The Premise

For those of you who have seen my other blog, When I was a Jelly Doughnut, it should come as no surprise that I have decided to travel once more to Germany. This time, I will spend an entire year in Aachen studying at the Rheinische-Westfälische-Technische-Hochschule. It's a mouthful, isn't it?

The program I am using is the CMU Chemical Engineering Exchange- RWTH Aachen. I, as it turns out, am not a chemical engineer. I study mechanical engineering. There will be posts dedicated solely to the stress that has resulted from that little speed-bump. Instead of getting into that here, I'll explain the layout of this blog. See those subjects listed on the right of the screen? Those are the three main topics I'll cover in the next year.

"Papierkram": Literally paper junk, meaning paperwork, this is the label for all posts related to the logistics, red tape, and email goose-chases that I go through in order to make this study abroad happen. Although it is the least pleasurable topic to write on, it is also likely the most practical for those considering study abroad themselves.

"Tagebuch": Literally days book, meaning diary, posts with this label will chronicle my mundane day to day activities while abroad. Friends, family, voyeurs and stalkers are welcome to browse, but the content will be more specific to my experience than to travelers and students in general.

"Touristenfalle": Literally tourist trap, meaning...tourist trap, this is the center for all the exciting things I see and do abroad, which any visitor could experience. People planning a pleasure trip may find this section particularly applicable. If you are not able to travel, then enjoy my fun vicariously or let your jealousy burn with the white hot intensity of a thousand suns. It's up to you.

Amsterdam: Park and Gay Pride

Today was rather draining, and occasionally disappointing, but I'm glad to have lived it. The day started off with me trying to find a grocery store so I could get some food for the day that wouldn't empty my pockets as much as the food yesterday did. I knew there was a Lidl somewhere in the city center, but I didn't recall where, so I asked the front desk of the hotel for advice. The advice I received took me away from the city proper to a super market that I was unable to find. I did, however, find some other super market where I got half a loaf of bread and a 500 gram pack of potato-egg salad, perfect for spreading. Due to not actually having a knife (that wasn't packed up deep in my luggage), I made due with washing my RWTH library card and using that instead.

With my food for the day sorted, I headed into the city to visit the flower market. (This took longer than expected due to underestimating the scale on Google Maps. Given an ankle still recovering from a sprain, the high amount of walking from yesterday and today have made it rather sore). Now, I don't particularly care for roses and lily's and the like. However, you can't visit Amsterdam and not look at some flowers. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the plants I saw there. My favorites are shown below. I also came across several types of cactus that reminded me of alien worlds and bad sci-fi. If a guy tried to woo me with roses, I'd be unimpressed, but I would totally accept a cactus.

Left to Right: Anthurium, Medinilla, and Bromeliad.
After the flower market, which was considerably smaller than I'd expected, I walked through the Spiegelkwatier (Mirror Quarter), a section of the city full of antiques stores and tiny art galleries. I always feel awkward going into a shop knowing that I have no intention of buying anything, especially when I'm the only person in there. I feel as though I'm giving the owner false hope or something. Thus, I stuck to window shopping. The art I saw wasn't quite to my tastes, but some of the antique stores looked fairly interesting. One specialized in clocks. I had never realized how creative one can get with a pendulum. Another shop had model ships, sextants, clocks, and most likely telescopes and barometers further inside. One window I passed seemed filled with typical enough knick knacks until I realized that the life-size cat sculpture at the front was an actual living cat. It brushed up against the glass, and I bemoaned the barrier between us. A sign on the shop door had the feline's photo and the caption "This store protected by attack cat."

I eventually emerged from the Spiegelkwartier and hit the shopping hotspot of Leidseplein. Most of the shops were clothes or food, neither of which I wanted to torture myself with by looking at and not purchasing. However, the Eichholtz Delicatessen stood out to me. It advertised as a US and British foods shop. I expected to see quasi-american products that I could laugh at. When I opened the door though, I was confronted with a row of brand-name Cereals I haven't seen in months. The sight hit me like a ton of bricks. It was like remembering something you'd forgotten that you had forgotten. I continued looking. Some things like Twix were nothing special, as the Mars company is pretty big in Germany. However, pop-tarts, Aunt Jemima's, Betty Crocker cake mixes, frosting tubs, pie tins, and A&W root-beer all evoked similar feelings of "oh yeah! Those things!" in me. I caved and purchased a can of A&W to hydrate like a proper yank. With that taste of reverse-culture shock, I'm not sure if I'm looking forward to being home more or less now. We'll find out what happens tomorrow.

The only things I had left in my itinerary for the day were going to a free concert at 1pm in the Vondelpark and following that up with the Gay Pride canal parade. I had a bit over an hour to kill by the time I'd reached the park, half limping due to walking too far without break. The park is a long, skinny stretch of grass and trees dotted with ponds and sculptures. If I'm honest, many of the sculptures look to me like scaled up papier-mâché. However, Pablo Picasso apparently loved the park so much that he donated a sculpture of his own creation to it. It resides on the far south end, which I did not feel like walking to. Instead, I located the open air theater where the free concert was supposed to occur and climbed the tree just outside it. Its branches were so wonderfully thick and horizontal that they made for rather comfortable seating once I'd figured out how to climb with a purse and a bag full of potato salad. While waiting for it to be 1, a bike tour came along and stopped right under the branches. The tour guide explained that the spot on which they stood was actually the lowest point in all of Amsterdam, a full 6 meters below sea level. She commented that if the dikes ever broke-down, "I hope you can swim or climb trees like this girl who is setting a good example." It's always nice to be included.

When the "concert" finally started, I realized I had understood less of the dutch description than I'd thought. It turned out that the "Jazz Barones" were a group that put on kid shows with some jazz thrown in. This was not one of those kids shows that the parents can enjoy too, so I packed up and headed to the parade early.

The parade was PACKED. People lined the sides of every side of the canals 3-rows deep. Some lucky few looked out from overlooking windows while others climbed up to stand on the first floor window ledges. The clothes ranged from normal to studded leather to go-go-geisha, and that was just the observers. The barges themselves were just as varied, but way more dramatic. I'm talking full silver body-paint, a boat full of shirtless centurions, two guys on water-jets wearing business suits, and way more. In order to get a view at all, I first tried standing atop a tiny bollard with one hand on a lamppost to support myself. However, having all my weight on the middle of one foot and the side of one hand got uncomfortable fast. I switched to standing on one of the countless bike racks trying not to accidentally step on a stranger's bicycle. This worked far, far better.

Now, seeing all these people loud and proud was really cool and uplifting. Enjoying their costumes, dancing, and party music was fun. So very fun. So much. intensely noisy fun. Fun with so many other people. Yep. These crowds sure are having fun. It's...fuuuuuuu - okay I ditched. I had had as much as I could take of it all. I could either be somewhere comfortably distant from the crowds but necessitating a rather uncomfortable viewing perch, or I could be kind to my feet, but be surrounded by presses of people. I do not like presses of people, in particular people I don't know. Had I been with friends, the story would have been different. As it was, I could not handle being alone in a giant, rambunctious crowd. By the time I'd gotten away from it all and located a tram to take me home, it was just shy of 4pm. A party animal I most definitely am not.

Honestly, Amsterdam is a place I think I'd hate to live. My experience may have been different had I gone to one of the museums instead of to a shopping area (blame my aversion to paying entrance fees.) However, the constant piles of people and bikes and people on bikes making crossing streets an even more confusing exercise in nonverbal communication just leads me to suspect that I would fry my circuits if I had to stay a few days longer. It's been an experience, but if I had to choose a major City to live in, I'd prefer Berlin and its subways and wide streets or Cologne and its reasonably predictable traffic patterns.

