a week (ish) in the life

I’ve had some requests from people to hear about what a typical schedule is like for me. The short answer is that there IS no typical day, which is actually one reason that I haven’t been blogging more. It seems there are 2 speeds to the unpredictability: speed 1 is “don’t leave the house all day due to work and/or laziness,” and speed 2 is “run around all day doing various things, quickly getting worn out.” But the past few days have been pretty eventful, so I won’t promise that they are “typical” of my life, but they do include many of the activities that I may do on a weekly basis.

On Tuesday, I had my first interview with a reservoir manager at the LTV (state reservoir agency). The interview originally conflicted with my appointment at the Bürgeramt where I hoped to finally pick up my residency permit, which would allow me to stay in Germany until August (always good!), so I told the interviewee I would come to his office after my appointment. My appointment was at 1:30, so I spent the morning preparing for the interview later that afternoon. Once I printed out my interview questions, I grabbed my paperwork for the Bürgeramt and headed for the tram.

About 1 stop from the office, I decided to peruse my paperwork and realized that I should have brought my passport — which was back at my apartment! I called the office on the way back, letting them know that I’d be late… but drastically underestimating the time I’d need to retrieve the passport and return to the office. I finally turned up about half an hour late and was promptly told that I was missing a document I’d need from my landlord verifying that I’m allowed to live in my apartment….

But I didn’t have time to worry about that, because I needed to make my way across town to the LTV office! I had decided to dress up for my first interview, so I was wearing slacks and heels. 3 problems: it was raining, so the bottoms of my pants legs got incredibly wet on the way; it was really cold, and dress slacks are not very warm; and heels are actually terrible for walking between buses and offices. I probably lost a total of an hour because of the heels, between walking slower than necessary for comfort’s sake and narrowly missing my bus on the way home because I couldn’t run to catch it!

The interview went really, really well. I enjoyed it a lot, and it was not as difficult as I had thought to conduct an interview in German! It’s mostly listening when you’re not the one being interviewed, anyway! I was greatly assisted by the voice recorder I was able to borrow from the library. I’ll have fun tomorrow transcribing the 1.5 hours of raw interview recordings I’ve accumulated this week!

I was exhausted after the 5-hour ordeal all of this ended up being… my feet were wet and freezing cold, and my plight with public transport had worn at my nerves, especially after I missed the bus on the way home, and I did really not want to cook dinner, so I met up with Felicitas, grabbed dinner, and caught up with her a little bit. 

On Wednesday, I have Spanish class at 11:10, so I headed there after looking over my notes from the previous week. We learned the ordinal numbers, on our way to being able to formulate a plan for our week! I really enjoy that class. My professor is really enthusiastic… this week we actually got to formulate questions to ask him in Spanish, and we learned that his wife is German, he has lived here since 2001, and he has never formally studied German! The class is very interactive, which is nice considering that my other classes are either lectures or seminars (which, because they’re in German, means they might as well be lectures for me… they move too quickly for me to participate much!)

My Spanish class is right near two big libraries, one of which has a Mensa (dining hall) in it, so normally after class I head to the Mensa, eat lunch, and then spend about an hour and a half catching up on work in the library. Luckily, there’s a bus stop right outside the door, so I can take the bus a few stops to my next class at 2:50: Applied Limnology.

Limnology is the ecological studies of water bodies (normally lakes), and this class is pretty interesting if a little too scientific for me. Also, the professor is a bit of a flake… 2 classes so far have been cancelled, 2 have been given by guest lecturers because our professor couldn’t be there, and the very first class of the semester only lasted 10 minutes because he was double-booked. What? How do you double-book yourself the day of your first lecture… when you are the lecturer?? 

Anyway, it’s normally almost dark when that class ends at 4:20, so I head home. This week, I relaxed by catching up on some of my shows before doing a little bit more work on my outline. Then, I headed into town because I was meeting some friends at the City Theater for a play! We had gotten tickets at a really good price, and it was fun to experience some culture and see the gorgeous theater, which I had never visited before. The play itself, Emilia Galotti by Lessing, was… interesting. I didn’t know the story (I don’t think I’ve ever read any Lessing) so I was trying my very best to follow it… to this production’s credit, it seems like the source material is a little bit sick in the first place, but the staging was very modern and in some cases a little bit disturbing. Nevertheless, it was a fun evening with friends that I had to cut short by rushing home, because I had to wake up bright and early on Thursday for yet another interview!

