Hooray for Homework!

For reasons currently unknown, two professors now have had problems giving me access to L2P where they post all their learning materials. They receive an error saying that I already have a pending registration. Given that they are the only ones capable of registering me, and they received that error on their first attempt, I can only assume that mischievous Pixlies are warring with the Electrognomes and have chosen my student account as the battle field. However, they must have had a brief ceasefire because my Dynamics registration went through. I will have to wait for the Photonaiads to mobilize their strong forces against the Pixlies before I can see the Literary Studies website.

When I got onto the Dynamics page, I found a dynamic system we had seen in lecture with the acceleration and velocity vectors written in. Helpful, but nothing all that special. Then I saw the folder labeled Aufgabenstellungen. With suspicious hope rising within me, I clicked the link. Wonder of wonders, it was homework problems! Well, homework that no one will grade or ask you to turn in. I have been struggling to think of ways to learn material without any practice problems. The teachers and TAs solve the problems given in the textbook, and doing an exercise you have already seen the answer to is like making an origami crane with the folds pre-creased. Now, at least for one course, I know where I can turn.

In another technical course, Regelungstechnik, I have discovered practice problems in the form of old exams. These have the slight disadvantage that they cover material for the entire semester. Since I already have essentially three recitations per week for this class, I think I will count that as enough practice during the semester. I can turn to the old tests when I have a bit more knowledge under my belt.

Pumpkin Shenanigans

Fall, my favorite season, is coming into full swing. This means apples, nuts, and squash. The squash of the week, and probably the squash of next week too, is PUMPKIN! Now, I am not much of a pie person. I beg you to forgive that grave gastronomical blasphemy. However, whatever passion I lack for pie I make up for with my zeal for quick breads. Thus, I spent last week sifting through various pumpkin bread and pancake recipes. The problem came when I tried to find canned pumpkin.

Unbeknownst to me, canned pumpkin is a very American invention. In Germany, you buy the vegetable whole and puree, bake, or grate it yourself. What's more, there are two main varieties as far as I have seen. You have your typical jack-o-lantern style gourds. Then, you have something called Hokkaido. These are smaller, around 1kg. This makes them convenient for smaller scale cooking. They also have a skin that you can eat right along with the flesh. I picked one up yesterday and put it to good use this morning.

I roasted up the seeds, about 1/2 a cup from one pumpkin. I then shredded a third of the veggie-proper for my bread and baked the rest to later puree in the communal blender. The bread is too beautiful to last long in this world. The puree...let's just say that the blender is special. It suffers from the classic affliction of throwback. Throwback, a term I clearly did not make up off the top of my head, refers to when a blender blends when you first turn it on, but within seconds all the ingredients in contact with the blades have been thrown out of their reach and the mixture is too fill the gap left behind. When this happens, the mixture will not blend unless you pulse push ingredients down, pulse, push the ingredients down, etc. This had 1 major consequence for me; the pumpkin skin I had left on because the internet told me to ended up in pieces small enough that I could not pull them out but large enough that I could not cook with the mixture. I spent a lovely half an hour pushing the pumpkin mash through a sieve to repair the situation.

If the German cooking show, Lafer! Lichter! Lecker! that I have grown addicted to has taught me anything, it is that stick blenders are the way to go. They are to regular blenders what a hand mixer is to a stand mixer. They might not have as much kick, but they have less fuss. Furthermore, since you can move the blender wherever you wish inside the bowl, it resolves the throwback problem.

Dance Fever

Well, I finally got my laundry card. It turns out that the office hours and the times the landlord are in his office do not line up. It's easier to call his cell phone and see when he'll be around. Germans in general seem far more phone-centric. So many offices have given phone contact information but no physical or email address. Then again, that might have to do with the fact that I have had to deal with offices and logistics more than at home.

So, laundry card: yay! All the machines are in use: boo! Tomorrow though, I will wage war against sweat and chocolate stains.

Apart from laundry shenanigans, I decided to visit the ESG dance class. Unlike the Salsa class offered on Mondays, the instructor lead us through several dance styles. "Us" refers to the three people that showed up, one dance-pair and myself. Apparently a big party had pulled most of the regulars away. This left me to dance with teacher. Now, I consider myself a level headed and practical person. However, I am not a robot. When the rather attractive instructor pulled me into a closed position and announced that we would start with Rumba I melted a little inside. However, I pulled myself together pretty quickly.

Despite having no knowledge of Rumba, the teacher got me up to speed on the basics rather quickly. He could really lead. He did not just step and hold his hand in the general direction he wanted me to go like a weak lead might. Instead, he kept a firm frame and pushed me gently through the moves. All I had to do was let him lead and move my feet.

After Rumba, he introduced a tiny bit of Cha-cha, which was basically Rumba with a triple-step thrown in, and then moved onto Jive. Here, I had some experience, though I did not know it. It turns out that East Coast Swing, a style that I had some exposure to in high school, is incredibly similar to Jive. I picked up the moves even quicker than before. All too soon we moved on to the next dance.

The last style we learned was called Discofox. I had never heard of it. However, a quick google when I got home told me that the style is pretty popular in Germany. It came about, not surprisingly, in the 70s and is related to the hustle. The slightly dorky music not withstanding, the dance was a fun mix of spins and direction changes.

Unfortunately, the teacher and students all usually have regular partners. If I don't want to put someone out, I need to find a man that can dance. I study mechanical engineering. Boys I have. Men? Iffy. Dancers? We shall see.

