Monday, October 29, 2007

Things that make you go hmmm

Hi all,
So, the title of this blog should be pretty obvious - lately I've just noticed a lot of things that have made me laugh or at least smile because I'm confused.

Kermit Heads....
So, when I go to karate on Thursday nights, the people on the other side of the cloth gym divider like to play music. Not just any music, however, just a very select repertoire. It consists of the "Splish-Splash I was taking a bath" song, a recording of frogs croaking, and then one of flatulence. What they were doing remained a mystery until last Thursday. Karate ran late, so we were still there when they raised the barrier - revealing a group of about 20 people eating ice cream and drinking gluehwein sitting on giant inner tubes (like, tractor sized) surround by what looked to be 20 decapitated beach-ball sized Kermit the Frog heads. So, I guess what they're really doing is still a mystery but I guess the frog soundtrack has been cleared up.

Hold your Applause, but Knock on Wood
In most ways I am finding that a University is a University no matter where they are but they all have their little quirks. Regensburg is no exception. For example, when a UND or Augustana Professor gives a lecture you simply sit there, answer as needed and phase in and out of concentration. At the end of lecture the teacher either makes a beeline for the door or waits around for questions. If a guest lecturer/speaker is present, there might be a quick round of polite clapping. However, I was a bit confused when I was sitting in my English class (taught by a German "lecturer") and the class ended with some vigorous table thumping. Apparently it is traditional to knock on the desk (instead of applauding) after every class.

The Boy from Minnesota (!)
Today I was sitting on the bus with Molly (a CO student) and we were discussing our weekends and classes in General. She suddenly remembered that - "There's a boy from MN from my class!" I asked her what his name was and from which University he was coming from, but she said she actually hadn't talked to him yet... This I found to be really interesting since I thought I'd met all the Americans and certainly all the Minnesotans. Well, I was on my way to Phonetics class, which I have with Eric. I told him that there was another guy from MN (who couldn't be Brady because he has a higher UNICERT level) and Eric also got quite excited about meeting a fellow Minnesotan. The excitement was shattered, however, when he asked me who Molly was and figured out that, sadly, He was the boy from Minnesota. Well, maybe it was funnier if you were there.

Do you have a License for that Radio Ma'am?
Sometimes I think the Germans could tell me anything and I'd believe it. Not necessarily because I'm utterly gullible, but just because sometimes you find out the weirdest things. Yesterday I was at Max's for "Sunday Dinner" and he switched on his Radio joking that he hoped someone had a license for it. Confused, I turned to Claudia and asked what he meant. Apparently, when you go and buy a radio it comes with paperwork and you have to send it in with a fee to attain a "license" for being able to play the radio. It is apparently also enforced (Claudia once had them come to her door) but you can refuse them the right to search your house. Weird huh? Now, I could understand this if they had commercial/sponsor-free music stations - but they don't. So, I'm not sure if it's a post-war law (to prevent people from tuning in to the BBC?) that's become outdated or what. Maybe someone can enlighten me.

In General
Saturday evening I went Ice Skating with a small group of people at the Donau Arena. We picked a bad night to go - it was "Disco Night" so it was teeming with tweens and thugs-in-training. It was particularly bad for a couple of the Irish girls who'd only been skating once or twice before - with little speed demons knocking into people, even I could barely keep my balance.
Yesterday we had a good Sunday dinner. I thought I was going to be contributing so I made a pizza and the pasta pesto chicken tortellini dish. I soon found out I was the only one cooking, so they also ended up ordering in a couple of pizzas. Mine was better... : p
I guess things are going well, classes have been interesting and the homework not to staggering. Today we were learning how to say the German "f" and so we got to play with fire. The teacher literally whipped out tee candles and matches and has us pass it around, making the sound to blow it out. This is guaranteed to give me weird sound associations for the rest of my life.
Today I bought a "Bahncard 25" and a ticket to Heidelberg for this weekend. The card gives you an automatic 25% on your ticket (second class, in my case) and I got the Heidelberg ticket for under 50 euros. I'm going with Eric who's going to see a friend. I didn't mean to invite myself along - I just asked if he was going to go again nearer to Christmas (because we only got to see it briefly on our German Club trip and Eric described a lot of neat shops) and he said nope and I should just come along. The nice thing is that we will be staying at his friend's house, and so there's no cost for accommodation (except bringing a little gift for his friend's generous parents). So that's really nice. Anyhow, I think that's about all for now.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Extra Curriculars

