30 September, 2009

Living conditions

I just wanted to make a post describing the living conditions here at Reutlingen University. Here's a link to a picture of my room. I'll just say I never professed to be an exceptionally neat person. There's some other pictures of my room and the common room in that album. Every person is assigned a space in a refrigerator-cabinet and a regular cabinet. The Valpo program provided us with a set of dishes and silver-ware. There's one oven and four stove top burners in the kitchen. A cleaning lady comes through twice a week or so and disinfects everything so it's usually pretty clean.

There's 18 people on each floor, co-ed. There's four showers per floor which are in private stalls, not like the showers in the freshman dorms at Valpo. Probably to save money on water the showers only stay on for about 1 minute at a time, except one of the showers on my floor is broken and stays on as long as you want. Whatever, it's running and it's warm and that's what counts. Oh and every floor has a nice large balcony. I like sitting out there in the morning while I eat a bowl of cereal. I'm on the 7th floor so I have a pretty cool view of campus.

One of the biggest differences between here and the states is a lot of the students are much older than me. Like, one of the guys we've been hanging out with a lot who lives across the hall is 26 years old and is in his 3rd semester at the University. I think a lot of people here work for a couple of years before going to school to get a degree. So it's a much more mature attitude all around.

There's a floor speaker who is kind of like an RA, but they have much fewer responsibilities e.g. there's no front desk, they don't go on rounds every, they don't decorate the floor. I think they're just supposed to be there to make sure the trash duties get accomplished and to mediate problems between residents. Everything's a little more relaxed here compared to what I'm used to at Valpo. There's no set move in day, so people have just been moving in whenever they want.

The laundry system is a little strange. I think I finally figured it out, though. There's three washers and driers on the top floor of our building. You put money in a little box which turns the machine on for 30min for every 50cents you put in. Then you select the cycle you want and press start. The problem is if the cycle you select takes more time than what you paid for it shuts off mid-cycle. Sometimes that means it doesn't go through a spin cycle so the clothes come out sopping wet. And if the person who used the washer before you didn't pay enough, you end up paying for the rest of their cycle because there's no way to reset the machine to start at the beginning. It has to complete a cycle before it resets. The driers just don't dry very well so the norm is to hang your clothes to dry. After a couple of tries I found a cycle that only costs 1Euro and includes a really fast spin-cycle so my clothes come out nearly dry.

There's a bus stop just around the corner from my building. The bus runs every 10 minutes on weekdays and every 30 minutes on weekends. It's about a 10 minute ride to the city center. I bought a semester bus pass which is valid in Reutlingen and some of the surrounding towns. It only takes about 30-40 minutes to get to Tuebingen, a town with a huge University (30,000 students) and lots of cool old buildings.

Oh yeah, I gotta mention the windows. All of the windows can either swing open on a side hinge or tilt open from the top on a bottom hinge. I love it. The doors to the balcony are the same way. It's great because we can leave them cracked open while it's raining and during nice weather open them all the way for lots of fresh air. Also, there's a hand-winch operated metal shutter on the outside of the window that can be shut completely to allow no sunlight through. That's really nice for midday naps or movie screenings. I'm sure we'll also appreciate during the winter because it'll keep out the cold air really well.

All in all, college life here is not all that much different from at Valpo. Most of the people just speak a different language. There's a lot of other international students living in the dorms. Just on my floor China, Croatia, Ghana, and of course the USA are all represented.

20 September, 2009

Berlin, Potsdam, Kassel, Frankfurt in one week

I just got back to Reutlingen last night after a week and a half of traveling around Germany. We went to Berlin as a class (ten Valpo students and our director). It was a 5 hour train ride on one of the ICE-Sprinter trains. I think they said the top speed was 230kmh which is about 150mph. It's a very smooth ride too.

(I would recommend that you open this photo album in a different window and follow along as you read. Start with photo #67.)
The first night we were in Berlin (Friday) I went to see Die Zauberfloete at the German Opera house with Ryan Behrends and Erin Dillon. We got seats in the second row for the student rate of 13.50€ which is 50€ less than those seats usually cost. It was fantastic. We met a couple of American graduate students in set design doing a study abroad program from some California school. That was fun talking about music and theater with them over dinner before the show.

On our first day in the city (Saturday), we went on a 2 hour bus tour. We saw most of the international embassies, the Brandenburg gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the East Side Gallery, and the Holocaust Memorial. We passed some other things too, but those were the highlights. The East Side Gallery is a section of the Berlin wall which has been preserved. Every 5 years or so the city whitewashes the wall and invites the artists who originally painted the wall to return and renew their artwork. It's a strong reminder that only 20 years ago Berlin was still divided into two starkly contrasting sectors.

That night most of the group went on a "Pub Crawl". I'll just say beer was drunk and fun was had.

On Sunday we went on a walking tour of the Sachsenhausen Memorial Concentration Camp. I intentionally didn't post pictures of the camp because I don't think pictures do the experience justice. You really need to go there and see it for yourself, but even then there's no way to comprehend how life truly was in the camps. Sachsenhausen was a labor camp and housed something like 40,000 prisoners at the peak of the war. It was only a 20 minute train ride from the capital.

On Sunday night I saw a Konzerte der Bigband der Deutsche Oper, that was lots of fun. Again I sat in the second row. This concert was highlighting the music of Ray Charles. Which means they had a guest vocalist from New York who sang a few Ray Charles tunes with the band. She was a very good performer and she was very good at singing Ray Charles. Oh and the barisax player played a solo on the Duduk a very beautiful instrument. Take a look at this video for a sample of Duduk music.