Insert Frustrated but Determined "Ohm" Here

The title describes how I feel about the people I need to contact to get anything done in my apartment. I still have yet to get the card that lets me use the laundry machines. I can get it either from the landlord or from a certain resident. Well, I have yet to find the landlord in his office during office hours, and the resident is in his room...when he is in his room. To make matters worse, it turns out that washing the hand towels was part of kitchen cleaning duty that I had this weekend. I had somehow gotten it into my head that the person in charge of taking out the trash also had towels. Nope. In addition to the laundry card, I also need to somehow put money onto my printing balance. I only have to pay 2.50 cents per page, but it's a debit system, not credit.

To combat these logistical stresses, I went to the yoga class offered by the Evangelical Student Community. These are the same people that put on Salsa classes. I arrived slightly late due a long walk from my last class.  Normally, tardiness annoys me to no end. However, as a previous yoga instruct pointed out to me, why tense up about being late to relax? When I did arrive, I found the room lit by tea candles in the center of the floor. The instructor and a few students had made a circle around the candles with their mats. I quietly joined them. The practice focused primarily on undoing the tension caused by constant computer usage. We massaged our faces and temples, stretched our upper backs and shoulders, and finished in Shavasana as almost all practices do. The instructor even provided blankets, since the body temperature tends to sink quite a bit in Corpse Pose. While I cannot count this as a workout, it was definitely a pleasant experience. It may warrant revisiting.

Surprise Money and Residence Permit Answers!

Yesterday, I received in the mail a most peculiar document. It stated that I had paid the semester fee twice. By filling out the attached form with my bank information, I could get the ~230 Euros back. I read the letter several times through. I know that I only made the payment once. Heck, I only had 250 Euros in my Sparkasse account when I made that payment. The only explanation I can draw is that CMU covered the charge. I have yet to find a paper trail, so I see some emails in my future. However, asking why I have gotten money is by far preferable to asking why I have to give money.

While submitting the filled out refund form, I decided to drop in on my dear friends in the Foreigner's Office (Ausländeramt). I have had a rather confusing time trying to figure out just what counts as financial support. My self written letter of parental financial support had been turned down. Then, someone in the office said my parents had to get a Verpflichtungserklärung for me from the German embassy in America. When my dad asked around, the American office said they did not give out said form for study reasons. I sent an email to the Ausländeramt stating that, and they said "um...that's new." Okay, not in those words, but effectively.

To make matters both better and worse, another student said that she just showed a statement from her American bank and that had bee sufficient. However, on the info sheet for students it had said that a simple bank statement was not sufficient! Otherwise, I would have just done that in the first place!

You can understand, therefore, why I felt ready to tear my hair out if I got another conflicting answer today.
After a 10 minute wait that felt like an eternity, the man I had emailed was free to speak with. After I made the whole situation clear, he said that I could show my bank statement, preferably along with the account contract. So long as my savings total about 7000 Euros, or 700 Euros per month of my stay, I should be in the clear.

First Week Finished!

I have successfully survived the first week of classes. I only had one class to visit today, Treffpunkt Regelungstechnik. It is a more practical, deeper look into the concepts we discuss in the ordinary controls lecture. Since today was just an introduction, the TA running it decided to have some fun. He demonstrated how, if you mapped the audio from a video of the South African World Cup in 2010 into the frequency domain and removed all sound at, say, 233 Hz, you could remove most of the annoying vuvuzala noise.

In addition to messing around with sound, he decided to demonstrate what would happen if you messed with the controllers in a home-made segway. For this, he needed a volunteer. Not surprisingly, no one was too eager to try it out. He had expected this and upped the stakes by offering a jumbo bag of gummy bears to the guinea pig. How could I refuse? The segway worked just fine. No injuries to body or pride to report. However, when he showed what would have happened if he had used a less ideal controller, the segway had a seizure. (I was safely in my seat by then.)

Right after class, I dropped by the Studentenwerk and filled out the form to set up my automated rent. It took all of a minute. After that, I had nothing pressing until 5. Then, I had Intercultural Training to attend. This was a three hour session where we discuss different cultural models, some descriptive features like direct and indirect or independent and group oriented. All in all, it was nothing new. However, the instructor was pleasant, and having a multicultural class definitely contributed more than I had had in previous experiences. For example, the Chinese students explained that you don't just ask a teacher a question directly. You have to go about it indirectly through other students or tutors. There is a set hierarchy. I know that part of the training's purpose is to show that there is no right and wrong. only different. However, I don't think I would last long in an indirect, hierarchical culture. I would die of frustration first.

One Day More

I have one day left in the first week. However, seeing as both classes tomorrow are recitations and have little to no material to go over, today feels more like Friday than Thursday. The second dynamics lecture today got into path-following coordinate systems and all that jazz. So far I have been able to follow along without much difficulty.

I still have yet to hear back from the professors I've emailed regarding, you know, access to the electronic materials. I purchased the reader for Introduction to Literary Studies, but I haven't the foggiest what I have to read from it for Tuesday. The same goes for Regelungstechnik. One of these days I need to sort out when and where the professors hold their office hours. Sadly, that information may very well be on the websites I need access to...