Hi all,
This is going to be a nice little post about my extra time in Regensburg.
I know this is going to be my mom's favorite section - don't worry Mom, I haven't gotten drunk and all of my clothing has remained on my person. With that disclaimer... I haven't really been big into going to pubs because of the smoking policies. This Spring they'll be enacting a smoking ban in public places so that might help. Also not helping is the fact that mostly the drink of choice for a nice long night at the pub is beer. I've not acquired a taste for it and really, I don't see the point of it. Strongbow, however, has acquired a new fan. It's a dry cider that is close to the alcohol content of beer but with a much milder, pleasant taste. As for clubs, I've only been to several and I find them slightly comic. I don't know if Germans are chronically shy around dance floors or if it's a taboo of theirs, but they never start dancing until about 12:30. This means, in the case of the first one we (me, and a group of Americans from Colorado) we danced in the floor with an ever-growing ring of Germans pressing in watching. Finally, it seemed as though the club had no more room and people were forced onto the dance floor. Now, I don't really all, so this wasn't the most comfortable of experiences but it was a lot more fun than sitting around staring at other people. It eventually got uber crowded and we kept getting elbowed and pushed around so we left. So, I would have to say that the night scene here is definitely happening, but just not my thing.
For those lucky enough to know me well (assuredly everyone reading this blog) knows I took Shorin-ryu karate in High School and then Kong Su Do (Korean) karate in College my freshman year. So, I decided that I should join a club here - since it's recommended and meeting people at bars isn't as easy for those already with a significant other. So while flipping through the Sport center's activities I saw they listed Shotokan Karate - a sister form to Shorin-ryu. So I trekked over to the Sport center (a LONG walk from the center of campus), determined to find the gymnasium. Well, after 45 minutes I had to admit defeat - even (or especially) after asking a little man in a booth for directions. Later I would find out the secret - that one must go through the changing rooms to get to the gymnasiums.

So I returned later that night, extremely nervous. First, because I hadn't practiced for almost 3 years and secondly because of the language barrier. I was fixated on the question of whether or not to leave my shoes in the locker room - not that it mattered at all. There was only a small group and brown belt leading us quickly ascertained that I had done some form of Karate (he couldn't understand my pronunciation of shorin-ryu) and that my German level was barely functional. I was put in a group of all new guys who had a bit of an ego going because they thought Karate would be similar to their military training stint. The evening flew by, however, and I was thoroughly exhausted and happy at the end of it. It was easier to go back on Thursday, where we were led by a black belt who talked very quickly. Luckily we just went over basics again and he demonstrated everything. This form is very close, although it's kind of funny because one, they have all the colors of the rainbow for belts (so it looked like a bunch of skittles) and secondly, we were sharing the gym with a bunch of rock climbers because that wall was the climbing wall. So while I've been rusty and exhausted, it's definitely been nice to get back into the swing of things.
It was a pleasant surprise to find out that I would be able to go on the trip to Neuschwanstein (The Fairy Tale Castle) today. The list filled up very quickly, but Siobhain (Shivonne in English) got a nasty bug and was unable to go. Rather than lose her 25 Euro deposit, she wanted to find a replacement so I jumped at the chance. Due to a rather bad sleep schedule I've developed (I can't seem to fall asleep before 3) it was particularly brutal to get up at 5:55 to leave at 7 from the bahnhof (train station) on a stagecoach bus. Nevertheless, we made it there on time (Sara and Jake from my floor also went) and soon I was napping on the bus. I woke at a rest stop (it's about a 3 hour trip) and found out I missed out on seeing the first snowflakes in Germany. This turned out not to be a total loss, because by the time we got to Neuschwanstein, there was about 3 inches of snow on the ground. Oh, beautiful....oh frigid. This was not my brightest moment, I'll admit, but when I got up this morning there was only a slight chill in the air and so all I wore was my warm orange zip-up fleece sweatshirt. It was damn cold. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

