Thursday, September 25, 2008

Berlin and Beyond

After my experience this past weekend in Berlin, I fully understand why I named my blog what I did (apart from the poor grammar).

The excursion began with an amazingly long bus trip on the Autobahn. Because of regulation in Germany for bus drivers, we could only travel a certain speed and were required to take several pitstops in order for the driver to rest. Though this bus ride was somewhat painful, it was again an opportunity to learn more about the German culture. One interesting observation is that Germans really know how to run their bathrooms efficiently. So in order to use the public bathrooms, one must pay 50 Euro cents for entrance. After using these futuristic, self-cleaning toilettes, one receives a voucher for 50 Euro cents to spend at the station. Of course no one wants to loose their 50 cents, so they spend it on a 5-12 Euro meal from the station. Brilliant business!

When we arrived in Berlin, we checked into a massive youth hostile located in East Berlin. I stayed in a room with 7 students, all with different nationalities. These nationalities were Canadian, Czech, Lebanese, Australian, Canadian, German, Spanish, and American(me). Quite cosmopolitan. The first evening we decided to keep things low key and enjoyed a few beverages in the courtyard of the hostile. After an hour or so of socializing, we ran into some Swedish guys, Bobo and Max, also staying in the hostile. They had a few other Swedish friends staying in Berlin and I ended up hanging out with them for the rest of the weekend. These guys are some of the coolest and most happy-go-lucky people I have ever met. They always wanted to go out at night and really knew how to have a good time. I even learned how to speak some Swedish!

During the days, we went on tours and explored all of the history of Berlin. We went to the Dome, museums, art galleries, Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Wall, The Brandenburg Gate, and climbed the Berlin TV Tower. Though it was amazing seeing the many historical places in Berlin, I have to say my favorite part of Berlin was a specific art gallery and of course, the night life. The art gallery, Babylon Gate, is located in a 4 story, once abandoned building that was bombed during WWII. Artists from all around the city squatted on the property, filled it with amazing art, and eventually won ownership of the place. All of the walls are covered in grafitti and other various pictures. There are several rooms on every floor, each occupied with a different artist with their unique collection. I cannot even begin to describe the volume of creative output coming from this place.

Of course as in all of Germany, there are several discotechs that one can enjoy. On Saturday night, in an effort so visit as many of them as possible, we went on a pub crawl. Now when I think of a pub crawl, I imagine something like 15-50 people. On this pub crawl, there were over 200 people! We would come to a club, take over the place, do our business, and walk to the next club. Just walking in this massive group of people was an amazing experience. Cars and buses would stop for us, people from different countries would sing their typical drinking songs, pictures were being taken, and one had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. This was the place to be. Many of the clubs were former warehouses or bunkers gone discotech. Half of the time it felt like I was in a movie from the 80's. Graffiti everywhere, people sitting around in tents smoking joints, drug dealers on the corners, punks, hooligans, and all types of people filling the street all hours of the night. Berlin does not sleep!

All in all, I really loved Berlin. The city has so much character and personality. Because of the recent reunification of the East and the West, the city has a unique opportunity to rebuild itself and I was right in the middle of it. Though in the 4 days I was there I got only about 15 hours of sleep and was running on adrenaline half of the time, I had an amazing experience. Ich bin Berliner! (The correct way to say it JFK!)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Update: 2 weeks

First of all, I am sorry for taking so long to post an update. I’ve been too busy! So a couple of weeks ago I started taking a German class to help improve my German speaking skills. In order to register I had to take a placement exam. I figured after having taken 3 years of German in high school and cramming the Rosetta Stone most of the summer, I would make it into the Intermediate class. The exam consisted of a written and an oral section. The next day I went to check my placement and right at the bottom under “Absolute Beginner” I found my name. This was the beginning I thought to myself.

So far the class has gone very well. We’ve been going over the basics like colors, numbers, how to order food, how to have basic conversation, etc… The class is all in German so if you don’t understand something, tough luck. Fortunately there are a few other English speakers in the class and together we sift through this puzzle of a language. I have the class Montag-Freitag from 9-1230 uhr. I am learning more and more and slowly but surely everything is starting to make sense. I have even begun to dream in German, basic though it may be!