On a more positive note, the class I had feared most may turn out to be the most fun. Novellendichtung (Writing of Novellas) frightened me for a number of reasons. For one, it is bound to have lots of reading assignments of questionable difficulty for me. For another, I did not know how much novella writing of our own we would have to do. While I like creative writing, I am certainly nowhere near college level, at the very least not in German. Finally, how well could I follow and contribute to discussions? If I have no idea what the teacher says, I can hardly respond. However, once the teacher showed up (something delayed her by a good 15 minutes), my doubts started to dissolve. She spoke engagingly but clearly enough that I could follow her without effort. She explained that the class would have one major written assignment that we could work on from the third week up until the end. Usually I dislike having one large assignment over many smaller ones. Eggs and baskets and all that. However, one assignment means I will have the opportunity to ask for feedback and revise before the final submission. Silly linguistic mistakes will be easier to catch. As for my ability to contribute and to keep up with the reading, the girl sitting next to me allayed my fears on those fronts. She mentioned that she had found Aristotle's "Poetik" difficult to read. This was the first work in the Intro to Lit Studies Reader. I had taken a look at it earlier, and was definitely no walk in the park. However, I could get meaning from it. If she had found it tricky too, maybe there's hope for me yet.

Books and Baked Goods

Today, since one of my lectures starts next week for some reason, I only had one afternoon class to attend. As a result, I decided to try and get some things done this morning. Namely, I wanted to get some textbooks and set up an automatic monthly withdrawal for rent.

The bookshop that carries the Mittelhochdeutsches Taschenwörterbuch (Middle High German Pocket Dictionary) that I need is called Mayersche. I had heard that the bookshop I went to yesterday was a smaller outlet and that I wanted the big shop. I did not realize just how big. Imagine Borders or Barnes and Noble. Now imagine three of them stacked on top of each other with two cafes included. I took my sweet time finding what I needed. Wandering through all the different sections was just too entertaining. In the fantasy and science fiction section, they had a table labeled "Game of Thrones, etc." Various Game of Thrones related texts and a few other well known high fantasy series littered the display. Finally, I discovered the text I needed on the top floor. 20 Euros. So far, it is the most expensive text I've had to get. In total, I imagine the texts for this semester will only set me back around $100. Compared to the $500 or so a regular semester in America might cost, I am pretty darn satisfied.

Next, I went to the Studentenwerk office in Peterstrasse and set up my rental payment to work with my Sparkasse account. Or rather, I intended to. I had forgotten that Wednesdays the Studentenwerk has no office hours. Oh well. I picked up the eggs I had forgotten to get yesterday, headed home, and read a bit of the script to Mittelhochdeutsche while I waited for my first and last lecture of the day.

Dynamics: this is another 1000 plus class. However, rather than beginning with something high tech like a segway, it began with an overhead projector and transparencies. How quaint. Nevertheless, a dry erase marker and projector turned out to be far more practical than a white board for a class that size. Once again,I found myself following the math and reverse translating from there. It seems the more technical the class, the easier to understand as a second language learner. Of course, we'll see what happens when we move on from basic Cartesian Coordinates and into something I haven't learned ten times over.

After class, I messed around, semi visited Rhönradturnen practice (I wasn't in the mood and left early), and waited for it to be 8 o'clock. What was I waiting for you ask? The "Onion Tarts and Federweisser" Party. While I could care less about the weird young wine offering, the onion tarts grabbed my attention. I had secretly hoped they would be free. Alas, they cost 1 star. Stars refer to the little stars printed onto a ticket indicating how much bar credit you have. I got 5 Euros worth of credit when I signed up for internet, so I put those to good use. The tarts looked something like what you see below.

They were entirely delicious. In fact, I picked up one to heat up for breakfast tomorrow, which drew confused expressions from the German girls I was hanging out with. Apparently left over onion tart is not normal breakfast food. To all those who assign food to specific meal times, I say poppycock. I will eat onion pie for breakfast, muesli and yogurt for lunch, and an omelet for dinner. Just try and stop me.

Second Day: Lit and Lang

Tuesdays are "light" for me. A 90 minute lecture in the morning and another around 4. However, the content might just burn holes through my head. The first class, Introduction to Literary Studies, has a professor that speaks blessedly slowly. However, she also has a handheld microphone that wanders to and from her mouth. I will have to sit directly in front of her and pray that the students behind me don't chatter if I want to catch everything she says.

I am still waiting to get access to L2P, the site where assignments, material, and announcements are. Until I have access, I can neither start on the readings or look over the lecture slides. Another exchange student taking the class said she had the same problem. Fortunately, the class only meets once a week, so I have a little time before matters become desperate.

Apart from those troubles, the material in the class seems interesting. We will discuss three fundamental sorts of literature: Epic (meaning works of a certain length that tell a story, not just Beowulf and the Odyssey), Lyric, and Dramatic. We will learn how to approach the historical and analytical aspects of each group and use mountains of example texts to do so. I will be buried in books. There are worse ways to go.

Speaking of books, I had a minor panic attack when I saw that the required lit for my second class of the day was required for the first lecture. I had an hour and 15 minutes before my class began to try and print off the script and buy a textbook. Since I had yet to print anything, I decided to go for the textbook first. However, when I arrived at the bookstore, they told me that I would have to go to their main office to get it. Even if I had known how to get there, I would not have had time. Nevertheless, on my way to the shop, I passed a copy shop. I had the script and the first day's text on a USB-drive with me. When I walked in, I simply handed the woman the stick, told her which files and what colors I wanted, and the pages fired off shockingly quickly. The price also shocked me. I had expected to pay 15 Euros or more for the print job. Instead, printing 58 pages single sided put me out just 3.35. The first page costs 50 cents, and every subsequent one 5 cents. I'll have to remember to print in bulk.

