Monday, September 28, 2009

A Quick Note

I know I haven't given a good update this week, but I was surprisingly quite busy towards the end of the week. I'll blog more about it at the end of the week.

I'm off now to my orientation seminar in the Alps! There I will meet the other teaching assistants from America, so I am very excited to get going. It's like the first day of school all over again; I couldn't fall asleep at all last night and had to wake up quite early. I'm wondering who my new friends will be, what I will learn, etc.

Then next week it's the first day of school for real (at least for the teaching assistants). School already started two weeks ago.

Well, here I go!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Green Acres

My city girl inside of me is beginning to scream here in Braunau—not because I don’t like the small town so far. In fact, I find the town charming, quaint and comfortable. But, never in my life have I had to deal with so many disgusting varieties of giant mutant spiders! I’m living on the edge of town near some farm land, but it’s still rather “suburban” if you may. Around my house there is a large garden and lots of trees/plants for nasty critters to hide. Yesterday morning I nearly died when I saw the biggest spider I have ever seen in a house sitting in the sink. I didn’t even know how I would kill it because of its size, so I took a nearby cup and placed it over it, which is where it still remains. Seriously, this spider was like a four inches long. Then today I saw another giant mutant golden spider spinning a web in the doorway. They’re seriously everywhere.

I. Hate. Spiders. And all bugs for that matter.

It’s quite the adjustment to move from a metropolitan area with roommates/family to kill the few bugs that migrated into our house, to a small town with no one but yourself to deal with the creepy crawlies.

Nonetheless, I am starting to accept my new living arrangements. I’m trying to create a routine for myself, so I don’t waste hours doing invaluble things like catching up on Project Runway online… although I suppose I consider that making use of my time J I’ve been going to one of the many grocery stores daily to buy fresh bread rolls and dinner for the night, instead of buying in bulk. Today I explored the city on my bike, and despite my self-proclaimed wonderful orientaton, I rode around in circles trying to find the train station. Tomorrow I plan on figuring out how to get to the bike trail along the river, and bike to the nearest town, or until I get tired. I might even cross over to the German border again (not that exciting; it literally takes 5-10 minutes to get there from my house) to climb up the forest/hill and see the view of the Alps just south of Braunau. Unfortunately, Braunau is rather flat, and you can’t see the Alps from town here. Instead, you have to go to Simbach, Germany to climb up the fairly large hill to get a glimpse of the Hills of the Sound of Music. Salzburg, where the movie was filmed, isn’t too far from here- only about 60 km/40 or so miles. Perhaps this weekend I will make a day trip to Salzburg. I purchased a “Vorteil” card today with the Austrian Train Company, which is a special discount card for people under 26 years old, and you can get up to 50% off on all tickets. It only cost 20 Euros, so it’s an amazing deal!

I am itching to either discover something really cool about this town, like that I can join a yoga class (which I don’t think I can… I googled it), or that there are some other interesting clubs I can join; or I am itching to get out of this town and explore more of Austria/visit a big city as fast as I can!!! Thankfully I have my orientation seminar next week beginning on Monday, and it looks like I’ll be able to meet another TA in Salzburg to travel the remaining part of our journey together. The seminar is five days long located in Hinterglemm, right in the heart of the Alps. I am looking forward to seeing mountains again!

Other than my near crippling fear of the icky eight-legged creatures here, I have been enjoying my time, albeit short. I technically moved in last Sunday (the 13th), but only spent two and a half days in Braunau until I left again for Germany. Last week I visited Jessica, Daniel and their son Porter in Erfurt, Germany. It was so great to finally meet the little Porter, who is 14 months old. Super süβ (sweet). It was also nice to relax and hang out with Jessica, catch up, since I haven’t seen her for a year. Then Sunday it was back to Braunau, and last night another three hours of dry, boring conversational English course.

In conclusion, I’m trying to learn how to live by myself: killing spiders, keeping the house tidy, being patient to make friends, learning to enjoy my solidarity- it’s coming along.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Braunau, Austria: My New Home

Written September 14, 2009 and posted the following day:

Finally made it to Austria: my new home for the next ten months. Before I arrived, Katrin and I went to visit Jesse in Wolfsburg, Germany. We had some great adventures: we went into the city and experienced German outlet stores (which are practically the same as American ones); went to Auto City, which is a beautiful museum/factory/landscaped grounds owned by VW where visitors can learn about how cars are made and see sweet cars like the million dollar Bugatti. However, we stupidly didn't know Auto City was closing in two hours, and we didn't make use of our time correctly; then we went to see "District 9" auf Deutsch, albeit my fear for alien movies. But this one was actually pretty good, and a social critique.

