Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Well, I must confess, I was uncertain as to whether it was simply a cruel joke…to tempt me with the possibility of seeing home folks, or some new computer virus that was somehow trying to penetrate my email space under the friendly guise of “Here Come the Bears”. Thankfully, it was neither, as I soon found out.
Yes, as the email indicated, The Baylor International Network and Baylor Alumni Association were hosting a number of BU Diadeloso events around the country, and even in a few international locations. And as luck would have it, they were coming to Heidelberg to have a Diadeloso event. For those of you not acquainted with “Baylor speak”, Diadeloso, translated from Spanish, is “Day of the Bear”. It is a campus-wide event that was even in existence when Buddy and I were at Baylor which resulted in a day off from classes, usually involving a gorgeous spring day and a huge mudfight. Anyway, back in Germany, an invitation had been extended to celebrate in the charming town of Heidelberg with other BU grads in commemoration of this special day.
OK, an open invitation like that can always be a bit dicey. Will anyone really show up? Will we travel all that way and there be no event? I can enthusiastically say that about 30-35 other BU alums from around Germany descended on the Heidelberg zoo to share in an American-style picnic with “real” Dr. Pepper. The Dr. Pepper was reason enough to go…seeing Baylor people was the icing on the cake.
Seriously though, it was grand fun to meet other Baylor grads, and to share “living overseas” stories. Although we did not know any of the people at the event, we all knew mutual friends (a.k.a. “6 degrees of separation”, but in this case it was only about 2 or 3). Some of the people were with the military, we had a few missionaries starting churches, a few teachers working for DOD, a couple of opera singers, and even a few business types thrown in (that was Buddy and I). Three hours later, we were still chatting up a storm with these “kindred spirits”, and exchanging email and contact details.
I'd like to think that any group of foreigners would have been this warm and welcoming, but I must confess, I think there is a special bond between Baylor folk…no matter where you are…no matter if you have been friends for 25 years or for 25 minutes…Baylor people are just some of the best people you can ever hope to know.
A special thanks to Brent Edwards and his “extended” team in Heidelberg for pulling the event together. Visiting with Baylor alums was a perfect ending to a great weekend in Heidelberg and was really good for “our expat souls” which had been suffering a little culture shock in the recent move to Germany.
For those of you who are BU alums, be sure and register online with the Baylor Network so that they can connect with you and connect you to BU events in your area. Website is: http://www.baylor.edu/alumni.
Sic ‘em bears!
Monday, May 30, 2005
Heidelberg Germany May 2005 014
Originally uploaded by haryoung.
There comes a point in every expat’s life when you just have to pause for a moment, even amid the chaos of settling in, learning a new city, coping with the newness of work, and handling all the other pressures of moving to a new country, and just “get out of Dodge”. It is not only “good for the soul”, it is an absolute essential coping mechanism. And, that is just what Buddy and I did last weekend as we headed towards scenic Heidelberg...this picture is what awaited us.
For those of you who are “geographically challenged”, Heidelberg is in Southern Germany. When your mind conjures up the mental image of a “typical German town”, this town is probably the picture that appears in your minds-eye. In the course of a year, over 3 million tourists descend onto this tiny hamlet to experience its lovely landscape, peruse its shops and cafes, and most of all, see the famous Heidelberg Schloss (castle).
The Neckar River runs through the town, separating Heidelberg into two areas. On one side, the Altstadt (or old town) section is totally paved in cobblestones. As one walks through the city, it is hard to believe that some of the structures date back to the early 1200’s. Across the bridge, the famous “Philosopher’s Walk” allows you a spectacular view of the town. Of course, the climb is quite steep, and once you recover from the heart attack you've just experienced as you climbed your way heavenward, you can enjoy the view. Interestingly enough, while Buddy and I cannot speak a bit of German, we did run into a newlywed couple from Taipei and began to converse with them in Mandarin...what a world!
The town suffered greatly through 2 wars (War of the Grand Alliance, and Thirty Years War), but each time the magnificent Heidelberg Schloss was rebuilt. It was not until lightening struck the castle in 1764, and which fire damaged most of the castle, that no further restoration was attempted. Another important note is that the town is the site of the oldest university in Germany. Heidelberg University, founded in 1836, continues to be a significant educational institution in Germany.
Thankfully, Heidelberg was spared damage during WWII, when Heidelberg citizens were able to hand the city over to American Allies unscathed. Today, there are approximately 15,000 US troops stationed in the area, but with upcoming base closures, the US Military will relocate those troops into other bases in Germany and around the globe.