Once I had the text printed, I had just enough time to head back to campus and locate the classroom. The class, Translating from Middle High German, is quite different from my other courses. For one thing, it is tiny. Only three students including myself showed up for the first day. Not only that, but the class itself has no graded work or test at the end. It is technically an Übung meaning a practical exercise rather than a lecture. Most people attending did so either out of interest or as preparation for a masters or teaching exam that included some translation.

As it turned out, I did not actually need the script and textbook for today. After a brief explanation of the course's structure and goals, we jumped right into translating a text. For context, Middle High German was the language used mainly between the 11th and 14th centuries. It resembles modern High German about as much as Chaucer resembles modern English. Translating it poses a number of problems. Do you focus on the style or the meaning? Did words that still exist today have the same meaning back then? What do you do when a verb could be past or present tense? We muddled through a few verses with the professor guiding us and explaining the meanings of various unrecognizable words. It was fun but exhausting. I had to work to understand, not just the text, but the explanations and answers being given in a second language. Alone with the professor I would have no issues asking for clarification. However, I have sat in classrooms held up by one student before. I did not want to hold the others back.

Fortunately, I got a rather helpful email right after class. The professor said that, as far as he could tell, I had kept up pretty well. Should I need it though, I should not fear to ask him to slow down or explain again. We could even meet before class and go over any particular problems or questions I have. Woohoo! I have a four hour break between my previous class and this one. Meeting beforehand will not be a problem. Life may have gotten a little bit easier.

First Day

My first lecture, Introduction to Psychology, took place at 10:15am in a building far from the main campus. I successfully snagged a bus to get me there with plenty of time to spare. At 10:05 I decided to go in to get a good seat. Apparently everyone else had the same idea. I ended up in the back row. At first, the teacher had a microphone and I could hear without trouble. Then, he decided that he preferred to speak on the other side of the classroom from the mike. Understanding rapid-fire German is troublesome enough. Understanding rapid-fire German when you only hear half of it is considerably trickier. However, as he was mostly talking about the different directions a psychology student could take in their studies, it did not much matter.

He ended class early enough that I had time to ask how I could register. Exchange students do not have access to the same electronic registration program as ordinary ones. However, he rather unsympathetically explained that the class was full and that I could not participate. Honestly, I am a bit relieved. On the one hand, getting credit towards my German major and the cognition requirement for Mechanical Engineer in one class would have been nice. On the other hand, not having to fly from one side of the city to the other in half an hour (the only half hour I would have for lunch) will definitely make my life easier.

I did, however, manage to hop a bus to the Audi Max building where my next three classes would take place. Those three classes are Controls: Review, Controls: Lecture, Controls: Other Lecture. 1000 other students and I get to sit in the same lecture hall from 12:15 to 3:45 with 15 minute breaks in between "classes." This is not even the entirety of the class. On Thursdays, I have a 1:30 hour recitations, and Fridays offer a three hour tutorial on MATLAB and practical applications of what we learn. On the upside, if I get the material, attendance is not mandatory. If I don't get the material, I have plenty of opportunities to ask for help. On top of the classes, the professor and TAs have in person and electronic office hours every day. Seeing as I have to pass this class with flying colors to stand a chance of resolving my senior year schedule, I can use the help.

However, not only do I think I'll pass the class; I think I'll enjoy it as well. The lecture today started with the professor, Dr. Abel, riding in on a segway. He had a male and female student try it out. Neither had used one before, but within seconds they got the gist of it. Dr. Abel explained that the segway remained balanced by adjusting the wheel speed to compensate when the driver shifted his or her center of mass. This was a convenient segway (aren't I clever) to simple control loops.

I had had some exposure to controls through my Intro to Robotics class last year. It was incredibly basic, but also incredibly helpful today in establishing vocabulary. I knew what the simple diagram meant. As the professor explained in German, I had a point of reference to hold on to. The same held true as he wandered away from diagrams and into the Taylor Series and differential equations. I know what the equations represent. I just have to fit the German terms to the symbols.

All in all, the lectures went well. I did not entirely follow every last detail, but Dr. Abel speaks slowly and clearly enough that vocabulary is the primary hurdle. To overcome it, I'll have to study, a good habit to get into in any case.

Tonight, since my wrist still periodically twinged from yesterday's Gymnastics, I decided to skip the wheel workout and attend Salsa lessons instead. The Evangelical Student Community (ESG) hosts informal salsa lessons every Monday. The moves were manageable, the music fun, the partners pleasant. When we started getting into the Rueda, things really picked up. I feel somewhat more justified in the slice of marble pound cake another student shared with me.

Here is a link to a Rueda video. We kept to the first few moves, but I look forward to learning some of the others!

Letters and Literature

Tomorrow is the first day of the semester. I have written down my schedule, located the most confusing classrooms, sent emails to professors to "register" when necessary, and can only hope that I have prepared myself enough. Time will tell.

However, today I felt like I had an excess of time. Out of laziness and forgetfulness I ended up not going to church. Thus, the only thing going on was open gym from 1 to 3. My wrists are aching from it. I get the feeling I won't be doing any flip-flops at tomorrow's practice.

After the workout I returned home and checked my mailbox. Two letters! That surprised me. I had been expecting my debit card, but what was in this other envelope? As I looked at the return address, my stomach sank. Bundeszentralamt für Steuern or "Federal Central Office for Taxes." If I had to pay taxes I could kiss fruits and vegetables goodbye.

It turns out the letter simply contained my "tax number". It seems to serve the same purpose as a social security number. You only get one, you keep it your whole life, and you use it to identify yourself in official paperwork. Having one does not mean that you have to file taxes, thank goodness.

