31 October, 2009

A Study Abroad Spooktacular!

Ten days ago, Michi had this great idea that everyone on the floor should carve pumpkins together to get into the halloween mood (a little prematurely maybe, but it was a good idea nonetheless). So, everyone who wanted to be involved, the cool kids mostly, bought a pumpkin down at the Penny and we all gathered on the evening of the 21st to give them all a bit of character.
First everyone had to finish dinner of course.


Don't we just look like a big happy family?
Then the mutilation began.

My pumpkin was having a little trouble sitting up on its own, so I just went with it.



And a wide shot...

And the finished products...


For more pictures visit: Pumpkin Carving Photos

20 October, 2009

Ireland and Sweden (and Denmark)

I'm currently in the midst of a two week break from classes. I'm not entirely sure why we get a break now. I think it's supposed to be a combination of Thanksgiving and Fall Break. But anyway, last week I went to Ireland and Sweden and stopped in Denmark on the way home. I didn't want to miss too much here in Reutlingen, so I'm staying home for the second week of the break.



I went with Erin and Hilary. Our first stop was Dublin. We flew there from Memmingen, a little airport near Munich. Just a word of warning for anyone planning on traveling in Europe: Ryanair has really cheap flights, but you have to read the fine print very carefully. I think we each payed something like 20 Euros for the ticket. The catch is you have to print your own boarding pass and you have to pay for each checked bag. If you pay for the baggage before doing the online check-in it's only 10 Euros, but if you want to add a checked bag after checking in, it's 35 Euros. Bummer. I didn't read the fine print until it was too late. So I ended up paying a little more 20 Euros. But whatever, Ireland was beautiful.

We got to Dublin in the evening on Friday Oct 9th. First thing that really threw me off when we got there was that everyone was driving on the left side of the road. Whenever I went to cross the street it took me a few seconds to figure out which direction the cars would be coming from. So anyway, we wandered around the city for a little while before turning in. Visited the campus of Trinity College. That was really pretty.

On Saturday we visited the Christ Church Cathedral. Definitely take a look at the pictures I took there. I especially enjoyed the detailing around the ribs of the vaulted ceilings. Very unique. Then we went to the Guiness Storehouse. This was basically a museum all about Guiness. It is situated on the grounds of the Guiness brewery but you don't get to actually see any of the brewing. The price of the ticket includes a pint of Guiness, though, so that was nice. I bought a pair of special edition 250th Anniversary Guiness pint glasses. I don't think there's anywhere in town that actually sells Guiness in bottles, and I don't even like it all that much, but it is a legend and I needed some glasses.

On Sunday we took a train to Killarney, a little touristy town on the South Western coast of Ireland. The hostel we stayed in there was very quaint. I liked it. One of the other people in the hostel was a college student from Stuttgart. That was fun talking to him for a while. We visited the Ross Castle on Monday. That was really neat. It was recently restored using only medieval materials and techniques. I liked this castle because it was actually built as a fortress to protect livestock. Unlike Neuschwanstein which was built just to be pretty.We wandered around the country near the castle too. There were some massive fir trees.



On Tuesday, we took the train back to Dublin to catch a plane to Stockholm (another 35 Euros down). Stockholm was also beautiful. It wasn't bombed at all during WWII so all of the old buildings are still intact. I also appreciated that most of the streets made right angles to each other. A lot of the German towns I've visited are still laid out the way they were in the middle ages i.e. completely randomly. It's much easier to follow a map when the streets are straight. Stockholm was really cool too because it's situated on a bunch of islands, so there's a lot of bridges and docks.

The first attraction we went to in Stockholm was the Vasa Museum. I absolutely loved it. The Vasa was a warship built by one of the Swedish kings back in ~1620, and this guy went all out on this ship. It was covered with carvings and gold leaf and it had 64 cannons. The problem was the shipbuilder didn't give it enough belly to counter the weight of all of those cannons. So after launching on its maiden voyage it promptly keeled over and sank in the middle of the Stockhom harbor. Epic fail. But since the little wormies that usually eat through oak shipwrecks can't survive in the Baltic Sea, it was pretty well preserved in the 1950s. So they floated it back up and into a dry dock and doused the whole thing with polyethylene glycol which replaces the water in the wood. So the whole thing is now in a museum. Bummer that it didn't sail long enough to blow any other ships out of the water with its 32 gun broadside, but it sure is cool to look at.

