Dec 27, 2014

Voyage to the Future!

Middle seat on a Delta time machine bound for the Future and possibly, Atlanta. I have finished re-reading Shrier's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, I have read finished another masterwork, SkyMall, and all the peanuts are gone. We are still sitting on the ground. At this rate, they will have to de-ice us again, resupply with provisions, replace the engines and airframe, distribute bifocals to those who didn't need them on boarding, and bring priests to baptize the new infants and bless the dead we stored in the overhead bins.

Over an hour after our scheduled departure we creep towards the runway, cargo bay loaded with luggage and a shrink wrapped Christmas present from Porsche which will arrive already qualified for antique plates. Just got an announcement that after the last two planes [ever manufactured] land, we can take off [before they destroy the runway to make room for Stuttgart's second spaceport].

Whee! The winter air roars by the plane as we rush into the aether and future!
[Live-blogging for future posting is a heady experience. It's almost like you are here with me, just several days ago (your time) when it actually happened. I am speaking directly to the future: If you find a way to reply, please let me know post-haste! -Ed.]

The cause of our delay is doubly frustrating.
After the coldest summer of my life, both of us were looking forward to a winter filled with icy wind, frosty panes, and picturesque German townscapes covered in snow. Instead, what we got was not markedly different from summer, except slightly colder and more damp. It poured on Christmas.

This morning, the day we both leave in the morning for international trips to visit family, it snowed. Several inches.

I called us a cab to take us to the airport, partly to save time, but also partly to save us from the 15 minutes of dragging our suitcases through the snow. Another side perk about Stuttgart: almost all the taxis here are Mercedes-Benz. The driver was also confounded by the white stuff on the ground- he drove so slowly the entire way to the airport, it would have been faster to walk. I wasn't disappointed, however. This was the first time for me to snow in Stuttgart, and I held Saori's hand as we watched the snowy city and hills drift by.

This was the city that Saori landed at nearly two years ago. A cab ride from the airport to an unfamiliar town covered in snow. At the airport, we just had time for some coffee after I checked in before I had to jump in the security line. The security line was not so bad, and then there was another at the gate where I cleared immigration. The flight is full and we still have another nine hours to go. Time enough for another story.

Dec 25, 2014

Yule

Merry Christmas, Happy Belated Hanukkah, and good tidings for Festus or whatever festival you celebrate which nearly coincides with the winter solstice.

Christmas in Germany is really interesting for one it is incredibly secular. There are scant references to Jesus or the nativity (although Christmas trees are called Christ-child trees) which is in part due to the years of Nazi rule which pushed a secular or even pre-Christian pagan tradition, which was believed to be more purely "Aryan" or authentically German. Songs such as O Tannenbaum are closer references to pagan yuletide tree worship (Yule log, anyone?) than the Christ story.

The second thing is there is not even a nod to Hanukkah here. No dreidels or menorahs at the Christmas markets. No happy Hanukkah cards at the grocery stores. Granted, after the attempted genocide against the Jews in Germany, probably there are not many living here. Perhaps too, there is the shame and crassness of an attempt to mainstream a Jewish festival. But then again, the religiosity of the festival here is really downplayed.

I took a half day off Tuesday, and Saori and I did the last bit of shopping runs. That night, we invited over Xenia and another one of Saori's coworkers and we taught them to make s'mores over the fire and I  listened to them gossip and bitch about work while we drank lots of wine.

I was badly hung over the first part of Wednesday, Christmas Eve day, but Saori made me bacon and eggs and I started feeling better. We cleaned house and then went for a stroll in the woods where I scrounged around for firewood that wasn't too wet. That night, I made a penne bake with roasted zucchini and bell peppers, with lots of mozzarella and Gouda cheese. Turned out pretty good actually. We lit another small fire and then fell asleep watching Charlie Brown Christmas specials and How the Grinch stole Christmas.

This morning, we got up and made coffee and opened presents under the tree. Saori got me a great memory foam pillow and warm socks, and I gave her some Chanel lipstick and a big aloe plant. I also got some cards and other presents from my other two grandmother's. I made a breakfast egg scramble which was festively colored with green peppers and red tomatoes and we cleaned the house again. Skyped mom but didn't get a hold of dad.

