Saturday, December 13, 2008

Geeks in London!


Hello all! I have all sorts of exciting things to report! First off I have been sick all week with some sort of flu. I'm feeling much better now and am back in action which is great considering that there is lots to be done.

I think I'll start out with last week which we spent in London. It was fantastic, despite the cold, rain, skipping meals, and inefficient transit system (It is no wonder that we both got sick in the end). London is an expensive city, but we managed to find some places with cheap food and also picked up some books in English. So, the main reason for going to London was the four day Coheed and Cambria “Neverender” concert. The deal was this: Coheed has four albums so on each day of the event they would play one whole album. This was a sweet deal indeed, and we even managed to find super cheap flight and hostel to boot. The concert was great, and super nerdy considering that everyone there was a dedicated fan of the sci-fi based prog-rock. On the Second night, a street worker accidentally made contact with the main power line in the street thus ending his life and knocking out the power in the Astoria. The show was canceled and moved to Friday. I had a feeling that after everyone scattered, the band might come out the back doors in the alley, and sure enough they did and we got to meet them and talk to them for a little bit. Over the course of the concert, we saw all four albums performed in their entirety, an acoustic Coheed set, Prize Fighter Inferno, solo performances by Claudio (who played some new material for the first time ever!), Travis, Mike, and the guitar tech for opening acts, and three to four song encores on each night. During the 4th album, they played Night of the Living Dead on the screens which was cool because It is not my most favorite album of the four by any means. At the show we met and talked to kids from all over the world including places as far away as South Africa. The four turned five day event was excellent and to prevent any ranting about it, I will now change the subject.

We did lots of other things in London, and I'm happy to report that we took lots of pictures for all of you who have been worried about the lack of photos lately. You have to remember that pictures really are not a high priority for us so we often forget to take them. Our method for exploration was to pick a stop on the tube with a familiar name, such as Kensington or Tower Hill, and once we got there just wander around and see what sorts of things we could come across. We managed to see many things this way. Hanging out in Soho before the shows, we got to hang out in the many instrument, book, and comic shops.

On the first day I randomly came across the BBC headquarters! They have lots of Satellites. We saw the Tower of London, the old Palace where th Ravens are kept. Legend has it that if they escape, the monarchy will fall. Next door was All Hallows by the Tower, a church that was first established in 675AD making it the oldest church in London. In the crypt you can see portions of the original roman structure of which the church was built on top. In between the Tower and All Hallows was where they used to hold public beheadings. The Tower bridge was nearby so we walked across it on our way to the other side of the Thames. They were repainting it which will explain the covered scaffolding you can see in the pictures. Docked on the other side was the HMS Wellington. At this point we were freezing so we went into the modern curved-glass structure of city hall to warm up. Inside there was a huge aerial map of the city that you could walk on like a huge monster who climbed out of the Channel and unintentionally began wreaking havoc on London. Further down the Thames in Westminster, there are the Houses of Parliament. This is a large and impressive structure that is fully surrounded by officers and guards. No access to the inside unless you have proper ID. This of course is where the famous Big Ben is to be found. Nearby is Westminster Abbey, but since you have to pay to go in as a tourist, we went into St. Margaret's next door and watched the children's choir practice their angelic voices for the event to be held later that evening.

After warming up we went down the street where we noticed some commotion and witnessed from beginning to end, a protest for disabled worker's rights. Blind people, people on crutches and in wheel chairs, and etc, were all blocking traffic in front of where Mr. Gordon Brown was currently working (a building surrounded with military guards carrying full automatic rifles, which was surprising since the police normally do not carry guns in England. They have a no knife and gun policy which seems to have significantally cut down on knife and gun crime) and passing out fliers stating why they were there and what they wanted to change. Police came out and reasoned with them for a while. Apparently we gathered that it was against the law for the officers to touch the disabled, reasons such as they could crumble the bones of someone with cerebral palsy if they did being why, but there was a specially trained unit for situations like this on their way. After about half an hour of defying the officers' request, and pissing off lots of motorist. They backed down, achieving only minimal press coverage and literature dispersal.

We headed down the street to the Guard museum just in time for a changing of the guards, and walked around their courtyard. In the back was a dark odd building thickly covered with vines and having only a minimal number of very small windows. We asked an officer what it was and he said that it was some sort of electronic storage facility and that “They don't tell us much about it.” How can you not let your mind run wild with government conspiracy with stuff like that around! From there we went down to the great roundabout with the Queen Victoria memorial in the middle. This is essentially the driveway for Buckingham Palace. Surrounded by gardens and parks with golden gilded gates in honor of places like Canada, Buckingham Palace is only fun to stand in front of for so long. The crest with the lion and unicorn are everywhere. Majestic and whatnot, but when it is really cold out the situation is more, OK the Queen lives here now lets get moving. The palace gift shops are actually a good place to warm up and learn random facts about the place.

Kensington Palace was the home of the Princess Diana. We checked out the palace briefly from the outside and then walked about in the Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park. There are unbelievably tame animals in this park. The squirrels next to the palace would walk right up to you and even climb up your leg if you let them. This was unsettling for me who grew up learning that wild animals that approach people unafraid are likely to have rabies. So there I am in the Royal Gardens being chased by squirrels. The birds too! I saw a chickadee fly down from a tree lighting upon a man's outreached hand. The park was large so we walked about it for a bit coming across all sorts of statues and monuments. There was the enormous and elaborate Albert monument at the edge of the park across the street from the Royal Albert Hall. Our favorite statue in the park was much smaller and less colorful. It was a bronze sculpture of that young boy who will never grow up: Peter Pan.

