Sunday, December 21, 2008


I love the German tradition of Christmas markets. One of my favorite things about them is that it seems like every town has one of some sort and they are all at least slightly different. I went to Stuttgart's today under the pretense of trying to find my last few gifts. Yesterday I went with some people from my lab to the medieval Christmas market in Ludwigsburg, which is really close to Stuttgart, and that was my third Christmas market so I figured it was time to see my own. I entered it from the town hall side and was instantly filled with the Christmas spirit. Cheesy, but true. The square in front of town hall which is huge and usually almost completely empty, was absolutely packed with a tight grid of market stalls and visitors. The aromas of different foods and the sounds of all the joyful people were almost overwhelming. There were many groups of musicians, all of them were kids and most were playing badly, but in a charming way.

It didn't take me long to find what I hope are some perfect gifts so I had plenty of time to wander and just absorb everything. I fully support the idea of the Christmas market because it is the spirit of commercialism of the season that I can actually get behind. It isn't some emotionless department store, but people selling their handmade wares that have a personality you can't get from mass produced objects. It is many people wandering in a huge cheerful mass through all the stands that sprawl through city spaces that are usually empty and fairly lifeless.

I still like the gifts I bought, but I kept seeing things I wanted to get that just wouldn't be the same after the 7,000 some odd mile trip home. What I really wish I could package and send to everyone is the entire Weihnachtsmarkt experience. I would send the smell of all the different types of roasting nuts that mingle into one indistinguishable sweet smell. The sudden wonderful olfactory impact of so many distinctive sausages grilling all around. The incredible delicious warming sensation of the spiced wine based drink known as Glühwein. If I could give that entire experience to everyone, I would. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Update 1

So I got this update up a lot later than I wanted, but here it is. Since it took me so long, I am going to have to briefly summarize a lot, but feel free to ask me about any of it. I lived with a host family for my first three weeks in Stuttgart after finishing my intensive five week language course in Marburg. It was fun and they were super nice and helpful and I learned a lot about what a typical German family life looks like, but I am also glad to be living in the city now. They live in the town just south of Stuttgart so it took about an hour to get to the university or into town whereas it takes me about twenty five minutes to the university now and maybe 15 into downtown.

I live now in a two bedroom apartment at the top of what used to be a hotel with a guy from Georgia (the country). My roommate understands a lot, but doesn't speak any English which is awesome because it gives me a non-pressure opportunity to really speak German. My apartment isn't super nice, but it is definitely good enough for how long I will be here and especially since the rent is decent. My roommate doesn't exactly keep the place super clean and he will on average have people over at least two nights a week when I am trying to sleep, but I have had the place to myself for the last week and a half since I last saw him so even though I feel a little bit bad about it, I am happy. He is really nice and fun to talk to, but I have to get up early so it is nice to have the opportunity to go to bed when I want and not be woken up most nights.

It took the first three weeks of being in Stuttgart, but I finally got a hold of my professor. Apparently he was on vacation the first two weeks and didn't respond to the email I sent a month before that for some reason, and wasn't really ever in his office and no one seemed to have any idea where he was so I finally trapped him after one of his lectures and from there everything went pretty well. He introduced me to an awesome PhD student who is working on the project I proposed to do. He seemed really excited for me to be there and introduced me to everyone in our research group and after I told him I could speak German, gave me the benefit of the doubt and hasn't looked back since. He has also been really patient when explaining all of the theory behind our project especially since all of that is also in German. I have been surprised that I have gone through multiple meetings with him about theory and only had to ask him about a couple of words. It helps that he has had me read German dissertations about our project so I can learn a lot of the terms that way.

Our project, without wanting to go into too much detail so as not to bore people, is studying particle collisions in Xenon plasma with applications to the development of reusable heat shielding material (our plasma is a simulation of the kind a capsule experiences on reentry) and also to make ion engines that use Xenon plasma more efficient. It has been slow to start. We were able to run the experiment once, but then one of the circuit boards in the laser we use to make our measurements burnt out randomly so we have been waiting to receive a new board which will have to be setup which will probably take a couple weeks. That means I have been reading to try gain at least a basic understanding of almost all new material. It sounds like we might start setting up while we are waiting for the laser after the holidays though.