Tonight, we hosted a Mexican dinner for Lina and A, the two teenaged (well, Lina just turned 20) daughters of my boss. They brought some mean guacamole and chips and a bean Chile, and I provided the main dishes of pork and potato Colorado and quick fried zucchini with garlic. Everything was really good and we washed it all down with tequila and mezcal.

Now its nearly 3AM and everyone is passed out on the floor around the low table where we ate. I'm happy we have enough pillows and comforters for our guests. The girls are taking off to Austria tomorrow so I shouldn't let them sleep in too late. But for now:
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Dec 22, 2014

I must stop Christmas from coming! I need more time!

The weekend flew by. Friday, I brought Saori a coffee to her office after I got off work. My new nickname at her office is 'The Starbucks Angel.' Saori has been loaded with work since her competition team all got sick and then the office put her in charge of leading the team. Friday was many people's last day before the holidays, and several interns were also leaving. Saori, seriously sleep deprived all week and continually interrupted by merry well-wishers, was pulling an Ebeneezer Scrooge since she was so frustrated. "I just need to get this file out!" she snapped at anyone who ventured forward offering beer, wine, cookies, or other winter treats.

I hung around since she was almost done, and then we hit the grocery store before heading home and Saori made us Japanese curry for dinner.

Saturday was a whirl. I made us a late breakfast and then we caught up with Apo for coffee in Stadtmitte before he took off for Greece. Then Saori and I split up to go Christmas shopping, fighting off the crowds and plunging headlong into the riotous and tumultuous stores.  We shopped for a few hours and met up again before becoming too tired to continue and we headed home.

Sunday Saori had to go into work in the morning after I made us a quick breakfast and mochas. I lit out for the last day of the Esslingen Christmas Market. This was my favorite one in the Stuttgart area. Most cities add a gimicky twist to thier markets to make them distinctive- Esslingen wins. It was a medieval themed market, and the heart of the market was a cross between a Christmas market and a pre-renaissance festival. People were dressed up in costumes, there was delicious food everywhere. Tons of wood crafts, leather craft, pottery, skulls and flags fluttering in the breeze. A lot of fun.

That night, we invited Rosario and her friend, another Argentine, over to dinner. I made a vegetable stew with the leftover lamb fat I'd been saving, and it was really really good, especially after I added some Harissa paste and tomato paste. Rosario was Saori's team mate when we were all Seniors in Buenos Aires, eight years ago. It was surreal to see her again. She did get a kick out of seeing my Claudio tee shirt (which for other surreal reasons, has also survived eight years and somehow made it into the limited clothing supply I've been suitcasing around since we packed up our apartment in St. Louis two years ago).

Dec 18, 2014

Alsace

Friday was a slightly crazy scramble as we finished not one but two competitions. Slightly crazy, since one of the lead architects was going to Argentina the next day and we seriously needed to be done with these projects at a reasonable time.

Friday was also Oscar the Mexican intern's last day. He brought in pastel azteca which he described as Mexican lasagna and made for us. His parents had brought him Mexican corn tortillas to use so it was nice to have that special taste again. Mez made refried beans and salsa, although none of it was very spicy.

I did have the dubious distinction of being the first to take a shot of the Mezcal that Oscar brought along at the office lunch.

After work, Ola, the Polish work-student, and I went with Oscar to his WG and we had a round or two more of Mezcal and chatted with his roommates about theater therapy. Saori was working like mad on a competition but she shot me a text if I wanted to go to Strasbourg the next morning. I said, sure, so I headed home early after saying vaya con dios to Oscar.

Saturday morning we got up a little after six am to meet up with Saori's coworkers for the car trip to France. There were five of us, all girls except me, and all of different nationalities. They rented a little car and we hit the road for the hour and a half ride to Strasbourg. It's still a little strange for me to think that France is closer than Tucson is to Phoenix.

Crossing into France is easy and happens in an eyeblink. EU is EU so no stops, no checks, no giant fences. You cross the Rhine and boom all the signage is in French. It's really bizarre actually that there is not even a buffer zone with dual languages, like in the area close to the border of the US.

Anyway, first stop was the modern art museum which was really nice. Definitely worth a second visit. Afterwards, Natasha, the French(ish) who went to school there, took us on a walk through the city to a big restaurant called Ancienne Douane. It's a sprawling place, tons of tourists, but the food is really quite good and Alsatian specialties. I got a kind of pork knuckle with tons of sauerkraut, and then a giant dessert which was a kind of tall sponge cake absolutely soaked in rum.

