Monday, August 22, 2011

Bargains are Just Excuses to Spend More Money (Unfortunately, It Works)

You know what I hate? Restraint. If it weren't for a lifetime of parents teaching me that For The Last Time, Money Does Not Grow On Trees I would be advertisers' favorite person ever. A coupon for 30% off something I don't need? GIVE IT TO ME. There are big red letters spelling S-A-L-E in your window? I MUST LOOK. Suddenly I discover a whole host of things that I do not need.

I know that this is how advertisers get people to buy things. I do it myself in my job: Did you know these sweaters are buy-one-get-one 50% off? Did you want to get one in another color? And the majority of people say yes. It doesn't matter that they were okay five seconds ago with just a $35 orange sweater, the minute the can get something for less--even if they didn't particularly want it--it doesn't become an extra $17.50, it becomes a bargain. A bargain that just adds to your total.

The point of this post isn't really about my efforts to improve my sales numbers. It's about the fact that Borders is going out of business and OMG book are on sale. And my instinct is to buy every single book in the entire store. Because they are cheap and therefore it is a bargain. Across the Universe is a total bargain at $11 even though I wasn't planning on buying it! I didn't particularly like Extras, but it's on sale for $7! Basically if it has a pretty cover and paper in-between, I am filled with the desire to throw money at it.

This is where the restraint comes in. Because I am a semi-broke college student with no shelf space, I reasoned that instead of the armfuls of books that I desired, I would only buy things that I would end up buying anyway, sale price or not. This unfortunately crushes my dream of blogging like Merle over at A Bookworm's Shelf and showing off the fifteen shiny new books that I dream of. I did get three, though, and anyone who knows me (or reads this blog, therefore knowing me. Think how close we're getting! This means you have to get me a birthday present, right?) knows that I cannot shut up about books I like. You're welcome.

Eon is one of the rare books that I ganked off the shelf of the library and loved enough to buy it (not enough to buy hardcover, but that's not a reflection of its awesomeness. For more detail, see: college student, semi-broke). In a China-analogue world, twelve-year-old boys are chosen to apprentice as 'Dragoneyes,' and form a magical bond with the dragons that help keep the country stable. Girls aren't allowed, but that doesn't stop Eona from disguising herself as Eon-the-boy. But death is a sure thing if anyone discovers her secret.

It's in the vein of Tamora Pierce, with a strong female lead in an interesting world with a good, fast-paced story and action, none of the paranormal romance or dystopian societies that are currently popular.
Sorcery and Cecelia is another book that I've read (in this case, multiple times) and needed to own. Written in the form of (very detailed, though believable) letters between cousins Kate and Cecelia, it chronicles a regency that's mixed with magic. Co-author Patricia Wrede is good about writing strong female characters and infusing her books with humor, so this ends up being much better than the general "find a husband! With magic!" regency-era books I tend to find.

Artemis Fowl, though not as famous as Harry Potter, was a staple of the juvenile section when it was a trilogy nearly ten years ago (which we are not talking about, lest I realize that I am old), and the teen criminal mastermind who deals with fairies showed up in a seventh (and second-to-last) book last year. This is one of those things that was basically invented to make me spend money: this was on Borders' red-tag clearance even before the liquidation. Grand cost of this hardback: $2.50. I believe that is an excellent price to pay in exchange for sarcasm, gun-toting leprechauns, tin-foil-hat-wearing centaur tech geniuses, and probably a story, too.

Grand total for 1,269 pages of fantasy: about $10. That's less than one cent per page.

I think that's a bargain.

Dear Europe, We Have a Problem

Dear Europe,
I understand that America used to look to you for the latest fashions. You were the jocks and the cheerleaders and preps all rolled into one and we were the dorks with braces wearing Barney sweaters. It's been a while, though, and for everyday clothing we can all agree that we've got a pretty good handle on things and both sides of the ocean are cool and stuff, right?

