubiquitous Geldautomat (ATM). Just like over here, the first question is what language you'd like to use, and though the list of languages was longer than the usual English/Spanish you find here, English is still on the list. I received my bank statement yesterday, which includes the withdrawals I made in Germany, and the other familiar thing is, of course, some fees for the transactions. The good news? Tiny fees. I think I've been charged bigger fees in Milwaukee.
beige_alert: (10m)
Maybe this comparison is unfair or something, but, still, see below two photos taken out of windows at two conventions, WindyCon in a suburb of Chicago and FilkCONtinental in Germany:

photos )


Oct. 12th, 2007 08:55 pm
beige_alert: (flute)
I suppose I should say something about music, since my whole trip was a product of filk.

Prior to about two years ago I had not thought of attending FilkContinental, which is, after all, held in a place not especially near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I’ve told this story before, but for anyone who doesn’t know, my personal connection to German filkers came after Urban Tapestry’s guest appearance at FC, which of course I read about on LJ. [ profile] allisona mentioned a song set to the tune of [ profile] jodimuse‘s “The Lady” called “The Willow” by this German filker they’d met, [ profile] aryana_filker. I sang it at the next housefilk, made a comment in the LJ thread about that, Aryana was all excited that someone in America was singing her song, and, two years and a great many e-mails later, I was flying to Düsseldorf to spend two weeks living with my German friends.

We did find time for some music at each household. Everyone loved my flute. Everyone really loved [ profile] musicmutt’s “An Abridgement,” which was also a hit at the con, where I sang it in response to Franklin’s call for Lord of the Dance/Rings ideas. [ profile] legoline, [ profile] lisande and I found time for music on several days, and we shared lots of “new to you” songs. It was fun when Dea and Steffi started singing children’s songs. In German, of course. Some of the tunes were familiar, but the words were not so familiar.

[ profile] aryana_filker naturally enjoyed my flute playing. I had the enjoyable-in-retrospect experience of getting lost in the sheet music on one piece I was playing for her but somehow remembering enough to keep on playing until I found my place. I had no idea I could do that. She played her piano, of course. The bigger musical thrill there was seeing the pipe organ she plays. That was fun. I’d never been up close to an organ before.

There was yet more musical fun with [ profile] kinder1of5 and her family and friends, including singalongs in the car with them. Familiar geBORGt songs, among other fun.

I will bring my electronic tuner next time. At the con, of course, people with guitars are set up to tune them, but visiting people I ran into a surprising number of people with guitars who don’t really play them. I’m not the sort who’s good at getting a very out of tune guitar into tune without electronic help, though I could usually get good enough for fooling around. On the borrowed guitar subject, it was, of course, no problem to borrow a guitar as needed at the con. It was sometimes a bit of an adventure playing an unfamiliar instrument, though I do have practice with nylon-strung classicals and various 12-strings. Probably the guitar I played that was most similar to what I’m used to was [ profile] sibylle‘s. I was glad to have that guitar for the song I was most nervous about.

Filkcontinental was, of course, world of amazing music. The guest Canadians were absolutely fantastic. Heather Dale I was not really familiar with before. There are clearly some CDs I will need to buy. I do see [ profile] sexybass and [ profile] decadentdave from time to time in North America, but, wow, they really were fantastic. Really fantastic.

The various concerts, spots, and whatever else they call the various performances were all excellent. Great music and great to see and hear old friends, new friends, and very new friends sharing music.

There were great moments in the filk circles, of course. [ profile] filkerdave got a photo of me giggling during that photosynthesis song Alexa sang. Lots of great songs. I heard [ profile] vixyish’s “Mal’s Song” several times—clearly popular in Germany. Secondhand Songs was heard, of course. [ profile] tarkrai did the One Chord Song, which I’d never before heard anyone but Nate try.