We took the scenic route through the city afterwards to get to the start of the Christmas market in the late afternoon. The Christmas market in Strasbourg blows away Stuttgart in all aspects except for the glühwine. Here they were serving it too in cheap plastic cups rather than the traditional glass or pottery mugs that are returnable everywhere. The decorations were totally over the top. Lights and decorations everywhere. Giant Christmas trees, cobblestone streets brilliantly lit with the alley overhead strung with lights. It's what I imagine Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley would be like Christmastime in Potterworld. Absolutely packed however. One particularly festive and picturesque alleyway was so packed we were all literally shuffling along bumping into one another. We all got lost a few times when we were separated.

We shopped and drank and fought the crowds/took photos of the decorations until well after dark, and then hit a giant French grocery store on our way out of Strasbourg. I picked up a few beers although the selection was not as good as I had been hoping. We did get some good cheeses and a few bottles of wine as well.

I was so exhausted I fell asleep in the middle seat of the car a few times. We drove north on the German side, and then when Flammkuchen was proposed, a regional dish on both sides of the border, we hopped back across the border to a small village eatery on the French side, which really reminded me of the old village British pubs. Flammkuchen is like a flatbread pizza, but with cream or other types of white cheeses like roquefort instead of a tomato sauce topping. Really good stuff.

Anyway, I fell asleep again on the drive back so before I realized, we were already on the outskirts of Stuttgart and it was a little after 1am.

Dec 10, 2014

Warm fuzzies

What can I say about police killing black people? People are fooling themselves if they think an indictment means justice. There are so many factors at play here and they are all connected. There is a problem in the black community - a feeling of victimization and a lack of strong social structures. Poverty and crime are correlated: in the US you are penalized for being poor, and the most penalized are black people. The cops killing and hurting black people are a very small minority but they are allowed to act with impunity. Something like 4% in the NYPD produce all of the resisting arrest charges, which are slapped on when there is a violent encounter. The basic problem is that there is deep rooted unfairness in our economic system, and a latent racism which exacerbates the problem.

All I can say about the latest report on CIA torture is that they seem to be taking a page from Stalin's NKVD, especially in regards to methods and practices. No oversight, no restraint, no accountability, no humanity.

I love the US, but I have been ashamed of our dangerously backwards nation. We are the redneck of the world, the United States of Azerbaijan.

Dec 8, 2014

Krampus watch

Tired is the watchword of the week.

Saori jumped back to work this week, and she was rewarded with her own team of five architects and one intern to command in this competition. She is a little overwhelmed but I am sure it will be great experience.

We are roaring ahead with two competitions both aiming to finish this friday, which is why sunday I put in a full day at the office.

Today was interesting- I saw the most peculiar round shiny thing in the sky. For a few moments, the clouds parted, and it was glowing, incredibly bright, and it bathed parts of the city in a warm light. It made me feel oddly happy, and it stirred vague recollections that I might have seen it somewhere before.

Tonight there is the first freeze warning of the season. The low chance of sleet was downgraded to a "winter shower." Damp cold is about as enjoyable as wet socks.

We have been accessorizing our home out of the winter blues- we went to the Christmas market in Ludwigsburg saturday. This Christmasmarket advertised itself as the "Baroque" Weihnachtsmarkt. The one in nearby Esslingen is billed as the "Medieval" Weihnachtsmarkt, and honestly they all sell the same stuff as the one in Stuttgart's city center.

Ludwigsburg was a nice change of scenery at any rate. We got a hot steak sandwich with onions from one of the many grills set up, and that was really, really good. We also ended up buying a small iron owl lantern for our chabudai (low Japanese table) as well as some yunomi (hand thrown teacups.

Friday night was St. Nickolas day, when kids traditionally put out their shoes, and St. Nick fills them with chocolate and small presents if they are good. I have a pair of boots, but Saori's are nicer, so I borrowed hers to set out for the night.