Because actual university classes don’t start until the beginning of October, everyone without a job, including myself, has a lot of free time. I spend a lot of time hanging out with my flat mates, the international students, and the random Germans that I meet. Just the other day another American (named Tom) and I joined in a pickup game of beach volleyball with a couple of Germans. After the game they took us into the city and showed us how to take flaming shots of Sambucca. So now I will tell you how to do it. Take a shot of Sambucca and hold it in your mouth. While it’s in your mouth, light it on fire (your mouth is on fire at this point), have a friend sprinkle cinnamon in your mouth, and then swallow the shot. It was wild. After the Sambucca, we enjoyed the most popular German bier, Erdinger, which is a Weissbier. It is very similar to Blue Moon in body, and has the classic amazing German taste.

Another popular event in the city is an outing to the discotechs. Discotechs are essentially clubs with a bunch of techno, older American songs (including the Backstreet Boys), good drinks, and a ton of dancing. I’ve already developed the reputation among the international students as the crazy American dancer. I do the lawnmower like its my job! Of course if you are looking for a more mellow atmosphere, there are plenty of pubs to lounge in.

I’ve done a little bit of traveling since I’ve been here. Just today I visited what is Drei Lande Punkt, roughly translated as 3 land points. This is where Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands come together. We spent the day walking around the streets of the Netherlands and drinking the delicious coffee there. It is a beautiful country. This coming weekend I will be traveling to Berlin for the international students!

To come to a conclusion, I really like the city I’m living in. Aachen definitely has the city feel that I love, but it is small enough not to be overwhelming like NYC or something. There is plenty to do, plenty of things to see, but at the same time if you want, you can just relax. Another thing about the city is that you run into people you know all the time. It definitely has the small town feel and is a great place for people to raise a family. I’ve noticed that there is a good mix of young and old people here. Anyways, enough for one update and more will follow soon. Bis Spater!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

First Weekend in Aachen

Wow it has been an amazing weekend! On Friday I spent the day getting set up in my apartment, making a visit to the International Office in the Fochhochschule (FH), and drinking beer with the new buddies. Now one thing worth mentioning: You know all those times people tell you that the German beer is so much better than American? It is absolutely true. I’ve been drinking the “cheap” stuff and it tastes amazing even when warm. It’s nourishing like water, but takes like Heaven. I have to watch out because I might have taken too much a liking to it!

On Saturday, the weather in Aachen was absolutely beautiful. The sky was cloudless, there was a slight breeze, and the temperature was around 70. Now its important to know that days like this are rare in Aachen. A typical day in Aachen is overcast or storming with ranging temperatures. When ever there is weather like this in Aachen, everything stops and people go out the make to most of it. So with my new friends Alex, Eli, and Samir, I spent the day eating barbequed German food, playing Fussball (Soccer), and enjoying the amazing weather. We were out there for over 7 hours!

It’s now Sunday afternoon, and I have just finished playing a game of pick up street Fussball, and I have some time to reflect back. One thing that I’ve learned is the importance of learning German. There are many people that can speak varying levels of English, but for the most part everything functions in German. One could survive in Germany knowing only English, but to thrive, one must speak German. I feel like the little kid just learning to speak who can mutter a couple of phrases while the grownups have the real conversation. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad situation. One of my goals in coming here is to learn to speak German. I have never been more motivated in my life to learn the language and if I keep working hard at it, I should be a functional German speaker in a few months. Tschuss!

From the Beginning

Right now I’m sitting in my new room, jet-lagged as all get out, thinking about the events of yesterday. Apart from long plane ride and the lack of sleep, things worked out perfectly yesterday. So when I got off the plane in Cologne, I had no idea what I was doing. I knew I had to get to the train station, so I followed the signs and eventually made it. Keep in mind at this point I had around 120 lbs. of luggage I was hauling around (never again) and I needed to get to the student office by 12:45 to get my housing contract. So when I got there, I couldn’t read any of the signs and generally had no idea what it took to get a train to Aachen. So after a couple of minutes starring at this foreign ticket machine, this girl, Bianca, who seemed to understand what was going on came up behind me. I explained to her that I had no idea of what I was doing and I was trying to get to Aachen. It turned out she was meeting a friend and going to Aachen as well. So Bianca and I bought a group travel ticket (much cheaper) and met up with her friend Comin. As it turns out, there is no train that goes directly to Aachen, which I didn’t know, so good thing I met up with her.

