Friday, November 18, 2005

Winter Wonderland

Yes, you guessed it, Berlin received its first snowflakes of the season today. I’m stoked!! What can I say? I come from a snow-loving family! The Taylor-side loves skiing. My Uncle Skip likes to drive to the store during snowstorms just for the heck of it! My mom just painted a county snowplow with the number 756, which is the number that is read on the radio if the school district has the day off.

I couldn’t help but feel more alive as I left my lunch meeting and flakes were flying. The air was crisp, sounds were quieter, and everything moved a bit slower. Snow does mean, however, that the fantastic fall weather is gone and that it is now FREEZING cold in Berlin. Maybe that is one of the reasons my colleagues told me I need to find a “Berlin Bear” this year;-)

There is one upsetting fact in this happy snow story, however. I have been informed by colleagues that Germany doesn’t “do” snow days. In the words of the great philosophers Wayne and Garth, “ex-squeeze me?” It does not really matter that Berlin get less snow than Michigan or can clear snow better than DC (which isn’t saying much.) A snow day is like a surprise present for God. Nothing is better than waking up and realizing that you don’t have work or school! Maybe Berlin will "luck out" and get a blizzard this year that will force a snow day!!

There was no accumulation today, but rest assured that I will be posting snowy Berlin pictures as soon as there are snowy Berlin pictures to take☺

Thursday, November 17, 2005

School Days

My mentor is teaching a class at the Free University of Berlin on the Middle East conflict and invited me to come along. Tonight was the second class. Every aspect of the experience fascinates me!

First of all the seminar is listed as being held from 6-8pm. When I saw that I was impressed that class was 2 hours long—hardy Germans! But German universities have what they call the “academic quarter-hour,” which means the class starts 15 minutes after the listed time and end 15 minutes before schedule. No one has yet explained to me exactly why this is. I am seriously considering living my life by the academic quarter hour☺

The inside of the building reminds me of my high school with long wide hallways that form a maze for you to navigate. There are posters hanging everywhere, much like at GW. And the students chain smoke in the halls, which is not like any US building ANYWHERE. The classroom itself reminds me a lot of middle-sized classrooms at GW—tables for two and blackboards that slide up and down.

The format of the class is interesting to me as well. Any student who needs the class for his/her degree has to make a presentation. 2-3 students present per class. While I know that some classes are presentation-heavy in the US, I am surprised that professor doesn’t give at least a small lecture each class. He is really there to guide the disucssion more than anything else. Students like to debate (a lot) and they don’t seem to be as afraid to speak up and give the wrong answer as students did in my college classes.

Finally, one note on the content of tonight’s class… tonight’s topic was the Middle East crisis from 1956-1967 (two wars worth for anyone not up on Middle East history.) As I sat listening to the students debate what “the superpowers” did and did not do, I was struck by the fact that they were discussing, me, my country. In my history classes we always discussed “we,” what “we” as America did during crisis X or conflict Y. Rarely do you sit in a history class in the States where the US does not play a fairly central role. But there was no “we” Germany in tonight’s discussion.

I’m not at all saying Germany had a reason to be involved. Rather tonight was yet another moment in my whole Germany experience when something I have always taken as the norm and the way all people look at a situation was shattered (like toilets and store closing hours, but those are topics for another day☺)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Pizza and Futons

What do they have in common you ask? Both can be delivered in 30 minutes! No joke!

I headed to IKEA yesterday to get a futon for Katie and me to sleep on next week while my family is in town. Since a futon is a little too big to haul home on the subway, I knew I needed to get it delivered or rent a truck. I decided renting a truck would have been a danger to myself and those around me, so I was pleased to discover that IKEA has partnered with a local transport company. While I knew I could have the futon delivered by the end of the week, I was shocked when, at 6:30pm last night, the customer service guy said he would deliver it the same day if I could be home in 30 minutes. I said sure even though I live more than 30 minutes from IKEA. The challenge was on!! (I felt like I was living the Amazing Race episode when the contestants were at IKEA in Sweden.)

So with hangars in my backpack and carrying an end table, I ran the 800 meters to the subway station, caught a subway, transferred subways and then ran the remaining 400 meters to my apartment. Did I make it? Heck ja ("ja" not "yeah" since I am in Germany!)

The IKEA victory was even sweeter because when I finished putting the futon together I only had one washer left (you don't really need those right;-))

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Random Comments

I’ve had a quiet couple of days in Berlin. As you can see from the pictures, the leaves are on their way off of the trees and the sun is setting earlier and earlier (it is completely dark before 5pm now.) The first picture is the outside of my building (the Pepto-Bismol pink monster.) The second one is a shot of the subway station near my apartment (I liked the late afternoon lighting on the trees.)

On an unrelated topic, I recommend people check out SKYPE is a computer program that allows you to use your computer, speakers/headphones and a microphone as a telephone. You can talk to other people via their computer or even to a landline. Calling someone’s computer is completely free and calling a landline is very inexpensive. I used it twice this weekend (hi Jennie and Torsten) and was very pleased with how clear the connection was.

I wish everyone a great start to the week!