On the way back upstairs from the mail room I passed a box in the hall labeled "Free Stuff." I like free stuff. More specifically, I like free stuff that I intended to buy. From this box, I pulled a beach towel (good for workouts or as a floor mat), the "first" book in A Song of Ice and Fire and Otherland: City of Golden Shadow, both translated into German. If I keep going at this rate, I'll have an entire library of lucky finds. Bringing them back...well easy come easy go.

Zertifikat Internationalles and Stickstoff

Yesterday (I seem to be on a perpetual 1-day lag) I attended a meeting regarding the Zertifikat Internationalles. This certificate is issued to RWTH students that demonstrate sufficient engagement in intercultural activities. Boy do the Germans like documentation.

At the info session, I received a list of required and elective components to the certificate. Having joined the BeBuddy program as a mentee and attended a language course with Goethe Institute, I'm already practically a third of the way done. One of the required components is an intercultural training session. With any luck, I can attend one next week! Other elective components range from attending certain classes to helping organize Aachen's "Tag der Integration" or integration day. I'm personally interested in attending a career center course on how to apply for jobs in Germany. Call me crazy, but that seems practical.

For full information on the program, click here.

On the way back from the info session, I made a very good choice. I decided to take a back way to my dorm rather than following the main street. As a result, I happened to walk by the chemistry building just as a gaggle of students came out laden with juice, coolers, and buckets. I wandered closer, asking what was going on. "Sie machen Stickstoffeis," a helpful onlooker explained. They're making stickstoff ice? What's stickstoff? I thought. Peering at the table they had erected, I could see students diligently stirring bowls of juice. As they worked, they occasionally poured what seemed to be liquid nitrogen into the mix.

So, was Stickstoff some weird alternative word for fruit juice? While I puzzled over the new word, a boy grabbed the cooler, a water filled bucket, and beckoned to the students to gather round. Not too close though. I could guess what was coming. With a flourish, he emptied the cooler's contents into the bucket and a plume of fog surged forth. The old dry ice and water trick never gets old. Once the roiling vapors had settled down and I had grabbed a cup of juice slushy, I headed home. Here, the good old internet answered my question regarding what I had just eaten.

Stickstoff- is the German word for Nitrogen. Sticken means to asphyxiate, and stoff basically means stuff or substance. Nitrogen earned that name because when it displaces oxygen...well we certainly don't last long.

Some other fun German versions of element names are:

O - Sauerstoff so named because oxygen was once thought essential for making acids (Säuere)

C - Kohlenstoff so named because coal (Kohle) is mostly carbon.

H - Wasserstoff so named because hydrogen is a key element in water (hydro is also greek for water)

Na - Natrium and K - Kalium The origins of these words are not German. I just include them because it finally makes sense why Sodium is Na and Potassium is K. We simply use the English terms instead of the Arabic ones that gave them their symbols.

Accidental Discoveries

Today I received my semester ticket. This card allows me to use all public transport in the Aachen region. This will come in handy for getting to classes. I looked up the locations of all of the courses that I intend to attend this semester. For the most part, they are in the main RWTH campus near Templergraben and Wüllnerstraße. However, it would seem the psychology department wandered off a ways. My Intro to Psychology class is on the southeast side of the city. According to Google Maps and my own experience trying to walk it today, it takes a little over half an hour to get from there to my next class, control engineering. Naturally, I have exactly 30 minutes between the end of psych and the start of controls. Hopefully, the train that supposedly shaves 10 minutes off the commute arrives on time.

While attempting to find the psych lecture hall in the first place, I did make two pleasant discoveries. First, I came across a shop named Würfelkiste meaning Dice Box. As I walked past, the classic image of a robed figure wielding a sword atop a mountaintop caught my eye. Could it be? It was! A gaming shop. Although I do not expect to buy much (read I horde money like a dragon) I have high hopes of networking. The sooner I join a D&D campaign, the soon I will feel at home.

After finding the lecture hall and heading back home, I made my second discovery. I happened to notice a plastic bag on the ground. Inside the bag were six somewhat aging books. I scanned the area again to see if they were part of some donation program. After all, I had passed a used clothes collection point not a block earlier. Nope. The books sat at the base of some glass recycling bins. Well, I had intended to get books in Germany. Why not free ones? Below are their titles.

Geflügelte Worte, (Winged Words) Georg Büchmann
Der Fragebogen, (The Survey)Ernst von Salomon
Die Geächteten, (The Ostracized )Ernst von Salomon
Der Sowjetmensch, (The Anatomy of Soviet Man)Klaus Mehnert
Das andere Ich, (The Other Me) Heinrich Spoerl
Freund sei einer dem Andern, (To Be Friends With One Another) Hermann Kloke

The first two, according to the internet, are actually rather well known. At the very least, they are the best known works of their authors. All in all, I consider it a good find. Should I decide I don't want them, perhaps I can find a second hand bookstore that does.


I belong to a breed known as the domineering introvert. When left to choose between staying home and meeting new people, I will likely stay home. When I mix in a crowd of strangers, I tend to stay quiet and deferential. However, the moment I feel comfortable in the situation, just try to shut me up.