As for me, the flute went over very well. You can’t go wrong playing Bach in Germany, can you? I was delighted with the amount of laughter [ profile] hsifyppah‘s “Wreck of the Crash of the Easthill Mining Disaster” got. As I’d been both looking forward to and dreading for the previous year, I did sing Aryana’s Weigenlied für/Lullaby for Larean, which I’ve been singing in both languages here in North America for some time now. Singing in German, a language I can’t really speak, in front of an audience full of native speakers of the language was rather intimidating. I’d not been so nervous before a song in a long, long time. But the actual song went great, Aryana sang harmonies with me, and it was a terrific experience.

The flow of songs goes both ways, of course. I’ll be singing some new-to-me songs soon.


Oct. 8th, 2007 10:30 pm
beige_alert: (beigeland)
Before my trip to Germany I did do some looking around with Google Earth. At the time the Ruhrgebeit, for example, looked like a very few city names I knew in a cluster of utterly foreign places. I went back to Google Earth today with Joyce, showing her places I’d been, and it was absolutely the weirdest feeling to look at the map and think, yup, there’s Bochum, there’s Dortmund, there’s good ‘ol Castrop-Rauxel that we drove past repeatedly. We move over to the Bielefeld area and I’m saying, oh yes, Lemgo was nice.

Speaking of Lemgo and Schloß Brake (which itself is tricky for the silly American to say, since it looks rather like an English word), Joyce did think “Schloßstraße” quite the word, with just a bit more “s” and “ß” than she’s used to in any one word. And I did trip over my tongue trying to say it for her.

By the time I returned to Herne just before going back home it was starting to look like a familiar ’home.‘ “There’s the local cooling tower!”

Funny that places so far away could start to seem almost familiar so quickly.
beige_alert: (Default)
My German friends were bemused with my fascination with all the tile (and even slate!) roofs is Germany. Want to know why? I have a photo taken from higher ground in the public park across the road from a fancy new expensive condominium development in a fancy expensive part of town by the river. Note that not only are these rooftops visible from the park across the road, but are visible from some of the units in the buildings themselves. This is not hidden away, but part of the view out the windows of the very building itself. An expensive view, no less. This is how we do it in America when we are spending plenty of money on a fancy place:

photo )


Oct. 7th, 2007 03:51 pm
beige_alert: (Default)

  • While waiting for the train that would carry [ profile] aryana_filker away (*sniff*), a freight train was passing through the station, loaded with coiled sheet steel. Another fascinating thing to the American, since I have some interest in trains even though I'm not really one of those fanatics. The cars looked tiny and the couplings between them were utterly unlike the American kind. We have zilch passenger rail over here, but the freight trains are huge. We run kilometer-and-a-half long trains with shipping containers stacked two high. Hundred-plus car unit coal trains. Three or four or five 4000+ horsepower diesel-electric locomotives. Just seeing the wires above the rails seemed odd, since we have so very little electrified rail here.

    Passenger service, though.... We think 79MPH (127km/h) is fast, and 125MPH (200km/h) 150MPH (240km/h) is super special high-speed rail, just on the one special route out east. The seven trains a day between the minor city of Milwaukee, the 25th-most populous in the US with a half million people in the city and another million in the region, and Chicago, is very unusual, super-frequent service.

  • It was interesting to see in each flat a meter for cold water, one for hot water, and the little units on each radiator that record heating usage. The building I live in has no individual meters other than for electricity. The heating, air conditioning, water both hot and cold, are all unmetered. If we all use less, the rent will tend to rise more slowly, if we all use more, it will rise more quickly, but the feedback is rather slow that way, and merged with everyone else in the building. The other system here would be for each unit to have its own water heater and its own boiler/furnace, and its own gas connection and meter. I've never seen here the sort of fancy heating thermostats with radio links to the radiators and sensors on the windows to turn the heat off in a room if the window is open. I saw dual-flush or otherwise controllable-flush toilets all over, which are still very rare (though not unheard of) in the USA.

    Subjectively, I saw a lot more concern than I'm used to here for controlling heating costs and water usage. My personal impression was that attention to electricity waste didn't seem very high, but I'm biased on that by being something of a fanatic about it.