Tomorrow: The flight.

Amsterdam: Food and Tour

Today began around 7am with getting the multi-day ticket for all trams, busses, and metros in Amsterdam. It costs just 12 Euros for 2 days, and my travels today alone would have cost around 7. I expect to break even tomorrow, and just having the comfort of knowing that I'm covered is worth the extra cost if I don't.

All the tickets have little electronic chips in them. You hold them up to the scanners at the tram/bus entrance and then scan out again when you leave. This system strikes me as even more susceptible to fraud than the German system, since one of the more common ticket options involves loading credit onto a plastic card and having that credit taken down with each scan in/scan out. You could easily get on at the back, maybe pretend to scan, and get a free ride out of it. No one goes around checking that the ticket actually swiped so far as I know. Some of the trams have a little booth near the back with an employee who sells tickets on-board, which would thwart this trick, but that's the exception more than the rule. Loopholes that would make such systems unimplementable in the United States aside, I enjoyed my stints on the trams. I especially appreciated hearing the stops announced and comparing them to their written names to get a feel for Dutch pronunciation. Apparently J is sometimes a vowel...

My first stop was to get some breakfast at a place called Multivlaai. Vlaai, or limburgse vlaai, is a genre of pastry very similar to pie. I personally can't really tell the difference between the two. I do know that I usually don't care much for fruit pies but rather enjoyed the slice of apple-lemon vlaai I tried. I consumed my slice while sitting on a bench beside a placid stretch of water and watching the strings of floating planters lining the canal drift in the flow. This may not have been the healthiest meal with which to start my day, but boy was it pleasant. (My whole approach to food today was pretty hedonistic.)

Once finished, I hopped back on the tram to get to the Albert Cuyp Market, the largest and most well known daily market in Amsterdam. It goes (roughly) from 9 to 5. Unfortunately, I took those times a bit too literally. When I arrived at 9:00, over half of the stalls were still in the process of setting up. I decided to pace up and down the length of the market. Each time, I encountered a new booth. Many of the products sold were clothes, jewelry, produce and baked goods, watches (insane amounts of watches), the usual. One extremely touristy but oh so tempting product was fuzzy slippers in the shape of wooden clogs. What I did ultimately get amounted to 1 package of Stroopwafeln (tiny waffle cookies with caramel filling), and a loose-leaf tea mix supposedly specific to the market. I also tried out a pseudo cookie that consisted of little other than coconut shavings, sugar, and vanilla flavoring. It was delicious and I have no regrets.

After I tired of the market, I headed to Dam Square to catch one of the free Sandeman tours that started there at 11:15. I had arrived fairly early and decided to walk around the city hall. I passed two street performers, one of whom had dressed as death, another as a guilded and bedazzled centurion with quite the codpiece. Coming back around the building, I saw someone holding a sign saying FREE TOUR: 11AM. Apparently a completely separate tour agency offered a similar tour at a similar time in the same exact place. I considered just sticking with the Sandeman since I knew it to be quality from the reviews, but that would have run for 3 hours instead of 2 and started a little later, so I jumped ship. Before the tour got underway, I made the acquaintance of another student from the US, who became a sort of tour buddy. She also lent me sunscreen when I realized I'd forgotten to bring any. Hooray for nice people!

The tour started off by explaining that, to avoid death in Amsterdam, you need to be on constant alert for cyclists and not walk on the bike paths. That much I had gotten fairly used to from Aachen. He also informed us that, unlike in the States where a red light with a countdown beneath it tells you how long you still have to cross, the count-downs in Amsterdam tell you how much time you have until the light turns green again. In other words, red always means stop.

After giving that safety tip, he led us to Amsterdam's widest bridge. It was so wide in fact that it could fit two lanes, several rows of patio chairs on one side, and our full tour group on the other with plenty of space to spare. On the other side, he pointed out the narrowest house. It was literally only 1 meter across (3ft, 3 inches) and had a perfectly normal family residing in it. Due to the lack of space and the high taxes for floor area, narrow houses packed close together are fairly common, though 1 meter is pretty extreme. Another trick for space is that the buildings lean in towards the street slightly to give them more floor space on upper floors where goods were stored in case of floods. To get those goods up there, rather than lugging them up the extremely steep steps, people used a rope and pully attached to a hook on the building's front. Now I cannot not notice how nearly every older building has such a hook.

The next stop took us by a little cheese shop where we got free samples of an extremely delectable cow cheese. Alas, I do not recall the name of the shop. If I'm perfectly honest, the middle part of the journey is a bit vague in my memory. One stop I do recall is that of the entrance to the old prison, which now serves as a shopping center. The gate featured a vaguely romanesque sculpture of a woman with a whip and two men cowering and in chains to either side of her. Below there was a carving of someone with a cart full of wood and the inscription "Virtutis est domare quae cuncti pavent," which translates as "it is the characteristic of the virtuous to dominate all those that they fear" according to a Latin reading friend of mine. That is certainly an interesting and in no way oppressive interpretation of virtue...

Further along, we stopped at Nieuwmarkt (New Market) where a large squat building stood in the center of the Square. It had four towers that had previously been used for four guilds. Only two were named, the surgeons' guild, which claimed the bodies of those hanged daily in the square for their studies, and the masons' guild, whose tower was full of windows, since would-be members had to prove their skill by installing one.

We then passed through a mini China-town to enter the red light district. The tour guide made it quite clear that we could not take pictures of the women working there. Photos of them could reveal their profession to family members they might have kept it from, interfere with future job opportunities, etcetera. It seems like destigmatizing consensual and safe participation in the sex industry would make these women's lives a heck of a lot easier. Speaking of safety, the women always have the right to deny to service a customer for any reason. Their rooms are fitted with a panic button that alerts the police that patrol the area and a private security service in the building. Unlike street prostitution, which is illegal, the women are always in control of the situation. Honestly, it sounds like it's safer to work the Red Light district than to go to a club.

Walking past windows with women in their underwear in them was a fairly surreal experience. I knew that the women chose to work there, but I still felt really awkward actually looking at them. I mean, their bodies are literally on display as products. I felt like I was objectifying them. Then again, I wouldn't think twice about sizing up personal trainer by how healthy they look or  an actor/actress by how much they look like a character.

Once the tour concluded, I made my way back to a little French Fry stand the guide had pointed out (with the help of Sunscreen girl, whose sense of direction far exceeded my own), and got some of the most delectable, perfectly crispy yet fluffy fries I've ever had the pleasure of tasting. I did not go the traditional route and drown them in mayonnaise. That is a crime against nature, and my arteries probably wouldn't take it anyway given the rest of the day's fare.

By this time, I was pooped, so I trammed back to the hotel to take a nap. Tomorrow I intend to investigate some more of downtown Amsterdam on foot before the beginning of the Gay Pride canal parade.

Exam and Move-out

Well, the exam has been taken. I use passive voice to distance myself from the whole experience. While I answered nearly every section, there are two sub-questions that I know I messed up and one full problem that I feel very uncertain of. I still have very high hopes for passing. However, I don't have high hopes for a good grade, even if the grade won't be reflected in my official CMU transcript.

After the exam, I made my way to the Registration Office. After a half hour wait, my number was called, I told the lady I wanted to give my notice, presented my passport and residence permit, and signed the form she printed out. She put a little sticker on my permit saying that I had no primary address in Germany anymore, and that was that.

I spent the rest of the day splitting myself between packing and making last minute adjustments to my travel plans to Amsterdam. The fact that I couldn't pack everything up due to needing my sheets still really ground my gears, but oh well.