Now, believe it or not, there was a secondary reason for traveling to Heidelberg last weekend. One of the Baylor University Alumni Diadeloso events was actually held in Heidelberg…I’ll save that story for another posting later this week. Suffice to say, you can never truly escape the green and gold…it provides a whole new meaning “to flinging our green and gold afar to light the waves of time”….
PS - click on the link "Passport Photos" for more Heidelberg photos.
Friday, May 27, 2005
It was a relaxing day, spent enjoying a beautiful day in Düsseldorf. I will give the Germans this...they know how to enjoy their city! As Buddy and I rode the tram to have lunch in Old Town, the tram crossed over the Rhine River, and all along the sides of the river, people were sunbathing, playing games, picnicking, riding bikes and rollerblading, and walking their dogs. It was truly a glorious sight!
The weather was perfect for a holiday, being about 89 degrees F...remember, AC is not available in most homes and in restaurants. Still, was quite tolerable if you can believe that. Guess it is the lack of humidity. Anyway, it was a sunny day and everywhere people were enjoying the day off. All the restaurants had put out their alfresco seating, and the cafes and pubs were brimming with people. Everyone was in shorts or warm weather attire, just relaxing and enjoying the day. Many of the trees in the old town district had bloomed and their blooms were falling from their limbs as a slight breeze wafted through Altstadt (old town). One felt like it was either lightly snowing or that one was walking through a ticker tape parade....
After a relaxing German meal in an outside cafe, we walked through old town a bit more before heading home to continue "house settling in" activities. (i.e. picture hanging, etc.). Will send a photo as soon as the apartment is in order.
Today, off to Heidelberg for our first German day-trip. Heidelberg is the home of the oldest university in Germany, but has many other sights to entice the traveler, including the famed Heidelberg castle. Buddy and I will also be joining a group of Baylor alums for "Diadeloso in Germany" (see link on the right hand side for details re: The Day of the Bear in Germany) at the Heidelberg Zoo on Saturday. Event will include Dr. Pepper, as only BU alums (and Britten Echols) can appreciate. Will post again upon the return...probably in a couple of days....
For the US contingency, Happy Memorial Day next Monday!!
Now, gotta pack to catch that train to Heidelberg…
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
For starters, lets take the opening hours. Generally speaking, stores (that includes supermarkets, department stores, antique shops, cleaners, post office, bakeries, specialty shops, etc.) are open Monday through Saturday…no shopping on Sunday. Stores are open from 10 am – 8 pm, which includes grocery stores. Specialty shops may only be open till 4 or 5 pm on Saturday afternoons. Bakeries usually close in the afternoon, but are now open on Sunday mornings. In other words, there are several different guidelines and one just has to learn through trial and error. Apparently, German law prohibits stores from being open on Sundays. Interestingly enough, it is supposed to protect the small business owner, apparently to provide him/her protection in the competitive arena…. Hmmm.
One of the biggest differences in our routines thus far, is that we “get up and go” on Saturday mornings. Otherwise, you won’t be able to get your errands done, your food purchased for the weekend, etc. Now, the flip side is that you have Sundays to spend time with family and friends, because you can’t do any shopping or run any errands…guess that is not a bad thing…I do miss those all-night markets in Asia, though.
With that said, there are always exceptions to the rule, to which we cannot yet figure out why. First, there are these quaint stores known as “Trinkhalles” that sell tobacco, beverages, and magazines. They also sell a few basic items like milk, bread, diet coke (I learned that one early on), etc. Sorta like convenience stores…think of the German equivalent to the “mom and pop” small-town corner markets. Another quirk in this rule, is that there are supermarkets in the main train stations that apparently can be open on Sundays. So, if you get in a real pinch, you can always go there for an emergency food run…
Before you have visions of HEB, Kroger, Target, or even Wal-Mart, hold those thoughts…2 of the 3 grocery stores in my immediate area are about half the size of Eckerd’s. (Yes, I know Eckerd’s does not exist anymore, but that is a development since my departure from the US). The stores have a surprising amount of items for their size, but you will rarely see more than 2-3 types of any item. Forget the 25 different cereal choices, or the 15 different types of toothpaste…does make shopping easier with so few choices.