After the Vasa Museum, I wandered off on my own and managed to find the Swedish Army Museum. That was pretty interesting. They had quite a collection of artifacts from the 30 years war: something I never really learned much about because, well, the Civil War kind of takes precedence in the American history curriculum.

The next day I went to the Museum of Modern Art. That was a nice change of pace. I'm not sure I understood much of what I was looking at, but when do you ever really understand modern art?

On Thursday I began making my way back to Reutlingen. This entailed first a 5 hour train ride to Copenhagen, Denmark. Apparently my Eurail ticket wasn't enough for this train and I was supposed to have made a seat reservation, but I didn't know that. So the conductor just told me to find a place in the vestibule. That was fine with me because I would have expected to get thrown off the train at the soonest stop. So, made it to Copenhagen and then had 4 hours to walk around before my next train. I checked out the city hall and a couple of the cathedrals. I got a sausage from a street vendor. The sausage was about twice as long as the bun he gave, so I don't know what the deal was there, but it was good.

I took a night train from Copenhagen to Mannheim, Germany. I was in a 6 berth cabin with fold-down beds. There was a man and his 12 year-old daughter in my cabin from Switzerland. That was fun listening to them speak Swiss German. We played some pictionary and a Swiss card game that was pretty much Uno. I actually slept pretty well once I found a comfortable position. The bed was about half an inch too short for me so I had to kind of hang my feet off the end. We got to Mannheim about 12 hours after leaving Copenhagen and then I got to Reutlingen another 2 hours or so later.

When I got back I had an email asking me if I could play drums at the Baptist church I've been going to. Of course I couldn't turn down a chance to play drums. We had rehearsal on Saturday and I didn't know any of the songs, but I managed. None of the songs demanded much rhythm anyway. It was fun, though. I'm glad I got a chance to get involved in a church.

So far I've planned a trip to Wiesbaden on Thursday. I have to go there because it's the capital city of the German State that I'm doing a project on. But other than that I'm just going to relax for the rest of this week. I volunteered to participate in an English Theater project so I wanted to be around for that. We're going to finalize our script and start rehearsing soon.

I think that's all for now. Keep in touch!

06 October, 2009

Dresden and Stuttgart Volksfest




On Friday and Saturday this past week I went to Dresden with Erin Dillon. We left right after class on Thursday and made it to Dresden after ~7 hours on various trains. I'm not sure if I mentioned this in an earlier post, but I got into reading the Dune chronicles by Frank Herbert. I just about finished the second book on the train ride to Dresden. The hostel we stayed at wasn't too far away from the train station in the "Old City" neighborhood. Old City was completely destroyed by bombing in 1945 but many of the old buildings have been rebuilt to their original condition.

On Friday morning we wandered around the city awed by all of the amazing architecture. One of the most prominent features is the Frauenkirche which was just rebuilt in 2005. It has a 600ft tall stone rotunda. One of the goals of the reconstruction project was to use as many of the original stones as possible - about 30% of the structure remained after the bombing. So, most of the facade is made of new stonework, but there's old blackened stones scattered throughout. At first I thought it was kind of ugly, but then I realized that the old stones stand as a reminder of the destruction humanity is capable of bringing upon itself. The inside of the rotunda is decorated in the Baroque style with lots of pastel colors. We weren't supposed to take pictures inside. We went up to the observation deck. I basically go up to observation decks whenever I can, if you haven't noticed already.

We wanted to go to the Opera, but unfortunately it was the premier night of La Traviatta and it was all sold out. And there was nothing else going on musically that evening probably because nobody can compete with a premier at the Semper Opera. We spent most of the day looking around the exhibits in the Zwinger Museum. There was an old masters painting gallery, a ceramics gallery, an armory gallery and a sculpture gallery. And the building itself of course. I took lots of pictures.