Today, I got up bright and early to finish what I started. With everything crammed into a backpack, a purse, or one of two suitcases, I moved on to the kitchen. I am actually quite proud of myself with my food budgeting. All I had left over after was milk, cream cheese, basic pantry staples, and a sandwich that I took for the train. I laid it all out for the others on my floor, along with all the 1, 2, and 5 cent coins I had accumulated. They added up to ~3.50 Euros, which is simply not enough to go to the bank and convert them into larger coins.

About 30 Minutes before my check-out time, I remembered that I needed my bank's Swift Number and IBAN (International Bank Account Number) to get my 400 Euro housing deposit back. Now, these are numbers that allow a bank to receive money. Banks love receiving money. Thus, you'd expect they'd make these codes easy to find. Nope. I desperately googled how to uncover these numbers. My banks didn't say outright. The internet just kept telling me the partial Swift code (the same as BIC Number) and claimed that my bank statements would list the IBAN. They do not. I finally found a pdf with Chase's information, although the Swift code still lacked the final numbers specifying which branch I use.I scrawled these numbers onto the form my landlord handed me. I intend to request the official information from Chase and email the Studentenwerk with it and hope they find this arrangement acceptable.

After signing the form, I clunked my luggage down the stairs and out the door for the last time. I had decided to take a train from Aachen West station, a fairly short walk from my apartment building, to Düsseldorf and then take an ICE (Intercity-Express) straight to Amsterdam Central. The first leg of the journey occurred without incident. I had an e-reader loaded with Douglas Adams to keep me occupied. On the second leg of the journey, the train was completely packed. I could find no open seats, so I squeezed into a standing area in the concessions car. It had standing height tables and padded ledges against the walls to half sit on / half lean against. I ended up in the corner with my backpack on my lap, my weight supported by an arm on the table and a butt-cheek on the ledge, and my bags in the vacant space beneath me. This interesting way to travel. An hour into it, I pulled my peanut butter sandwich out, but it had become more of a peanut-butter-bread-ball. Filling nevertheless.

I took great pleasure in getting off the train. I had one more public-transit trip to make, a 5 minute jog from the main station to Amsterdam Sloterdijk. I got a single-use ticket at the only ticket station I could find and hopped on a train that claimed to be going in that general direction. Fortunately for me, it was in fact going in that direction. I got off, asked which exit to take, and was at my hostel in no time. Asking for directions in English felt very peculiar. I've gotten so used to assuming all social interactions with strangers should be in German, gotten used to formulating how to phrase my request as properly as possible and pushing through that irrational fear of them hearing my accent. Speaking in English and knowing that it's the other person operating in a second language is like walking up shallow steps when you're used to steep ones. They take less effort, but the ascent feels a bit absurd.

My hostel, Meininger, was just 50 meters from the station. Just outside the entrance is some seating and a few fussball tables. Inside, I encountered a clean and classy-cool lobby with a fridge of Ben&Jerry's and a bar/restaurant area to one side. The woman at the counter spoke exceptional English (unsurprisingly given the international clientele). She gave me a key-card which also controls the room electricity, a map of Amsterdam, and broke one of the 50 Euro bills the bank had given me. My room is an all female, 6 bed dorm. It has a sink, a small room with a shower, and a separate room with a toilet, which I imagine will facilitate smooth morning grooming between roommates. The beds are arranged somewhat oddly. There are two singles pushed right next to each other, a nightstand, wall outlet, and reading lamp on either side. Then against the room's long wall there are two sets of bunk-beds with moderately difficult to descend ladders. In the wall beside the top beds are little boxes that not only serve as nightstands but also have integrated nightlights and outlets. I do wonder why there aren't three sets of bunk beds...I guess I'll chalk it up to variety.

My temporary roommates are all native English speakers thus-far. Three moved in together, and I'd have pegged them for disturbingly stereotypical US party girls until they revealed they were from Canada. The similarity between US and Canadian accents never ceases to amaze and confound me. They are, however, definitely party girls in that they intend to hit the clubs and the coffee-houses. Nothing wrong with that, but I don't imagine our Amsterdam experiences will overlap much. The last girl I've met is from Australia (would have guessed Britain. I'm striking out on accents today.) As she's moving out tomorrow, all I'm likely to learn of her is the music she likes to pack to (Hip-hop), and that she's doing two masters at once at two different universities.

Tomorrow I'll try to get in on a free tour, hang out at a well-known market, and sample the local cuisine.

Move-out Prep

In just two days, I will move out of my apartment and head off to Amsterdam for the weekend before my flight home. Between now and then I have a final exam. Joy! I've been working through the exercises and practice exams and feel reasonably confident. I just worry that I'll missread some important detail that completely changes how to go about solving a problem or take too long sketching things out legibly. (Accuracy in measurements actually matters quite a bit for this class.)

Apart from studying and watching Whose Line is it Anyway to relax from the studying, I have begun the move-out process. This has included shipping back excess goods (see previous post), downloading all the relevant course files from RWTH so I have them handy later and can recycle my spiral note-books, backing up all my computer files on Dropbox or Google Drive in case my computer gets damaged, and closing my bank account.

Closing my Sparkasse account was actually surprisingly easy. A friend who'd been in Aachen last summer had had an issue with final paperwork that the bank wanted to mail to him, which would have arrived only after he'd already moved out. For whatever reason, that was not required for me. I simply showed my residence permit, turned in my cards, and signed off. I was given the remaining balance in cash, which works for me. I can use it to cover costs in Amsterdam and hang onto the rest as start-up if I ever go back to Europe. I will have to be careful how I store it while I'm in the hostel though...this is why money belts were invented.

All I have left is to give my notice of departure to the residence office, which should take no more than a few minutes tomorrow after my exam (excluding wait times). All I need to do is show up with my passport and residence permit, fill out a form giving my old residence and my future residence, and boom. Settled.

I'll also need to pack...but packing isn't that hard when you know that you have to take everything. To make sure my suitcase doesn't go over the 50 lb weight limit, I'll make a quick visit to the gym and its scale. I do so love living 1 minute away.

Deutsche Post

In preparation for going home, I had to ship some knick-knacks back to the US to make room in my luggage. After looking around at various shipping resources, I discovered that using the German postal system would be way cheaper than FedEX or UPS, which all seemed to run well over $100 for an 8 pound package. The German option with DHL came out to 35 Euros, about $50, for a package between 4 and 10 pounds fitting inside their medium sized box.

On the topic of boxes, I love the ones provided in the post office. They were just so very sturdy and easy to assemble! They had lids more like those of a shoe box than the 4-flap tops I'm used to. They also came with 4 strips of tape to securely fix the lid. The places where the tape went were even marked on the mustard yellow box! It was just so orderly and easy.

The package will supposedly take 3 weeks to arrive in the states. I do hope so very much that Carnegie Mellon holds onto it until I am a) on campus and b) get a new ID card, since mine expired last year. Oops. At the very least, I have 3 kilograms less to worry about fitting into my backpack and suitcases.

Oral Exams: Success!

Today, I took the oral exams for Grundlagen der Maschinen- und Strukturdynamik and Multibody Dynamics back to back. Since the two classes cover similar topics and are taught by the same teacher, it made perfect sense to arrange it so. However, that didn't make it any less daunting. I had never taken an oral exam before, so I just didn't know what to expect. I knew I'd be asked questions, but not what depth or how much writing was expected, not to mention how capable I'd be of explaining in German.