Last night, I had to make one of those social life choices. Did I want to stay in and solve Sudoku puzzles, or did I want to go to Cafe Lingua, an event hosted by INCAS once a month? In the end, the promise of snacks got me moving. When I arrived at Humboldt Haus where all INCAS events take place, I saw various tables labeled for different languages. English, Spanish, French, and German were all represented. I took an open seat at the German table and promptly received a handful of M&Ms. For each color M&M, I had to talk about a corresponding topic. Red for hobbies, Orange for family, etc. After that game, the group played two truths and a lie, and thereafter a game where everyone has the name of a person on their forehead and must guess who they are by asking yes or no questions. All in all, I enjoyed myself. The M&Ms certainly didn't hurt my opinion of the event either.

Today was a bit less social. I spent most of the day watching ZDF programming and messing around on the computer. I also enjoyed chocolate pancakes with a molten butter and chocolate syrup that I made without a recipe. (To me, cooking without precise measurements is like building a house without blueprints. I'm only just coming around to the "tastes right" approach.) However, at 3 the time came for my second stint in the Rhönrad. This time, I was the only newbie there. I therefore received the undivided attention of the instructor. We tried doing a basic roll one handed, one legged, turning around while upside down, and what struck me as some seriously complicated spinning around. The last included the move that cost me some blood on Monday. However, with the instructor applying the breaks, I had no problems. I did bleed though. Apparently the tops of my feet aren't used to straps. I got a blood blister even through my shoes. That combined with the calluses I'm reforming on my hands makes me feel like a gymnast again.

Just Roll With It

Yesterday, at long last, Christine and I managed to meet up with the woman in charge of the exchange program. We had previously been unable to register for classes. With one week to go before lectures start, we were quickly descending into panic. In our minds, meeting with our adviser would set everything in stone.

That...is not the German system. In smaller humanities classes there may be fixed registration dates. They can only manage so many students in their sections.In the lectures, some say that you have until a month into the class before you have to officially register. Others give you the entirety of the semester to "register". Even then, registration really just means that you get access to course materials. In a class with group projects or small recitations, you'll be assigned to a team or section. For those courses that have only one exam at the end of the semester, you could just sign up for the test, never attend the class, and still get credit if you pass the test. Moreover, as exchange students we could not register electronically anyway. We have to write the professor (or the TAs that really run things) and request access to L2P, the RWTH equivalent of Blackboard or Moodle.

Thus, our adviser's advice was simply to show up to the first day and see what happens. The professors all have their own rules regarding attendance, assignment to sections, etc. More and more I understand why in German you don't say that you "take" a course; you "visit" it.

After our meeting, Christine and I decided to take a slight detour on our way to our dorm. This detour led to the Lindt factory's outlet. It is a dangerously short walk away. Chocolate perfumed the air around it. When we entered, I nearly melted at the sight. The room was as large as a hocky rink and filled wall to wall with sweets. Dark, milk, white, hazelnut, caramel, cherry, apple, everything a "Naschkatze" like me could hope for. I let out the occasional longing groan as we wandered past particularly appealing products. However, I had set myself a limit. No more than 2 Euros. It turns out, that did not limit the selection by that much. Plenty of products cost 1,90 Euros. In the end, I knew that everything there was quality, so I may as well maximize quantity. White chocolate and coconut bar, a small dark chocolate mint bar, and a dark chocolate "stick" worked out to 1,90 exactly. They are now gone. Perhaps looking up the factory's location was a bad idea...

However, I did at least attempt to redeem myself by going to Röhnradturnen practice. That is the wheeled gymnastics practice I so gleefully mentioned previously. My first lesson was how to use the binds. Beginners, you see, do not start off totally loose in a giant wheel. The feet get strapped in, and by twisting and pointing in a particular way, friction does the rest. The first move I learned was how to roll in what felt like a slow motion cartwheel. Once the teacher approved of that, he showed me how I could roll backwards and forwards while facing the wheel rim. He then tried something very frightening with me. One foot stays strapped in. The other swings behind me to get me rolling backwards. When I am upside down, the back leg swings forward to keep me going, and I stand upright again with my hands free of the wheel. The terrifying part in this was the constant conviction that my bound foot would slip right out of the shoe. Next, came an assisted "belly roll". This involves hoisting myself up against the rim, sweeping downwards with my hips against a bar, folding over it as I lift up again, and then rolling around to stand inside the wheel once more. It sounds awesome, and it would be if I did it at full speed. The instructor kept things very, very slow. After a few passes, he told me that I could get one of the more advanced students to help me out, which I did. I then did something stupid.

Everyone was busy, and I wanted to try something other than the two basic rolls I knew. However, hanging from one foot had scared me far more than the belly roll ever had. So...I thought why not try that? Just the beginning. Surely, that wouldn't be so bad. I had absolutely no conception of just how much they had been slowing me down. My body rolled to the ground. I saw the floor coming at my face, and I had just enough time to think "Huh, stopping isn't really an option" before my too low lying chin and lips kissed the floor. The wheel stopped awkwardly, the instructor exclaimed "nicht alleine machen!" (don't do that alone) and I stood up with a bleeding inner lip.

That was it for my rolling that night. I got an ice pack, washed the blood off, and tried not to shrink into an embarrassed ball. It did not hurt, it simply made me feel foolish. However, horses and falling and all that. I think I'll go back Wednesday.

Church du Soleil

On Sunday, I decided to visit an evangelical (protestant) church in the area. The evangelical churches in Aachen all minister to different districts. According to their website, I live in the Dietrich-Bonhoeffer Haus district. The name caught my attention. My mother and several others have mentioned Dietrich Bonhoeffer as an inspirational German christian. During World War II he spoke out against the Nazis. He even chose to remain in Germany rather than oppose them from afar, which led to his eventual execution.