On Saturday we went to the VW Gläserne Manufaktur. It's a factory VW built specifically for the final production of their luxury class Pheaton. Most of the walls in the building are glass so you can see the entire production line. The whole thing is basically a customer service gimic. They have a really fancy lounge where you can go to talk with a sales representative and pick out the colors and stuff you want your car to be. Then 3 months after you order the car you can go back to the factory and watch them put it together. The production floor is the cleanest I have ever seen. Granted I haven't seen a ton of factories, but I've seen enough to know a clean one when I see it. The floors were all hard wood and there were only three robots in the entire line. Normally each cycle in assembly line like this is 30seconds to one minute. That means that if the workers task is to mount the main wiring harness, he/she has 30 seconds to do it before the car moves on to the next station. In this plant the cycles are 16 minutes long! I'm not sure if they just do more things per station or they just really take their time, but at that rate they can only put out 33 cars per day. And they only run one shift. Sounds like a recipe for failure to me. But then again VW is supposed to be "The People's Car" and it is more personal to have everything done by hand rather than with a whole bunch of robots. I don't really know why they spent so much money on a factory that only produces 33 cars per day, but it sure looked cool.

After the tour of the VW factory we went to the Frauenkirche for the Midday prayer service. The organ sounded beautiful and I understood most of the message. After the service some guy gave a short history of the church and explained the symbolism in all of the artwork in the sanctuary. I thought it was really neat. Then we hopped on a train and arrived in Reutlingen about 8 hours later.

On Sunday I went to the Baptist church again. We didn't sing any songs I recognized, but I was able to understand most of it anyways. After the service there was a congregational lunch I'm not sure exactly why, but someone made these really tasty stuffed bell peppers in tomato sauce. And I got to practice speaking German again. I think a lot of the people at my table could speak English, but for the benefit of everyone else who couldn't, we all just spoke German. It was a little tedious at times, of course, but I'm getting a lot more comfortable with just speaking and making lots of mistakes. People are usually very patient and will even correct my mistakes.

Last night I went to the Stuttgart Cannstatter-Wasen. This is the annual Fall Festival in Stuttgart very similar to Oktoberfest in Munich. A bar in Reutlingen sponsored some table reservations in one of the beer tents and extremely reduced beer and food prices for all Reutlingen students. I think something like 800 students went. It was pretty much crazy. The beer was delicious and came in 1 liter mugs. Thanks to this sponsorship we got two mugs of beer and a half a chicken for only 5.50 Euro. I had a really good time (as you can imagine).

I just made Kaesespaetzle on my own tonight except I only had one onion instead of two. But it turned out okay anyways. Mel Dark came over and helped Ryan and me eat it. On Friday my Fall Break starts, so I won't have classes for two weeks. I'm heading to Dublin first for a couple of days, then Stockholm and then I'll probably just kick back in Reutlingen for a little while before classes start again.

04 October, 2009

Käsespätzle!

So, this Wednesday Ryan and I decided to try our hand at making a popular local (Schwäbische) dish called Käsespätzle. It's basically a kind of baked macaroni and cheese with a little German flair. We had a lot of help from one of our German colleagues, Michael. Here follows the recipe/directions with picutres:

Zutaten (ingredients):
1 500g bag of dried Spätzle noodles (or make your own)
1 220g block of mozzarella cheese (we used some kind that was swimming in juice)
1 1/2 bags of grated white cheese (swiss maybe? or colby jack?)
2 white onions
1 Tablespoon vegetable bullion

Cut onions into thin strips. Boil noodles, sautee onions until lightly browned, mix vegetable bullion with 1/2 cup warm water, cube mozarella.
 

 




Drain noodles. Make three layers each of noodles, onions, cheese in a deep casserole dish.


Before the last layer of cheese, pour the vegetable bullion mix over the noodles. There should be a lot of cheese on the top layer. I mean really cover it with cheese. Bake for ~30 minutes at 200°C (~425°F) or until cheese turns golden brown on top.

Serve this baby hot. If you want you can thrown on some really carmelized onions for garnish. This would be great with a pork chop or steak! For more pictures check out this album.