Now, let me get to the issue of sales tax. There is a 16% consumption tax on nearly everything in Germany…that includes food, goods, and services, etc. That is double to what you have in the DFW area. Prices for food seem to be a bit more than in the US, but we are constantly amazed…things we would expect to be pricey rarely are; things we expect to be cheap are not. With that said, you buy what you need for a few days at a time, so as not to have spoilage, plus, the cabinet space is kitchen is quite limited so where would you store it anyway…
Be sure and bring your sacks/bags with you to pack your groceries, otherwise, you’ll be buying your plastic bags (same in Taiwan). I must confess it is quite quaint to see all the women doing their shopping carrying their straw and wicker hampers….seems very nostalgic to me. You can tell I am the foreigner because I am the gal carrying the red Costco sacks with Chinese lettering on them…they serve the purpose, though…
Monday, May 23, 2005
- Name of country in local language: Deutschland
- Nation’s capital: Berlin (moved there after the West and East reunited)
- Type of government: Federal Republic with 16 states
- Independence: January 18, 1887 is the date of German reunification, but UK, USSR, US, and France formally gave up the rights to post-WWII zones in 1991
- Legislature: 2 house Parliament, consisting of (1) General Assembly - 603 seats and elected by popular vote under system combining direct and proportional representation); a party must win 5% of the national vote or 3 mandates to gain representation. Members serve 4 year terms, and (2) Federal Council – 69 votes; state governments are directly represented by votes; each has 3 to 6 votes depending on population and are required to vote as a block.
- Population: 82.4 million; Düsseldorf has approximately 600,000 people
- Official language: German
- Literacy rate: 99%
- Ethnic groups: German 91.5%, other 6.1%, Turkish 2.4%
- Religion: Protestant 34%, Catholic 34%, unaffiliated and other 28.3%, Muslim 3.7%
- Land area: 124,836 square miles (slightly smaller than Montana)
And what about those German innovations? Well, there have been some memorable ones:
- Printing press with moveable type, aka Gutenberg Press (1440)
- Bunsen burner (1855)
- Contact lenses (1887)
- Diesel engine (1892)
- X-ray (1895)
- Geiger counter (1912)
- Electron microscope (1931)
- Ballistic missile (1944)
As I learn more, I’ll share my journey with you, albeit virtually. In case you are just now signing on and want to see previous daily postings, just clink on one of the links in the section “Passport Archives” (to the right)…Danke…
Saturday, May 21, 2005
So, you ask, what has been in the news in Germany?
Well, today’s top headline was actually two stories: The first one entitled “Long-secret salaries at risk in Germany” describes how German law will now require public companies in Germany to disclose the salaries and bonuses of their most senior executives. Supposedly, this is to improve corporate governance in Germany, but the law must still be ratified by the German parliament. Apparently, most countries in Europe already have these laws, as of course, does the US…I was pleasantly surprised to read that most large corporations, government, and shareholder rights advocates are supportive of the measure.
The other lead story, “Iran wants significant incentives for a deal”, deals with Iran and the EU’s negotiation, some say impasse, over restraining Tehran’s nuclear development. EU officials say Iran’s latest offer is a joke…this is quite a big deal in Europe right now…
Over the past few weeks, other news-worthy stories have included:
· Foreign investors seen as “locusts” – Many in Germany see foreign investors who buy distressed German companies, assets, or loans (sound like the work of anyone we know????) as “locusts” and a plague on Germany. Always good to know you are likened to a plague….
· Will the EU constitution be ratified among its member states? You may ask, why is this important? Well, there are varying opinions depending on who you ask and what country they are from. And not everybody in each country agrees. Proponents from such countries as Belgium and the UK, say that a ratified EU constitution means a stronger Europe, with stronger bargaining power, and the creation of an EU job machine. Opponents, from countries such as France and Germany, say that this constitution will only weaken sluggish economies and cause the loss of more jobs to countries with cheaper labor supplies. It is quite the debate….how much coverage is this one getting in Texas?
· Tony Blair’s historic 3rd term election as Prime Minister, and how people are already saying he will not serve a complete 5 year term.
· More Germans do not want to have children - report provides fresh evidence of a trend that is endangering the country's social service system. Apparently, Germans in the age bracket of 30 - 39 are either having 1 child or more commonly, none at all. The primary reasons for the trend include: people focusing more on their careers, a wish for independence and comfort (it is very expensive to live in Germany), fear of job security, and a lack of trust regarding reliability of state benefits. As a result, the government says that state benefits (not just the equalivalent of our Social Security) can't be funded without people having more children. Some politicians have even said that it is the people's duty to procreate; others believe that potential parents will have more children when they are convinced that the future of their potential children will be better rather than worse. Actually, this trend is seen in most industrialized nations right now, not just Germany.
· High unemployment in Germany – government figures say that unemployment is around 10-13% but that does not include people are government work programs. If those were included, the number would be closer to 20%. That is 1 out of 5 people.