Sunday morning, I wandered down to the church. It's no Aachener Dom. Really, the sanctuary was just a spacious room with rows of chairs. I received two hymnals at the door and an announcement sheet. Instead of listing the hymns in the bulletin, a plaque on the wall with adjustable numbers indicated which hymns and verses to sing. I probably would never have noticed it had the pastor not commented before the service that numbers on the left corresponded to one hymnal, those on the right to the other.

You cannot imagine my relief when I heard how the pastor spoke. Unlike people on the street who speak at ludicrous speed and leave out half the words in a sentence, he pronounced every word clearly at a rate that I could follow. Hooray for proper public speaking! As he welcomed the community, I realized that I had chosen an interesting day to attend. The first Sunday in October is Erntedankfest.

Erntedankfest translates roughly to harvest gratitude festival, effectively thanksgiving. However, don't go picturing turkeys and stuffing. In Germany, the celebration is more of a church holiday than a nationally celebrated one. Traditions vary from region to region, and some congregations don't recognize it at all. In this particular church, they celebrated by collecting food, displaying it artistically on the altar, and sending it off afterwards to a food pantry.

The pastor called up the little children and asked them to find foods from the table that did not come from Germany. One held up coffee. Another grabbed rice. Yet another took pasta that had a "made in Mexico" label. The pastor raised the issue of fair trade and let the children sit back down. Then, he reflected how he had disliked any foreign foods when he was young. "If I don't know it, I don't like it." That mentality is just silly applied to foods. Applied to people, it is a tragedy.

It turns out, that was the real theme of the sermon, being open and accepting of foreigners. The pastor even had the congregation call out what makes life oppressive for foreigners and what they can do to alleviate that burden. I spent an hour sitting in a room full of Germans discussing how best to be kind and helpful to immigrants! That was both heartening and extremely surreal.

Afterwards though, I had no time to stay and mingle. Sundays at 1, the sport complex has a free open Gym for gymnastics, trampoline, and advanced wheel gymnastics! Of course, having never done wheel gymnastics before, and having shown up with the wrong shoes, I could not really participate in that particular event. I did however get reacquainted with my inner acrobat. For one and a half hours I messed around on the floor mats, exchanged tricks with other students there, and may have fallen over once or twice.

Best of all was that I spoke entirely in German with the other gymnasts. It wasn't perfect, but it was comfortable. They did not slow down for me, and I did not feel a need for them to do so. My everything hurts today, but not enough to keep my away. The beginner wheel gymnastics takes place tonight!

Grocery Shopping

Yesterday, the third of October, was Der Tag der deutschen Einheit or German unification day. It celebrates the official reunification of East and West Germany 23 years ago. Although no parties or traditions seem to mark it as of yet, it does mean that nearly all shops and services are closed. Almost everyone gets the day off. As such, I decided to stay in and plan food for the week.

At first, I tried searching for cheap recipes that seemed vaguely healthy. One by one turned them down as requiring too many ingredients I did not want to buy at once. I may go back to them later, but stocking a pantry from scratch should focus on basics, not novelties. Thus, I asked myself what the one thing was I knew I absolutely had to have the ingredients to make: The answer is pancakes.

Pancakes are not my favorite food. They are not overly nutritious. They are not even all that quick if you only have a small skillet. However, for some inexplicable reason I love to make them. Buttermilk, chocolate, chocolate chip, banana, carrot, potato....something about flipping cakes on a stove makes me happy. The best part is that the ingredients to make basic pancakes also form the foundation for any number of other foods.

After that, I went for easy. Müsli and yogurt for breakfast, coldcuts and cheese with bread for lunch, and cabbage and wurst for dinner. For the first week, that will do.

Today I put my carefully (or some may say lazily) crafted shopping list and hit the discount store Netto. I had no trouble finding what I wanted until I came to the cheese section. I am no cheese buff, but I am picky. I faced a selection of cheese that were either foreign to me, expensive, or pre-sliced for your inconvenience. (Pre-slicing means higher prices for less cheese and the inability to grate it should the need arise. Moreover, they always seem to come in ridiculously small packages that would not last a week in my hands.) I found the same selection when I visited a nearby Kaisers. In the end, I decided it was better to go without than to pay for something I did not want.

An aside on discounters: Those of you who have been to Aldi have seem firsthand how these stores work. They are shops designed to come cheap. They cut down on the range of products and product brands to reduce costs. For things like eggs, the small selection does not matter and the price drop is great. For cheese...well I may have a normal supermarket in my future.

Random observation 1: The eggs (sold in 10s, not 12s) are not washed, allowing them to remain unrefrigerated for a while due to a protective layer that washing removes. I had a few feathers on my eggs.

Random Observation 2: String cheese is called cheese string.

Productive by All Accounts

Today I rose early after a good night’s sleep in my own room and headed to the BürgerService to register my address. Within a few minutes of pulling a ticket my number came up. I showed my passport and lease, answered some simple question and voila! I received my Meldeschein. The woman I spoke to also gave me a packet of information for new residents. Though I have not looked to closely at it, the thought alone is nice.