Fortunately, that last fear turned out to be baseless. Since MBD was taught in English, the professor decided to ask all the questions for both classes in English, and I ended up answering in mainly English with German peppered in whenever it was easier not to translate. As for the types of questions, he asked that I sketch systems and graphs or write out some equations to show I knew them, but there was no calculation involved. They mostly were of the form "describe so-and-so" or "how would you do so-and-so?" There was one question that tripped me up for a moment. It involved a topic we'd only briefly covered in class and which I'd completely forgotten about until reviewing the lecture slides yesterday. However, once I figured out what he was asking for, I got through it just fine. I sure am glad I remembered to review it!

Now that I have my philosophy classes with their written assignments and the two dynamics classes behind me, all I have left to worry about is the written exam next Wednesday, and another one in September.

Which reminds me...I should really ask my adviser who could proctor that for me in the States.

The fourth day in July

Shockingly, the 4th of July is just another day in Germany. No back-alley fireworks, no illegal gun-firings, no massive piles of grilled food and coleslaw.

In order to at least mildly feel like I'm celebrating something, I have cooked an "American Style" frozen pizza for Dinner. Its sauce-cheese-crust ratio is far closer to what I expect compared to what otherwise passes for pizza here, which is more bread plus a little cheese and sauce.

Fortunately, Germany is playing France in the World Cup, so if there's a victory I'll get the din I've come to expect.

1 - 0

I did it. I watched the game between Germany and the US, and it was pretty fun! Granted, I couldn't really gauge the quality of the match. I didn't know if people were playing poorly or if a foul was missed or wrongfully bestowed. (Pretty sure you don't bestow fouls anyway.) Despite that, it far surpassed every American football game I've ever sat through in marching band in terms of excitement. The clock actually keeps running. The ball is almost constantly moving. It's like the difference between watching a joust and watching a melee.

Cultural Stuff
1. I was rooting for Germany. Yeah, I know, I'm a horrible traitor, but the thing is that I'd rather the objectively more skillful team win in a contest to see who's best than the underdog get a lucky break. It is a contest to rank the superior team for this year, is it not? I base my skillful/underdog assessment on the general consensus of the soccer fans I know on both sides of the pond. Rooting for Germany also made watching it via chat with Americans way more amusing.

2. It's funny knowing that both coaches are German and wondering which language they're muttering to themselves in.

3. The commentator said things along the lines of "Well, the Americans one against Ghana. Germany got a respectable 2-2. Ghana really stepped up their game." I imagine comments were phrased quite differently in the US broadcast.

4. I must say, "TOOOOOOORRRRRRR" is more fun to shout than "GOOOOOAAALLLLLL". No tough glottal stops.


There's a German candy company called Hitschler International.

I don't have anything important to say about this. I'm just amazed that a company founded in the 1950s in Germany went with a name like that and survived.

World Cup

Most of the time, patriotism takes a back seat in Germany. The way back. Possibly in the cargo area along with the country's emotional baggage. Therefore, when black, red, and gold decorations cropped up all over Aachen in a matter of days, I knew something was going on. That something is the start of the World Cup.

Soccer in Germany is not as big as football in America. It's bigger. The Germans (and much of the rest of the world) don't really bother to watch any other team sport, at the very least not on a national scale. Imagine combining the Olympics and the Superbowl and that's how big the World Cup is in Germany.

I've seen eggs painted and rolls bake to look like soccer balls. Black, red, and gold noodles shaped like players are on discount right next to the peanut puffs. Meetings are rescheduled to avoid conflicting with when the German team plays. Live broadcasts are displayed on giant screens in courtyards filled with people willing to stand so long as the beer keeps coming. When I asked how the game went, I received incredulous looks. How could I possibly not have watched it? It doesn't matter if you personally like the sport or watch it on the national level. the World Cup (or Weltmeisterschaft) is unmissable.

It reminds me of how in Pittsburgh, regardless of your stance on Football, you inevitably care if the Steelers win. Perhaps next time the Germans play, I'll sit down with a native and see if the soccer fandom is one I want to join. Until then, I'll stick to the nerdy fanaticism I know and love.

Little Things that Aren't so Little for Me.

I enjoy the occasional hard boiled egg. You let a few eggs simmer until the egg timer goes totally dark, then dunk the eggs in cold water and let them cool before eating, right? Not in Germany, you don't! You eat the hard boiled eggs still warm. Moreover, instead of cooking them until the yolk turns pale and maybe just ever so slightly grey, the eggs are considered "hard" so long as it's solidified. They call an orange-yellow yolk hard. I call it an incompletely denatured abomination.
That is not a cooked egg!

Now, I realize this shouldn't bother me so much, and it shouldn't be so important to me, but it does and it is. Warm, medium cooked eggs trigger the same freakout mode in me that the sensation of face paint or a burger with the lettuce under the patty does. I just need to scrub it off, rearrange it, make it NOT WRONG.

(To be fair, the sliced hard boiled eggs served on salads and sandwiches live up to my expectations.)

As I may possibly have mentioned previously, the paper size in Germany differs from the US standard. This isn't all that surprising, since letter is measured in inches, and Germany uses the entirely superior metric system that the A4 sheet is based upon. When writing papers, this makes for extremely slight differences in how many words take up a full page. Although A4 sheets are longer, they're also skinnier, so it pretty much breaks even.

Far more significant is the fact that instead of double spacing the pages, the norm for academic papers seems 1.5 spacing. That...builds up. A 12 page paper is the equivalent of a 16 page paper in double spacing. I mention this because darn it all! Philosophy Papers are hard! I have managed to work out 3 of the 12 pages, and that's partly due to font experimentation.

Book Spines
While looking through the philosophy institute's library, I noticed that the book titles that kept popping out at me all seemed to be in English. This seemed odd, since I was very much in German mode at the time. I started to look at the books next to the ones that popped to try and reorient myself. Then it hit me; whenever I switched from reading the spine of an English book to that of a German one, my head switched from tilting to the right to tilting to the left.

It turns out the practice of printing bottom to top is common to much of central Europe while top to bottom is the standard in England, America, and most likely many of the countries colonized by Britain. Like with every rule, exceptions exist, but they're fairly rare from what i've seen. However, the power to filter by language with the tip of my head makes me giddy. Beware the awesome power of pattern recognition!

Burg Eltz

Yesterday, I took a trip with INCAS to the castle known as Burg Eltz. INCAS is the same organization that puts on "International Tuesdays" and the occasional multicultural breakfast on Sundays. This trip cost just € 15, which covered bus transportation and a tour of the castle. The trains alone would have gone over that price, and the trip would have been far less convivial.

On the way in, I sat beside an exchange student from the Czech Republic. We talked about why we came to Germany, the differences we'd noticed, etcetera. She claimed the biggest different for her was that the Germans actually seem to follow the rules where as in Prague, if you can work around the law, you do.

Upon arrival at Burg Eltz, we all crowded around a lookout point to gawp at the castle.
I'd call it fairly gawp worthy.

After we'd taken our fill of photos, we made our descent and hung around while the trip organizer got our tickets. After taking advantage of the fee-less bathrooms, I admired the castle walls. The bricks were irregular in size and marked with parallel grooves like those on the stone of the mountain itself. I took that to mean the masons did not have to look far for their building materials. Other interesting features included a mosaic of the Madonna and child in the inner courtyard and drainpipe disguised as a dragon.
I'd like to think it's a dragon disguised as a drainpipe.
While waiting for the tour to begin, I struck up a conversation with another exchange student from Birmingham. He had the poshest manner of speaking one could ever hope to hear from a college student. What's more, he was studying history. Give him a tweed jacket with elbow patches and you'd have the perfect stereotypical English professor.