We felt that we had wandered about the park enough so we walked over to some of the nearby museums. My favorite was the Instrument museum about two floors down in the Royal College of Music. They had all sorts of instruments (over 800) displayed in a large two-level room. There was an old glass harmonica. Apparently glass harmonica players used to go crazy, and now the suspected causes for this are either prolonged exposure to certain frequencies or to lead paint on the instrument. Ben Franklin invented the glass harmonica as a way to make crystal glasses more efficient to play. Crystal glasses, at the time, was the only instrument that was OK for women to play. There were all sorts of guitars and harps, showing the evolution of the instruments. Wind instruments too. There was a double keyboard harpsichord with four stops. I went into question asking mode and got the guy to demonstrate to me how the stops worked. It was hard to obey all the “Do Not Touch” signs so I had to get him to do it for me. In this collection was the oldest surviving stringed keyboard instrument called a clavicytherium. It is believed that it is from southern Germany from about 1480. The gentleman was telling me about this particular instrument and when he mentioned that due to the elaborate and sophisticated nature of the design in this little stringed keyboard, that it was safe to assume that there had been much prior development of these sorts of instruments only no record of it, chills went down my spine.

We also went to the Science museum which had all sorts of cool exhibits such as the evolution of the steam engine, progression of spacecraft from rocketry to rocket science, and all sorts of examples of important scientific principles used in daily life. They had two cloned mice which were directly related to the first patented mammal, different supercomputer models, and a clock that was designed to keep accurate time for 10,000 years. Next door was the Museum of natural history. Here there was a large marble sculpture of Charles Darwin. He looked deep in thought so we left him to walk about the exhibits. I found a dodo skeleton, and a stuffed kiwi. Our main reason for checking out this museum was to see their dinosaur exhibit, so in fear of the museum closing we rushed about in search of prehistoric creatures. We found them, in all their skeletal glory! Rar! Iguanidon, Allosaurus, Gallimimus, Triceratops, etc., lots of bones and teeth!

On the last day , Saturday, we went to Portobello Road to browse around the worlds largest antique market. According to Bedknobs and Broomsticks, “Anything and everything a chap can unload, is sold off the barrow in Portobello Road.” It was indeed a huge market with the entire street filled with people. Having no money and little desire to hang out in the crowd so early we decided to take a side street away from the market in order to grab some breakfast. We found a little dive called Diana's Cafe which was filled to the brim with photos of Princess Diana. This is where I learned that the English enjoy beans with their breakfast.

The trains in London are terribly inefficient. The entrances and exits present bottleneck scenarios and the trains themselves are hardly ever “running a good service” with all the delays and rerouting. We were on this one train and suddenly they announced that the train was going somewhere else and everyone got up and walked off the train. All of the tunnels of the London Underground are as confusing as a find-your-own-adventure book with missing pages. Another day someone got ran over by the train and they delayed all the lines. That makes two people who died while we were in London.

My cold had set in and with the pressure changes during the flight back I lost my hearing for about a day. I was like being underwater, or pushing the mute button on the world. The customs agent almost didn't let us back into Germany because we had to many stamps in our passports. He started asking me questions and I was all, “WHAT? I CAN”T HEAR YOU!” It was hilariously pathetic. Mandie came to my rescue and explained to him my situation and why I currently could not function properly. Skipping School for a week set my German learning back a bit, but I am catching up alright.

Oh! This week we managed to get a place to live! A two room apartment with a kitchen and a bathroom, cellar and a cool courtyard in the back. It has high ceilings and the rooms are fairly large. Definitely a step up from my dark basement box in Boone. Now I can bring my instruments to Berlin! Ich spiele Musik gern! All this week we have been meeting with our new landlord and the deal finally went through on Thursday. We are cleaning up Katja's apartment today and switching over to the new place tomorrow.

Before our adventure in London, we had a notable evening here in Berlin. Sarah stopped by for a visit before heading back to Switzerland. She brought me this cool color changing cup from the convention she attended. After she caught her train (a close call) we met up with our friend Vincenzo, the Italian fellow who just moved out of the apartment we are moving into, and had some wine where he works before going out for pizza with him and some of his buddies. The driver took us on a night tour of the city, showing us all the notable buildings and sights. He pointed out all sorts of important landmarks, such as the Reichstag, Schloss Charlottenberg, the Brandenburg Gate, the Soviet monument, Rotes Rathaus, the Victory Column, Holocaust memorial, and also took a quick drive through Alexander Platz and Postdamer Platz. After this we had Pizza at this Italian restaurant that had just opened. Food and drinks kept coming and a very entertaining trilingual dinner panned out. After about four hours and realizing that they would stick around for more drinks, we excused ourselves and went for a walk about Berlin. Good times!

There are new pictures in the Picassa album if anyone wants to check out all the cool things in London. Also we have an address now that we have an apartment of our own, where we can receive mail. If anyone is interested just shoot me an email and I'll let you know the address. We will be in transition however for a few days so I am not sure if we will have internet, but I will do my best to keep in touch. I'll post pics of the new place eventually.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Verstehen Sie Deutsch?

I started Language school on Monday. So far so good. I've learned a bunch of basic things, and have had the opportunity to practice with others on the same level as myself. In my class there are people from Italy, Spain, China, and the US (New York and L.A.). Aside from learning German I get to learn about these places and pick up phrases in other languages along with German. About a week ago, there was this three year old on the train who decided to teach me random words. This was right before I got caught without a ticket and kicked off the train. The ticket checkers (who are super sneaky, dressed in civilian clothing and boarding the trains all nonchalantly as if they were just passengers, until the doors close) just charged a fine and gave us a 2 hour pass. Today on the Metro, a lady started talking to me and I tried to keep up with the little German that I know. I remained in the dark for most of the conversation. I was doing my homework and she asked if she could see it. Upon giving her my note pad, she proceeded to complete my homework for me as well as going over the parts that I completed myself, making corrections where needed. I picked up a German/English dictionary from a bookshop on our street and have initiated the process of reseting the language portion of my brain.