We both got each other little presents and opened them saturday morning. I don't know if we are just getting old or what, but we were both really happy that we gave each other thick warm socks. Saori also picked up a star paper lantern. These are really cool traditional decorations, in warm bright colors, which come with bulb and cords and you hang them up in the window. Now we have two stars, a red and a white one, both lit and hanging from the ceiling lamp, and they give a really nice and festive atmosphere.

I was a little bummed I missed the festivities around St. Nick's day. In Southern Germany across to Hungary, there is a tradition about St. Nickolas and his counterpart, the Krampus. Google Krampus and you will see why it never really spread far from its origins in these old tribal areas. It was some kind of demon from pagan mythology, traditionally depicted with horns, goat legs, and a long, long tongue. It carries birtch bundles (a holdover from tree-worship rites) which it uses to swat children. Typically, it is also shown wearing shackles (Christianity shackled the monster), and with a basket or washtub on its back to cart off misbehaving children to be eaten or to Hell. In the US, we say, work hard and behave or Santa will leave you coal. In Germany, they tell their kids that a hideous monster will eat them. It's all kind of taken in the same spirit as Santa Claus by the kids- some are terrified, some are wildly amused, many are dubious, all depending on age. Anyway, last year, Saori saw a procession in the city center of kids in demon costumes being "attacked" by a Krampus.

So right now, I am lightly tracing pagan rites and mythologies of southern Germanic peoples. As an American, both paternal lines lead back to Enland, and it is very likely that I have deep and old Germanic bloodlines through both the Saxon invasion of England and Norman vikings. There is nothing so mystical about blood, however, compared to language.

If we accept that language affects the way we perceive and respond to  the world, then I cannot help but conclude that with the persistence of old Germanic in modern English, there may also be lingering modes of thought, deep structures of understanding which also persist, handed down embedded in the language itself. Saori is a different person in Japanese, and I am a different person in Spanish. Language is not just a hat you put on but a close-fitting suit which nudges you in certain directions.

Dec 4, 2014

Table talk

Last week, after sending some stuff off in the mail, I was walking around Neckarstraße, which has a nice immigrant neighborhood feel, and I stumbled across a second hand store tucked around the back of a building. They had some interesting things, a lot of crap, and a really cool low wooden coffee table, 80cm on each side, buried under a big old TV. In Spanish, I asked the owner how much it was.
Very cheap, he assured me, €10. What could I do but buy it then and there on my lunch break?

I could have waited for the weekend and someone to help me carry the damn thing, for one. Still weak and recovering from being sick, I lugged the table up the hill to my office on my back, taking occasional breaks sitting on the table. I ended up stashing it in the office and taking it on the bus back home. The stairs were less of a problem than I expected.

It looks great in the apartment. Saori said it's the perfect size and height for a typical Japanese table, and I've been very happy eating and drinking around it, just sitting on a mat on the floor. The funny thing is that it matches the old record player cabinet perfectly, and probably originated in the 1950s as well.

Work has been really busy with not one but two competitions aiming to be completed next friday.

Dec 2, 2014

better off outside

Nearly a month and a half ago, one of our friends sent us a Facebook invite to an Outdoor Film Festival, and I remember thinking, hmmm late November... and it's going to be outside? It turns out, the film festival is about outdoor films, specifically adventure sports short films. Festival is a traveling production, a big thing that plays across Europe and sponsored by outdoorsy corporations like Mammut and North Face and Victorianox etc.

Our friend got us tickets to the sold out performance in Stuttgart, which cost about $20. It was less about our desire to see adventure sports films than the enthusiasm of our friends, to speak plainly.

On arrival at the venue, most people there were wearing extremely sporty clothing.  Wool coats like mine were few and far between compared to the sea of Gore-Tex and hiking boots.

There were nine of us so we had to grab seats at the very very top row of the top balcony. I actually didn't mind so much being more removed from the screen.

The best thing you could say about the films were that they were short. They mostly fell into two categories: overly long music videos featuring spliced together clips of people doing extreme sports with no apparent coherance or narrative, and longer, more narrative films about people who work very hard to do stupid things. The first category was just insipid, just a few moments of nice images or concept. The four most notable films from the latter catorgy were:

A guy climbs a big mountain in Mexico without a rope. This was actually my favorite. Straightforward, simple, and you hear the climber and the videographer/route prep guy talk about it.