    Since I was being a tourist, I spent a lot of time being driven all over the place (Driving all day! Just like the USA!), so I don't have any impression of what real-life is like. And of course, that famous high-speed driving. On the other hand, small cars with teensy-weensy engines (though clearly big enough for that high-speed driving). Overall, of course, they use a lot less motor fuel per person over there than we in the US do, one way or another.

  • Something I keep being reminded of now every time I order a drink of any kind here is how huge our serving sizes are. If you ever wonder why Americans are big, it might possibly have something to do with what we consider one serving of sugar-water to be. And the reuseable cups, with a deposit! Watching [ profile] lisande ordering some colas for our group the first time, I was confused to see the price didn't match what I was expecting. The deposit on the cups! Never saw that before. Here you either be inside a restaurant where you're not going to be walking off with the tableware or else everything would be disposable. And, of course, three times bigger.

    I also saw restaurants working on the order, get food, eat, then pay system that I would have expected to be using the order, pay, then eat system. Again, befuddling for the foreigner.

beige_alert: (Default)
Light turbulence is the sky’s way of rocking you to sleep. Really! I like smooth air better overall, of course, but the gentle wiggling was actually comforting when trying to nap. We had some more vigorous wiggling, though still just light turbulence by the definitions, early on the flight back home. I was way in the back of the 767 both times, and at least back there you feel an interesting yawing motion. Good view of the wing flexing from back there, too.

I did start to think that urine causes turbulence. No, I didn’t have any, um, serious discomfort or anything, but every time I went to the toilet, just as I’d, er, start, the wiggle-wiggle would begin. The sky teasing me, I guess.

It’s always fun seeing other jet’s contrails in the sky nearby. Sometimes you can even spot other planes. There were times when I could look back and see the start of our own contrail forming, too.

I just love looking at the ground from above. Lots of night on the trip to Europe, lots of clouds on the trip back, but still lots to see. The lovely effects of sunlight in the clouds. The many many lights even in the not-so-big-cities of Newfoundland. More wind turbines than I’d ever seen before over Europe. The perfectly square farm fields of the American Midwest, and the not at all square fields in Europe.
beige_alert: (Default)

  • Who came up with Düsseldorf International Airport’s logo? It’s “Düsseldorf International” with the bottom part of Düsseldof cut off, as if printed by a partly-clogged ink-jet. Bet they paid a lot of money to some design expert for that!

  • With all the effort to translate things and search for the proper English terms for things, it was always a source of amusement when something really was simple. “Do you have a term for these kind of candles in English?” “Tea lights.” “Ha! The German is Teelicht.” Or: “I’m going to go to [in hopeful voice] Bäckerei?” “The bakery! It is that easy to remember....” Or in the mining museum: "Nickel, that one is easy." "What is it in English?" "Nickel."

  • I am allergic to cats, but for some reason I wasn’t bothered by any of the cats I lived with in Germany. No idea why. Maybe even the cats are better in Germany.

  • [ profile] lisande and her husband are just the cutest couple imaginable. It was pretty much worth going to Germany just to see the two of them together.

  • [ profile] lisande got the most of my “is this common over here?” questions, since she was the first to see me. Those roll-up shutters over the windows? “Are those common here?” “Yes... Um, the way you ask, it sounds like maybe they are not common in the US?” “Never seen them before.” Not to mention the ubiquitous tilt-in or swing-wide-open windows. Not only have I not seen such cleaver windows before, it was a surprise to me to see them essentially everywhere, all of them the same. There are many varieties of operable windows in the US.