But apparently, you've started to run out of ideas, but since everyone knows that Americans still aren't the cool kids in the High School of Anthropomorphic World Nations you couldn't look at anything we're wearing right now. Oh, no. But apparently 1989 is a perfectly fine place to look, possibly because  you're assuming that Vanilla Ice was not, in fact, famous, and no one remembers parachute pants.

Because that is exactly what you have decided is the Hot New Thing, sort of like someone decided to convert their sweat pants into leggings starting at the bottom but gave up halfway through. Did we decide that the gangster pants-falling-down look is actually cool and the crotch needs to be at our knees, but showing our undies is still out?

Even worse are the ones--harem pants, which all of them are but those other ones are really parachute pants whether you want to admit it or not--which  make you look like you're wearing an upside-down mushroom with leg holes. Europe has a lot of stairs, do you enjoy having to pick up your pants every time you come to them? You've got the awkwardness of a long skirt without the ability to pick it up off the bathroom floor when you use the restroom. Did you ever think of that?

I know that you are confused, Europe. I know you are confused because of all the crazy things you have, like having to pay for restrooms and peanut-butter-flavored Cheetos. I can only assume this is because you are thousands of years old and therefore a senile old coot compared to a teenage America, with its Lady Googoo and whatnot, so I suppose in that respect there are a lot of worse things you could be trying.

Still, you should stop, because things can only get worse from here. What's next, that hair?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Foods of Germany, Part Two

Eating out is all well and good, but the really interesting stuff is found in the supermarkets. One of my favorite things to do was just duck into a grocery store and see what I could find. As a side note, Germany doesn't have nearly as many combined shops as the U.S. does; I found one big store that was like our supermarkets, with foods and household items and a small card center and a small book section (you know, like Kroger or something). Most were strictly focused on food and a few personal items, you'd have to hit up another store for anything else.

Another thing about German grocery stores: you bag your own stuff. And provide the bags yourself. If you don't have any, most had sturdy big plastic bags that cost about 15 cents, but it wasn't unusual to see a big guy with a basket on his arm winding through the aisles.

But enough about shopping habits, you're interested in the food. One of the first things I noticed was that American was used curiously often to describe foods. For example, a common salad dressing was American, which was like Thousand-Island. But not bad, right? I mean after all, we have French dressing.
These, though? They're Cool Ranch Doritos, but Germany doesn't actually have ranch dressing (they do have something similar, called Gurke und Dill, though). So now you know what cool Americans taste like, they taste like ranch.
Germany, apparently, doesn't actually do marshmallows. I spotted one bag of non-American-referenced-ones, but they were flavored and being passed off as candy. So note that these aren't just American marshmallows, but for barbequing. I wonder if that's common over there? Oh, and if you needed convincing:
They really don't want these things identified with Germany.

I don't have a picture of them, but one of the first things I tried were Big Flippies. Click the link to see them. Note that the mascot is wearing an American flag-patterned hat, and the used of the American flag pattern again in the "BIG" part of the logo (thanks, Germany). Funnily (thankfully) enough, this isn't something we have in the Gigantic States of America. They're like puffed Cheetos, but instead of being permeated with delicious powdery cheese, it's peanut-butter. Yes, it's as wrong as it sounds.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Foods of Germany, Part One

Let's face it, you'd be disappointed if you were in a foreign country surrounded by the same foods you have at home. I didn't do a lot of research on the food before leaving for Germany, since I'd lived there before and was at least partially familiar with the food, but there were still surprises.

The first half focuses on restaurant food. It's image-heavy, so click to continue!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Kato's Guide to Eating Out in Germany Without Causing an International Incident

There are things that a lot of people wouldn't think about as being different in other countries, I'm guessing. Personal space is one. Eating out is another.  To keep you from embarrassing yourself so badly that you spontaneously explode and take out several Germans nearby and end up being labeled as a U.S. terrorist and starting yet another war until people realize you were just an uneducated tourist while idiots on the fringe continue to write books and websites psychoanalyzing your life to prove that it was a plot to infect all German bread with a Deadly Death Virus, I have written a handy-dandy guide to surviving German restaurants.