One event of note that I was awake for happened on the way to the castles (we toured the hunting castle and Neuschwanstein). Our bus suddenly slowed down and we all craned our necks to see what was happening. I would assume that the snow had something to do with it, but we had come across two men trotting after a small group of loose cattle along side the road. Unfortunately, the bus startled the cattle into a lope, causing the father and son duo chasing them to start having to run after then as well. The father lost his footing, and went down. The son looked torn (I was told, I was on the wrong side of the bus to see) but chose to run frantically after the cattle. The bus driver yanked the bus over to the shoulder and we all piled out to help with wrangling the cattle. We formed a huge circle and managed to get the cattle back under control of the father and son.

Sure, it makes a good story. And it's way better than what really happened. We actually just drove by and gawked. I was all up for wrangling the cattle - but I'm afraid I was deprived of this potentially culturally-enriching event. I have no idea if the they caught the cattle, but I figure they caught them when the cattle got hungry or tired enough to stop to go home. Had you going there for a minute though, right?

Anyhow, it was truly magical weather (albeit freeeezing) for the tours. The sun eventually broke through the clouds, hence the lovely picture for the post. The tours were in German this time, so I missed a lot of it (it's really hard to gawk and listen, in my defense) but it was cool to tour the hunting castle this time. Anyhow, the trip home was uneventful and I decided to post a nice blog about it for you all to enjoy. Feel free to leave comments or questions and I'll try to answer by e-mail or in the blog.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

First Week of Classes

Hi all,
I'll get to the title of the post eventually but I have a few other things on my mind first.
So, funny story / observation time!
Christmas Christmas Christmas
Now, I know in the US we seem to have an almost morbid fascination with how quickly the "seasons" change. Not fall or spring, I mean we go from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas season. Well, usually Christmas displays pop up on "black friday" - merely a day after Thanksgiving. However, Halloween isn't really observed here (the bars like to have promotional parties, but that's about it) and obviously Thanksgiving isn't either. For whatever reason, this just made me assume that the Christmas decorations wouldn't pop up until December or so. Wrong. This last week on the bus I noticed, one by one, the shops changing their window fronts. Going from regular displays to shiny, blue and white Christmasy ones. They celebrate St. Nicholas on the 6th and that's when good kids get a present and bad ones don't and then celebrate the more religious Christmas as usual. So they actually separate Christ and St. Nick. (St. Nich?)

Oh Where, Oh Where, Has My Shower Gone?
This is definitely my most embarassing story yet. Last week, I was jolted out of a dead slumber (at 7 AM) by the sounds of doors slamming and a general ruckus. Figuring that my apt mates were running behind or in a hurry, I tossed myself over and managed to somehow drift back off to sleep. I was woken up once again, about 20 minutes later and this time the sound went on for 10 minutes strong. Thoroughly pissed off, and definitely not awake, I Threw my door opened and yelled:
"What the HELL are you doing?!?!?"
To my incredible chagrin, I see a blurry (I didn't have my contacts in...) but distinctively uniform-clad man peek out of the shower room and say "...entschuldigung...?" ( I'm sorry?). Apparently (although we have no idea) one of the showers had been leaking and so when the Hausmeister decided to have the apts cleaned he decided to have them "fix" the shower as well. And by "fix" I mean he had them completely gutted. We had a nice dirt hole in the floor. About 4 days ago they put the bottom porcelain back in, and from the ruckus I'm hearing right now, they're hopefully putting in the glass door. But yeah, that's a story to make me proud. The best part was that at least one of my apt mates was in the kitchen and heard me yell. I would like to note, however, that the service guy did work a lot more quietly after that...

