Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Day 1 with Mom and Dad

My mom and dad are better travelers than me.  I was so impressed that on their first day here and after a 16 hour long flight (due to long layovers) we were able to go out for breakfast, explore the Rathaus (Hamburg Cityhall), explore my neighborhood, and meet David for dinner.  That would not be the case for me if I were in their shoes.  I think they would have loved Istanbul and now I hope that they have a taste for traveling so that we can do trips together in the future.
Breakfast of tourist champions.  My dad with a beer and my mom with a latte at 10:00am.

Boats gearing up for tourist season on the Binnen Alster, part of the big lake in the middle of Hamburg.

Cafes along the Alster Pavilion.

The Rathaus, which is the seat of city-state government in Hamburg and personally, my favorite building in Hamburg.

World War I monument.  It reads something like, "40,000 sons of the city gave their lives for you." 

Symbol of the Free and Hanseatic city of Hamburg.

We met this nice German lady on the Ubahn when she overheard us speaking English.  She lived in Berlin during the time of the wall and gave us her advice on what to see there.

Head-sized, fried meat is a great first meal to have here.
Does mine kind of look like Germany?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Long Hiatus

I have had one of the best months since moving here.  First, my parents finally made it to visit me in Germany!  Not only did we explore Hamburg and Berlin together, we also made it to Sweden.  Being part of their first European experience was really special and as cheesy as it may sound, we definitely made memories that will last a lifetime.
There was a lot of drinking. The bigger the beer the better.

A lot of history.  Us learning about East-West relations at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin.

A lot of fun.  Us posing, post-pub crawl, for a blury photo in Beetle's Platz on the Reeperbahn. 

And a lot of "firsts."  First time in Sweden, posing in front of the Swedish flag in the outdoor muesum, Skansen.
Second, we went on another, 2-week long trip for the fellowship program.  This time, the program brought us to Brussels, Belgium and Istanbul, Turkey.  We learned all about Germany's relationship with the other European Union countries and Turkey's special relationship with the European Union and Germany.  Istanbul is offically the furthest east I have ever travelled and it was refreshingly different from what I have come to expect from Western Europe. 
It was finally spring!  Outside of Autoworld in Brussels.

We both agreed that we did not eat enough waffles, although some extra poundage at the end of our trip tells a different story.

View of the Golden Horn from Galata Tower in Istanbul.

I didn't know you could buy harem members at the Grand Bazaar.

View of the New Mosque from Galata Bridge.
Third, while in Istanbul, I was able to reconnect with my very best friend from high school.  She was a year older than me in high school and when she graduated, she went to college out-of-state.  The following year, I graduated and also went to college out-of-state.  We were sometimes able to reconnect when we were both back home, however, after graduating college, I moved further east and she moved all the way to Italy.  After not seeing each other for years, we found out that we would randomly be in Istanbul the same weekend.  I absolutely LOVED seeing her again. 
Outside of the Grand Bazaar.

Pretending like this pool is ours at Topkapi Palace.

No lie, we got trapped in the elevator at my hotel when the power went out.  This is us trying to stay calm while awaiting help.
Now, we only have about a month left of our time here in Germany.  I hope that the last month here is as good as the one I just had. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Unbroken Book Club

Last month our book club met in Hamburg. Slowly this is becoming a cook and book club, which I find completely awesome. We have had themed food for every meeting and because most people are traveling from other cities, we end up cooking together. It is one of our favorite things to do with friends so it was our pleasure to host the event in Hamburg.
Kicked off the day with Astra, a Hamburg beer.

Back at work writing discussion questions.

The menu:  grilled steak, grilled salmon, garlic bread, salad, seven-layer dip and tiki cocktails.

Impromptu "cutest couple" contest.  They win!

The theme: What food would you want the most if you were stranded at sea?

The star item:  Schwarzwalder Kirsch Torte (decorated with a BC for Book Club)

This is her German Grandmother's family recipe for Black Forest Cake.  A real treat.
The book, Unbroken, is the real life story of a man named Louie Zamperini. He was an Olympic athlete dragged from his sport and into the Air Force, where he worked as a bombardier, at the onset of WWII. He was stationed in the Pacific and along with the other crew members lived through several near-death bombing missions. One day on a rescue mission for another plane, Louie's plane crashes in the Pacific leaving only three survivors (him, his pilot, and another crew member). After Louie survives 47 days being marooned at sea he finally finds land. Only the rafts have drifted so far west that the land belongs to the Japanese. He is captured as a prisoner of war and survives several years of extreme abuse in several Japanese POW camps before finally being liberated. Even with the war finally over for him, Louie's troubles follow him home.
I highly recommend the book not only because Louie's story is captivating, but also because the author, Laura Hillenbrand, is able to eloquently share the history of the time period in addition to Louie's personal history.

Here is a little taste of this amazing survival story.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Liquidrom Thermal Bath, Berlin

Last week we were in Berlin again for just a few days.  It is only a two hour train ride from Hamburg and I will actually be back again with my parents next week when they visit.

While in Berlin, we had the idea to go to a thermal bath recommended by a friend.  We found ourselves at Liquidrom, which is pretty much an upscale, spa-like, indoor water amusement park.  The big difference being the "amusement" part does not come from water slides and water rides, it comes from the freedom of nakedness in the saunas and pools.  Here, I had my first "naked in public" experience and to my shock and surprise, it was not that bad.  The building itself is quite beautiful and the spa and water features were very diverse. 
Lounge chairs and booze.  Indoor paradise.

Sauna with an outdoor view.  Which really means everyone can just see you naked inside.