When the tour began, half of our group packed into a tiny armory. Halberds lined one wall, oriental blades and early muskets hung above them, archery equipment adorned another, and model canons and half-plate took up another. The tour guide managed to tell us photography wasn't aloud after pretty much everyone in the room had already taken a shot or two. Woops. He went on to explain that the castle was first constructed in the 12th century for the Eltz family that later split into three factions; Eltz-Kempenich of the golden lions, Eltz-Rübenach of the silver lions, and Eltz-Robendorf of the buffalo horns. Instead of building different residences, they shared the castle. Given how compact the building seemed, I'd have thought that impossible. We stuck to the silver lions.

The guide led us through the next door into the lower hall. It boasted several paintings and glass windows, both symbols of wealth. Two elaborate tapestries hung on the wall opposite the windows. One tapestry showed what happens when someone who's never seen an ostrich tries to draw one. I'd describe the result as an angry hen with legs and neck far longer than natural.

We took the spiral staircase to the next level where the main bedroom resided. It had an elevated and curtained bed so designed to keep it as warm as possible. The guide explained that in winter the fireplace didn't warm so much as lessen the cold. Honestly, I'd probably have kept the curtains closed all year round to avoid looking at the walls. A garish flowering vine pattern covered every inch of the walls and ceiling. The artist seemed to have gone for a puce color scheme.

The next few rooms had far more tasteful styles. These included a study with a wrack of unused china, the hunting rooms displaying a bear skin and several enormous moose skulls, and a bedroom specifically for the children. This last one featured numerous paintings. The bodies were painted prior to the child's birth, usually portraying them as fairly fully developed. The faces were then painted in afterwards. The juxtaposition of infant face and adult body made for some unsettling creations.

Our tour also led us to the great hall where all three families and their supporters would meet. Since it was upstairs, it was considerably smaller than the word "great" might imply. To one side, a row of miniature canons stood by as decoration. Apparently, if you wanted to buy a canon, the manufacturers would deliver a set of 10 scale models for you to examine. If you chose one and purchased it, they would build the full size version and throw in the models for free. Billy Mays would have been so proud!

After the tour ended, we took a 40 minute hike along a well shaded path. A tiny tributary of the Mosel meandered beside us, and the scraggly rocky outcroppings gave my eyes plenty to snack on. My only complaint was that it had gone from the high 70s to the low 90s and humid. By the time we returned to the bus, I was sweating and cursing myself for not having brought my own water. Then, wonder of wonders, the bus driver announced that he had water, apple juice, and beer for sale. Hallelujah! The fact that the water and apple juice were both carbonated didn't even bug me that much. They were cold and liquid. Enough said.

Sweating aside, I rather enjoyed the trip. I got to enjoy nature, history, architecture, and weapons. What more could I hope for? While I wish we could have explored the whole of the castle, I hear it's now owned entirely by House Kemenich, the golden lions. Game of Thrones has taught me better than to argue with a house like that.

Cologne Revisit

Yesterday, I met up with my parents for the first time since September. They have come to Germany for the week to do tour a few cities and spend a bit of time with me. Cologne is the first city on their list. We met in front of the cathedral, hugged, talked, and then decided to tackle the cathedral tower. From the first step to the last, the tower extends 157 meters into the air. That's 515 feet, or 509 steps without an elevator. I knew I'd get my exercise in that day.

The staircase spiraled upwards with a clockwise twist and had just enough space for two people to pass each other. Given the number of people ascending, descending, and taking breathers much scooching ensued. My dad, the marathon runner, seemed outwardly unaffected by the climb. My mom and I had more trouble. Out of pride, I refused to stop unless she asked to stop, but I'll admit that I rarely objected to the breaks.

One built in break came when we reached the Glocken, the church bells. Narrow stone passages let visitors move from one viewing area to another. The bells ranged from the size of a barrel to the size of a bedroom. Some had bell clappers and electric motors to swing them about. The smaller ones rang when struck with an automated hammer. While my dad tried to take a selfie, the smallest bells sounded the quarter hour directly behind us. Wow. If you've ever heard an air horn blare unexpectedly you have an idea of how loud it was and how high we jumped.

We continued our ascent, which brought us at lost last out of the spiral staircase and into an airy opening with scaffolding and metal stairs in the center leading every higher. My dad and I continued, but my mom declined when she saw an even tighter spiral staircase near the top. When we finally emerged, we stood beneath a conical stone lattice with the sky peaking through. A path wrapping around the tower perimeter and encased by wire fencing allowed us to get mostly unobstructed views of the city and structures on the cathedral. It was such a shame that people had graffitied the walls with mostly pointless declarations of love or awesomeness. If you love someone or if you're awesome, you should not have to write it on part of a priceless landmark to prove it. That really just proves that you don't respect the people who have to maintain the building.

Despite the graffiti, the architecture was worth the climb. Should I receive copies of the photos my dad took, I'll be sure to upload them.

After the tower, we wanted something to fill our bellies. We ended up eating outdoors at a restaurant whose name has drifted out of my mind When the waitress came over, she asked "Nehmen Sie die Karte?" meaning "Will you take/like the menu?" Something in my brain wasn't clicking though. I though she'd asked if we had the menus. I just sat there wondering why she'd ask that when she clearly had them in her hand. The rest of our transactions occurred in English. Drat. I can explain the difference between cognitive and intuitive ethics or how to balance a system to reduce vibration, but ordering food escapes me.

My dad got bratwurst and my mom and I had currywurst. It differed from the street currywurst I'd enjoyed in Berlin. The sausage had been sliced in zig-zags to help it cook through, and the sauce resembled home-made barbecue sauce with curry powder rather than curry ketchup. It tasted pretty good, but I think I prefer the street food. I'll take cheap, hot, and greasy over expensive and refined most any day.

After lunch we wandered around a little longer, returning to the cathedral for a somewhat lack-luster English tour. Sure we looked  at drop of blood from Pope John the 23rd next to a statue of the Madonna covered in an insane amount of donated jewelry, but I had hoped to see parts of the building we wouldn't otherwise see or learn about the enormous hanging organ.

What stuck with me far better than the tour was an event just before hand. Outside the cathedral, a couple hundred people or so had collected and distributed multicolored balloons with cards dangling from them. On the card, you could write a message to combat homo- and trans-phobia. At 2:30, everyone released the balloons into the air while music played and enormous rainbow flags fluttered. I had heard that Cologne had an active lgbtqia+ community. I'm glad to have seen it in action.

Final Exam Registration Fun Time

One of the few things more frustrating than not knowing what you need to do is finding out what you need to do after you needed to do it. Registration for exams (still infuriatingly independent of course registration) was supposed to take place on the web platform that I'd had technical problems with last semester. I had expected to get a reminder email. The first I heard was from my advisor on the 13th telling me that I needed to register by the 15th. When I tried to email the people I'd had to email last time around, I found out that the deadline had been the 9th.

Fortunately, the woman I contacted said that she would put me in the system anyway. However, she claimed that she had actually sent out 3 emails about the deadline. According to my email logs, I didn't receive anything. I don't mean to say that I'm without fault here. I could have looked up the information ahead of time had it occurred to me to do so. Still, the fact that I did not get the reminders I should have bothers me to no end.

Time to do some yoga and thank God for the kindness of strangers.

Gregorian Improv

Several musical groups put on a free (but donations appreciated) concert in the Aachen cathedral tonight. The program cover reads "The Long Breath: modern choir impressions, Gregorian chants and early multi-part music, instrumental improvisation."

I arrived punctually late. Although I showed up just before the official start time, to get a proper seat I ought to have come ten minutes sooner. Ah well. I had spent the day sitting around anyway. I found myself a nice cool expanse of wall to lean against and settled in. Without warning, a susurration of tenor voices swept through the cathedral. Despite standing in the back of the room behind a pillar and facing away from the choir, I felt surrounded by the voices. Domed ceilings and marble walls do more than look pretty, it would seem.