Saturday morning Jesse, Katrin and I tore up Berlin-- my "lieblingsstadt"--favorite city in Germany. I can't believe our luck: we rode for free on the ICE because Jesse looks similar to his colleuge, who has unlimited rides between Wolfsburg and Berlin, and can take up to four passangers on Saturdays.

Then, we checked into our hostel in Charlottenberg, which was pretty darn cheap for a private room. We went shopping, enjoyed the beautiful weather by sipping a couple beers on the Spree river beach club,

danced in front of the Reichstag (like our Capitol Hill in D.C.),

and got into an exclusive once a year party called the Butterfly Effect. Pretty darn good time.
Yesterday I traveled all day from Berlin to Braunau, Austria, where I am doing my Fulbright. I was met by my landlord's friend (who just happens to be my mentor teacher at one of my schools), and she showed me around the city. I must say, I actually am slightly impressed; for a town with only 16,000 people, there seems to be enough to do. There's a big movie theater, a fun park with pools and mini-golf, a quaint downtown area near the German border, and there are even real shops where I can buy nice clothing!!! I thought I would have to go all the way to Munich or Salzburg to go shopping. But I can get some nice things here!

Gerti, the woman who picked me up, showed me around one of the schools where I will be working, which happens to be a three minute walk away from my house! When we got to the house, I was greeted by the neighbor, who had baked a cake for me! So far everyone I met has been extremely helpful and generous. I am very happy with my house, too. It is in a neighborhood where all the houses are the same; each "house" or living unit is connected to four other units in the shape of a star. My room is much bigger than I had imagined. The living room has an old-fashioned fire place, the kitchen is very big with every appliance you can imagine (although I had to learn how to use a French coffee press), I have a washing machine and a dish washer, and there is an extra bedroom in the basement for guests. It is simply too much for just me! Luckily I have two kitties who are living with me: Blacky and Amedeus. Both cats spend most of their time outdoors, so I haven't actually met Amedeus yet. But Blacky loves attention, and reminds me of my cat back home.

It is so strange to finally be here in Austria, especially to live in a "lived in house". Everything I need is here, but there is so much stuff, that I am still having problems finding things I need. I've been here 1 1/2 days, but I feel like I have been here much longer. I have no friends yet, but the potential for making them is great. I don't know what to do with my free time, but I was busy all day today. I look forward to actually settling in.

And now I am sipping my wine with small pieces of cork (not harmful-I googled it) and missing everyone at home while still happy I am here.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Germans Are Coming!

Last week when I was in Kaldenkirchen visiting Katrin, I awoke several days to the sound of this video:

Because there was a local festival happening, some of the townspeople dressed up in traditional clothing and went to wake up the "Schuetzen Koenig" (the "king" of the festival), who lived across the street from Katrin-- lucky us. This video is from the last day of the fest, so just imagine everyone dressed in clothing from the 17/1800s.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Turning Dutch

Today I am going to Holland--The Netherlands--however you prefer to call it. I'm staying with my friend Katrin this week, and she lives in Kaldenkirchen, Germany which is around 5 km/3 miles to the Dutch border. She is studying in Venlo, Holland, but lives here in Germany in the cutest apartment I have ever seen. Here in Kaldenkirchen there is a festival happening, so I awoke this morning every half hour beginning at around 8 am to the sound of drum rolls and horn playing right outside her window. The local town people were dressed up in clothing from what looked like the 1700s and were marching down the streets waking the citizens. How appropriate.

