Saturday, July 26, 2008

Mein Geburtstag und Sommerfest!

So this week has pretty much been a week of celebration.  This week I turned 23 years old, and to answer the big question, no, I do not feel any older!  The first notion of my birthday was on Tuesday night, before going to sleep I heard a few whispers outside of my bedroom door, and in came my roommates and some friends singing Happy Birthday to me (yes, they sing the english happy birthday song here) with a candy bar on a plate with a candle in it!  They wished me a happy birthday, and we all drank some wine together to celebrate.

On Wednesday, I still had to go into work on my birthday.  When I walked in I opened my mouth to say my usual "Morgen!" when everyone in the office began to sing to me again!  Everyone, even from the other offices of the company came in to shake my hand, and wish me "Alles Gute zum Geburtstag".  They also had on my desk a HUGE muffin and candy for me to enjoy.  In addition, a good friend of mine, Georgia, at work, who is an intern from England, had also placed an awesomely creative card on my desk.  You can see this cool birthday card (Outside and Inside) in the picture to the right.  Click to make it bigger!  Sorry, Georgia, to make your card so public!  It was great how everyone at work helped to make it a more enjoyable day . . .

That night, I also went with some friends in the park, and we played a nice civilized game of beer pong.  It is not a common game in Germany, so we of course got many looks, and even quite a few people who wanted to try to throw the ping pong ball into the cups!  It was a lot of fun and a relaxing way to spend my evening.  Don't worry, Mom, we didn't drink much.  We needed to keep our energy up for the next day . . . Sommerfest!

The atmosphere at work is definitely a work hard, play hard one.  I gave an example earlier of the Internet Marketing Conference that was really just a great party, but to top it off, on Thursday evening after work, all of us at Hitflip geared up to enjoy the annual Sommerfest party.  

We all left the office together and walked a few meters down the street to find the "Party Bus" waiting for us.  We all boarded this big blue remodeled school bus which had a bathroom, dance floor, and of course a keg of Koelsch.  The bus also had roll up windows, so we could cruise down the road with the breeze rolling in.  We were probably on the bus for about an hour, and made it to our first destination, a typical Koelsch (the word that describes the Cologne culture, the beer in Cologne, and also the dialect, but in this case, I am talking about the culture) restaurant.  It was a beautiful restaurant with open ceilings, and even a tree growing out of the middle.  It had typical German, and Cologne items on the menu, and the company picked up the tab.  

After the restaurant, we took a short walk over to an asian themed Karaoke bar.  The bar was completely empty until the 30 or so of us waltzed in, and we made it a party.  Co-workers sang everything from good ol' American classics to traditional German tunes.  We also had plenty of beverages to go around!

The last stop of the evening was at a club called the Cent Club.  The club is located on Zulpicher Strasse, the street that I wrote about before, and is a typical young dance club.  There really isn't a lot to say about this stop of the night, but that it was a blast.  Lots of dancing, socializing, and again, the company picked up the tab.  I left the club at about 3am, with only about a five minute walk home, but from what I heard some co-workers were there until almost 6am.  And, yes, I had to be at work the next morning.  Yes, I made it in.  No, some people did not.  

That's about all I've got for this one!  I look forward to hearing from all of you readers!  

Also, check out the music player that I added at the bottom of this post.  I am going to keep updating it with popular songs from here in Germany, and also here in Cologne so you can get a taste of the music here!  Enjoy!

Monday, July 21, 2008

An Old City, Rebuilt . . .

I wanted to write a blog post not so much about what I am doing, but with a little bit of the history of Cologne. One thing that is exciting about Europe is the immense amount of history that is within it. Talking about an old house in the United States might mean that it is fourty to eighty years old. Talking about an old house here in Germany, may mean that the house is a hundred to three hundred years old, or possibly more. I wish that the same could be said for Cologne, but the truth is I can't. Most buildings here are no older than forty to sixty years maximum.

During World War II, along with much of Germany, Cologne took a serious hit by the American military.  Virtually the entire city was completely leveled to the ground, leaving only the cathedral standing in the middle still intact.  That is one thing that is strange about this city, is that so much here is new, but in the middle is a humongous piece of architecture that is extremely old.  Although the cathedral was finished in 1890, the construction actually began in 1248.  The office that I work is about a 2 minute walk to the Cathedral (known here as the "Dom"), and can be seen from most parts of the city.  

Here I have posted a video that I have found on youtube showing tanks in WWII moving throughout the city.  You can see the immense amount of destruction that took place.  The video is slightly graphic, so you are warned.  This is actual wartime footage taken by American troops.

In the video, the tanks are moving through right where I work here. Now this area is full of trendy shops and restaurants, and definitely not the buildings of old. You can also see a couple of other structures that still exist here. There are pictures of another church that still stands here, and you can also see a castle-like structure that is still here in the city, also embedded within all of the new cityscape.