Classes...What Joy.
So, I have had all my classes for the week. As you might have noticed, it is Thursday - yes, I have achieved the impossible and managed to have a longer weekend than school week. I will accept kudos and cash payments in small unmarked bills. My initial schedule only gave me Thursdays off, but in my Monday class I found out that the Friday class I'd signed up for was the first part of the intensive course I already took. So I frantically searched through classes and jumped into a Texts class on Wednesday. My Phonetics class on Monday put me at ease a little, it seems manageable and the teacher seems really nice. It's funny that I've never had a female German teacher before, and this semester all my instructors (so far) have been women.

On Tuesday I had my first English class. We met at this giant black ball in the middle of campus, because the room is apparently in the Chemistry building and hard to find. She was going to take us there, but then brought us to the little pond on campus. This was nice, but won't help me any in finding the classroom next week. Next, she proceeded to conduct the entire class in GERMAN. I was a little freaked out, but it was only because she was going over the Important information and wanted to make sure everyone would understand. Well, I suppose that was good for the German students...I kind of expected her to stick around for a minute or two after "class" (it only lasted a half hour) but she buzzed off with some students that she apparently knew. So that was encouraging.

Wednesday I only had my Texts class this week from 4-6 because the theater class doesn't start until the 24th. The class will definitely be a challenge but I know it'll be good for me because writing is my greatest weakness. The instructor (I keep wanting to type "Professor" but that's not accurate and if you accidentally call them that they can get really pissed off) is from the North and so it was quite a bit easier to understand her, which was very nice.

Well, I have to run to the bank in a little bit (bank card still hasn't come, sigh, and I need to get my Sport Center card today - a long and involved process...) so I should be going. Feel free to leave a comment or just say hi.
Hope all is well with you all,

Sunday, October 14, 2007

More Misadventures

Hi again all,
Well, it's been a while since my last post but not a whole lot has happened. I found out that my placement test put me into UNICERT 1 which is a B1 level (it goes, A1 A2 B1 B2 C1 C2) which was right about where my class was. I managed (somehow) to enroll in classes, this was actually quite amazing since it's more complicated than UND. I ended up with 3 German classes in the German as a Foreign Language dept, a Phonetics course on Mondays from 1:30-3, a Theater course on Wednesday from 6:30-8 and a basic course on Friday from 10-1. I also managed to contact an English teacher and will hopefully have a class on Tuesday as well. I found out (with some help from Christine) that I missed the deadline for classes by a measly 2 months. Apparently the sign-up for the levels I was interested in happened between the 23rd and 28th of July. Nice huh? Anyhow, the instructor I contacted was willing to try to fit me into one of her classes, so that will be nice.
Let's see, ah, how about more culinary mis-adventures? One night it hit me that I really wanted sugar cookies. Mmmm. Well, it turns out I had all the ingredients for the recipe except one. (my mom had bought a cookbook software program with about 50+ cookbooks in it) which I found in "Recipes for over 50." That should've been a first clue, since it was the simplest cookie recipe I've seen in quite a while. However, I didn't have the oil, and decided to go for the good old applesauce switch. Well, the first batch came out, and they definitely weren't cookies...but they tasted like them. They ended up being dubbed "cuffins" because they had the consistency of muffins and cookies together. After we found some expired (but still tasty and unopened) "chocolate drops" they were pretty darn edible. Then, 2 days ago I made an attempt at cornbread. However, I used a round cheesecake pan (making do with what we had) and had to guess on the baking powder since the only measurement was "enough for 500 g flour." I then used the convection setting (wrong....) and ended up browning the top with goo still in the middle. However, with a few more adjustments, it eventually came out close to perfect and perfectly edible. At least I haven't been able to screw-up noodles yet.
Sight-seeing / events...
I went with the Colorado group to Walhalla, which is a large building that resembles the Greek Parthenon. It's an hour and a half riverboat ride downstream that's kind of plopped down in the middle of nowhere. There were some pictures recently tagged of me there with some of the people from Colorado that live in my floor and building. We took the "scenic" path on the way back down to catching the boat and ended up WAY out of the way, so we had to run back. Thursday night I went to the play "Endspiel" (End Game by Samuel Beckett) with Claudia, Eric, Laura, Ingrid, Kim (from Korea) and Katie. Niamh was supposed to come, however, she can't seem to figure out the German bus schedules to save her life and ended up going to the opposite end of town. She ended up getting there with 10 minutes to spare, but went up a wrong set of stairs and ended up at a Nietzsche German. Meanwhile, the play had started and was both hilarious and utterly depressing. The two best parts were inadvertently so. The first was at a part in the play where they script mocks the British and the Germans had to speak with a British accent. Beckett was an Irish expatriate and wrote his plays in French and English. So hearing a clearly British accent in German was hilarious - not to mention that Katie is British, so that was funny as well. (Oh yes, of course the play was in German.) The second funny part was completely by accident. One of the main characters is blind and in a comfortable chair with wheels. He has a helper (a man kept on only because the blind man has control of the food stash - this is a "end of the world and humanity" play) who he makes push him over to the window on stage. However, the stage is divided into 3 levels, the basement (where the blind man keeps his parents) which is the bottom 3 feet, the blind man's rooms, about 5 feet high, and his helper's rooms, above his rooms that go up to the top of the stage, about 5.5 feet. Anyhow, the helper is pushing him over to the window, and by accident, two of the casters on the chair go over the edge! The helper literally jumped off stage laughing almost hysterically and pushed and shoved for a few minutes in order to put the chair back up. You could tell the other actor was sitting VERY still and was ready to bail at any moment. It was only funny because it didn't happen.
Well, I realize that last part was long and I hope I haven't left out anything too interesting. Anyhow, I start lectures tomorrow so I better finish up and head off to bed.
G'bye all and take care,