First, you must learn the difference between a restaurant and a non-restaurant. A non-restaurant looks like this:
Note how people are standing. Standing people are a very good indication that you should also be standing. I don't have a picture of a restaurant, but I think it's safe to say that if there is no central glass case with food inside that has people standing around it, then it is a restaurant. Sometimes they will try to confuse you by being both a restaurant and a non-restaurant. I usually figured that if they had tables with menus on them outside, then it was a sit-down-and-come-take-my-order restaurant. If you're unsure, I suggest camouflaging yourself  as a hobo against an opposing building and watching for 15 or 30 minutes to see what other people do.

Pick up a menu as soon as you sit down. Not only will you have something to hide behind, but you will also be able to see if Coke is cheap enough to justify buying it. Germany doesn't really do water like America--you'd have to specify "Leitungswasser," or tap water, because "wasser" is going to be sparkling. Drink menus in Germany are designed specifically to annoy Americans, because in addition to the no-water thing, there is also the fact that soda is small and expensive.
It's always .2-.3 liters (~6.7-10 ounces), and somewhere around 2.40 euro (give or take twenty cents), which is about $3.50. Refills? In your dreams. Although to be honest, most drinks aren't going to be that much better, be they juice or tea or whatever. Basically, Germany really wants you to be dehydrated and/or broke.

One of the waitstaff will probably come to take your drink order initially, but after that if you want something you'll have to flag them down. If you are used to America and the waitstaff coming to check on you every ten minutes, this is an exercise specifically designed to bring on anxiety attacks (or death spirals in your brain, which are closely related).

It's simple, really: sit up straight and swivel your head around quickly so that you cannot possibly miss your target. Don't blink, you might miss making eye contact. When you have obtained contact with your target's eyes, raise your hand and eyebrows in tandem. This way they cannot possibly mistake your gestures. Have your menu ready and say "Ich moechte [food], bitte." (I'd like [food], please.) Point as you say this because there is a 90% chance that they won't understand you anyway. If you have no clue what the menu says, I'm sorry you weren't smart enough to at least look up food-words on Google before you left. Just point at something and hope that it's edible.
You might get lucky. This was a really good quesadilla.

To pay, repeat the flagging-down-the-waitstaff exercise and say "ich moechte zahlen" or "bezahlen" or something. Supposedly this refers to paying, but no one could actually explain what it means so I just mumble something along those lines while holding my wallet. If you're part of a group, Germany hasn't quite grasped the concept of separate checks (but then again, tax is rolled into the prices), so you'll have to remember what it was you ordered. If you don't, hide under the table until everyone else has paid and the pay for whatever's left.

If you follow all these steps, then there is at least a 50% chance that you won't be too embarrassed to show your face ever again! Congratulations!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

City in a Day: Lübeck and Travemünde

The last Saturday before finals we had a group field trip to Lübeck and its beach, Travemünde. Lübeck is known for being the home of Niederegger, a famous maker of marzipan. This place alone is worth visiting if you're a fan of the almond paste; there's a delicious-looking bakery and restaurant inside the (very crowded) store.
Window display, made completely out of marzipan.
It was actually really good marzipan. Smooth, sweet and mellow compared with the marzipan I've had before. I recommend bypassing the marzipan-in-chocolate stuff and getting something of pure marzipan because dark chocolate can overwhelm the taste a bit.

Now Lübeck is situated on an island and it used to be that you could only go in or out via one of its gates. Only one remains:
If you've been in Europe, you might also notice that this gate appear on newer German 2 euro coins.
Yes, they're leaning. You'll find that most things in Lübeck lean or have shifted. We were shown one street where the street itself has risen by several meters over the last centuries. The houses on this street have no (original) doors at street-level, but you can look down through grates and see the originals 10 feet (ish) under street level.

The city has a lot of churches, six or seven, but the one I was interested in was St. Katherine's Church, a former monastery. Alas, there were not actually any pictures of St. Katherine inside. It did have this, however:
I have no idea what is going on, but it is awesome.
Please let the skull be real. Please.