(Please remove the tape and continue on side 2)
On Monday we went on a walking tour of Potsdam which is directly outside of Berlin. I guess a bunch of Prussian Kings lived in Potsdam. We walked up to the Sans souci palace built by Frederick the Great. After that I went up to the observation deck of the TV-Tower with Hilary and Austin. That was a really cool view of Berlin. Tuesday saw a couple of Museum tours and a real visit to the Holocaust monument. There's a fairly extensive museum underneath the monument. And I went up to the top of the German Reichstag, the seat of the German government.

(Continue with pictures here)
Wednesday was a free day, so I sat in the Tiergarten for a couple of hours in the morning went up to the observatory decks in two buildings and the packed for my trip to Kassel. When my mom was in high school, she spent a summer in Kassel. I went there to visit her former host mother, Frau Kunsch. Frau Kunsch doesn't speak a word of English, but she is also very patient so we were able to get along alright in German. I'm glad I was able to stop by and meet her. She still maintains a very fruitful garden with apples, plums, raspberries, tomatoes, strawberries, grapes, and a fruit that looked like currants. And they were all ripe except the strawberries. So I got to Kassel on Thursday and spent the evening chatting with Frau Kunsch. On Friday I wandered around Downtown Kassel and then up to Schloss Wilhelmshoehe which was built in 1785 by Wilhelm I, Elector of Hesse. It's a very stately building surrounded by beautiful gardens. Inside the palace is a large gallery of paintings of the Old Masters. I spent 3 hours in there. Then I hiked up the hill towards the Hercules statue. I didn't make it all of the way to the top because I got hungry, so I stopped for dinner.

On Saturday morning I left Kassel and took another ICE train to Frankfurt am Main to visit the 63rd Internationale Automobil-Austrieb the world's largest motor show. Basically there was a lot of cars. I was very interested in the Renault zero-emmision vehicle prototypes. I'll be very happy to see such cars on the road finally.

On my way home I experienced a rare glitch in the German Rail system. In general German Trains are very prompt and reliable. However, when I got to the Frankfurt airport where I was supposed to be transferring to an ICE to Stuttgart I found that the long-distance trains' terminal was on lock down for some reason. I didn't really understand why becuase the police officer was speaking very fast. I had to go back to the platform I had arrived on before walking the 500 or so meters to the long distance trains to find the right train. Then when we got to Mannheim I had to transfer to a different train because apparently the one I was on wasn't going to stop in Stuttgart after all. Whatever. I made it home. It's nice to be back in Reutlingen where I know the bus schedule and the names of all of the stops.

I went to the Baptist church again this morning. Erin Dillon came along this time. The sermon was given by a theology professor. He was a little hard to follow. And by that I mean that I only understood about 40% of what he said. But the rest of the service was easy to follow. I really feel like I've found a church home here in Germany. After the service the worship team leader asked me if I'd be able to play drums for them because their regular drummer is going away to school soon. I hope I'll get the chance to teach them some songs.

I ordered a Discraft Ultrastar Frisbee from Amazon.de and it came while I was away. There aren't any German companies that make Ultimate discs so I had to pay 18€ for this one that was imported from the States. But it was totally worth it. I went and threw it around with a couple of the other Valpo guys and a German guy that lives down the hall from me. That was a good time. I'm going to see what I can do about starting some pick-up games of Ultimate once the German school semester starts.

Thanks for reading. For reading this entire post, you get a cake. Actually, the cake is a lie, it's really just a wikipedia article about cakes, but you get the idea.

06 September, 2009

First full week of classes (and travel) complete

Well it's been quite an eventful week. I started classes on Monday. They were mostly pretty easy. That's a big change for me in comparison to my usual Engineering course work. I'm so used to staying up late working on homework assignments that I really don't know what to do with all of this free time.

I've spent a lot of time wandering around Reutlingen stadtmitte. That's like the downtown area, with lots of shops and restaurants and Kebab stands, the staple fast-food joint here in Germany. The main bill of fare at a kebab stand is the doenor, which is half a pita with the pocket filled with gyro meat and lettuce, cabbage, onions, and cucumber sauce. Delicious. And probably healthier than most American fast-food.

On Wednesday after class Rian and I went for a stroll through the neighborhood surrounding the Hochschule. We stumbled upon a quite large park and forest reserve with lots of trails through the hills. Very pretty. You should check out my photo album for more details.

We were planning on going on a trip to a nearby castle on Thursday but the weather was gross so all of us Valpo kids stayed inside and watched a movie. On Friday Rian and I went to Stuttgart to see the Mercedes-Benz Museum. We took two buses and a train (S-Bahn) to get to Stuttgart and then walked about 4 miles from the train station to the museum. We walked through a Schlossgarten with paths lined with huge birch trees. Again see the photo album for pictures. The museum itself was very cool. It was only 4 Euros to get in thanks to the student price. The bulk of this week's photo album as you can see is dedicated to photos of cars.

Saturday (yesterday) I was going to try to go to the Castle by myself, but I accidentally missed the bus. I was waiting on the arrivals side of the station instead of the departures side. Oh well, that's how we learn, right? So instead I took a train to Rottenburg am Neckar to visit Christine who was the R.A. in the German house last year. I got a private tour of the town which is about the size of Urbana. It's a predominately Catholic town so there are many houses with Saint figures mounted in their walls and of course big pretty church buildings.

Today I went again to the Baptist church just down the road. There was a large group of kids who, from what I gathered, had been at a summer camp for the past two weeks. They sang "Lord I Lift Your Name on High" one of the favorite classics in contemporary Christian worship. That was fun to be able to sing along to. After the church service I stuck around and had lunch with the kids and talked with a few of the counselors. They were a very welcoming group of people.

I'm looking forward to another organ concert tonight, but until then, I'm going to take a little sabbath. Thanks for reading. Keep in touch.