· Elections in Germany (that is in my state of North Westphalia) – State and local elections occur on May 29. The main platform issues, as best we can tell, deal with job creation (see previous bullet), and quality of life issues. To me, is seem like politics as usual...good to know that some things are universal and politics is one of them.
Well, that is just a sample…Generally speaking, I can say that news coverage is much more global in nature, not just European. That is the one thing that I think I often lacked an understanding of as a US citizen living in the US. It is also quite interesting to see how the world looks at you and your country when you are living in theirs…I have developed a much different opinion of the world, and my country’s role in it having lived outside my home country. It has been eye-opening to say the least….
Let me know the top headline in your newspaper today….
Friday, May 20, 2005
We live in a lovely area of Duesseldorf known as Oberkassel. A quaint tram is about a 10 minute walk from the apartment and does travel quite a few places in the city. We are literally across the street from the Rhine river, and this is perfect for running, biking, or walking. Nothing more picturesque than running along the Rhine…yes, I have taken full advantage of this stress reducing perk. Our neighborhood is very lovely, and it is a charming place to live. We do have grocery stores, post office, dry cleaners, banks, apothecary shops (i.e. pharmacy for you US folks) all within a 10-15 minute walk. Bottom line: if you don’t like to walk, you are in trouble. There is also a GREAT Mexican food restaurant in our neighborhood…funny how the radar just honed in on that so soon.
The apartment itself is a 2-bedroom, 1.5 bath apartment with a large living room as well as a kitchen/dining area. Both sides of the apartment have very nice sized balconies so that extends the living areas quite nicely. We currently do not have these areas as functional living spaces, but that is the project for early summer. We are on the 1st floor, which is above the ground level, so we are really on the 2nd floor, if that makes sense. This apartment has fairly nice sized kitchen cabinets, built-in bookcases in the living room, and a walk-in closet that we created to house our clothing. Suffice to say, though, storage space in German apartments is at a premium
For those of you who have not received emails reliving the startling truth about apartments in Germany…laugh along with me:
1) We waited 2 weeks for phone and DSL...the technology and PC/router/modem configurations are different from anything we ever saw in the US, Korea, and Taiwan (of course they are). Apparently, three phone lines run out of one telephone outlet, but every time we attempted to dial any one of the three phones, all the telephones rang. We subsequently learned through the painful "trial and error" method of overseas living that the phones, modems, and fax machines all have to be programmed so that the right phone number rings on the correct piece of equipment. That includes programming your modem/router with your internet provider’s IP address, your user name, and password. Six weeks later and we have mostly figured out the phones, voicemail, and call waiting features, albeit in German. Ah…German engineering….:)
2) Laundry day takes on a whole new meaning….After being informed we had "cellar space” to put in our own separate washer and dryer units, we discovered that was not the case. Apparently, there is one communal washer and one dryer for the entire apartment to use. On top of that, apparently no laundry can be done in the “communal washing” area on Sundays or holidays because the machines are too loud. Now, it was not lost on Buddy that the laundry unit is right next to the boiler that pops so loudly when it comes on that folks in Texas could hear it.
So, we decided to opt for the “combination washer/dryer unit” (one unit) to be installed in our kitchen. The installation was not a simple process: Step 1: Polish contractor guy rips out a kitchen cabinet so that the unit could be installed. Step 2: Second guy delivers the machine. Step 3: Third guy comes to the apartment to adjust factory settings. Step 4: (you will notice, the unit is still not operational) Fourth guy arrives at the apartment to hook up the plumbing and hoses.
Ever used a combo washer/dryer? I know Mike, Matt, as well as the Krauses can relate. The unit can wash 6 kilos (10 pounds) in one load (little tiny area). Takes 1.5 hours to do one load. Then, the dryer can only dry 3 kilos at one time. Dryer time - 1.5 to 2 hours a load. Now, what good is it to be able to wash 6 kilos but then only be able to dry 3 kilos? One load of laundry: 3 hours. We are told it is due to “energy-saving” features that while the load takes longer to complete, it is more energy-efficient. To which I quip…"it is not more efficient for my energy". Go figure….
3) In Germany, kitchens are not typically included in the apartment. When I say “kitchen”, I mean sink, cabinets, stove, oven, countertops, cooktop, etc….it is basically an empty shell of a room. Light fixtures, bathroom mirrors, medicine cabinets are all extras that one purchases for the apartment. The one blessing about the apartment we did rent is that the kitchen was already installed, thereby saving us the hassle of putting in kitchen.
Well, if that hasn’t bored you, come back to read more…I’ll be trying to give you a flavor of life in Germany over the next few weeks, and hopefully my tales can turn to travel rather than housekeeping woes.