One of the most interesting things are the teeny-tiny streets. I don't mean normal European-alley tiny, I mean tiny.
Pictured: a street.
Remember, Lübeck is on an island, so when the city filled up, there was literally no place to continue building. Their solution was to build in the previously-private courtyards of houses, then essentially tunnel through so people could actually reach the new buildings. So you have four-foot-tall tunnels that are official streets.

Travemünde is a twenty-minute train ride from Lübeck, and had surprisingly nice weather. There were a lot of people at the beach and in the water--it wasn't any colder than Myrtle Beach, SC, actually.

 Sadly, since the day had started off cold and cloudy, none of use brought swim suits. Curse you, northern Germany and your fickle weather!
Next-best thing: seeing how deep you can loose your feet in the sand before you lose your balance and/or run away shrieking from a dead jellyfish. Not that I would know anything about that.

The week we were there was apparently the week of a festival or something. The boardwalk had a ton of vendors (mostly for drinks), there were ships and boats everywhere (including a pirate ship!) and lots of live music.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Berlin Part 3, or, Sharks Are Not Confined to the Water Anymore

I planned out my attack beforehand. Because of the late check-out, I had until 4 pm and then had to catch a train at 4:16 back to Lueneburg in order to not walk back alone in the dark.

My choice of poison: the Pergamon Museum on Museum Island (which has five other museums as well), because I'd read that it had the Ishtar Gate and I'm really into pretty ancient things. Which is good, because it is chock full of things . You get a pair of headphones and guide once you tell the nice ladies what language you need, so you an key in the exhibits and actually figure out what's going on. It's nice, after a string of places where I haven't been able to read signs.

The first thing you see when you enter is a giant Greek altar. In fact, it's a good thing the talking headphone will tell you it's an altar, because  altars are to this thing what doghouses are to Bill Gates' house.

You learn about its history the art of it/the statues/the reliefs/everything, and you can walk up the steep stairs to the top, which has an actual altar in a courtyard-type thing. Seriously, ancient Greece, maybe a bit of overkill. There's also a mosaic, which is supremely detailed and made of the tiniest little pieces ever, which makes the art student in my wince because how long did that take?

I'll try not to dwell too long on everything, because what it amounts to is a bunch of very old stone things, along with some pottery. Once you're done with Greece, you can see similar things (in that they're very old stone things) from Syria, the collection of a German whose life's love and work was this excavation site. He'd had a private museum, which was hit by a bomb during WWII. That which wasn't destroyed in that was by fire. If not by fire, then by the ham-handed fire-quenching efforts. If not by that, then by people moving them after all of that. (Basically, karma really hated either the German guy or Syria did some seriously bad stuff back in the day.)

To illustrate exactly how bad it was (and how puzzle champions have nothing on archeologists), see this:

Obviously the smooth part in front isn't original. Either those parts were completely destroyed or just haven't been pieced back together yet., but the rest? Devilry, I can only assume.

Then I did the rest of the museum backwards because the map assumes that the ancient-broken-things exhibit is the last one you'll do, and I fail at reading maps so I did everything else backwards. Including the ISHTAR GATE:
It is big. And blue. And pretty.

An Islamic art exhibit:

 (Everything's so intricate!)
And more on ancient Babylon:
(Did anyone else make these in the sixth grade? Mine had horses.)

The rest of the day is pictureless, which isn't a disappointment unless you really want pictures of a German flea market. The only exciting thing that happened was that I had to dodge the street sharks on my way to the hotel, which is what I called the trams. They're like trains, in the streets, and they are electric and therefore silent until two inches behind you and I'm pretty sure the drivers have a daily competition to see who can kill the most tourists.

 Berlin was a very different city than what I'm used to, because so much of it has had to be reconstructed, but I was honestly surprised at how much I enjoyed myself. When I get the chance to go back, I'm definitely hitting a bunch of places I went on the bike tour, like St. Hedwig's Cathedral, and maybe even doing a more specific bike tour. There were a ton of museums I didn't get to see--the Neues Musuem, with the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti, the DDR museum about daily like in East Germany, the museum at Checkpoint Charlie documenting failed and successful escapes, and more.

