Sunday, June 22, 2008

Zulpicher Strasse . . .

I wanted to show a little bit about what it's like here with the European Championship going on here in Germany. Here is a video that I found on YouTube from Zulpicherstrasse here in Cologne. This is a street with a lot of bars and clubs, and is famous here in Cologne for where you go for nightlife. Oh, and it's about a one minute walk from my apartment. I am somewhere nearby in this video, but don't think I'm in it. Oh and don't forget, the Euro Cup is taking place in Switzerland and Austria, but this is just Germans celebrating here . . . .

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Eine Wochenende in Baden-Wuerttemberg . . .

So I am going to try and keep this post a bit shorter than some of the other ones.  I am going to try to cover several topics but in several posts, instead of many topics in one post.  Yes, I have finally begun to work here in Cologne now that I have received my visa, but I am going to cover that later, when I finish out my first week.  
Over the weekend I had a really great time in Baden-Wuerttemberg.  I went there to visit my friend Michael who lives in Berlichingen, a very small village there.  If you are not aware, Germany is made up of several "states" or "Bundeslaender" just like in the United States.  Cologne is in the Mid-West of Germany and is in the state Nordrhein Westfalia.  There are other states such as Bayern, famous for Munich and the "Black Forest", Hessen, Saxony, and also Baden-Wuerttemberg.  All together there are 16 different Bundeslaender.  
Michael is a really good friend of mine who was an exchange student in the US for a year, and since then I have seen three other times; in Rome, Germany in 2006, and also again when he visited the US for a second time.  It was great to go down to his village again, and spend time with him and his family, who are all extremely welcoming.  
It was a three hour drive to get there, and once you are outside of Cologne, Germany is completely different.  Cologne is very much a large city with big streets, big buildings, and it's fair share of graffiti.  Once you travel a bit south of Cologne, the cities become much smaller, and you can experience much more of the German culture.
I think that every American who has not been to Germany has an idea in their minds of what it is like, but they don't actually believe it exists.  I know myself, before I came here, I thought about biergartens, burly men playing accordions, sausages, people drinking and singing songs, and of course lederhosen.  Well, let me tell you, in Baden-Wuerttemberg it really does exist!  
Michael's village and surrounding villages only have a couple hundred people in them, and they are far out in the countryside.  There are rolling green hills, streets with no middle line, and little clusters scattered about where people live.  In the villages, the streets are all cobblestone, houses can be as old as the 1600's, and some villages even have a great big wall that surrounds them, from medieval times.  It is truly an incredible experience to see, and believe me, they don't have many tourists here.

One thing that was cool, was that during the summer time, all of these villages hold small festivals.  The area is known for it's vineyards, so the wine season is typically a reason to have a party in the streets.  I went to two of these festivals, and it was really incredible to see.  The main road was turned into a biergarten, there were all kinds of vendors selling sausages (wurste) and beer.  There was a traditional German band playing, and the whole village was attending.  
I tried to capture some of my weekend, but didn't take too many pictures.  I did however take a couple of videos with my camera, even though they are not the best quality.  I have linked up a video I made to the blog post for you to see, and just combined all of the video I took, and some of the pictures within it.  The video is taken while riding a bike into Michael's village, Berlichingen. 
I better end here, as it's time to get to bed so I can get up for work in the morning!  There's another blog post coming very shortly!  
Keep the comments coming!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Neu Fahrrad Und Deutschland Gegen Polen . . .

Saturday morning I woke up at about 7:30am Cologne time, and I hopped on Deutschland's premiere public transportation (no really, it's great!) and made my way to a part of town I'd never been to before.  I was going there to try my luck at the city bicycle market that apparently occurs once a month or so.  After getting off of the bus I took the first street that seemed like it would lead me in the right direction, or in other words other people were walking that way too which is a very good indicator of how I get around here in Cologne.  Walking a couple hundred yards down the street, I eventually, and very luckily, made it to the market.  There were about a 100 bicycles lined up from different vendors and I began to parooze through them all.  I was actually amazed at how expensive second hand bikes were going for.  Most decent bikes were up around 100 to 150 euros, which is way out of my budget for a bike that I'm only riding for six months.  Right before I was about to leave I saw a few bikes that one man had brought in, and saw a silver mountain bike among them.  I asked him how much, and he told me only 40 euros!  "Nur 40 euro?"  I asked.  "Nur 40 euro.  Alles ist in ordung"  "Only 40 euros.  Everything is in order."  He let me try the bike out, and before selling it to me, he of course asked "where are you from?"  I told him I am from the US, and just like every German here, when I say that I am from the US, they ask me about one of three things;  Obama, Hillary, or Bush.  That brings me to another topic that I will divulge into in a moment.  Anyways, he was very nice, and he sold me the bike, and I rode my new bike all the way home.  Everything was great!  

The next day, I was riding my bike when much to my surprise the left pedal just fell right off.  It fell off right on the street as I was riding, and my bike had hardly lasted 24 hours before it was out of order.  I don't know if the man knew that it was going to break or not, but what can I do.  Today I took the bike into a bike shop to be fixed, and luckily the repair will only cost 15 euros.  Still not a bad deal for a bike!  

I can already tell that I am getting a bit lengthy with this, and I still have so much to tell.  On the topic of politics; like I said, when someone finds out I am from the US, they immediately probe me for my thoughts on Obama, Hillary, or Bush.  "Are you a democrat, or republican?"  "Who do you want to win the election?"  The questions get much more complicated.  I would take a gander to say that most Germans know more about US politics than 80% of Americans do.  Not just Germans, but other Europeans as well:  A guy I met from Ireland told me "It matters to me more who is running the US, than who is running Ireland."  I can even turn on the TV here and see two different TV channels covering the election news, and see no other channels covering European politics.  Luckily, I have set my homepage to so that I can stay up to date on what is going on, and prepare myself for any bombardment of political questioning.

