Thursday, April 06, 2006

Cars, noise, the State Department, wine and bad sex

Wow, I can sum up my last few days in just 5 terms! But I suppose a bit of explanation might be helpful…

DaimlerChrysler (DC) was our first stop on Monday morning. We learned about everything from the car market and “social corporate responsibility” (no German equivalent) to Daimler’s extensive modern art collection. As a Detroit girl, I was especially interested in how the speaker answered my question about the effects of a GM bankruptcy on DC. He said a bankruptcy would be bad for the whole industry but he also said that DC is making a conscientious effort to encourage the media to speak about the “Big 2” and not the “Big 3.” Apparently they feel DC’s economic situation has been greatly improved since the merger and the “Big 3” is too often used in reference to the economic problems of Ford and GM. I was also interested to learn that the art collection was exhibited at the Detroit Institute of Art in 2004. Apparently it was a bit controversial because some employees worried that displaying the collection in Detroit at a time when employees were being laid-off would send a negative impression. Best of all, the curator pronounced Detroit, “DEE-troit” and with a cute German accent.

bad picture of me, nice picture of the spaetzle:-)
“Noise” refers to what I was forced to sit through on Monday night. After a full day of meetings, we were “treated” to a 2-hour long modern piano concert. The concert was one of the most painful experiences I have ever sat through! The music had no identifiable rhythm and was played by a man who had a surprised expression on his face, as if he was questioning every note. TERRIBLE! The evening was saved, however, when the kitchen in the hotel agreed to make me cheese spaetzle at 11pm, even though it was technically closed:-)

We stopped at a well-preserved community from the Middle Ages in Maulbraun

Seth with a freaky witch in Maulbronn

The exciting news of the last few days is that the German part of my background check for the State Department has begun. I spoke with the embassy between meetings yesterday. The investigator then interviewed 2 of the other fellows while we were on the bus. Maybe my clearance will actually be completed by the May 9 target date!

“Wine and bad sex”… okay I admit, these terms were intended to peak your curiosity;-) The last “meeting” on our agenda yesterday was a wine tasting in Baden. The owner of the winery was awesome… during our welcome toast, he played a giant horn (like the Riccola cough drop commercial). Before the second wine, he explained that if you don’t look a person in the eye while toasting, you are destined to have 7 years of bad sex. After the 3rd wine, he read a poem that he wrote about all the nice “B” words he could think about referring to wine from Baden. Before the 4th wine we learned that the term “legs” in English (in reference to wine) is called “church windows” in German and “women’s legs with pantyhose” in Russian. While sampling the 5th wine, the Russians sang. And before wines 6 and 7, the winery owner and his wife sang a song in Swabisch to the tune of “Downtown,” but replaced “Downtown” with “Neuenbuerg,” the town where we were.
As I am typing this entry, the sun is setting over the Belgian countryside on the way to Brussels. I can’t believe we are entering the last part of our study trip. It has been exhausting, but lots of fun. The European Commission and NATO are the last two stops on the trip.

a constantly revolving elevator at city hall in Stuttgart... could have kept us entertained all day long!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Study Trip Part II

We are on the road once again—traveling today from Munich to Stuttgart. I love traveling by bus! What better way to see the German countryside—the rolling hills, windmills in the distance, farmers’ fields and towns dotted with traditional red roofs? Billowing “Michigan” clouds fill the sky.

As we approached Ulm, I could see the cathedral standing tall in the distance. Memories of my first visit to Germany came flooding back. I can still remember the first time I saw the cathedral—as a 17 year old, on her first trip abroad, who would had no thought of living in Germany as a young adult. Had it not been for Ulm and Schleckers, what other turns would my life had taken? What an awesome adventure learning German has been!

Our stop in Munich was wonderful. Friday’s meetings included an information session at IFO, a tour of the Modern Pinakothek art museum and a modern ballet performance. I was planning to hate the ballet because it was “modern” (whatever that meant.) Instead, I LOVED IT! William Forsyth’s “Limb’s Theorem" combined computer generated music, large geometric shapes and flood lights that could be moved around the stage and a cast of 45 dancers who moved with a delicate yet purposeful fluidity. I am still thinking about how amazing the performance was!

Saturday was our free day. Since this was my third visit to Munich, I decided to steer clear of churches and castles and do a bit of exploring. Just by coincidence, I was at the Marienplatz at 11am and watched the Glockenspiel play. The moving characters are charming, though as a friend said to me, the song that plays sounds like “an out-of-tune 8th grade hand-bell choir.”

Next, I wandered over to the Viktualienmarkt, where the smell of spring flowers, fresh fruit, fresh baked bread and antipasti filled the air. The beer garden was filled (before noon) with soccer fans eager to watch the Cologne-Munich soccer game. I enjoyed the sites and then bought some bread and cheese and walked into the English Garden for lunch. The park was filled with people enjoying one of the first warm days of the year (though it was a bit too cold for the nudie patooties to be sunbathing.)

So now I am in Stuttgart—in Schwabia, which means I had cheese spaetzle for dinner. Our hotel is very close to DaimlerChrysler, where our first meeting is tomorrow. The hotel is a kick—the sound from the television plays in the bathroom and the pool/sauna is described as being “textile free.” Fun times:-)

the hotel information was written in Schwabisch, German, English and French! How cool! Is this German?