Before arriving in Kaldenkirchen, I spent a night at Katrin's parents' house in a tiny village outside Bonn called Scheuren. They live on a hobby farm with chickens, sheep and four horses. Her mother served us a traditional German meal with knoedel (round German dumplings), red sauerkraut, and roladen (meat stuffed with pickles, onions and spices). Of course while eating the German meal, we had Johnny Cash playing in the background. And then her father played his Native American tribal music CD as we discussed the German fascination with American Indians. In the late 1800s a German author called Karl May published a series of books about the American Old West and painted a very interesting picture of Native American culture for Germans- all before ever having stepped foot onto American soil. Nonetheless, there are museums dedicated to Native American culture, some dress in traditional clothing of Native Americans during Carnival, and there are even re-enactment sites with teepees and the like. Or you find politically incorrect shirts (if this were to be worn in America) like this at the store:

After dinner, we went around the farm and fed the animals. Somehow I always find myself on farms when I go on vacation:

Yesterday Katrin and I made a day trip to London:

And then we met a German superstar called Heino. He's known for "Schlager Musik", which is like German folk music. He made a lot of music in the 70s and 80s, and now he frequents a cafe in Bad Muemstereifel and is a legend there among the locals. He's kind of like Elvis. Unfortunately I was in the midst of talking with him when this picture was taken:

After our long and adventerous afternoon, we drove to Kaldenkirchen and attended the "Hundsgeschwister" electronic dance party in a giant open-air tent. There were probably at least 500 people present. It was like Minneapolis's "Too Much Love" x 100 and way cooler. After a disappointing dance experience in Bonn the previous night that reminded me too much of American clubs, I was happy to get my European dance fix:

And a final random thought. Apparently people think I am Dutch here. Yesterday when speaking German with some Germans:

German: "Are you Dutch?"
Me: "No, American."
German: "Oh my God this is the first American I have seen live!"

And I found myself in this situation a few other times throughout the night. Makes sense, since we were so close to the Dutch border and I obviously have an accent. But at least it's getting better that people can't quite pinpoint it :)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Maybe the American waistband is larger than the Germans', and that's why they still wear fanny packs in Germany

I am currently sitting in the library at the Deutsche Sporthochschule Köln (German Sports College in Cologne) while Christof finishes up some work for his internship. I have too much time to kill, so I spent the morning sleeping in his car (sehr ungemütlich-- very uncomfortable) and then walked around campus.

It is refreshing to be on a campus again in September. The semester hasn't started yet, but there are still a handful of students around here. It feels natural to be among other students, since I just graduated a few months ago. However, I definitely do not belong at this school, since nearly everyone is at least six foot tall and extremely fit. Most students are wearing athletic clothing, coming to and from practice, training, etc. Some of the best German athletes have studied at this college.

Another observation I have made is the return of the fanny pack! Earlier I was sitting in the Mensa, the student cafeteria, when I noticed a good looking young man walk in. My eyes immediately fixated on something bulky strapped around his waist. I thought, could it really be? And it was: a fanny pack. As I continued to look around the Mensa, I noticed another young stylish man with a murse (man-purse). Don't get me wrong; I am by no means a fashion expert, and I do respect the occasional murse when put together with an outfit correctly. But I just cannot understand why someone would want to put all of there personal belongings in a bulky compartment strapped to the area of the body where most people want to appear smaller-- not bigger!! But hey, let's be honest... I'm sure in a couple of years, the pack will make its way back to the States, although the strap of the fanny pack may need to be extended, unless we do something about the future of our nation's health! (Insert approval for the national health care reform).

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ruf Mich An! (Call Me)

I just purchased a Skype online number which is a local Minnesota number. That means anyone can call this number and it is just like calling any local number in Minnesota, so you don't pay any international rates. The phone number is connected to my Skype account on my computer, so if I have the program running, you will be able to get through. If I am away from my computer, or have the program off, you will reach my voicemail. Leave a message so I know to call you back!

Here is the phone number: 952.388.0664.

I also have a German cell phone, which is always on: +49 01602300930.

If you're going to call, keep in mind there is a seven hour time difference :)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Start Planning... :)

As promised, here are the dates of my holiday/vacation time... Most of it you will notice is after the New Year, although I still will be working a whopping 13 hours a week and will have an ample amount of free time. I'll post my schedule once I actually know it.

School vacations/holidays (to my understanding, I don't have to be to work these days):
February 13 - 21, 2010
March 27 - April 6, 2010
May 22 - May 25, 2010

I am renting out an entire house for myself, which means I have a guest room. I would love visitors, so let me know if you want to come!