    Some things we know are different, yet still somehow seem surprising to actually see. Of course the electrical power plugs are different, but one gets so very used to the local variety, and ceases to even notice them, that a foreign variety jumps out visually. See this photo for a very foreign-looking (to an American) power strip.

beige_alert: (Default)
yet more:

  • Upon arriving in Germany I saw a great many little cars in the size category in which there are very few in the US, and many, many makes and models not sold here. I spent weeks being driven around tiny narrow streets and parking in tiny weird places. The typical American SUV would have just gotten stuck! My last day [ profile] lisande drove me to the airport in her A-class (not sold in the US) and parked in a tiny space in the parking garage. Some hours later, I got off a plane in Milwaukee, and the first thing I saw in the parking garage here were a bunch of cars big even by American standards: A crew-cab pickup, a big SUV, and a bunch of vans. I’ve always thought there were a lot of ridiculously big vehicles around here, but it was quite a shock to see afresh.

    The other observation is, if 1.8 liters and 75 horsepower is enough for 175 km/h, what on Earth do we in the land of the 105 km/h speed limit need such huge engines for? Also interesting to see little cars towing trailers. Here we think you need a truck to tow anything.

  • Speaking pretty much no German, it was always a thrill to understand anything. There were some times I could figure out the subject under discussion. I was always happy when someone would ask another for an English word they didn’t know and I knew what they wanted from their question in German. The mining museum was actually especially fun. Like any museum the exhibit provides clear context for the signs, and in the mining museum especially much of the technical jargon was pretty guessable and some chemistry terminology I already knew in German (being a chemist), so I really had a great illusion of competence. Leave the museum and head out into the real world and I don’t have a clue, but it was fun.

  • I cannot get over all the tile roofs. A tile roof is an exotic thing in the USA. There, brick. Here, vinyl. I looked out the window and said, “Looks like Europe.” Asked what I meant, I noted that the buildings were not made of plastic. No asphalt shingles. It’s a very different look.

beige_alert: (beigeland)
More thoughts regarding the Germany trip:

  • My mother also went to Europe, just weeks before I did. She traveled by boat down the Rhine, Main, and Danube from Amsterdam to Budapest. It was a very different sort of thing for her, a bunch of Americans in an organized tour, than for me staying in my friends’ homes. I got to do fun things like grocery shopping. Visiting friends for a few days and doing touristy-things together isn’t exactly real life, but it is much more of an exposure to real life than a cruise with group tours to the big tourist sites. She missed out on the countless observations of the little differences between here and there that so fascinated me. And many of those I really only noticed after the second or third family I stayed with and I realized that I was seeing things that are typically German rather than just quirks of a particular household.

  • It’s good to be back home, but even that was an adjustment. The first night I got up from bed to use the toilet and was really consciously thinking about where I was. Home, yes. That carpet should feel familiar under foot (though it oddly didn’t.) Bathroom is across the hall. No need to worry about waking anyone up—no one else here. Light switch is inside, as always around here.

  • We travel to have new experiences. One such experience for me was getting genuinely drunk for the first time in my life. I know many people try that before age 35, but some of us wait longer. And travel to a foreign country. The first bottle of wine shared with [ profile] aryana_filker was fine. The second, plus whatever that high-proof stuff J. brought out was, might have been a bit much. Might have been, yes. Anyway, it was an interesting experience. Didn’t feel so good the next day, I’ll admit. Maybe should try to remember to drink a bit less next time. Crazy Germans. But I don’t regret it and among friends at their home is a safe environment for trying such things.

  • I told people before the trip that my travel plans were to fly to Düsseldorf and follow the charming German women around wherever they led me. That, honestly, was the majority of what I knew of our plans. I will admit I was a bit nervous about traveling alone across the ocean to a foreign country where they speak a foreign language to stay with people who I’d never so much as seen in person before. Sure I’d exchanged lots of e-mail with [ profile] aryana_filker and [ profile] lisande, but, still, unlike visiting someone in Chicago, where I can just go home if we decide we can’t stand each other, Germany is rather far away. And [ profile] kinder1of5, really, I hardly knew at all. Sure, [ profile] lisande said she’d meet me at the airport with [ profile] legoline and take me to her home, and, sure, I expected that to happen, but I couldn’t completely shake the thought that it had better not be some awful joke on the silly trusting American.