The last and most important part of this lengthy blog post:  The European Championship.  If you aren't watching at home, you probably need to!  I have never been to a place that lives a sport like here in Germany.  The current Fuessball (soccer) tournament is the UEFA European Cup, and it's a big deal.  It is similar to the World Cup, but just for Europe.  Last night was the first game that Germany played, and it was against Poland.  Germany won 2:0.  I watched the game in a park within the city, with about 50 or so others.  During a game day, you can walk down the streets, and you can hear all of the TV's that are on in all of the restaurants, and peoples' homes.  You can hear drums banging from fans a mile away.  Faces are painted, everyone is wearing their team's colors, and it seems as though the whole town has stopped.  This was just for their first match in the tournament.  Hopefully, Germany will continue to do well!  After the match, my roommate said we were going to stay out, so I went with her around to where our apartment is, and I was amazed again.  It was about midnight, and the streets were just filled with thousands of Germany fans.  Everyone is singing songs, and drinking beer.  There were a group of fans kicking a soccer ball into an open window a couple of stories up.  When they finally got it in, everyone on the street cheered . . . "GOOOOOOOOOOLLLLL!!!"  The picture above is from this street party.  I wanted my picture with the police car.  And yes, I have an open container outside.  It was a wild time, and the games are a lot of fun to watch.  From what I hear, you can also watch it in the US.  

That's about enough for this long post.  Next time I will be a bit more brief.  Feel free to leave comments, because I have no idea if anyone is reading this unless you let me know!  I of course miss everyone back home, and can't wait to get a Flaming Amy's burrito, or order a Hungry Howie's Pizza.  

Oh, I think I may have joined an Aussie Rules Football club. . . . training for that is tomorrow.  We'll see how that goes . . . .

Bis Bald!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Meine Reise Nach Koeln, Und Lebe Hier . . .

So I have been in Cologne for a few days now.  I have been getting myself adjusted on the six hour time difference, and just adjusted to daily life here.  With the visa problems that I had I am truly lucky to even be here.  

Less than a week ago, I was still in the United States, and thinking that I wasn't going to get to leave for Cologne for another three weeks.  The problem was that the German powers-that-be were being slow with processing my working visa that I had applied for at the beginning of March.  They said that it would take an extra three weeks to process it and get it sent to me.  They were also holding my passport since your visa has to be issued with your actual passport.  So the day before my flight was supposed to leave I was in Charlotte and got a phone call from the German Consulate in Atlanta that they would send me my passport overnight and I could fly the next day.  (To change my flight was going to be over $800.)  Apparantly my friend's father (a german with some political presence) had asked for a favor, and I would be allowed to enter the country.  So the good news is, I saved $800, made it to Deutschland, and alles ist klar!  The bad news is that I still don't have my visa, and have to wait a couple of more weeks without being able to work.  Ok, so I am in Germany and can't work, doesn't sound so bad, but keeping myself from spending money while I am waiting for my visa is hard to do, and I have a negative income!  But that is the story of how I was able to get into the country.  My flight was alright, and my roommate's boyfriend was kind enough to pick me up at the airport.  I feel really lucky that everything fell into place like it did!

So a little bit about what life here is like . . .  I am living in an apartment just outside of the city center, with two others.  My roommates are very very nice and very helpful with getting me adjusted to everything here.  My first day here, I spent the majority of the day sleeping since I had not slept the entire flight.  It's safe to say I was exhausted.  The next day was the start of a good few days.  Several of my roommates' friends came to the apartment to make a house party before going out to a kneipe (club).  They taught me a little bit about German drinking culture, and more specifically Cologne drinking culture.  In the picture, you can see the typical and popular beer here in Cologne, Reissdorf Koelsch.  Koelsch is the type of beer that is specific to this region, and Reissdorf is one of several brands sold here.  Those of you in Raleigh, if you go to the Flying Saucer downtown, they have Reissdorf Koelsch on tap, but I believe it is a good six dollars for a pint, and it is probably not served in the traditional Koelsch glass as seen in the picture.  After having a drink or two, I also learned that it is NOT illegal to just carry your beer with you on the street.  Upon leaving for the club, I left my unfinished beer in the apartment only to find everyone else just casually drinking theirs on the way to the "Purple Club" just a short one minute trek from our front door (yikes).  When we got to the club, they had 200 liters of free Koelsch.  I am going to stop the commentary here for that night.

It is important for me to mention that while I have been here, the commodity of speaking English has been refused to me.  One of my roommates does not speak English, and the other roommate refuses to for my own good, and so do the rest of their friends.  It is exactly what I need, and has been good so far.  A lot of times I have to ask for someone to repeat to me, and hopefully communicating with me has not been too frustrating, but it has been a great learning experience, and I feel like every minute of the day I am learning something new and my German is improving.  I never realized, however, how mentally tiring it is.  All day long to comprehend, and try to communicate back, it takes a lot of energy, and I've never felt my thoughts feeling so tired before.  Fluently speaking in language is a gift that we probably take for granted.

Well, I am already writing too much for one post, so I am going to stop here and continue with more later.  I miss everyone at home, however, I am having a great time here as well.  The first week is almost over, and I can tell that these six months are going to go very fast.

Bis Bald!