It has been snowing off and on since last Friday. Light dustings really, nothing serious. The other night while watching the show from the window overlooking our courtyard, there was a flash and a crack of thunder. Wondering if it were really possible for snow and thunderstorms to happen simultaneously we turned to the internet for answers and discovered that Thundersnow, is actually an uncommon phenomenon. All the Italians and the guy from L.A. Find Berlin Freezing as they are rather used to warmer climates. I myself got rather used to the winters in Boone. I've been told there has been snow there also. Anyways, aside from uncommon phenomenon, the weather is a rather boring topic.

The sun here rises around 8am and sets at 4pm in Germany. On the winter solstice it will rise at exactly 8:15 and set at 3:54 for a grand total of 7hours and 39minuts of daylight. This is yet another aspect that I overlooked about changing Latitude. I can be a creature of the dark, at least until summer rolls around. Then the days will be extra long.

On the apartment hunt: We have looked at several places finding mostly combinations of small and expensive; however, a really awesome Italian guy we met wants us to take over the contract to his place which is affordable and rather large. Hopefully this will workout and we will be able to move in within a few weeks. Although the area is not in the middle of a trendy part of town, there is a subway stop on the street that will get us to wherever we need to go in Berlin. This man was really nice, he took us into his kitchen and made us Italian coffee and served bread with Italian olive oil. He taught us which noodles were the best ones to buy from the stores and invited us this weekend to where he works for a tasting of fine Italian wines. Viva Italia!

Accordions rock!

I'll try and get some pictures up sometime soon to interrupt these boring text fields.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

We did it!

We are now officially living in Berlin! Through a series of emails and phone calls, we managed to strike a deal with a girl to live in her apartment for one month while she is on vacation in Bangkok. In this time we will be actively searching for an apartment of our own in the city. Our new base of operations is in East Berlin. We arrived yesterday and walked about the area. There are lots of abandoned lots and buildings around. Most of them are for sale. I thought it would be fun to buy one and fix it up. The area is nice. There are restaurants and grocery store within walking distance. We looked at all the movies in a video rental shop with titles and covers that are different than the ones in America. I also made mental note of an instrument shop that was closed for the weekend. It is getting cold here, about 5C today. I am very excited to finally be in the city!

In other news, we recently spent about two weeks in the sates. Mandie was the maid of honer in her friend's wedding. Congratulations to Allie and Joe who are now happily married! We had fun hanging out with everyone. Many thanks to the Behnings for putting up with us and giving us a place to stay, and Dana for helping us get back to Germany. 1st class flights are very nice! I managed to pick up a Korg MS-2000B, a 44 key virtual analog modeling synthesizer/vocoder, while we were stateside. Click the link to see a photo. It makes fantastic noises! It was quite a task getting it here, but worth the trouble. I cracked open the Moog while in the states, but had no luck getting it to work properly. It will be a project to continue in the future.

The next month will consist of several important task and events. Mandie still has some job interviews lined up in the upcoming weeks. School will start soon for myself. Within a month we should have our own apartment setup. We have all sorts of ideas for future things, so it will be fun to see what happens. I hope that everyone is doing well. We miss you all!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Breakbeats, Pops, and Locks

So I just woke up from a long and satisfying nights sleep after having stayed awake for 37 hours. Why was I up for so long? Breakdancing. Now I cannot dance to save my life but when you throw b-boys and b-girls from all over the world into an arena, you can make a sure bet that there are a lot of people around who can. On Saturday night, the Battle of the Year 2008 World Finals were held in Braunschweig. We took a train there and when we got off, finding our final destination was piece of cake. First we looked around to see which bus stop was surrounded by kids breakdancing, and that was our bus. Our BOTY passes doubled as bus tickets for the day. When these kids got off the bus, we hopped off and listened for music. This was the direction to walk. We got to Volkswagon Halle about two hours early, but no worries about being bored. There were two djs set up on either side with rather large crowds surrounding breakdance circles. [Oh yeah, in case you are not sure what breakdancing is or what b-boys and b-girls are, click on the respective terms to find out. I've had some people ask me to clarify.] We got to see a dance-off between these two awesome little kids, probably 5 or 6, who seemed to be having more fun dancing than focusing on the fact that they were trying to show each other up. Once past the security checkpoints and inside, the arena floor divided up into several dance circles dancing to the house music. One of the djs came out and scratched out some beats for them while the camera crews projected video feeds of them on some of the arena screens.

When the contest started, 19 different teams from countries around the world got to dance their way into the semi finals. Canada had a cool team. Props to Japan for having a chiptune set. Their whole routine was set to mixed up Nintendo music, including the music from Mario that alerts you that the time in your level is running for when the time in their routine was running out. Brazil had a cool set that included some capoeira. The US was awful. They took the opportunity to showcase their breakdancing skills to the world, and instead turned it into some silly vague political statement meaning of course that there was no way that they would place, and they didn't. The entire list of crews were as follows: [includes links and the BOTY2008 hosts, djs, and judges (who were also breakdancers).]