    My hosts all had the same sort of nervousness, too, hoping I’d turn out to be the sort of guest one would actually want. One did say, when we talked about this, that she wouldn’t have done such a thing had she not had her husband for support should it be needed, something I fully understand.

    It all worked out better than could be imagined. By the time I got to Bielefeld B., who I’d not so much as heard of before the trip, offered her very nice guest bedroom for my use, fed me chocolate, and trusted me with keys to her flat so as to be able to let myself out while she was at work.

    I just cannot say enough about the kindness, generosity, and trust I received from everyone.

beige_alert: (10m)
I’m not sure that it’s humanly possible to have more fun than I did during my trip to Germany.

I have some 2400 photos (23 gigabytes!), the best of which are very gradually dribbling up onto my flickr page.

  • Very first thing I experienced in Germany? 160km/h. We had just left the airport, got on the autobahn, and I noticed that the scenery seemed to be whipping by really fast. They, of course, laughed at the silly American who thought that was fast. Two weeks of that sort of thing, and I tell you, 88 km/h suddenly seems really, really slow.

  • Another thing about being out on the roads is the paint stripes are different. They stripe a two-way street the way in the USA a one-way street would be marked. It’s a really interesting feeling at first to see traffic that you really don’t expect to see. I just kept reminding myself “they know what they are doing, they know what they are doing...”

  • Grocery shopping was tons of fun. A vocabulary lesson on every shelf.

  • I still know nothing, of course, but I do have a much better feel for the sound of the language after hearing so much of it, and I did pick up lots of vocabulary. So I do know more nothing than before.

  • Really, just going about daily life was interesting. I never stopped noting small differences in the way things are done in the two countries. Fascinating for my hosts, too, who also had never thought about such little things and how they might be different elsewhere. Eventually it turned into a game. “So, what’s different about bed sheets in America? There must be something!” See this photo for another example.

    Now I’m going to be constantly saying “you know, they do this differently in Germany.” (In many cases, “this is another thing they do better in Germany, but many things are simply different without really being better or worse.)

  • The Atlantic Ocean is big. Fortunately, the 767 is a nice airplane. I had an empty seat beside me both ways, which also helps. The flight back was barely half full, so everyone had space. Also, you know the Hobbits and their many meals—breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, tea, dinner, and so on? Delta’s overseas flights follow the same pattern. Snack. Meal. Mid-flight snack (ice cream!). Afternoon refreshment (pizza!). Sure, we had nine hours to eat it all, but they did seem to keep the food coming, and, while not a fine dining experience, I really thought the food was quite good considering we were out over the north Atlantic in a Boeing on a flight that I selected, in part, because it was among the cheapest. (It was also a flight at a reasonable time with only one change of planes, both highly desirable.)

  • When I went to Canada the border officer questioned me at some length. I tried to make sure I had some sort of seemingly-coherent story ready for Germany, but I was not asked a single question upon entry. My passport was scanned, leafed-through, stamped, and I was on my way. Exit was similarly pleasant, with the airport security officer starting by asking “Deutsch or English?” and then, after I said “English,” telling me what they wanted me to do in clear courteous manner in flawless clear English (better than the American’s English tends to be). They asked to look in my bag (really more of an order than a request, I think, but they phrase it politely), and they looked around in it a bit, zipped it back up exactly as I had had it, and sent me on my way. Much more orderly than the Americans are.

    When I got back to the USA, I had to fill out a form, wait in a long line, answer some questions (though fewer than on my return from Canada), then get my checked bags, hand my paperwork to another person, send my bags back into the system for the connecting flight, and clear security again, in chaotic American fashion.

    It’s an interesting contrast.

  • One is constantly reminded in airports to make sure you keep track of your carry-on bags to be sure they are not tampered with. I had a very expensive flute and an expensive SLR camera with numerous expensive lenses in my bag. Terrorism aside, I was pretty attentive to my bag!

Scattered thoughts will continue....


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January 2015



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