More posts coming soon! Thanks for reading, I enjoy reading the comments!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Kölner Lichter und Besucher . . .

Well, I would have to say that I have never seen a firework display quite like it. The Kölner Lichter (Cologne Lights) takes place annually in July along the Rhein River which runs through the city. People from all over Germany line the shores of the river to see the large fireworks that it is famous for. I can say that it was definitely not a disappointment!
We arrived at about 8pm even though the fireworks were not scheduled to begin until around 11:30. We got there so early because once the area fills up, security people block off all entrances to the river area because of the large crowd of about 800,000 people on either side. There are also many restaurants and bars along this ancient part of the town, and they had also brought in many festival-like beer and food kiosks. We sat on the lawn relaxing until it got dark.
I wasn't exactly sure what to expect besides fireworks, but as it got dark outside I realized the magnitude with which they celebrate the Kölner Lichter.

At 10:30pm (it gets dark here much later in the summer) a boat parade began, with all of the huge ships decorated in lights. As the boats passed, very loud "new age" sort of music was playing. (You can see this in the beginning of the video), and sparklers were handed out to everyone. As far as the eye could see on both banks of the river, people were holding their sparklers in the air, and cheering the boats passing by. When the sparklers all died, and the boats had all passed, we waited for the fireworks to begin. The show began with a barge silently slipping into the center of the river, and a very narrative voice scripting the theme of the show, that spoke during transitions throughout the display. You can hear the voice speaking at the beginning of the fireworks in the video. The fireworks lasted for about a half an hour, and every second seemed like the grand finale. The show was accompanied by music from highlander music, asian music, rock 'n' roll, to opera. Fireworks were launched off of the barge up into the sky. Fireworks even drifted by in the water, as they fountained up, and some even launched up to the sky from the water as well. Even the bridge next to the display had a cascade of fireworks coming off of it like a waterfall. It was unlike any fireworks I had seen before. The show ended with great applause from the audience . . . and called for a night out on the town.

We were front and center for the fireworks, but sadly, as you can see in the video, there is a couple of trees in front of us that kept us from having a perfect view of the higher up fireworks. You can actually go on youtube and find the full show posted, but this is just my video. Oh, and all the videos that I make while I'm here, you'll have to forgive me for the bad quality. All I have to shoot video with is my photo camera, which only takes 60 second clips, and is about 6 years old. However, I think having the video helps describe the event, even though it doesn't do it any justice!

To add to the excitement, friends of mine who live in Baden-Wuerttemberg (who I posted about visiting before) came up to Cologne for the weekend, and we had a great time around the city, and watching the fireworks.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Why yes, I work in Europe . . .

It's actually been a bit long since my last post, which is too long than I wanted.  I've finally got myself feeling a bit settled in here in Cologne after my first month of living here.  It's actually a bit hard to believe that more than a month has gone by, and my time here is already shortening.  It's really been great knowing that a lot of people have been reading, and the blog has actually started to see some worldwide traffic, which is also really great!  Please keep commenting, as I enjoy reading the comments.  It's a good way for me to hear from you, and it's always a pleasent surprise to know who is reading!

A lot of people have already asked me how work is going, and I have been hesitant to post on here about it until I had really spent some time there and felt comfortable there.  Working at Hitflip Media Trading, has just been great.  The people are all young, and friendly, it's in the center of the city, and everything is going smoothly.  I don't know exactly how much detail I can go into about what I am doing, but I will try not to be too vague.

One thing that is really difficult for a lot of online companies to deal with, is that the reliability on Google is just so huge.  Especially for a company whose business is solely run online, Google controls the market, and if you are not appearing on search results, or in Google advertisements, your business will surely take a hit for the worse.  So a lot of what I am doing is maintaining and improving the company's services showing up on Google searches.  Besides that, I am also doing some customer service work for Hitflip's UK site, and doing some translations that are still remaining there.  As of now I am the only American working there, and the only other native English speaker is a co-worker from England.  Everyone else in the office is German, but all really helpful with my German, and understanding that I can't speak perfectly.  

Last Thursday was an exciting day for work, as we were hosting Cologne's Internet Marketing Conference 2008.  It was held in a VIP section at the local soccer stadium.  There were a couple hundred people that showed up, and plenty of fun.  I think the idea was for a networking event, but I think that the German idea of networking is mostly just an open bar, and a lot of young people.  I left the stadium at 3am.  It was great fun!  There is a link at the bottom of the post where there are some photos.

There are also links already added to the side column of the blog.  There you will find the three projects that we have at Hitflip.  I am currently doing work for Hitflip UK, and Hitmeister.  Check the pages out to see a bit of what I am doing.  

Sorry I don't have any pics or anything for this post.  I hope to add some to it shortly.  Maybe a shot of my desk or something, we'll see.  

Thanks for reading!  Feel free to leave comments!