Qualified and confirmed crews:
Tsunami Allstars (Brasil) Now or Never (Canada)
Smokemon (France) TNT Crew (Germany)
Dead Prezz (Greece) Unstopabulls (Israel)
Kaiten Ninja (Japan) TIP (Korea)
Extreme Crew (Korea) La Halla King Zoo (Marocco)
Groove Kingz (Netherlands) Bad Taste Cru (Northern Ireland)
Crazy Twisting Tribal Team (Poland) Top 9 (Russia)

Fallen Angels (Spain) Octagon (Sweden)
Ghost Rockz (Switzerland) Formosa (Taiwan)
Furious Souldiers (USA)

Hosts: Spax ( D ), Trix ( GB )
DJs: Element (USA), Kid Cut (Germany)
Judges: Crazy (Switzerland), Born (Korea), Vartan (Germany), David Colas (France), Kid David (USA)
International Dance Showcases:
Flying Steps (Germany)
Salah (France)
Hilty & Bosch (Japan)

http://www.battleoftheyear.de/
Also, watch this highlight video of the competition and in the crowd shot at the beginning you can see me for a split second up front before the camera pans away to the stage. I'm wearing blue on my head.

The contest was awesome! Russia ended up coming out on top winning best show and first place. I was personally pulling for Korea at the end. Oh well! After the show we took off and found a place to grab some falafel and ate in front of a closed bank before walking back to the train station.

The earliest train going out was at 6:17 in the morning so Braunscheig Hauptbahnhof was converted into a huge after party. Imagine a few hundred people in the photo of the station. A dj showed up and someone even brought a drumset. Breakdance circles popped up everywhere. People danced all night! I even saw an old lady hop into one of the circles and breakdance. Salah, the French pop&lock/break dancer (cool video link) came out to the train station. A bunch of girls made fun of his performance at BOTY and thus challenged him to a dance off in which he showed them up so hard. It was cool to see him hanging out and interacting with all the other dancers. (He reminded me of doseone freestyling with all the kids in the parking lot before the Subtle show.) After the dj took off, kids busted out their boomboxes and continued on dancing. We tried taking a quick nap in a corner, but with this much going on it didn't work so well. People were collecting bottles for money, the stores stayed open late in the station, kids were trying out all the moves that they learned that night, people were teaching each other moves, and all in all everyone was having fun. All you kids who went to the sleek corporate-sponsered after party at the club, missed out and are fake anyways. I looked at pictures of the official after party and it looked like a lame college night at a club with a bunch of dressed upclub kiddies running around with their cocktails talking about how cool hip-hop is, but whatever; I'm sure they had fun too.

So until noon the following day it was nothing but train stations as buses until we finally made our way back to Solingen. I chose not to sleep right away so that I could stay up not mess up my sleep schedule. Success! I went for a walk to keep myself awake and found these cool tunnels and the botanical garden here in town. I also walked downtown and wondered about for a bit. Ok, this is getting boring. Hope everyone is doing well stateside!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I held hands with Alice Glass.

So last night we took off on a train to Frankfurt for a night of electronic music. We got to Frankfurt and made out way to Batschapp, the venue of the evening, via S Bahn. As soon as I stepped off the train this German scene girl hands me a beer and we joined a group of others to the show. We ended up making some friends at the show which was pretty cool. The event of the evening; Jagermeister Rock:Liga hosting Shitdisco, Metronomy, and a personal favorite, Crystal Castles. The first, Shitdisco, as their name may suggest, I thought were fairly shitty. Basically a bunch of guys who did not know how to play instruments and let the effects do the work for them. Metronomy, I was pleased to find out, was actually composed of three musicians, which is somewhat rare in the realm of scene electro tunes. They delightfully put on an act consisting of clever instrument combinations and stage theatrics amidst thoughfully programmed beats. Fairly British, girl related lyrics, and 80s sounding and I have a feeling it is probably better live than on recordings. -ok, I just watched some videos and they were fairly lame. Anyways, the highlight of the evening was Crystal Castles. Pretty much chaos in the dark. Ethan had a fairly hefty synth rig and there was a live drummer. Alice, whether jumping about or writhing on the floor, dished out sharp distorted vocals. Despite the deliberate strobe burst and led flashes, I have to say I did not get a clear look at any one of them. Alice did reach out and hold my hand for a little bit during one of the songs, and I was the only one! This made me happy considering my pseudo-crush for the electrothrash Canadian.



After the show we wondered around Frankfurt to pass time till our train departed. We found a park that was infested with rabbits. They were everywhere. This was ironically situated right outside of Frankfurt's sex district which was conveniently nestled in the heart of the financial district. We were looking for food and some Turkish guys ushered us into their restaurant. They were awesome, everyone in the whole place was talking to us and making sure we had anything and everything we needed. Turkish Tea on the house! Our train got delayed about two hours last night and we did not get back to solingen until eight in the morning. The buses were full of kids going to school.

Last week we took a two day trip to Berlin. Mostly the trip was dedicated to Mandie's job interviews but we did manage to do some fun stuff. We found an old post-soviet building, very unkept, that was full of working art studio/galleries. There were lots of painters and collage artist in the building. In one of the rooms I found a recording studio jam packed with synthesizers, drum machines, and all sorts of other equipment. I felt at home and talking to the guy running the place for a while till wondering off to explore further. In the bottom was a bar and a cafe. There was a band from Ireland setting up in the bar. We wondered out back where there is a large outdoor lounge area with all sorts of artist made benches and tables. In the same lot there was a working sculpture studio complete with a labyrinth of bizarre sculptures and people in modified shipping containers welding away. The whole block is pretty much an artist haven with a political/punk overtone, a fascinating place to hang out. It was weird sitting in the back lot, sipping a drink, and thinking, “This used to be Russia.”