Thursday morning, I had an appointment with Christian Korndörfer, the department chair of the Environmental Department in Dresden. He’s very well-known and important here, and I was only able to get an interview with him because my host dad knows him, so he was able to get me his cell phone number and tell him a little about me so he wouldn’t screen my call! I got there a little early because of a misunderstanding, but in the end the interview went very well! I’m starting to get the hang of it… hopefully I’ll be able to line some more up in the next few weeks!

After the interview ended, I decided to head to my landlord’s office to see if I could resolve the issue with my residency permit. The office is kind of far, but I’m glad I decided to go… I had already set up an appointment for myself on Friday to finally pick up my permit, and I needed the signed agreement before then! In the end, I walked away with a form that myself, my roommate, and the landlord need to sign… so I needed to return on Friday to get the last signature from the landlord before heading to my appointment!

I just barely had time to run home and take a shower before meeting some friends at the Mensa for lunch. I ate quickly so I could afford to head to the copy shop before class to print out the readings… it’s much easier to follow class discussions in my geography seminar if I had the articles in front of me. In class, we discussed catastrophe management strategies, specifically using the example of earthquakes in California. One of the readings was an excerpt from a book, originally written in English, called “The Ecology of Fear,” which sounds really interesting… I might have to pick it up at some point.

After class, I dropped by my apartment to pick up my computer before heading into town to meet Felicitas. She found a café right near the Kreuzkirche, near the main square, that has all glass walls and free internet… somewhere you can get work done while actually remembering that you’re in a beautiful German city! Clearly the best use of my time right now is writing this blog post instead of improving my outline…. but I’ve made a lot of progress so far! The structure of each chapter is really coming together. I’m getting ready to head to my final class of the week, which is regrettably from 6:30-8 on Thursday evenings…

Tomorrow, I’ll get a nice, early start… I’ll need the best train connections I can get to be able to make it to the landlord’s office and get to my Bürgeramt appointment on time! With any luck, I’ll be the owner of a brand-new Aufenhaltserlebnis before noon tomorrow.

german quirks

After a long afternoon of research and all that that entails (actually, worse than research: defining the scope of my project. Probably the most tiring mental activity out there), how about I give you guys a list of cultural observations about Germany and/or Germans?

First I must clarify that not all cultural stereotypes hold true, specifically those about Germans always wearing Lederhosen or Dirndls, which are the traditional dress in Bavaria, but that’s Bavaria… but let’s just say that some of our conceptions of Germans/German society are basically 100% true. Mostly having to do with German efficiency…

German things that are typically efficient, otherwise innovative, or seem to work somehow:

Buying tickets for public transit: This one boggled my dad’s mind when he first experienced it, and while it wasn’t quite so revolutionary or baffling for me, this is something that definitely separates me from most Germans. Unlike in England or many places in America, you don’t need to present a ticket to get on a bus or tram (or subway, mostly) in Germany. Instead, you buy a ticket, stamp the ticket in the little machine on the bus or tram to confirm the date and time of your trip, and then in the case that someone comes around to check, you can prove that you do, indeed, have a valid ticket. Which, for an American like me who is semi-proficient in statistics, means that the first instinct would be to just not buy one. But a German would never, ever, EVER dream of not buying a bus or tram ticket. In terms of honesty and integrity, it really is incredible. (However, since Oct 1 I haven’t had to worry about this, as my student ID doubles as a ticket. Since then, my statistical gamble has been totally disproven, as I’ve had my ticket “kontrolliert” at least 3 different times.)

Shopping carts: Until today, I was under the impression that you had to pay a euro to use a cart at the grocery store. However, upon closer inspection, I realized that it’s really just a deposit system! If you want to use a cart, you insert a euro coin into the chain apparatus that locks the carts to each other, which releases the first cart. Then the euro hangs out in the apparatus on your cart until you return it, at which point you get your coin back. It’s the kind of thing that, when an American first hears about it, sounds overly strict and kind of nutty, but then slowly begins to make sense. The lockers at the library operate on a similar deposit system, but I feel like that’s something that would maybe happen in the US, so it’s not as shocking.