Friday, August 5, 2011

I Bring All the Creeps to the Yard

I don't mind telling you that people generally don't try to hit on me in the U.S. It happens seldom and that is awesome, because strangers talking to me out of nowhere strikes me as strange. Really? You want to get to know me? Based on what, how I was daydreaming and walked into the door? Or something? I should warn you that there is a precedent in my family for assaulting men who do not take no for an answer, and I am incredibly eager to carry on that tradition.

So, anyway, I don't actually have to deal with that much. But apparently I am very attractive to all the creepers in Germany.

This first time, it was strange, but otherwise okay. I'm walking to the uni alone, there's no one else on the sidewalk because it's a quiet sort of place, and a car honks at me. I look up to see a guy so old his grandchildren probably have grandchildren looking at me from his car, and keep walking. He doesn't wave but isn't clearly angry, so maybe he just wanted to say hi. Hi.

Another time, I'm with my friend in Am Sande at the bus stop. Now since this is the city center, there are plenty of other people milling around. We're talking--not loudly, but normal conversation level so you could hear us if you wanted to--about GERMAN and OMG THE CASHIER UNDERSTOOD ME FOR ONCE. All of a sudden, I hear this:

"You are a beautiful woman."

You are probably reading that saying, "There is nothing wrong with that sentence. In fact, whoever said that had excellent taste and I am very interested in this person. Kayto maybe you just have issues or something." If you are saying that, then I'm sorry, but this is the adult equivalent of DON'T TAKE CANDY FROM STRANGERS. DON'T TAKE COMPLIMENTS FROM STREET-CREEPERS. Drugs are probably involved in both, and you're too old to be on the side of a milk carton this time.

I look up, because words were very stilted and enunciated, and a guy in his thirties is walking slowly about five feet away from us. He looks like this:
Except he's male, decades older, and grungy. But strangely, his expression is the same: You would look more beautiful if there were knives and blood involved.

Then he circled us, like he was trying not to look like he was circling us but forgot to go out the, like, twenty more feet that would need to be convincing, and met up with his friend who was standing near us, and they walked away, looking back over their shoulders, presumably to see if we were so impressed. Yes, sir, I love it when smirking potential ax murderers show off their English.

Today I met Creeper #3. I'm heading for the bus stop in Am Sande when someone near me says something in German. This causes me to look up because I when I walk my main goal is to not fall. Not falling involves a concentrated effort on my part to look directly at the ground in front of me because FEET that's why.

Mr. Man repeats himself, saying that it's hot out. It's not, but sure, I'll agree. People in Germany generally don't make small talk with strangers, presumably because they collectively realized one that that no one really cares.

But Mr. Man is all ready with the small talk. I don't speak much German? Oh, where do I come from? America! He comes from Turkey, let's shake hands! Am I studying here? Where am I staying?
Haha, no. I gesture vaguely in five directions, like, yeah, there's a building somewhere in one of them that probably holds my stuff. Maybe. It's a magical building that you can't find. My German has miraculously disappeared at this point and oh, what's that? You're asking about my house again? I'm sorry to tell you that despite the German and English being identical, I have no idea what you're saying!

Oh? Trinken? Did you miss the part where now I no speaky the Deutsch? Unfortunately, since you're using gestures again, I can clearly understand that you want me to join you for a drink. Unfortunately for you, you are twice my age--WHY CAN'T THE CREEPERS BE WITHIN A DECADE OF ME WHY--and also attempting to pick up a uni girl off the street. Who you can't even talk to. You'll note that I still remember the word for no. Emphatically.

Yeah, that's right, you better keep walking. I've got my eye on you and I am totally ready to go all Chuck Norris on you. In my self defense refresher course last year, we were sadly not allowed to use real people when we practiced things like breaking noses and kicking groins and popping eyeballs like grapes, but if you're willing to volunteer yourself, it'd be rude to say no.