As the first chant faded away, a saxophone swelled. The organ hummed out chords for the soloist to build his tune around. I had expected the improvisation to sound jazzy. I'd never heard any other sort of improv after all. What I heard reminded me of a prayer. The prayers I hear always seem to have an unconscious rhythm and pattern, making them both earnest utterances and half-formed poems, just as the soloist made both soulful phrases and incomplete melodies. Moreover, both left me feeling like I'd heard something publicly private.

A few songs were neither chants nor improvisation but rather choral pieces inspired by poems (texts unfortunately not included.) These pieces definitely felt more modern and upbeat but no less reverent. All three music styles flowed from one to the other nigh on seamlessly. I did not really expect the combination to work. I can gladly say that I was wrong.

Angela Merkel

The elections for the European Union take place on the 25th of May, at least in Germany. As a result, political ads for all sorts of different parties have cropped up around Aachen. I've seen signs for CDU, SPD, The Left, the Greens, and even the Pirates. Seriously, that is a fantastic political party name.

The CDU (Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands) is currently "in charge" so to speak, making Dr. Angela Merkel, the leader of the CDU also the Federal Chancellor (Bundeskanzlerin.) I mention her specifically because on April 30th, she and the CDU candidates for the EU came to speak in Aachen.

The event was held in the courtyard between the cathedral and the town hall. Police and medical professionals dotted the perimeter. I arrived in time to hear the tail end of the pre-show, some band singing quasi-jazzy songs. Once they finished, drum core blared over the speakers. The same sort of music you expect for a basketball team entering the court played as the candidates and Merkel made their way to the stage.

As they approached, the crowd applauded, but not everyone. A group of mostly men as far as I could tell on the other side of the courtyard started booing and shouting incomprehensible insults. I suppose I had expected something like that. The more important the politician, the louder the inevitable haters. Looking around, I saw signs reading "TTIP No!", "Only with, not against Russia!", and "Angie fürchte dich" (Angie, fear for yourself). I learned later that TTIP has something to do with European free trade. AFD is a semi-radical party (Alternative for Deutschland) also known as the Anti-Euro Party. It's therefore doubly unsurprising that they showed up at a campaign for EU elections.

I tried to ignore the hecklers and isolationist radicals and instead focus on the speakers. The host, so to speak, asked everyone a question before the speeches proper began. One of the stranger questions was "I've heard you, Mr. So-and-so, are a big fan of Darth Vader. How does he inform your politics." The answer went something like, "I be like him."

When Angela Merkel's turn to speak came, the hecklers grew a bit louder. It impressed me how completely she managed to ignore them. She spoke of how this year marked two significant milestones, 100 years after the start of WWI and 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. She seemed to center her speech on unity and difference. A united Europe whose countries still manage internal affairs and debts separately supposedly lets the continent rise together and fall individually. The economics of it all goes way over my head, but she sounded convincing.

She also addressed, you know, the whole Ukraine-Russia situation. She stated very clearly that military action was not an option, but neither was denying Ukraine its right to self rule. It looks like talks will be had. Sometimes I wonder what goes on in talks where military and economic threats are off the table. I highly doubt that pointing out the ethics works.

Overall, I thought she spoke well, handled the jerks, and had a pretty good message as far as I could judge. I'm glad that I can say I have seen the leader of Germany with my own two eyes.

Update on Classes

Now that I have entered my third week of classes, I have a somewhat better grasp on what they will actually teach me.

I have dropped the machine tools class. I could not negotiate the final exam time, and it would have meant either staying a week longer in Germany or taking a test jet-lagged at my house.

Multibody Dynamics is proving highly...messy. That really shouldn't surprise me. We are going over kinematics right now, which has partial derivatives, matrices, and sinusoidal functions out the wazoo. If I did not have access to the slides I would never manage to scribble down all the equations in real time.

Basics of Machine and Structure Dynamics seems like MBD's baby brother. It establishes...well...the basics. Creating simplified models, oscillation differential equation set up, etc. I did get to finally scratch a mental itch I've had for years. I was always told that the damping term represented friction and was proportional to velocity. However, dynamic friction between two dry surfaces is constant, not velocity dependent. It turns out that the velocity proportional term represents viscious damping like pneumatic pistons on doors while dry friction requires a different differential equation and creates a different behavior. The world makes slightly more sense to me now!

Electromechanical Drive Systems may be my favorite technical class this semester. I cannot say how many times I have needed/wanted to determine the dimensions of connecting components to produce a specific motion. Now I have some tools in my arsenal to replace the guess-and-check and pseudo-geometry I'd been using.

Technical Textiles intimidates me much less now than it did due to finally getting the script. I love having a text to refer to. Otherwise, my notes are filled with question marks and ellipses that I cannot resolve. Better yet, the professor brought in a whole bunch of example fibers and wires last Friday. I got to break off a piece of gold wire and find out what woven basalt feels like.

Discourse Ethics is going well-ish. I fell into the minority group that actually did the reading for class last week, and the first section made sense for the most part. The second section however...let's just say that the guy's dating profile could read :

"I like long walks on the beach, which it should be noted do not necessarily include sand, nor can sand be excluded, which one might quantify in reference to the lengths of my, or my sources, sentences, meaning that a long walks is validated as long when in the course of the walking and speaking at an ordinary, or more accurately average, speed, I am able to utter all of five sentences, though of course..."

In Intro to Philosophy, we have gone over a few citation rules and then dug into attacking the text we'd read in class. I do so love to poke holes in arguments. Far easier than actually making them..

Progress Report

With the new semester came another dorm-wide meeting to discuss financials, internet, and progress on the apartment building next to ours.

All in all, very little anyone said proved particularly important for me to hear. We confirmed that we are not broke, the internet and printer still work, and the apartment building meant to open in January still needs work. On the other hand, when complete it will have a sauna we might get to use, so that's something.

I found what the speakers said less interesting than how much I understood. I remember the meeting at the beginning of last semester. So much went completely over my head. This time I felt as though I grasped at least 90% of everything when I actually tuned in to listen. I am amazed by how much I have grown and how little I noticed it as it happened.

Random side anecdote: While leaving my "Basics of Machine and Structure Dynamics" class, I saw some people handing out pamphlets. As I passed, someone exclaim "Oh! A woman!" and shoved a pamphlet for a women's job fair into my hands. They seemed so genuinely pleased to have spotted a rare Engineerus Femalicus.

Happy Easter

Easter in Germany is, as far as I have seen, almost exactly like Easter in the United States. Families get together, those with any Christian ties often go to a special service, and chocolate bunnies and Easter Eggs enjoy brief but intense popularity.

One difference, however, comes in working hours. On Good Friday, known as Karfreitag, almost all shops besides bakeries took the day off. Classes were canceled, and public transportation went to a decreased schedule. Saturday, stores held normal hours while servicing considerably more customers. Today, everything closed down again. Then again, I doubt Germany closed down much more than it does every Sunday.

Tomorrow, known as Ostermontag (Easter Monday) counts as a holiday as well. We get an extra day free of classes and an extra day free of groceries. Given that I currently have little more than bread and instant pasta, I look forward to Tuesday all the same.

Flight Booked

I have booked a flight back to the states! I feel so proud of myself for getting this done in a timely fashion. Moreover, it turns out that flying out of Amsterdam costs about the same as flying from Düsseldorf or some other German city. I booked a room in an Amsterdam hostel so that I can finish my stay in Europe with a mini vacation in the Netherlands.

As far as I can tell, the Irish Aer Lingus airline offers the cheapest flights to and from Europe. They charged about $920 for my flight compared to the $1100 lower limit from other airlines. Unfortunately, you may only have one carry on and one 10" x 13" x 8" personal item. Backpacks...are a little bigger than that. According to his Majesty the Internet, the staff may or may not penalize me depending largely on the staff's mood. Checking a second bag costs $100. Regardless, the flight would still cost less than the next cheapest I could find.

First Week

One week in and I have more or less set my classes in stone. Since Wednesday, I have attended two new lectures, Technical Textiles and Introduction to Philosophy, both taught in German.

Textiles should prove quite challenging if the teacher's rapid fire speaking in the tutorial is anything to go by. At the same time, he expected student participation, which made it far easier to stay alert even if I didn't answer anything he asked. Merely attempting to come up with an answer (and how to formulate it in German) kept me more engaged than in purely pulpit style classroom. Alas, I failed to attend the actual lecture offered today. I went to the wrong building, wasted half an hour trying to find a classroom that didn't exist, and finally realized my folly only after getting home to look up it's address again. So...that was embarrassing. On the up side, I have confirmed on the RWTH side of things that I can take the September exam stateside. I just have to figure out who would proctor it.

On a related note, Multi Body Dynamics will allow me to take an oral exam some time in mid to late July. This means that I can drop the class with an August 6th exam date and set about booking a flight back to the US. Hopefully they aren't all too terribly expensive at this point.

As for Introduction to Philosophy, this seminar follows on the heals of a fall course that concerned itself with schools of thought and general history, etc. This class will have more to do with how to read a philosophical paper and write about it. Three rather short writing assignments and active participation comprise the grade. After getting the official details out of the way, the teacher had us take a look at an excerpt from Rudolf Carnap (I was not the only one with no clue who he was.) It was odd having my reading speed set pretty much directly against native speakers. Turns out I'm not all that much slower! That's a comfort.

More on the academic front as it develops.

New Semester

The new semester has begun at last. After the first two days of classes I have a fairly optimistic view of my course line up. Although several classes I wanted to take filled up, I have a fairly good back-up selection.

Multi Body Dynamics: This class explores, shocker, the dynamics of systems with multiple bodies, something rather relevant to robotics. There are German and English offerings of the lecture. I have settled for the English version. My only two options for taking the exam are performing an oral exam while in Germany or taking the test with some proctor in the US in September. Both options seem a lot more doable in my native tongue.

The same professor also teaches Electromechanical Motion Technology. It focuses on electrically powered...moving...thingies. Descriptive, I know. However, seeing how much fun I have trying to design electrically powered moving thingies, I have a good feeling about this.

The next class, whose recitation quite unfortunately conflicts with the previous class's lecture, is all about machine tools meaning machines used to cut, hammer, bend, etc. Hopefully I will not need the material in the recitation too terribly much.

The last of the courses I have visited so far had a bit of humanity to it: Discourse Ethics. In all honesty, I had no idea what that meant. I just knew that it was an introductory level philosophy course and that I enjoyed History of Philosophy in high school. After the first lecture I think that discourse ethics means examining universal rules in language to find a universal basis for ethics rather than subscribing to total moral relativism. Suffice it to say, Nazism made a pretty convincing argument against relativism. I found it interesting how the professor qualified any mention of the Nazi concept of morality. He took great pains to make it clear that he simply meant a system of values with clear rules, regardless of how terrible they were. Hopefully I will get a better grasp of discourse ethics than i have now. It certainly seems worth the effort.


I have received my grades in Dynamics and in Controls, and they're good! They were both 1.3's and just one point away from a 1.0, the best I could have gotten. I suspect the only thing keeping my currently inflated ego from taking off is the perfectionist twitching about that one point.

Side note: I realized after I posted my first few grades that perhaps giving the details would come off as egotistical. However, inconsistently reporting on my grades after I'd already begun would annoy me too much to stop.

As a result of passing those exams, I can take whatever classes I feel like this coming semester. I just have to watch out that I can take exam before returning to the States. My current list of courses is pretty extensive. It will dwindle once I can talk to the teachers about exam schedules.

In other positive news, my academic Adviser at CMU informs me that I can take the class MSE (one of my last required core classes) fall semester without taking DSC (its prerequisite) provided I take the DSC analog at the University of Pittsburgh. Given that this will save me a whole semester off my school time, I accept that compromise wholeheartedly! Now I just need to know when those classes meet so I can schedule around them.

Dragon Rock

Yesterday, I took a few trains out to a little town outside of Bonn called Königswinter to try and visit the castle Drachenburg on Drachenfels in the Siebengebirge. That means I visited the Dragon's Keep on Dragon Rock in the Mountain of Seven  beside the town of King's Winter. I could barely contain the "Game of Thrones" fan-girl in me on the way over, even if the castle was from the late 19th century.

When I arrived, I had about a half hour trek up the road to get to the castle itself. Within ten minutes I was thanking God the chilly day. Walking uphill always takes more effort than I expect it to. Eventually I reached the gates to the castle where I saw a sign announcing that until the 23rd of March, visitors could only enter on weekends.

For once, a plan falling through did not upset me. I was still on a mountain full of nature trails. I had paid nothing for the trains due to my student ticket. Why not take a hike and come back for the castle some other time? I set off in my quest to meander. As I wandered, I discovered something I had not heard of when researching the area. On a peak not far from the main castle, I spied the ruins of a far older one. I made my way to it. A sign explained that it had been built in the 12th century on the real Dragon Rock, so named for its volcanic creation. 

Much of it had been stolen over the years to build other structures, including the Cologne Cathedral, until it received legal protection. One thing that did remain, to my great pleasure, was half of a watch tower peppered with arrow slits. They even had beveled insides to allow archers greater maneuverability.

After hanging out in the ruins for a while, I headed back down to explore the trails further. One lead to a semi-isolated mini-crest of rock, which I promptly scrambled onto. Looking over a town on the Rhine, knowing no one could see or hear me, I sensed the urge to sing out loud for once. So...I belted the fragments of "Let it Go" from Frozen that I know. I think I broke the imagined-versus-actual coolness scale at that point. I climbed back down and saw a sign indicating a cemetery in the area. I have intended to visit a cemetery and look at names for a while now, so I took off in search of graves. 

After descending a surprisingly far ways down the mountainside, I found the forest cemetery. Each grave had a stone border. Within that border, they ranged from a simple plaque to a well tended garden. The path wound back and forth along the mountain creating little pockets of graves at each level. It seemed to lend intimacy to the place. 

I came around one bend to see a larger lot for the Adenauer family. One of the people buried there was named Konrad Adenauer. I did a double take. Was that not the first Chancellor of West Germany after WWII? I turned around and found myself face to face with a sign declaring that that was exactly whose remains lay buried behind me. I had really not expected to run across the resting place of a famous politician.

Not long afterwards, I hiked back up the way I came, which took a lot longer than the way down had. I do not know when I will return to get a tour of the castle itself. I just know when I do that I'll probably spend just as much time traversing the trails outside as I do admiring the architecture inside.

Just 2 More to Go

This morning, I took my Heat and Mass Transfer final. May God have mercy on my soul.

The exam was fairly rigidly set up. Each student had their own exam and seat assigned to them. The students who had somehow failed to register got forms for on-the-spot registration and improvised exam booklets. We had scratch paper in different colors to make sheet-passing easier to track, and our student IDs and an additional photo ID were checked as we took the test. All solutions had to be in pen, written in a specific answer form, and we wrote our name and ID-number on every page.

That's the boring stuff. The less boring to some, more boring to others stuff is the problems we had to solve in the test. 5 questions, each taking about half an hour. Yuck! At least they tried to come up with mildly amusing situations. One problem involved analyzing how quickly an olive in a Martini absorbs alcohol and how many a guy has to drink before getting drunk.

I did not have the best start to the day. I awoke at 4AM, convinced it was 8PM. However, given how low the battery on my phone/alarm clock was when I checked the time, this might actually have saved my butt. Then, when I finally did get up, I spent the first two hours of consciousness feeling queasy. That might have to do with all the brownie batter I ate raw last night. Hey, the pan was too small for the recipe. Clearly the metric system is to blame.

Despite all that, by the time the test came around, I felt fairly well and rested. I answered all but one sub-problem and feel pretty confident about the majority of my answers. The results will come out on March 6th, the day after my Controls exam. I need to buckle down and study for that and my Dynamics class now that the first wave of tests has passed. However, until Monday, I'm taking a break. Nothing but brownies, Scandal episodes, and medieval poetry for me!

Another One Bites the Dust

Yesterday, I took my Literary Studies exam. At first, the server allowing me access was overloaded by other students. I had a minor moment of panic when I thought the problem might have been with my computer instead of the internet, but an hour later I got in.

As expected, it wasn't all that tough. The most difficult questions were those with tiny distinctions between possible answers. However, I filled in every blank and feel reasonably confident about all of them. We'll see in a few weeks how well that confidence is placed.

Today, in a desperate attempt to avoid studying more for heat and mass and to honor the all sacred Day of Valentine, I made Nutella brownies and talked with a guy about American commercialism, which transformed into a talk about American indifference, corruption, incompetence, and lies. I've talked with friends about the Iraq war being all about oil, politicians being dirty, and the public (myself included) being uninformed about foreign affairs. Hearing it from a non-American that I'm not friends with though....I felt surprisingly defensive. It did motivate me somewhat to get more informed about what the heck is even going on in the world. One more thing on my "after finals" to-do list.

First Grade and Screwy Scales

Well, I have heard back on my Middle High German Translation exam. The professor said that the only mistakes were matters of word endings and expression. All in all, I get a 1-.

I'll take this as a chance to talk about the grading scale in Germany.

Instead of A-F, Germans use a numerical system 1-5. However, the numbers do not like up exactly with our letters. Time for an over complicated graphic!

Green indicates a passing grade. Although a 4 might seem like the equivalent of1 an F or a D, it's still considered passing in Germany, more akin to a C-. 

The question weighing on my mind is if I'm required to get the equivalent of a C to get credit at CMU, does that mean I need a 4 or a 3 in the German system? Hopefully, my next exams will go as well as my translation did.

Next Exam: Intro to Literary Studies tomorrow morning.

First Exam Down!

I just took the first exam of the semester, and it went well!

The exam was for Translation from Middle High German. I knew going in that I would be given a poem about 20-30 lines long and would have an hour to translate it. A Medieval to Modern German dictionary and a German to English dictionary were my aids. To prepare, I essentially just looked up a bunch of medieval poems that fit the bill and did practice exams, comparing my translation at the end to whatever other translations I could find.

I had been getting pretty nervous about the test. Half the time I could make sense of the poems without too much difficulty, but then a line would pop up that I would entirely misinterpret. I could either ace or fail the test depending on which text the teacher chose.

Imagine then my shock when the poem he gave me was one of the first ones I'd practiced with. I am proud to say that I did tell him that I had seen a translation of it before. However, he decided that since I had seen it while preparing for the exam, it was still fair game. Instead of worrying about figuring it out, I could focus on choosing the most suitable phrases.

The only major problem was how to translate "Obedience to God". Since I knew what the poem meant, just not how to say it in modern German, I asked the professor. He gave me the term Ehrerbietung, meaning homage or deference. Unfortunately, as I discovered when I looked it up just now, I misspelled it as Eherbietung, which, if it were a word, would mean offering of marriage...ah well.

I have two exams next week to prepare for, Heat and Mass Transfer and Introduction to Literary Studies. Since the former is required for graduation and the latter is electronic, multiple choice, and 21 questions long, I think I'm going to focus on Heat and Mass.

Bible Study

Completely by chance, I noticed a poster advertising a weekly bible study. The only information was the times, the location, and the organization name: Campus Bible Life (Campus Bibel Leben). I decided to pay a visit.

The bible study took place in an old building in a sort of apartment-like office space. I was greeted by a friendly Korean woman and soon introduced to the others there. The group consisted of seven people, two of whom were students and 4 of whom were from Korea. That surprised me somewhat, since Aachen doesn't exactly have a high Asian population outside of schools. Then again, it doesn't exactly have a high American population either.

We started off with singing praise songs with a guitar accompaniment, then a quick prayer and on to the text. We went through the 4th Chapter of Deuteronomy (just called 5th Moses in German). Each person read a verse aloud, going around in a circle. Honestly, this made it a bit harder for me to follow. I've always found that I understand less when I read a text aloud or read along while hearing it spoken. However, follow along I did.

During the discussion, the woman who had first greeted me proved herself to be somewhat scholarly. She gave clear, well reasoned responses to questions and sited other parts of scripture to make her point rather than just saying "It means he loves us" as so many are wont to do. That's like answering the question "What is Sally trying to do?" with "achieve her goals". It doesn't shed much new light on the situation.

After we closed our study, I was invited to share some tea and bread they had left over from when they dined together beforehand. It was pleasant company and pleasant food.

Finally, while walking back home, I asked one of the people going the same way as me what the group's affiliation was, protestant or catholic. THE ANSWER WAS NEITHER!

At long last, I have found a nondenominational community in Germany!

Residence Permit Pickup

I have my permit!

I went to the given address with my passport and my letter, pulled a wait ticket, which was almost immediately called. I handed over my documents, signed a form saying I did not want any special online features, and received my card. It's holographic and everything. I also received something called a Zusatzblatt zum Aufenthaltstitel (Additional Sheet to the Residence Permit) which has the official reason for my permit written out and must be supplied along with the card itself if I need to get an extension.


I've been putting off blogging for far too long and for no particularly good reason. Let's fix that!

What has happened since last I blogged?

1. New Years

I did quite little for New Years Eve. Fortunately, I didn't have to! I could see a fireworks display right outside my dorm. I do not know precisely who was setting them off, but kudos to them for a lovely show.

I did make a resolution: No more candy or desserts. I can enjoy candied fruits (too expensive to go overboard with) and Nutella (still working on portion control there...) However, the days of eating nothing but chocolate for a meal really need to be over.

2. Instructions concerning residence permit
In the mail, I received both a letter with the codes for accessing my electronic residence permit as well as one telling me where to pick up the physical card. The electronic residence permit system is pretty nifty. Officials can scan the card, enter a code of their own, and view all your relevant information. However, no one else can get a peek. That makes forgeries a heck of a lot more complicated as they would require fancy hacking skills. Then again, any hacking is fancy and magical to me.

The instructions are simple; go to the foreigners' office with the letter as well as current and old documentation, pull a queuing ticket and wait to be called. I hope the fact that I have no old documentation is not a problem...

3. Resumption of lectures

The first week after break is over, and I am so proud of myself. I got myself to go to every lecture and exercise except my last one on Friday. Since all the notes from that lecture are uploaded anyway, I can still perform the exercises at home. I do, however, need to make sure that I focus in my room. The recent, rather unintelligent decision to get a Tumblr will not make studying for the upcoming final exams any easier. However, if I treat it like being back at CMU where every problem is required, not just recommended, and I find a good site blocking program, I ought to keep myself on track.

The finals coming up in February: Heat and Mass Transfer, Introduction to Literary Studies, and Translation from Middle High German. Time to get to work!