Pfand system: Speaking of deposits, the Pfand system is the German incentive to recycle. When you buy a drink that comes in a plastic bottle, most times you pay 25 or 50 cents extra for the “Pfand.” Then, when you’re done with the bottle, you can return it to one of the many special machines, normally in grocery or convenience stores, that then reimburse you the Pfand money. I know that Pfand money isn’t REALLY extra money that you get for recycling, but it is kind of cool to start out with a big bag of bottles and end up with a few extra euro.

German things that are totally inefficient, inconvenient, or just don’t work:

Lack of WiFi: I really can’t complain about this TOO much because at least there is WiFi (or as the Germans would call it, WLAN) on campus and in my apartment, the two places where I am 89% of the time. But being in England for a few days and at least being able to duck into Starbucks for some free WiFi made me a wee bit jealous. Apparently some arrangement with music companies in Germany specifically has restricted public internet access more than in other places…?

Different paperwork/accounts/passwords, etc. for EVERYTHING!: For instance, at my American university, we had one ID card that served as an ID card, payment method for dining halls, library card, and bus pass. We had one username/password set for everything having to do with the university. Here, I have an ID card/transport ticket, separate card for the Mensa/dining hall, and a separate library card, and I somehow need to keep track of separate usernames and passwords for my student e-mail, online course portals, and library account. Something tells me there is a more efficient way to do this, Germany!

This seems to extend beyond student life, from what I’ve observed. For instance, in the US if you’re an organ donor, it just says so on your driver’s license, but here if you’re an organ donor, you need to carry a separate card. This seems to go against the streamlined approach that Germans love, vis the above Pfand/grocery cart systems… if you want to make it easy for organ donors to be identified, you better make sure they always have that ID card with them! So you’d think the best way to do that would be to combine the organ donor ID with an ID card that they would have to take everywhere, anyway….

I’m rambling. I’m sure there are way more examples of little operational differences between Germany and the US, but these are the ones I’ve run into lately and/or often! I wish you a very efficient day!

tuesday ten {week 2}

Here’s what’s on my mind this week.

1. Yesterday I walked (about 2 km one way) to the university’s international office to pay an outstanding balance of 30 cents. (Yes, really.) And then, when I got there, the woman who I was supposed to see about the payment told me that I couldn’t pay because she doesn’t have office hours on Monday. But I was persistent (hopefully not rude) and made sure I could pay right then. I paid with two coins. German bureaucracy is ridiculous.

2. This week’s posts are all going to be pre-scheduled because I’m going to London tomorrow! I’m really excited!

3. One of the best developments of my DAAD orientation this weekend was learning that everyone else is experiencing the exact same frustrations with the German university system as I am. This served to confirm my strong belief that I should never, ever decide to actually complete a degree here. If I ever change my mind about this for any reason, you have my permission to talk some sense into me.

4. Another thing I learned this weekend was that long-distance relationships aren’t so crazy or uncommon… lots of the other grantees I met also have significant others back home, or at least not currently in Germany. We’re just cultured and patient, that’s all 🙂

5. I am reading Harry Potter in German. It’s something I’ve meant to do for awhile, and I borrowed the first 3 books from my wonderful roommate and her sister. I’ve made it through the Sorcerer’s Stone (or der Stein der Weisen) so far! I’ve learned a lot of new words and confirmed the exact meanings of many words I hear all the time but never knew how to define exactly.

6. My mental map of northwestern Europe is really off. While in Köln this weekend, I was surprised to find that I was actually closer to Belgium than to France.  Frankfurt is also way more southern than I had imagined.

7. I’m doing laundry for the first time in my new apartment. Hanging everything to dry is an adjustment, but at least I am 100% sure that I will not shrink any clothing while I’m here.

8. Since Daylight Savings Time just ended (a week earlier than it will in the States… who knew??), the sun should start setting in Dresden around 5 pm. Apparently later in the winter, the sun will set as early as 4. The Texan in me is a little intimidated.

9. I’m really excited for Advent. It’s my favorite time of the year, and now I’m in a country that really celebrates it. It’s a deeply-seeded part of the culture to observe the beginning of December as distinct from Christmas. Advent wreaths, Advent markets, Glühwein, hopefully snow… I just can’t wait!

10. My go-to music for homesickness has been Lyle Lovett. The weekend before I left the country, I went to see him in concert with my family in Austin, and it was the best last Texas experience! Texas Country is also great train music (even in Europe).