Outside of work, I am trying to get involved so I have more chances to make friends and use my German. I went to some of the practices of the university frisbee team until it got too cold outside for the clothes I brought here that I can run in. It was fun because they are a nationally competitive so the practices were at a high level that really pushed me. I also joined one of the big bands at my university. That has also been extremely fun too because the people there are also very welcoming and there is definitely some good friend potential. They also have a huge collection of music they play out of so there at last a few new songs that we play every week. They take a tour to Sweden every May to play at a big festival there and at German cities along the way so I am definitely looking forward to that.

I have been doing a lot of travelling. So far in Germany, I have travelled to Mainz, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Mannheim, and Munich, and outside it to Geneva, Vienna, and Venice. I am also planning to fully utilize the holiday break for some serious travelling. I will first meet my friend Shane, from my language course, in Munich, where he is studying, and we are going to meet with some of his friends for Christmas. Then we are going to meet some more language course friends in Berlin before taking the train to Krakow. We are going to spend three days there and then head back to Berlin for New Year's eve. Then on to Hamburg for the last few days of the break. I am sure plenty of stories from that trip will be here eventually!

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Phone rings. I go rigid. Phone keeps ringing. No one else home. Phone rings for the fifth or sixth time. It is obvious at this point that they don't have an answering machine. Phone does not stop ringing. What if it doesn't stop until someone answers it or the person on the other end gives up? What if they are particularly persistent? She told me how to answer the phone if no one else is home, but does that mean she expects to me answer the phone whenever it rings? Probably. She knows I utterly fail at comprehension on the phone. My overall comprehension is generally pretty good, way better than my speaking ability, but somehow the phone completely destroys me. I don't know where anybody is or when they are coming back so what good what it do for me to answer the phone especially if I won't understand anyway?

Finally it stops. I heartily exhale. Not more than a minute goes by and it starts ringing again. What if she is calling to make sure I don't get up too late? Would she do that? I can wait this one out too. An eternity later it stops ringing. This time at least five minutes go by before it starts ringing again. Is this some emergency services hotline and they neglected to tell me? I am pretty sure I understand the word emergency in German and would have noticed if it was dropped.

My worst fear is that multiple people that later get ahold of her will mention that they tried to call earlier and she will realize that since I didn't leave the house, I must have been here. Or that she will come home while the phone is ringing and see that I am not even attempting to get it. I find myself making up a different excuse for every time it rings. This time I am definitely in the bathroom. This time I just couldn't find the phone in time. This time I had just gotten into the shower. The more it rings, the more absurd my excuses get as I run out of all the obvious ones. This time I was so immersed in what I was reading that it took the first couple rings for me to realize it was ringing and it took the last 7 or 8 for me to get down the half flight of stairs between me and the phone and by then it had stopped.

I have started listening to music loudly just so that there is the possibility that I wouldn't have heard it. However, the phone is sure loud. I have also taken to making a trip into town daily just so I don't have to listen to that terrifying noise. Plus that is at least two hours round trip travel time, plus a reasonable assumption of at least an hour doing what I supposedly need to do that she will know I was out of the house, but not when. Sometimes I have almost jumped out of my chair with joy when someone comes home, just to know that I don't have to feel responsible for the phone anymore. I still feel that occasional pang of terror every time it rings. It's like it is just waiting for me. Waiting to shame me. Waiting for me to try to take some really important message and then be responsible for some catastrophe caused by my failure to pass it along correctly.

I hear it in my sleep in that time in morning after everyone has left to do something useful and/or important and I remain attempting to enjoy the rare opportunity to get all the sleep I need. Sometimes I wonder if it is even ringing at all or if it is just reaching into my subconscious to gain more time in which it can torture me. Simply ringing. Ringing. Ringing.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Introduction and Explanation

So, I finally did it. After two months of being in Germany and meaning to start one, I finally started a travel blog. I am not exactly sure yet what it is going to look like, but at the very least I hope it will be a way that everyone who wants to can have at least a general idea what I am up to. I hope to alternate between posts that are more detailed about things I have been up to and posts that focus more on a specific aspect of my life here or fiction focusing on specific aspect. That way I feel it will be hopefully be a more complete picture of my experiences and it will also prevent montony. I am not going to promise that the two types it will be entirely equal, but I will try and keep it about equal so that it is more diverse. I also won't promise that my updates will be consistent or regular, but I am hoping to make it so that there is something new at least once a week. This isn't meant to replace any other form of communication, but I hope it will keep those that are curious updated while I try to respond to all of the e-mails I am behind on. I apologize for being so slow at this and I hope it is not a deterrent to sending emails to me in the future. I really do appreciate getting them and am trying to be faster at it!

Now on to the actual updates. But first, a story of absolute terror.