We walked through the old US Army International checkpoint. Very touristy spot, but there were fascinating things all around including a section of the original Berlin Wall. It is rather aged and starting to crumble from years of exposure, but at one point in history was a strong symbol of the iron curtain. Wondering around at night we came across a cemetery that contained mass graves from the holocaust. The history is sometimes unsettling, especially when you randomly come across it. In this place there were memorials to a Jewish nursing home which was destroyed and a courtyard with plaques describing how well over a thousand Jews were gathered in the spot to be shipped out to concentration camps. We continued walking around and ended up in what seemed like a middle of nowhere place by the river with lots of trees and randomly came across this little bar/cafe. We stopped for a drink and then continued past the zoo to the Kaiser-Wilhelm- Gedächtniskirche. This is an old church which was heavily damaged as a result from the bombing and warfare during WWII. Instead of rebuilding it like the rest of the city, Berlin decided to leave it standing as a symbol and reminder of the effects of war. Kaiser-Wilhelm- Gedächtniskirche has a ghostly appearance in the city, and up close you can see all the scars from bullets and bombs. It is an emotionally moving sight to take in to say the least. Berlin is full of things like this. All over the city you will find gold bricks in the sidewalk with names of individuals or families that died or went missing in the war. There are also many peace monuments all around the city.

Everyone is back in Solingen now. Fred and Regina are back from Sardinia and we are hanging out here piecing together what should be our future in Berlin. There are some really cool plans in the making. Also, good luck to Anna who is studying for exams!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Corn?


A week ago, we went down to Switzerland for a visit. Zürich was an exciting city with lots of things gong on. We got to meet René, and also successfully deliver him a new bike wheel (he is an avid cyclist). Sarah took us on a tour of her school, ETH (Zürich Polytech), which is a high end engineering/science school. Einstein went to this school (which now offers classes on relativity). Among some of the things we did were, visits to Peterskirche, Fraumünster, and Großmünster (three famous churches, Fraumünster has pretty windows by Chagall), the Swiss national museum, Palentological museum, Zoological museum, Medicinal museum, Art Museum of Zürich, ETH, and Zürich University. There was a device called the Polybahn that was similar to San Fran's cable cars that allowed quick travel up this hill to the university area. We also got to ride a boat (sort of like a lake tram) all around lake Zürich while simultaneously enjoying ice cream despite it being rather cold on the lake. The boat passed by a freestyle snowboarding competition complete with rock bands and a large snowboarding track. On one of the evenings we went out to a science night event where many booths were set up along the riverside to demonstrate projects and scientific concepts to the public. Among some of the things I learned about are the preservation of over 400 different varieties of corn in order to keep track of the biodiversity of corn in Switzerland that resulted after its introduction from America, a device that tracks and records where the human eye is looking, and the properties and physics of superconductors (I got to play with magnets and liquid nitrogen to create floating superconductors). Apparently the Swiss government pumps lots of money into scientific research and development. The Zürich train station one evening had a large market setup inside where we got to try free samples of olives and cheeses.

Prior to our week trip to Switzerland we took a trip to the castle Schlossburg, here in town. This was an adventurous medieval place with lots of sword fighting, black smithing, and food. There were all sorts of rooms, towers, and dungeons to explore.

Back to proper chronological order, after Switzerland we took off on a train to a rad city called Berlin. After checking into our hostel/hotel room, we wondered around the city for the evening before crashing relatively early so that Mandy could get to her job interviews the next day. She managed to book three for the same day! We found a place to grab some falafel to eat and then a bar to try out Berlin's white beer. I just don't seem to like beer all that much. The following day, I tried talking to lots of people along the way to my school. There was this soldier character selling visas to enter into West Berlin. Touristy, but fascinating nonetheless. All these political nuts stopped me and exclaimed that I should heed the warnings of some economic crisis prophet character. I met this girl and went into this place since we were both trying to find the same office, but the people inside were on strike so she could not register as a new citizen. I asked this Asian florist girl directions and she could not speak English or German so it did not work very well. I found my way however in this cool bookstore/coffee shop where this guy spoke perfect English. The School that I am going to attend rocks! I stopped in and said hello and got a copy of my acceptance letter and then made my way to the German foreign Office. Of course they were on strike too so no luck on applying for that visa yet. We ate at this Thai place that had cheap cocktails and really cool swings to sit and eat in on the sidewalk, but I have to say, it was not as good as the Thai place in Boone. I miss it so very much! Berlin was so much fun to walk around. I met lots of cool people, found cool hangout places, figured out the transit system, and to top it off, it is a rather inexpensive city. Everything tends to be relatively cheap. The city is old and there is random evidence everywhere of the war and the socio/political division that once existed. I walked by one old building and noticed machine gun marks etched out on its walls. I'm sure that lots more photos will pop up from Berlin after we move there. For now we are still in Solingen until we get visas.

On a side note, Sarah told us a funny story. In German, the word korn means wheat and the word maize means corn. After WWII, America asked Germany what they needed more than anything and they said korn. Unknowingly, America sent Germany large shipments of corn. The German people were a bit confused wondering what they would do with so much maize, and why it was that After having made clear what they needed they received something else entirely. I suppose that the humor lies in the fact that even simple words can lead to huge misunderstandings. Sarah calls these words, false cognates, false friends. The picture here is of a corn plant I found growing out of the sidewalk next to Großmünster.

New Addition! It should be noted that Mandie has created an online photo album that has various collections of all the snapshots from along the way that are not posted on either of our blogs. Anyone who is interested can check them out. More will be posted as time goes on. Keep in mind that both of us tend to get so caught up in things that we usually forget that we even have a camera with us. This is why sometimes there are not as many photos as one would expect (for example the first Berlin album)

http://picasaweb.google.de/robotvsvelociraptor

I'm not sure if this link will take you to the German version or redirect to the English version. If anyone has problems, try replacing the .de with .com and see what happens. Otherwise just post a comment or shoot me an email. Also if anyone has questions along the way regarding our trip or anything else, feel free to post a comment or send an email and get an answer to your inquiry. I know we don't always explain everything and sometimes skip over important details. It's all just so exciting!




Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Zürich

Exploring Zürich! This message is being dispatched from the Zürich ETH (polytech). More on this later.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Köln

Anna'a party was exciting! There were so many cakes and sweets to eat at the party! Someone gave Anna a hot-air balloon for her birthday. Later that evening we took it outside and launched it, and it sailed off over the neighborhood until it looked like a star in the night sky.

Mandie and I took a daytrip to Köln (Cologne) via train. As soon as we exited the train station we were standing in front of the magnificent Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral). An impressive sight, the Köln Dom is one of the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world. Construction of the Dom began in 1248 and ended in 1880. It was the tallest building in the world for four years. We went inside and walked around. There are lots of sclptures, pictures, artifacts, and stained glass windows. This is the home of the remains of the Three Wise Men which are kept inside a golden sarcophagus. One of the oldest crucifixes also resides here, as well as the largest bell in the world: St. Petersglocke. We met a Polish lady who gave us her address and insisted that we visit her in Poland. We are still not sure why. We stuck around for midday prayer. Winfried Bönig played the pipe organ which was a real treat! There was more than one organ playing, or maybe the pipes were just placed in two different locations, and it sounded as if the enormous cathedral vault had pipe organs in surround sound. After prayer, we climber the tower which was 509 steps up to an openwork tower platform with a breathtaking view of Köln.


Official cathedral website with tons of info!

Kölner Dom on wikipedia!

Following the Cathedral we had lunch at a sidewalk café where we ate delicious sandwiches and I tried a Kölsch, which is the beer of the city. It tasted sweet and sort of hazelnutty. Having never really liked beer, have no idea how to describe it properly. When lunch was over we made our way down the Rhine to the chocolate museum. I learned so much about chocolate including, history, processing, packaging, advertising, and etc. Inside they had a climate controlled garden (which was hot and humid!) with chocolate trees! There was a great chocolate fountain with golden decorations, and free chocolate bars, wafers, and truffles! Oh it was so good! On exhibition were processing machines that were in operation making chocolate bars, hollow chocolate figures, and truffles so that we could see how the entire process worked. One of the rooms had vintage chocolate advertisements playing. They were funny in that old commercial sort of way. There was a walk-through exhibit of historical things relating to chocolate from its Mayan origin all the way to modern-day aspects. I even found a chocolate phonograph from 1903 that came with chocolate discs with 38 second recordings on them each.

Walking around Köln, I saw these bikes periodically that were labeled, “Call a Bike.” The deal was you call a phone number and it unlocked the bike so that you could ride it around wherever you wanted, for a fee I am sure. What a clever idea!

Historically, the Romans at one point in time had expanded their empire into Germany. The origional doorway to the city and parts of the roman wall are still in Köln. We both passed through this door. Of course thinking back, that would have been a good picture to have taken, but at the time we were just like, “Oh thats cool!” and then ran off (as we do often).

I was walking ontop of this wall, and when I got to the end I looked down and saw the ost peculiar thing: a large rat that had been squished by a substantial brick! What an odd thing to stumble upon!

We went into a string instrument store to look around and the cellos caught my attention. The girl working in the shop showed them to us. There was one cello from 1900 France for over 6000 Euro, and a German one from 1920 that was equally expensive. I'm sure that they sounded as lovely as they looked!

Alternately, I found an electronic instrument store which is a bit more in my price range and practical interest. I am already looking at ways to expand this street music, and have been considering going partially electronic.



I have enrolled in the Sprachenatelier in Berlin. This is a language school as well as a culture and art center. I plan on taking several of their German programs. The school is located in the middle of downtown Berlin And should make the perfect opportunity for meeting people and obtaining a firmer grasp on the culture of Germany. After all, if I am going to go back to school it might as well be fun!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

International Musician

September 12:

Sarah and Anna are here! I've been waiting a long time to meet Sarah. She is awesome! The similarities between she and Mandie are evident.

Mandie and I went downtown earlier to hang out and wonder about in the rain. Everyone was setting up for a fair and we found a guy selling waffles on sticks. I thought it was hilarious and had to have one just for the novelty. So there we were walking around downtown Solingen eating waffles on sticks. We went into a store to get some socks and the lady at the checkout counter thought we were German (I was not talking) and then Mandie tried to use her card to pay and the lady looked confused and asked if we were from England since the card was in English. She was surprised when we told her that we were from America and told us that we did not look like we were from America. I have also been told that my last name sounds very German. I think that we will fit in here nicely.

Later, after Anna and Sarah arrived on the train, we went back downtown for the fair. It was fun, there were bands covering American songs, techno with people talking over it on the microphone (in German of course), people selling items. I found a green Hohner soprano Melodica and I bought it for 4 Euros after a bit of haggling. This was very exciting for me! Actually, Hohner is a German company so I am keeping up with the running theme so far. While I was waiting for everyone outside of a building, I sat down and started playing it and low and behold, I made my first Euro! It was also my first time as a street performer!

September 13:

Plums! We sliced up 12 kilos of plums to make plum cakes, which sound delicious. We will be celebrating Anna's Birthday, and there will be lots of people over. I am excited. We walked to the French store (Sarah, Mandie, and I) but it was closed.

Mandie has a new post. The address again is robotvsvelociraptor.blogspot.com. It has pictures of everyone being silly! Mandie also seems to be very worried about the kitchen thing. I think that it will be much easier than she thinks it will be.

DHL delivered the tickets that I ordered today for International Battle of the Year! This is the final competition for breakdance teams from all over the world, and it is being hosted in Braunschweig, Germany. I have no doubt that the event will prove to be amazing.

Battle of the Year 2008

Also, check out the site for the 2008 documentary film Planet B-Boy

Fred, Regina, Anna, Mandie, and I went back downtown for more of the fair. We watched an outdoor comedy show where these guys dressed up and acted very silly. They pretended to be the Jackson Five, a magician and the lovely assistant, skydivers, and classical singers. It was hilarious! Everyone was laughing! Regina found a really old jacket (100+ years) that fit me surprisingly enough. It was a long overcoat looking jacket with a split back. We looked in the pockets and there was an old pack of Middle Eastern/Asian cigarettes that Fred told me had opium in them. I'm not sure if he was joking or not. The man selling it wanted way too much money for it so I ended up not buying the jacket. In the car on the way home, everyone was trying to get me to say this tongue twister that I couldn't get, because 1. I don't know the words, and 2. I seem to have trouble making the right sound. I need more practice!


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Itsa me!

Today I helped Fred get rid of a large pile of scrap from around the house. I got to wear red coveralls and looked very much like Mario! First all the glass and yard scraps went to a sorting facility that had all sorts of bins that were for specific materials. Recycling and composting in a very organized fashion was the main focus of this facility. We should have them in America, but alas! they are few and far between. Then we went to the incinerator to drop off the rest of the scraps, mostly wood. This facility made my excitement about the last one subside a bit as I remembered all that I learned in school about incinerators and how incredibly awful they are for the environment and people. However, it was here that I found some electrical cords that I can use on some of the electronics that I brought (keep in mind the different voltage and plug ends in Europe).

For those of you who want to see the town of Solingen, I found a webcam of the city.

Also, Mandie has a blog up that you can check out! Right now there are pictures up there of some of the people that we visited on our trip around the Southeast. It can be found at http://robotvsvelociraptor.blogspot.com/. Check it out and book mark it along with Space Bats!








There is a particular vegetable that I think deserves mentioning; Kohlrabi. I have never heard of it untill the other night. Maybe it is more common than I thought and I just somehow missed it. The round part there is delicious, similar tasting to broccoli, and as I found out is delicious when sliced up and baked with cheese!


One more mentionable is the yellow raspberry. I have never seen these either. As a dessert we had these along with strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries (all from the back yard) over vanilla ice cream. Yum!

Down to business: I have begun looking into language schools. There are so many options. Most of the Private schools are way too expensive, and the universities seem more interested in a full schedule that includes language but is more comprehensive in terms of Germany (think of learning English in an American econ/law/culture class). I have found a few leads and have sent out some emails. This is my current project since I need to find someway of kicking it here legally. Since I do not know the language I the odds are sort of against me in the reals of school and work. After several months learning German I should be ready for anything that comes my way.

I've been drinking a lot of mineral water lately.

Oh snap! Today I heard the doorbell ring and ran downstairs to answer. Opened the door, said Hallo!, and the guy (in work garb) said something and I just stood there all awkward. I had no clue what he wanted. Of course I called Mandie down and she handled it and explained to the man that I do not speak German. Oh man, it was so awkward. The same thing happened the other day at the post office. I opened the door into this lady and went to apologize, but only froze. I had no idea how to laugh it off or tell her I didn't mean to slam the door into her. She probably thinks I am a jerk. It is a funny thing, my brain recognizes things around me; buildings, signs, books, people, and all the normal everyday things, but then I go to read said sign, label, building, book title, or understand and talk to people and that is the moment when my brain realizes, "Oh yeah, not as familiar as everything seems." I know with time I will get used to this and even begin to understand and communicate, but as for now it makes me very dependent on others which is frustrating because I am typically very independent.

Two things I've learned, one in the kitchen and the other at the dining table:

1. Cooking with metric units is awesome, because instead of volume based measurements, you use mass based measurements, this means that you can mix everything in one bowl situated on a scale and never have to use spoons and cups. Much less clutter and mess!

2. In Germany, and apparently in France, if you leave your knife and fork crossed on your plate it means that you plan on having more food. If you position your knife and fork parallel to each other in a diagonal fashion on the plate, it means that you are finished. This may explain why the server is not taking your plate, or running off with it instead. I came about this bit of knowledge after a bit of post-eating conversation. I was asked well after I was finished if I was going to have anymore. It was then explained to me that the way I had my knife and fork positioned that I was suggesting to everyone that I was going to eat more and not to put away the food yet.

On a side note: I've noticed that piercings aren't really as big of a deal here. Perhaps it is in the way that people here regard each other culturally. I'm not sure exactly. Downtown I noticed a girl with a bridge piercing. Yesterday the new neighbors stopped in to introduce themselves. The lady had a smiley! If you don't know what either of these are you should look them up. I guess my point here is that I usually am not one to think so much of piercings, especially since I have had mine for so long. Usually it is other people who mention them or make dumb jokes about them which I can usually understand, but I think what strikes me here so far is that no one has called attention to my piercings or made a big deal about them at all. Not even curious inquiries regarding how much they hurt or funny looks. I think what I am noticing is the impressive level of acceptance and the harmonious perspective that the Germans have towards each other. This is of course my reaction to what I have encountered so far.

I really like it here. I have a feeling that I am going to love Berlin! It is late and Mandie has already fallen asleep. Everyone Stateside is hopefully enjoying their Thursday evenings. I am going to go drift asleep to the sound of the rain coming through the open window.

Gute Nacht und traum schön!


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Let's get out of this town!


This is a general representation of our flight paths from Greensboro to Atlanta, and Atlanta to Düsseldorf. I used the New and Accurate Chart of the Western Ocean from 1788 for complete accuracy.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Gutentag!

Hallo all!

We have made it successfully to Germany! Currently we are living in Solingen which is a city in North Rhine-Westphalia. It is called the City of Blades because approximately 90% of all German knives are made here in Solingen. Solingen is beautiful and the people here are very generous.

Mandie and I, before our departure made a road trip to visit friend and family along the way. I would like to thank Quile McCamerson, Tanya & Sarah, Daniel Robinette (congrats on the novel), Brett, Erin & Skip Campbell, Cleo and crew, Roy, Brock (best of luck in Belize and Nicaragua!) Linda & Joe, Trish & Rochdi, Mr. and Mrs. Pietranski, the sharks in the gulf at Venice Beach, Nanny, Aunt Sandy & Uncle George, Richard & Kelly, Rich and Ginger (and the mittens), Debbie, Doug, Nick, and Kaye for your generosity and making our road trip and last few weeks in the US exciting and meaningful. Our road trip was long and extensive. We put over 2000 miles on our rented silver pontiac G5. Also in Venice, we found about 500 sharks teeth! It was exciting to get to see everyone before our departure. We miss you all and are thinking of you!

About three days before the day of our flight, we realized that we did not know where our passports were. We searched through everything, our room, our cars, the attic, the fridge (you never know), and our storage unit, turning up nothing. So we made an appointment in Washington DC at the passport office to get new ones. After a long day of searching, exhausted from both the road trip and the unpacking and repacking of everything we own, Mandie found them in an obscure kitchen drawer. Of course the memory of me thinking that this drawer was the perfect safe-place to store our passports came rushing back to me. So thus, I almost lost our passports and thankfully a trip to Washington was avoided.

Our flight out of Raleigh was canceled. Since we were flying standby, and the hurricane scared the airlines into canceling certain flights, and all the people on the canceled flight moved to the other airplane. To remedy this we went to Greensboro and switched our standby status to a different flight going to Atlanta and it worked, we flew out on schedule and made the connecting flight to Solingen. We were seated in first class! This was exciting. We were wined and dined the whole way through. As soon as we boarded they were serving champagne. It was the first time that I actually wanted to eat all the airline food. It was delicious. The flight was long, we reached altitudes of 40,000 feet and outside temperatures of -17. It as an amazing feeling looking out as plane rose above the clouds. As everyone was sleeping I listened to the Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails on the touch screen display unit. Over England, I watched the sun rise over that wide arc which is the faint curve of the earth. We landed here early in the morning. and Anna picked us up from the airport She brought us home and gave us a tour of her family's beautiful home.

Solingen is wonderful! Aside from not knowing the language, I feel right at home. It is much cooler here. Feels much like autumn. We went to a diner party with some of Fred and Regina's friends. It was fun to meet people and spend time talking and sharing stories. It is very different not knowing the language. Random people will talk to me, not knowing that I am foreign, and I just stand there looking all confused. I tried saying hello to strangers, but Mandie laughed and said that it sounded like I was yelling the word Tag at them and that I need to try it a bit softer and quicker. I have noticed that through body language, volume, and random bits of information I am able to follow along much better than I thought I would, but I obviously do not know the language so I am looking into language classes. The food has been delicious! I have not had a single dish that I have not enjoyed.

I have noticed that all the cars around here are for the most part very small. It is awesome, there are so many makes and models that do not exist in the states. I will make a list of names later. Germany seems to be keen on efficiency. As we were landing I noticed a wind turbine in the distance, and solar panels on some of the houses. This is a good sign for me, at least that is if I do pursue a job within my field of study. I have been in two homes so far and noticed that the fridges are smaller than they tend to be in the states. More energy efficient and healthier too. Lots of the food I have eaten so far came from local gardens, either in the community or from the back yard. Delicious!

The home that we are staying in is a four story house that is divided in half vertically in a sort of duplex style. We are staying on the attic floor in a room that has a window that over looks the garden in the back, and also has a nice view of some of the homes in the neighborhood and off into the countryside. Mostly there is hardwood floors, but there is tile in the kitchen and the bathrooms. The house it decorated in a sort of modern/traditional blend, at least if I were to describe it from an American viewpoint. There is a sun room that opens out to the garden that is nice for sitting and enjoying the company of others. In the basement there is a wine cellar and a sauna. It is a very comfortable home.

Thank you Fred and Regina for opening up your home to Mandie and I. We appreciate it very much! Also, Thank you Anna for meeting us at the airport and for the generous welcome gifts! Sarah, we will see you soon!

(The photos are, in order, me on the plane probably over canada, back yard and garden, Klosterkiche in downtown, view from bathroom, house we are in, view from our bedroom, view from music room, Fred and Regina's home, garten, und Anna in das garten)

Hopefully I will be able to post frequently and I will try my best to not make it sound completely like a diary. I miss everyone and am thinking of you all! Keep in touch and spread word about this blog to anyone that you think may be interested in our travels in Europe!

Tschüß!
Phil