Berlin Part 2, or, Scarlet Johansson and I Ride All Over the City

So I should mention that my hotel deal came with: free wifi, free late check-out (4pm), a free "welcome drink" in the hotel restaurant (useful, because Coke is hecka expensive here, people), and free breakfasts, which would've cost me otherwise. I don't know how standard this is, if it's a German thing ("pay for everything") or just a cheapish-hotel thing (the hotel didn't feel cheap, at all, around the same standard as a Holiday Inn but smaller). I have no idea, but it doesn't matter at this point.

What matters is the delicious breakfast. I get teased because of my aversion to traditional American breakfast foods. Not a huge fan of cereal, greasy meat, fluffy waffles/pancakes, and I hate eggs. So this was perfect:

Cheese, cold cuts of meat, bread, fruit. I am never leaving. The little ice-cream-cone-shot-glass thing up there is actually for holding jam. Ingenious!

I followed the easy instructions to the meeting point for my bike tour--it wasn't hard to miss, besides the guy holding a big orange sign there were about 70 people in a large group, which was broken up into smaller ones of 16-18. We were then led to pick out the bikes (which, living up to their names, had the fattest tires I've ever seen), all of which were named.

Guys, meet Scarlet Johansson.

Our guide was a wonderfully awesome guy from Ireland named Ciaran, who assured us (especially the woman who had never ridden a bike before) that we'd never go too long without stopping.

Here he is using his great art skills to show how Germany and Berlin were divided.

One of the first places we stopped was the square in front of St. Hedwig's Cathedral (which is gorgeous and slightly resembles the Pantheon) and Humboldt University, notable for that huge book-burning party the Nazis held in front of it.

"Where they burn books, at the end they also burn people." -Heinrich Heine

 We hit Checkpoint Charlie, which is a total tourist trap (note: our guide warned that we should probably not get our passports stamped by the costumed guys offering to do so for 2 euro, since it technically invalidates the passport) although I heard it has a very cool museum, and hit the Topography of Terror (which is also next to the former Nazi air force headquarters) before he led us behind some construction and paused next to a car park.

Which also happened to the former location of Hitler's bunker.

It would've been underground, of course, so there's nothing to see. Not wanting it to become a pilgrimage site for Neo-Nazis, Germany didn't put up anything that marked it until the World Cup in 2006, and even then it's just a small board. So you've got families and tourists parking on top of this place, which seems fitting.

Also, check out the luxury communist apartments in the background. If you lived in East Berlin, that was classy, my friends.

We spent a bit of time at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe...

(Complete with the hotel from which Michael Jackson once dangled his baby in the background...)

...had lunch in the Tierpark and saw a few more monuments, including the Reichstag building where the Bundestag, or German parliament, meets. Apparently it's free to go up in the dome, but you have to book tickets online two days in advance.

The trip, instead of the four-ish hours originally promised, ended up being about 5.5, which I was totally okay with, so I walked around parts of Berlin looking for souvenirs for the family and ended at the Brandenburg Gate, which--hey, yay historical significance, but it's kinda boring (and the light was bad, so I've got pretty pictures of the back or bad pictures of its front). I was happy, though, to find street performers on the way there.

 They moved very, veeeryyyy slowly, like robots.

Her thing was unfurling her wings and smiling for pictures whenever someone put money in her jar, since everyone who did so wanted a photo with her.

He held perfectly still until you put money in, and then he did the tried-and-true blowing-a-kiss-and-bowing routine. He was my favorite, obviously. No clue what he did for guys, though.

And then a semi-early retirement to again do a bit of homework (what can I say? It was a partner project, and I can't let someone else's grade suffer) because also most stores close by about 6 pm, even in Berlin.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Berlin Part One, or, How To Get Out of Town with Less Than a Day to Spare

Imagine you're me. You're sitting here totally not procrastinating on homework and trying to convince Facebook not to spontaneously pop up on your computer and force you to look at that for another few hours when you happen to glace at the calendar.

"GASP," you gasp. It is a gasp filled with the knowledge that you only have two weekends left in Germany, and there is a full-day field trip on the second of those Saturdays. You haven't gotten out of the country! You haven't gotten out of the state! You need to do something, stat!

So turning to your best friend (providing your best friend talks a lot of nonsense, often in Russian, and gives horrible directions) Google, you start looking frantically for a way to get to any big city that will keep you occupied for a three-day weekend.

To cut out a lot of superfluous detail--this is the music montage during the movie so that you have a basic overview of what happened. There's the computer screen giving me no results, there's me flinging the computer across the room, there's me crying over Facebook to a sympathetic parent thousands of miles away (note: Hollywood may exaggerate things for story effect), and a close-up of a message that suggests using a travel agent. To switch mediums now, there's the lightbulb going off over my head.

Ironically, it was when I started looking for a travel agent that I found something. I was assured that travel agents work on commission so I wasn't paying anything extra, plus they would do the work for me. I checked for some in Lueneburg, and found one--L'Tur Last Minute, which sounded good because at this point it was Wednesday night and I wanted to leave Friday morning. How much more last minute can you get? Apparently it's a chain and their website had some nice deals to Berlin, but my German is bad and Google Translate messed up parts of the site, somehow, so I went in to their physical location the next day.

Let me say it: I officially love travel agents. Seriously. She made it so easy and within an hour I had booked a round trip train and two nights at a hotel in Berlin within walking distance of things like Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate.

Also, I got to keep all my papers in here.

The Google maps directions I wrote down (complete with map illustration!) ending up in a dead-end, but there were big boards of maps at the train station so I took pictures of those as my guide and made it to my hotel (a one mile walk!) only a couple hours later than I anticipated. A block away, guess what I ran into:

Yup. Just a block from my hotel is a free museum, the Topography of Terror ("Topografie des Terrors") that has a stretch of the wall, so I headed back after dumping my trillion-pound backpack at the hotel.

The ToT/TdT chronicles the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, their campaigns and other atrocities during the way, and the aftermath that led to the division of Berlin and Germany, and is set on the crumbled foundations of a building that served as Gestapo and SS headquarters.

On the left you can barely see the backs of the exhibit boards. It's quite thorough, actually, and there's also a large indoor component that gets into more detail.

When I returned to the hotel, I had to figure out which of the many, many things in Berlin I was going to do. I gathered every brochure that looked remotely interesting from the hotel lobby and found it: Fire Tire Bike Tours. They had several options, including a general all-purpose Berlin tour that would last four hours and show you more than you could see on foot.

Props to whoever designed the brochures, they're fantastic--not only do they have a ton of info on the four or so different tours in Berlin they offered and stuff on their business and guides, but also small maps of the main places you'd be, tourist tips (such as how to figure out the public transit and cultural information), and suggestions of other places to see, like museums, complete with times and prices. Basically every question you would have, they answered, making themselves look way better than the competition which could barely be bothered to list where the meeting spots for tours were (communications major. I notice these things).

Having decided that, I did a tiny bit homework to make myself feel less guilty about the upcoming midterm I faced two days after I got back, and went to bed.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

City in a Day: Hannover

My going to Hannover was essentially the result of me finding myself with an empty Friday and grabbing for the closest city that looked interesting. Actually, I'd heard good things from other students and the Wikitravel website listed a bunch of helpful information, so I rode the trains for free (have I mentioned how much I love that? I love that) and arrived an hour and a half later.

I discovered a semi-underground shopping center ("The Promenade") which had a nice tea shop, and visited the nearby Tourist Information place. The helpful lady there answered my questions about the logistics of a few things I planned on doing, and gave me some brochures. One had a map, which was very useful because going out from the Hauptbahnhof you enter a tangle of modern streets crammed full of shops and people, and I got lost several times. Eventually, I made my way to the Market Church because I could see the steeple from the bahnhof and everyone knows I'm a sucker for churches.

Actually, it was your run-of-the-mill brick church, of which I'm starting to get very bored. I thought this was interesting, though--the above snapshots show a picture of the church after it was bombed during WWII, and how it looks today.

I've been spending too much time staring at old buildings, so I decided to walk to the lake because I heard you could ride a cruise around it. The day was overcast and a bit chilly, so the boat was fairly empty. There's not really a lot to see: it's a man-made lake in a park, so you'll see trees, people, and the top of buildings. Still, it was a nice change of pace.

Afterwards I got lost trying to find a museum and kept ending up at the Rathaus...
...Before realizing that the museum was right next door.

It's the August Kestner Museum and turned out to be free on Fridays, the day I was there. This is a good thing because besides saving money, everything is in German and I would not have have gotten my money's worth. There several exhibits on medieval stuff--writing, jewelry, cups, art, etc.
The Middle Ages: More Gangsta Than You.

Also, there was a section on relics and stuff--I really wish I could've read the German! Can you spot anything remotely creepy in the relic-holding-case-thing?

There was, inexplicably, also an exhibit on some modern art/nouveau thing. It was strange, but am I the only one who wishes this really existed?

I knew that the museum had some ancient exhibits, and I was excited about the Greek and Egyptian stuff, but I was totally surprised by what came next:


I was a little excited about this.

There were actually two, and it was nigh impossible to get decent shots of either because the lights around kept reflecting off their protective cases. I wasn't able to find a lot of info about them online (because again with the no-reading-German), but if you'd like to try they were the Weibliche Mumie and the Männliche Mumie.

From there it was time for dinner, shopping (four week into my 5-week stay and I finally got a pocket dictionary), and the return trip. Last thing of note, though I unfortunately didn't get a picture of it: there was a McDonald's in the bahnhof, and it also advertised from from its McCafe, which everyone should already be familiar with.

This McCafe, though? Was a separate counter from the rest of Mickey D's with a glass case like a real cafe/bakery that sold cupcakes and muffins and stuff. WE NEED THIS IS AMERICA.

Monday, August 1, 2011

City in a Day: Schwerin

(So long as your day is only two and a half hours long)

For all of you who check every single day eagerly anticipating a new post (all one of you), I'm sorry. The last week has been so incredibly busy (travel- and school-wise) that I hadn't had the time to type anything.

As the title suggests, I was recently in Schwerin, a city in former East Germany. It has a lovely Altstadt (old town), but what my class was really there to see was the documentation center, a former Stasi prison. The Stasi, if you didn't know, were the state police in communist East Germany, sort of like a German KGB. They spied on you, kept documents on everything you did, and pulled you in here for months of psychological torture if they thought you had information they wanted.
 Cheerful place, right?
The prison part is tri-storied, with the first floor remaining in the style it was when the Nazis used the prison, the second floor styled after the Soviets who used it next, and the third floor after the Stasi. There's an empty cell on each floor showing how it looked, while other rooms have info about the people kept in that room, historical artifacts, or other information. Unfortunately, it's all in German.

As a documentation center, people can go in and apply to see their Stasi records.

We then headed to the Altstadt, and had very little time for sightseeing, so I didn't walk around the very big palace, though I did admire it up-close for a few minutes.
Is it just me, or am I seeing shades of Disney's Tangled around here?

We were informed that a particular cafe on the corner was very famous and very good, and so stopped there for a snack. It was middling--the Eis Schokolade that I ordered was 3-euro-something, and smaller than similarly-priced ones at other cafes in Lueneburg.
Still, though, it was chocolate, and that's what counts.

My last stop of the day before leaving was going to be the church. It's big and for a euro you can climb the stairs to see over the entire city. Unfortunately, it closed fifteen minutes before I arrived.
And the keyhole did not exactly reveal a lot.

I leave you with this, then, the picture of the tower I wanted to climb. There was still more to do in Schwerin, and I'm very sad that time constraints (it was, as earlier hinted, a class field trip) did not allow for a more thorough investigation. The palace, some museums, town tours, and more await the one who can spend more time than I there.


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