Outdoor thermal bath.  Like hot-tubbing in the middle of winter.
The point of a facility like this is complete relaxation.  Although, a place like this will most likely not be relaxing to any American who is having his or her first "naked in public" experience.  There is too much  foreignness to the whole concept, and too many questions (such as where do I keep my money for the bar?--answer, they give you electronic chips you wear around your wrist to track your purchases) to zone out completely and get your 20 Euro worth of peace.  However, it was still well worth it because there is simply nothing like this in the US.
The only pic we took ourselves.  Thank you to random travel blogs and Liquidrom for the others.

Me shocked at the 19.50 Euro price for only two hours.
Our favorite part of the facility was the large pool that is built like a cave. The room is dark, warm, and has music playing under the water.  Apparently there is also live music there on some nights. Unfortunately, we missed that.  The water is salt water, which made floating and listening to the music effortless.

Have you been to a pool like this?

Renting this space for my next birthday party.
The following is Liquidrom's description of this pool:
"The centerpiece of Liquidrom is the darkened dome with its salt water pool.  Moonlight shines through its circular window at the highest point. Colors and light intermingle underwater with classical music, electronic melodies and whale songs."
Sounds mystical and tranquil, right?  Everybody else seemed to think so.  For us first-timers, the darkness, colored lights, topless bodies, and electronica music was more stimulating than relaxing.  We were ready for a techo dance party to start while everyone else was practically asleep floating in the water.  Maybe next time we do naked pools we will be able to get into the correct spirit of repose. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Minatur Wunderland

According to their website Minatur Wunderland is "the largest model railway in the world and one of the most successful permanent exhibitions in Northern Germany."  Based on the scope and size of the model railway and the large number of visitors, I am inclined to believe them.  When we went the place was packed and I had no idea that model making could be so insanely elaborate. 

The displays were not simply model railways as the tag-line suggests, they were entire cities representing multiple countries.  For example, here is one part of the minature Las Vegas.

The Strip.
 You can see photos of many of the permanant exhibits on their website here: http://www.miniatur-wunderland.com/exhibit/multimedia/foto/galerie/overview/

Below, however, are some of the humerous things we found in the displays during our visit.

This monk is looking up the skirt of this damsel in distress whose car broke down.

Two people are stealing the clothes of this copulating couple.

A family of penguins with luggage waits on the platform for the train to arrive.

Elaborate concert scene.

Another of many copulating couples.

This car wreck was caused by some hulk-esque, raging guy in his underwear.

The cow in the center is painted like a Milka brand chocolate bar.

A murder investigation.  You can see them pulling a body out of the stream.

Topless sunbathers.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

German Grocery Store Shuffle

Successfully checking out at a German grocery store is a complicated dance.  When I was young, it was my job (along with my other sisters) to bag up the groceries at the end of the conveyor belt while my mom dealt with the payment of it all.  We loved it.

In the US, there is a long conveyor belt before the cashier, and a long conveyor belt after the cashier.  The first belt gives you space to load up groceries while you wait so that you don't slow things down.  And the second belt gives you plenty of space to organize and pack up your groceries before bringing them home.

I am not currently in the US so I had to copy this from online.  I might have gotten the directionality of it all wrong, but the point made in my commentary is still the same.
I miss this space.  Look how happy it makes the people bagging.
In Germany, there is a short conveyor belt before the cashier, and a stubby counter after the cashier.  The first belt hardly gives you enough space to artfully balance all of your items on top of the others, which is a skill in and of itself.  And the nub of a counter gives you no space whatsoever to do anything with your groceries besides struggle, crush, and drop items.  If you do not pack up quickly enough, you will suffer the wrath of every customer behind you, as well as the cashier.

On your mark, get set, go!  Slow and steady DOES NOT win this race.  It will just get you pushed by an old lady who moves faster than you.
After a year, we have learned many coping mechanisms, such as cramming everything quickly back in the cart and then pushing the cart off to the side to pack up the groceries for transport.  Even though we know how to deal with it now, we still hate it and it will bother me until the day we return to the US.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Cars in Germany

I was perfectly happy with my Hyundai Elantra--until I moved here.  BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, Audi, and Volkswagen have now made it impossible for me to ever love a non-German car again.  I guess I can still love my old car, that is until I can afford to trade up and own my very own piece of German automotive history.
I still love you, Dean (my car back home).  I am not that much of a car snob.
While living in Stuttgart we were able to go to both the Porsche Museum and the Mercedes Museum, the latter of which was one of the best museums I have seen.  It manages to place the history of the automobile and Mercedes Benz company in context with important historical events of the past century, including how the car industry changed during and after WWI and WWII.  If you are traveling to Germany and you are into history but traveling with people who aren't, convince them to come to this museum.  They will think they are just looking at pretty cars but you will be studying history.

The building itself is worth a look (when its not sleeting and freezing outside)
Paying homage to horse power.

My heart ignited at the sight of the first internal combustion engine.

Daimler's 3-wheeled version of the first automobile was patented on the exact same day...

As Benz's 4-wheeled version.

First two cylinder engine.

First four cylinder engine.

This is when "cars" were able to drive at speeds like 17mph.

Just picture a gentlemen driver racing somewhere in France.

This one is more like something for Cruella de Vil.

I want this car.  In the background you can see one of the first Mercedes-benz buses.

Merry Christmas!  Santa's Porsche.

As if I needed another reason to want to become a Bond girl.
Porsche racing...
has apparently been very successful. 
I had to get a picture with the Harley Davidson Porsche for my Dad.
While in Munich, we also made a trip to the BMW museum.  My favorite part, other than just looking at BMWs, was an exhibit on hydrogen engines.  Unfortunately, I don't have any photos right now due to my computer crashing and me losing all of my data that wasn't saved elsewhere.  Thank goodness for online photo albums, where most of my photos were stored.