Friday, October 5, 2007

Bist du sicher?

The title of today's post comes from one of my German teacher's favorite phrases. It literally means "Are you sure?" Of course, the last time he asked, I don't think he was expecting me to immediately answer "Nein." That was on Wednesday, the day before my final (and first...) test for the course. I shouldn't say that it was my first, since we had a practice test last week. However, I managed to fail that one with an astounding 30%. Naturally, this made me feel quite good about my German capabilities. So I studied my butt off and somewhat was finally able to learn Konjunktiv I and II (somewhat...). I by no means dominated the test yesterday, but I have the slightest hope that I did indeed manage to pass this time. Today I had another test (a University placement exam) which had the most confusing system of fill-in-the-blank ever.
For example, the test consisted of 4-5 paragraphs with words within the paragraph cut off after a word or to. For example: I went to the park an_ then to the mall. Obviously, the missing letter is "d". But there were funny rules. If the blank had one letter and then the underline, you could only use 1 letter to go with it a___ = at. However, if there were 2 letters, you could use two or one letters to complete it. Four letters before equaled 3 or 2 letters afterwards. And then, randomly, sometimes you would have to make a compound word like baumh____ = baumhaus (tree house) which you were supposed to be able to gleam from the text. Might I add that this was all explained to us in German with a crappy overhead projection. We were supposed to have taken the test on a computer, but the whole system crashed and the server is in another town. Unfortunately for those who went the hour before me, they all had to take the test again on paper as well. So, for me it really could have been worse.
This last weekend was pretty uneventful. Saturday I did some studying and Sunday as well. Sunday afternoon all the students were supposed to go bowling, but only about 8 people showed up (all English speakers except one girl from Russia). We went to a place called "The Super Bowl" which had bowling lanes, lots of pool tables, some pinball machines and a air hockey table. The bowling balls were all in pounds (which I found to be funny) and apparently most Germans don't bowl too often. Our German students had fun laughing at themselves. Surprisingly, I bowled really well and I think my top score was 136. Which is fantastic for me.
Let's see...Oh, yeah. I finally caved in and got a German cell phone yesterday. It cost me about 35 euros (15 being for minutes on it). It's nothing special, but it does have it's very own pink leather carrying case. (Oooh, ahh...) Minutes are really expensive here. From one German cell to another it is usually around 30 euro cents a minute. But it's good to have so I can know when things are going on or in cases of emergency.
Well, I think that's about it for right now. I'm more than happy to answer questions, although in some cases it might be easier to e-mail. So, you can either leave your e-mail address in the comments or send me an e-mail at my student account: