It is hot outside

And public transit is suddenly hellish.


A thing to do

On the way home from Luxembourg (I guess I will start my Luxembourg saga with the end, as well), I hit upon the idea to find on the map the little town where Thomas Wegener grew up. The name of the town is Lengerich. Thomas Wegener was driving the car, because he was the one who took me to Luxembourg.

When I had found Lengerich, I began quizzing him about all the surrounding towns, like Gersten and Handrup and Langen, and farther-away cities, like Meppen and even Osnabrück. To be honest, most of the things he said weren't really all that interesting in and of themselves. Thomas's high school was in Handrup. Geeste had a wonderful lake where Thomas sometimes went out on his uncle's boat. Hopsten had a high school where people who got D's at Thomas's high school went in order to get A's and B's. Nordholte had it's very own protection union, a relic of the time when farmers had to unite to defend their farms against marauders. A lot of different towns (Freren, for example) had girls in them with whom Thomas had had no romantic success. Even more towns had large annual festivals where people got absurdly drunk. In fact, at one festival in Nordholte a man had been killed in a festive drunken brawl, in the recent past.

The point is, even though I don't remember the details of most of the stories, I now feel that I have an idea of what it is like to live in Lengerich. Which I think is really cool.

Anyway, I think that this could be a fun activity to complete with friends and acquaintances of all ages. I recommend that you try it. Let me know how it goes.


I need to learn narrative conciseness

For evidence, see the previous post.


I was just in Poland. I have a lot to say about Poland. Poland is pretty great. Elizabeth Ryznar is a wonderful tour guide. A wonderful, Polish-speaking tour guide. Seriously, go visit Elizabeth in Poland. You won't regret it.

I think the most reasonable place to begin my story is at the end.

I had a Plan A to get out of Poland. It involved arriving at the Krakow central train station at 12:15, buying a ticket to the German city of Cottbus, and then taking the train from there back to my home in Golm. The reason that a train directly back to Berlin was not Plan A was, as in so many other cases, money. Buying train tickets within Poland is very cheap, and but international tickets are not very cheap at all. My student fees include free public transit within the German states of Brandenburg and Berlin, so all I really had to do was get to the border. If my plan had worked, I would have been back in Golm by 2:00 am. But there were two problems with my plan. The first problem: I dropped my student ID on the way out the door to my building when I was leaving home, so I had no way of proving that I was entitled to free rail transit. The second problem: the woman at the train station's international desk had never heard of Cottbus, which is a little frustrating, considering that it is a city of 100,000 directly on the Polish border. The unnumbered problem: I got to the train station at about 12:38, meaning I had seven minutes to attempt to buy my ticket. This absolutely did not happen.

Elizabeth and I then spent about an hour and a half attempting to figure out whether it would be possible to take a bus to the border, and finally settled on the idea that the 19:45 train to Szczecin would be the least worst option. Overnight trains are never that great, but I had to be back in Golm by 3 on Monday for class, so I decided to just eat to keep myself awake and try to get some reading done. I wandered around Krakow for some time, bid Elizabeth good-bye, and got to the station by 6:45. This is the earliest I have ever been for anything ever, which makes the following events even more unfair.

It turns out that, in Poland, every platform has two different tracks. In Germany, the layout is the same, but the tracks are called, for instance, "Track 3" and "Track 4." In my case, all I knew was that I was leaving from platform 3. The big sheet of paper listing all departing trains was behind a pane of glass that was sort of fogged over, so I couldn't really read what was going on. My ticket didn't have a train number on it (or the platform number, or really any other useful information).

While I was waiting on the platform, a huge long train pulled up, bound for Berlin, and made up entirely of sleeping cars. I thought to myself "man, I wish that was my train." I had paid 62 złote, or $20, for my ticket, so such luxury was quite unthinkable. But in fact it turns out that that was indeed my train. It apparently was going through Szczecin on the way to Berlin. Despite the fact that Berlin is on the way to Szczecin (if you ask Google Maps). I instead got on the train a couple minutes later from the same platform (but the other track), bound for Trzebinia. Which is actually really near Kraków. I really should have realised that this was not my train, as it was really tiny, but I had just got into my head that the other train was definitely not my train. And this was an assumption I absolutely failed to question.

When the ticket-taker women came by, she looked at my ticket and spoke some rapid Polish. When I told her "Ja nie rozumiem," she sighed and started shouting into her walkie-talkie. She conversed in this fashion for at least ten minutes, and then finally came back to me and tried to make me understand. But she wouldn't talk slowly, so I couldn't get any information. Eventually another passenger volunteered some broken English, and I learned that I should get off at Trzebinia and wait for another train. So I did. The ticket taker literally led me by the arm to my platform and then waited for two minutes with me, until my train came. She was so kind, even though we couldn't communicate at all. I told her "Dziękuję bardzo," and climbed on the other train. The ticket-taker man on that train also didn't speak any foreign languages, but he managed to communicate to me that I had to move all the way to the back of the train, so I did.

So there I was, in the last compartment on a train bound for I knew not where, at night, with no one to talk to in English, German, or Russian. And that's actually the climactic moment of the story. Sorry.

Eventually a different, English-speaking ticket-taker man came and told me to get off the train at 10:00 in Katowice and wait for the midnight train to Szczecin. So I did. Katowice was boring and depressing and a little bit cold, but eventually the train came. On this particular train, there were no free places, but I heard a small group of student age people speaking English in the hall, so I asked them what was the deal with Polish Rail. They didn't know.

The group of people turned out to be two Spanish girls, a Hungarian girl, and a Polish guy. The girls were studying abroad in Poland, and the guy had apparently been grilling them about their opinions on Polish men. I scared him away, for which I received many thanks. Anyway they shared a little bit of food, and we commiserated about Polish Rail. And then we all sort of fell asleep sitting up in the hallway, except the one girl who was studying for an exam. Finally, at Wrocław, the train emptied out, and we went to get a compartment. The rest of the trip was really uneventful. The girls got out at Poznań, and then eventually, at about 9 in the morning, the train reached Szczecin. I then was able to catch another train back to Berlin, and to Golm. I will presumably never see those kind foreigners again (I actually forget their names), but I cannot imagine how miserable I would have been without them.

One more annoyance: I had dropped my student ID on the way out the door to my dorm in Golm, and my ID doubles as my rail pass within Berlin-Brandenburg. So I actually had to buy a 9€ ticket back to Golm from Angermünde, which made me pretty unhappy. I arrived in Golm at 1, after 17 hours in transit.

Luxembourg, Photos

I posted a new album called "The View from the Top," which is more pictures from Kraków. They are like the other pictures, but more tower-themed. Also the album "Unos Fotos" has been added to.

Right now I am in Luxembourg. It is pretty great; I just went for a run and took some boring but hopefully not unaesthetic photos. The students at the University of Luxembourg have a weird life. First, language: the inhabitants of the country speak an insane dialect of German called Lёtzebuergesch, most business in the country takes place in French, German is quite widely spoken, and the language of the dorm where I am a guest is English. Second, littleness: the dorm I am staying in has 18 residents, and the entire country has 500 000. Third: everything closes super-early. Even the Germans complain about it, and Germany is certainly not the land of Open-24-Hours. That's actually pretty much all I've got. Anyway, these three things suffice to make the country really strange.

I'm going to go now and try to find a couple of open shops. I am not optimistic.


Photos from Poland

I've put up a bunch of photos from Poland. You can read the captions for a short version of my trip. I'm working on some posts, but life is sort of hectic right now. It turns out I'm going to Luxembourg on Thursday.

Also new photos in the album about ridiculous English.



On the bus to class to-day, I was reading some Middle High German. A girl from my class saw me there, and stopped by to ask me whether I was in her presentation group. It turns out I am. We chatted for 10 minutes or so about meeting for the presentation, the likely make-up of the final exam, and our common difficulties in finding a uniting theme for the course. I finally mentioned that I hoped that I would be granted a little leeway on the translation portion of the exam, considering that I am not a native speaker of German. My assertion was met with surprise! The girl had thought my German was a little funny, but apparently not funny enough that I couldn't be from the Saarland or Switzerland or someplace. This despite the fact that, during conversation, I had bungled a couple of utterances badly enough that I just gave up on them, and the fact that I had forgotten the gender of the word "Referat" (presentation).

My point is: if you make enough progress in whatever language you are learning, you will sound like a really inarticulate native speaker, rather than an unusually articulate second-language speaker. Great.

Germans are awesome

So I was in Kaufland to-day, and Thomas and I were thinking about going swimming. He asked an employee: "Habt ihr Swimmbrillen?" The employee responded "Haben Sie Schwimmbrillen. Nein."

You see, Thomas had used the informal form of the plural "you," rather than the formal (which he later explained was generally inoffensive in the specific context of asking a store employee about the availability of wares). The employee, without even stopping to consider things, elected to take him down a peg before answering his question in the negative. I couldn't stop laughing. This behaviour was just so foreign to me.

Am I right in thinking that this sort of behaviour would get any employee of an American store in trouble?


A moment of embarrassment

To-day, I had to ask the meaning of the term "Hakenkreuz," which was used in an example sentence in one of my classes. It turns out that the meaning of this term is "Swastika." Germans have never, ever heard the word "Swastika." I got a lot of funny looks.

My classes

My classes seem to all be running behind.

Professors are fond of disappearing: one of my professors took two weeks away to go get his Dutch citizenship, for instance. One of my professors went to America for a conference. Etc.

Classes tend to start late. The standard class period runs for half an hour, from, for instance, 11:15 to 12:45. There is a train that leaves at :39, though, so a couple of my professors have arranged to have us begin class on the hour, so that we might get out in time to catch this train. Unfortunately, the professors still tend to arrive at :15, so the lecture just ends up being 15 minutes shorter.

Professors tend to exhaustively go over the solutions to the assignments. I have never found myself able to pay attention to this kind of thing, so this is just wasted time for me.

The couple of first-year courses that I have are rather prone to violent revolution. One confusing assertion can touch off a ten-minute free-for-all. Comments flow more freely horizontally than vertically. (By this I mean that students talk more among themselves than they do to the professor).

The handouts tend to be too long to cover, even without interruption. When this is combined with the previous three issues, the results can be disastrous. With 27 minutes left in the lecture to-day, I noticed that we were on slide 3 of 35. I pointed this out to my neighbour, who bet me that we would reach slide 16. I bet her that we would reach slide 12. We reached slide 12.


More photographs

I put some new photographs in my "Things in Potsdam" album, and also uploaded a couple new flower pictures, from the grounds of Schloss Cecilienhof.  I went to Park Sanssouci with Jeremy and took some cool pictures there, but they're on his camera, and I don't have access to them (hint, hint).  The flowers, however, which were so incredibly beautiful--and incredibly expensive-looking--two weeks ago, are pretty much just leaves now.  I regret not photographing them when I had the chance.  As I could probably have predicted.


Der Burritoabend

This Friday, I hosted a burrito evening for six of my linguistics acquaintances.  I had tried to do this once before, on a Monday evening, but it didn't work out.  Monday evening would seem a stupid time to try to host a social event, and it was, but I had my reasons.  I live on the Golm campus, you recall, which is in the middle of nowhere, and my acquaintances live either in Potsdam proper or in Berlin.  Since several of them have class with me on Monday afternoon, I figured I would just invite them to dinner afterward.  This ended up being depressing.  I sent the email to six people; after three or so days, I had one yes, two no's, and three no responses.  Ridiculous.  It turns out that I had gotten the addresses from a bad source (because I had no means of contacting these people), and that two of the three no responses had just not received the email.  The other person had meant to respond, and just forgotten, but would have been a "no." 
Anyway, after a week, I sent out another invitation, for last Friday.  This time, everyone but two people accepted, and one person even asked to bring a friend.  Since I had been meaning to hang out with Raphael for some time anyway, and since he couldn't come, we met at mid-day to do some tourism and lunch before the big event.  We saw Schloss Cecilienhof, got some cool pictures (an elephant!  made of tree!), and then I had to go back to Golm.  And Raphael was just sort of following along.  It turns out that he could come after all.  So that was pretty great.

We arrived back at home in Golm at about 5:25, where the guests were meant to arrive at six.  I searched in my pockets.  Then I searched in my bag.  And I didn't have my house key.  I had a little bit of panic, but it turns out my room-mate was home.  So.  Dodged a bullet.

Anyway, at 6:20, it was still just Raphael and me.  And I was starting to get a little bit worried.  But then there was a ring at the door, and all five other people were there.  The men-folk of the group immediately set off through the forest (quite literally), following my directions to the supermarket, where they were fixin' ter procure beverages and desserts.  In the disconcertingly long time they were gone, Raphael and Carina and Daria and I prepared the rest of the meal.  Mostly I confessed to not knowing how to do things, and to doing things wrong, and was reassured by Carina and Daria that I was doing just fine.  Except with the avocados.  The avocados were probably between 5 and 6 on the Mohs scale, meaning they could be scratched by Feldspar, but not Apatite.  And appetite was the only tool we had.  Two drum beats and a cymbal crash!

The rest of the story is mostly told by the photo album, although Facebook is having a lot of problems right now.  The point is, everyone ate a delicious burrito, most people ate another delicous burrito, the conversation was lovely, and I made some friends.  The next evening, I was invited to Berlin for a birthday celebration with this same group of people, plus others.  Also a good time.