On the train ride, it turned out that the 3 of us needed to go to essentially the same place and were under the same time crunch. Comin, who had a GPS system, was able to show me the city of Aachen and all the places and the directions that I needed to go. One thing worth mentioning, there were many situations where there were no escalators or elevators or there was an area inconvenient to roll the bags and I needed to carry my 120lbs load with me. Every time this happened, Comin would grab one of the large bags and help me. One funny moment, we needed to get off the train quickly because it was our stop, so Comin and I grabbed the bags. He was in front of me carrying the more awkward bag, and because of its shape he managed to get stuck in the isle with it. We thought the train was going to leave and so we frantically tried to get it loose and the doors began to close. We finally got it free and ran to the doors. It turned out that this was the end of the line and the train was going no where, so no need to panic. We agreed from then on that I would grad the awkward bag!Anyways ,there is no way I would have been able to make it without his help.

After we got off the train, I followed them to the bus. Once we got off the bus, Comin showed me on his GPS system how to get to my destiniation and the 3 of us parted ways. I got to the office at 12:30 as the doors were closing! I was the last person to get my contract that day. Once I got my contract, I set off to find my dorm, the Schillerstrasse 88. I stumbled out the doors with my all my bags and started walking. The dorm at this point was almost 2 miles away, so I looked for the closest bus stop to get there. It turned out that I got on the wrong bus, so I when I got off, I was closer but had a long walk ahead of me. I found the beginning of Schillerstrasse (Schiller Street) and began to walk towards 88. At this point I was already tired and on little sleep, but I had no other choice. As I poured out all the sweat I had left in my body, I made my way to the Wohnnung (flat). When I got there I asked the first person I saw, Eli, if he knew where the Hausmeister was. He took me to his office, but it turned out that I had just missed him and that I needed to make an appointment. Eli then called the landlords assistant and explained to him that I needed a place to stay and that if he didn’t come in I would have to stay on the street. The landlords assistant, Andrew, graciously decided to come by a few hours later and let me into my flat. While we were waiting for Andrew, Eli asked me “Do you drink beer man?” This was the greatest thing I had ever heard. I of course said yes and we went to Eli apartment. I spent the rest of the day meeting Eli’s friends, drinking amazing German beer, playing hacky-sack, watching German tv, being fed dinner by Alex a Russian student, and then finally stumbling back to my room to go to sleep.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Welcome To My Page

Welcome everyone to my first blog page. Here I will be keeping everyone up to date with my studies and travels in Aachen Germany. Just to update those who might have questions on what I'm doing, I will be studying business at the Aachen School of Applied Sciences. I will be studying for 2 semesters, after which I will receive a German Diploma and be returning to the States August of 2009. Other than traveling to some of the various countries surrounding Germany, my goals are to learn to speak German fluently, begin to understand the business world in Germany, and setup possibilities to work internationally and put to use my German. I am very excited and if anyone has advice, I'm all ears!

Some Thoughts Before the Plunge...

Its crazy to think that in less than a week I will be leaving the country for my first time to spend a year in Germany. Being a last second sort of guy, I find myself frantically running around, finding new things that I would like or need to do before I leave. Currently I'm attempting to cram in 3 levels of the Rosetta Stone Deutsch, set up this blog thing here, figure out what I need to pack, pack, plan one last beach trip, go on the trip, say goodbye to everyone (not good at goodbyes),...... then GO!

So I'm the only person from George Mason that is going on this program, I haven't heard from anyone in the States that are going, and I don't know anyone over in Aachen. Doesn't get any more exciting than that! Who am I going to be hanging with? What is the town going to be like? I hear going abroad is an eye opening experience; what does that mean for me? These are just some of the questions that run through my mind as the day gets closer. Not worth losing sleep over, I guess. Anyways, speaking of sleep, I have a long 3 days of work at Silverado ahead of me and its time to hit to ol' dusty trail. Guten Nacht!