From there I stopped by an ATM (Geldautomat) to pull out the money for my semester fees. I did not want to wait for a wire transfer to get the ball rolling. Thus, I sucked up the extra charges for using my PNC card. Minutes later I asked to open an account with Sparkasse. I chose Sparkasse mainly because the banks and ATMS are ubiquitous in Aachen. Looking over account options online, it seemed to have several perfectly adequate options for my needs.
The one the woman working with me recommended was S-Pool.
 It is a Giro account (don’t ask what Giro means. I still have no idea.) with online and in office banking options. You receive an ATM card that most shops in Aachen will accept if they accept plastic at all. Furthermore, there are a number of businesses in the city that offer discounts to card holders. You can even get phone and travel insurance through it. The down side is it costs around 3 euros a month with the student discount.
Another option exists that has no monthly fee, no discount arrangements with stores, and purely online banking. This option may have been more appropriate for me. I do not intend to visit most of the businesses that offer discounts, my phone is not worth ensuring, and I already have travel insurance. However, the “only online banking” bit threw me. If I am short a computer, I want access to my account. Thus, I let myself be talked into the more expensive option. All in all, 30 Euros is not the worst price to pay for some added convenience.

That same mentality fed into the rest of my day. After signing a pile of papers and depositing and immediately transferring the semester fee, I headed off to Starbucks to try and activate my student account. I got an error. I tried again and got the same error. Eventually, I read the card with my activation code a little closer. It turns out that after paying the fee you still have to wait a week for the system to digest your data. That was when I decided to pay for a wired connection in my dorm. I had hesitated before to cough up the 20 Euros and 15 Euro deposit. However, the thought of walking to Starbuck one more time to check my email…Although I hate how dependent I am on the internet, the situation demands it. I can honestly say, blogging from the comfort of my own room, that I made the right decision.

Internationale Dienstag

Last night at 8 I made my way to Humboldt Haus where Internationale Dienstag (international Tuesday) takes place.
Internationale Dienstag is sponsored by INCAS, the same group to sponsor the international breakfast last Sunday. Every Tuesday some sort of event takes place with free light snacks and reasonably priced beverages. Last night was “Pub Quiz”. Visitors split into eight teams of any size to guess at random bits of trivia. The table I joined ended up with 2 Belgians, 3 Germans, Christine and me. Our American heritage came in handy when asked to identify a picture of Niagara Falls, Route 66, and the sport associated with the Stanley Cup. Despite calling the Amazon the longest river in the world we managed to get 3rd place. At 11 I made it back to my room and collapsed in a happily exhausted heap.

(For those of you wondering, I used the euro I found to buy a chocolate croissant at Kaisers. Not the best I’ve ever had, but definitely the most victorious.)

Apartment sweet Apartment

The lack of convenient internet has really been messing with my blogging schedule.

Excuses aside, much and more has happened in the last two days. I decided to go to the Krankenkasse first thing yesterday. It opened at 9am and I walked through the doors at 9:01. At maybe 9:07 I walked out again with my insurance waiver in triplicate. I only had to show my insurance card! It would have been nice to know that earlier. Then again, I had what I needed to register in time for the enrollment meeting.

Now running late for the orientation presentation, I hurried over to SuperC, one of the main campus buildings. To be honest, the presentations were not terribly informative. Mostly various groups said that they were available to help foreign students. INCAS, BeBuddy, and AV were some of these groups. At the end someone explained the process to apply for a residence permit and another talked about IT services. The former I had already learned. The latter had some helpful information. The most important piece was that it takes 24 hours after activating your student account before it will go into the system. I also found out that AV (the legal counsel group for foreigners) offers free SIM cards. I do not know their rates, but that seems like something they might have better advertised.

I later chatted for a while with some fellow foreigners. Sadly, we spoke in English, but it was fun regardless. Afterwards, I tried to plan my day for today. There I made an idiotic blunder. I thought the hours of operation of the Studentenwerk where I had to go to sign my lease were only from 2-3:30 on Tuesdays. In fact, they are 9-12:45 and 2-3:30. When I realized this I kicked myself hard in the face. Literally. However, in retrospect, it would have made little difference. The schedule below is why.

7:00   get up and pack up as much as possible
8:00   make sure I have everything I need from the internet while at the Starbucks
9:00   go to the enrollment meeting
9:30   find out that I am in entirely the wrong place
9:34   locate the room full of exchange students where the meeting was held and discover that my forms and 
         the other CMU exchange student’s are absent
10:30 finish the meeting without too much hassle and hear from AEGEE on foreign student assistance.
10:45 check out of my hostel before I have to pay for an extra day.
11:00 give up arguing with a ticket dispenser that won’t shut up and take my money and jump on the bus I 
          think I need
11:17 learn that this is the wrong buns and hop off before it’s too late
11:20 thank God that the road slopes downhill when I’m pulling 50lb and 20lb suitcases and wearing a 20lb 
11:30 ask God why the road had to switch to uphill FOR THE NEXT 2 MILES
12:10 find the wandering road to the apartment and dump my stuff in the other CMU student’s room
1:00   lunch with other student, Christine
2:00   sign my lease (make sure to bring a print copy of your receipt for the deposit)
2:50   finally get my keys and get into my room
3:30   get my stuff out of Christine’s room which I had forgotten was locked…

At long last, I started unpacking. The room has plenty of space, enough that I could do yoga facing any direction without difficulty. The building being constructed across the way makes for an unattractive view, but the curtains I found in a drawer give me plenty of privacy from workers. The bathroom, a tiny thing, has an incredibly high shower curtain rod. Even using three links for every hole in the curtain the fabric just brushes the shower base’s lip.
The communal kitchen is more than I could have hoped for. I get a shelf in a fridge, 1 in a freezer, and an entire cabinet of dry food space. A broom closet brims with communal pots and pans and, well, brooms. I would have preferred gas to an electric stove top, but the microwave makes up for it. I shall not go hungry!

I could keep talking, but I found a Euro under my bed and want to see if I can spend it.