13 June 2012

Adventures: Eutin Bicycle Gang

Eutin is not too big. And it's not too small. Like that perfect bowl of porridge, it's just right. Large enough that walking from one end to the other (from home to the train station, for example) would take a good 30 or  40 minutes, making it impractical in a morning rush. Small enough that it doesn't make sense for there to be a bus system with more than a couple of stops or in which the buses stop frequently enough for it to be convenient to use on a regular basis. As such, there is really only one solution for carless travelers such as we are: bikes.

What a crew. I'll let this photo speak for itself.
On Sunday we took a little bike trip to get out of the house. First, to a flea market where I bought a book in French. If I can't speak it with anyone I can at least read it, or I will forget it. Then we came back to the house, ate something, had a sing along with Martin and his guitar skills, and then cobbled some bikes together and left for the Eutin water tower in hopes it would be open for climbing. The reason we are walking in the above photo (which I'm not in because I took it) is that there weren't enough working bikes for everyone. We were on our way to my host family's to pick up Sara's bike and my bike had been left downtown. After Sara left, Josh ran along with the bikes like a champ. Or like the president surrounded by secret service.

Eutin seen from the top of the water tower.
The water tower was open, as the above photo evidence proves. After this we wandered towards town to pick up my bike and then ended up getting milkshakes, which were more milk than shake. Like half American-style milkshake and half milk. On the way back we passed the Döner shop and stopped to take more pictures. 

Proper tourists take pictures of everything.

11 June 2012

Adventures: Waking Up

It can be hard to wake up on Monday morning. But one thing that makes it easier is when you have a room on the east side of the house and curtains that only cover about half of the windows so that nature's alarm clock sends its bright rays in to awake you whether you like it or not. Then when the slight mist over the lake outside your window is so intriguing that you can't help but go out on the balcony to take a picture and the temperature out there is about 50 degrees and the concrete balcony is cold under your bare feet, you are slapped into wakefulness by the briskness of it all. 

Am Kellersee, 6:30 AM.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
Funnily enough, it's pretty easy to get sleepy again on the 45-minute train ride gently rocking you through the northern German countryside. So you might close your eyes for a minute, intending to rest them, and find yourself at your destination sooner than you thought possible. The problem with getting to the end station is that you then have to get out of the train and walk to the bus. And the problem with getting to your bus stop is that you have to get off the bus and walk up the stairs to your job. But once you get to your job, there are no more problems, only solutions. Or colloids in this case?

08 June 2012

Adventures: Minimalism

Photo used under Creative Commons from kevin dooley
I like the idea of minimalism. This summer I tried to pack extra-light, using the suitcase intended as a carry-on size instead of the giant one. I try to minimalize where I can but so far I have just been dabbling here and there and getting used to the idea of less being better. It could take a while to retrain myself, having grown up in a society where more is generally considered best.

So I had a surprise minimalist adventure on the first Friday of my internship. I had spent most of the day out of the workshop, instead looking around the laboratories. I  left my stuff in the workshop because I didn't want to carry it around with me and I was going to go get it at the end of the day. To my surprise and immediate concern, the workshop door was locked when I came back. This was the moment when I learned about an important German cultural phenomenon, the early Feierabend. On Fridays, Germans tend to leave the office a couple of hours early. Somehow in the excitement of being finished for the week my Germans had also forgotten about me and locked the workshop without coming to get me first!

My first reaction was to go to the information desk upstairs to see if they had a key. They thought they had a key, but the one they gave me didn't work. Neither did the next three. At this point they were calling people who they thought might have the key, but they didn't have the phone numbers of my coworkers, and neither did I. I ended up spending about an hour quietly freaking out while hoping they would reach someone who could unlock the office for me. I had to get back to Eutin by a certain time for a class, and after a while I decided I should just leave my stuff behind and take the train back. So I used the information desk's computer to find my host mom's phone number and told her what was going on, then borrowed money for a train ticket and ran to the bus stop. I actually felt kind of powerful running to the bus stop with nothing in my pockets. I made it onto the train I needed to take, and during the nearly hour-long ride back, I had some time to think.

Everyone has a certain set of items they never leave the house without. For me, this had included my wallet, keys, cell phone, iPod, lunch, rain jacket, and a slew of other items. On the train ride back, since all of this was locked into the workshop, all I had were the clothes on my back and my train ticket. Stripped of the items I usually considered essential, I realized that I didn't even need most of those things. They are convenient to have and some provide entertainment or comfort value (like the iPod and the jacket), but I didn't need them. When I arrived back in Eutin, my host mother was in the train station parking lot to pick me up and she had already arranged a house key, bike, bag, wallet, and so on that I could use for the weekend. This really highlighted the fact for me that even those items we think are essential are replaceable and some are totally unnecessary. I also found it interesting that my foremost emotion during that long, podcast-less train ride back was gratitude for the people at the information desk who spent so much time trying to help me and who lent me money out of their own pockets, not ever having even met me before. (Of course I did pay them back.)

Since Monday was a holiday (Pentecost) I went for three days without my most essential items, and I still had a good weekend, visiting Lübeck and Hamburg and spending a lot of time hanging out with the other interns. By the time Tuesday morning rolled around my original frustration and bitterness towards my coworkers had worn off, so I didn't call them out like I had originally planned. Instead I chose to see the whole thing as a learning experience. And I will never forget to leave the office early on Fridays.

07 June 2012

Language and Culture: Gesundheit!

Photo used under Creative Commons from William Brawley
My internship in Germany is in a hospital basement. The written directions I was given to find the Dräger office for the first time indicated the street address, building number, and then simply im Keller, or in the basement. If it seemed a little sketch then, it seems a little less sketch now, especially since they have finished construction of the front door area and I can enter the building where it actually looks like an entrance instead of through a side door with a big temporary Eingang sign over it.

I recently heard about a new etiquette rule that has been imposed in Germany by an unnamed etiquette czar. It's one of those things that everyone has heard about but couldn't tell you who they heard it from. I'm assuming that these types of rules are imposed by a secret etiquette czar and that they are regularly released to a select few very talkative individuals who help the rules to trickle down until they reach even the oblivious Americans.

The particular rule I'm referring to here is that it is no longer to polite to say Gesundheit after someone sneezes. The theory behind this is that the act of doing so would draw attention to the sneezer and further embarass them. I'm all for politeness and etiquette, but the one thing I'm missing here is why it is assumed that the sneezer would be embarassed. I guess if the czar wants sneezing to be embarrassing, then he or she has the power to make it so.