An ice climber pressing his aging condition (and luck) attempts to set and climb a big waterfall in the middle of winter in British Columbia. The best thing about it was the way the German subtitles dropped his frequent and colorful exclamations.

Four grrrrls attempt to paddle from Mongolia to the Pacific via some rivers.  Good! Travel adventure! This was almost my favorite until it devolved into being about feelings. The feelings were so high that one of the girls left halfway to go home based on feelings with lots of hand-wringing all around, and then due to flooding and Russia being Russia they pretty much all ended up flying home after the halfway mark anyway.

A British high school dropout likes to climb very tall construction cranes and hang off them to the horror of his mother, who claims that she can't do anything about it. After doing some more stupid, suicidal things in the Ukraine, he beings to think about how his mom might feel about the matter. I guess Parkour is outdoor adventure sports, so it squeaks in. My second favorite in the fest, actually.

I don't really get the appeal of the film fest, actually. I think the whole thing is more of a scene the more I think about it, like a place be a big adventure sports enthusiast. Here I am, celebrating Adventure Sports with my fellow sporting types.

Nov 30, 2014

Christmas Market

Stuttgart is known for few exceptional things- the ones not involving major industrial corporations are A) Wine, and B) The Christmas Market.

Imagine a tiny rustic wooden village in the forest, filled with lights and overflowing with people, and all the shops on the narrow streets have lit windows full of cheerful Christmas displays and knicknacks for sale. This is what the Christmas market aims for, and if you have enough to drink, really comes close to nailing it.

In a Christmas market, numerous vendors set up semipermanent stalls and decorate them for the season. Generally speaking, these are very small businesses, traditionally handcrafts. However, in more contemporary times, the wares sold at the Christmas market vary wildly: there are stalls selling LED candles, wool hats, woven scarves and gloves, Christmas tree ornaments, pottery, spices, teas, household kitchen tools, carved olivewood things, silicon spatulas, neckties, etc. Some of this stuff actually comes from Germany; much else comes from China or Pakistan or Greece or wherever.

The Stuttgart market is pretty extensive, filling two of the major city center plazas and stretching along the cobblestone streets between them.

There are also tons of vendors selling food and drinks. In addition to tons of spiced nuts and chocolate stands, there are fresh Schwabish Maultaschen stands, french fries in sauerkraut, sausages, steaks, crepes, and fry bread. By far the most popular beverage, a near requirement to drink when you go, is Gluhwine. ("gloo-vine") This is a hot wine spiced with cinnamon, orange, and other herbs and spices, and also sold spiked with other spirits. It's served in small mugs which are nearly universally interchangable for the deposit. You can pick up a Gluhwine at one stand, walk through the market, and get your deposit back at almost any other Gluhwine stand.

It's really about the experience of drinking hot spiced wine on a cold wintry night or afternoon (it gets dark around 4:30 here now), surrounded by rustic fake log cabins, Christmas lights, and animatronic moose. It's absolutely thronged with people. Busloads of tourists arrive from the surrounding areas just to come to the Christmas market. The Stuttgart Christmas market is so well known, that even the Swiss who have made a cultural ideal of artifice and Alpine wintry wonder, throng here to eat up the atmosphere.

The biggest surprise to me, apart from the fact that they launch this thing before Thanksgiving,  is the lack of representations of Santa Claus. Tons of wreaths, tons of reindeer, but really the big man is not to be seen. The market runs right up until Christmas. Nearly four weeks solid of Christmas three meters thick.

Definitely, it can be kitschy, uncomfortably crowded, and overpriced, but it is also really fun and and if you let yourself just a little bit, it is easy to get swept up in the fantastic whirl.

Nov 26, 2014

back to work

Saori and I went back to work today, after taking yesterday entirely off to rest and recuperate. The nausea and sickness ends, but the weakness, dehydration, stiffness, and headache stayed awhile. Anyway, I'm pretty much recovered, still a little tired and a little stiff.

Nov 24, 2014

What Michael Brought

Tuesday night, we decided to host Thanksgiving. So Saori invited some of her American students from her German course, we invited the Mexicans and Apo, and Saori also invited a few people from her office. No problem, we told ourselves, Michael's family is ill so maybe only he might come. And then to not leave people out, Saori's coworkers asked to include a few more people since was an significant other boyfriend, etc. etc. And then Michael's entire family showed up: two young and adorable daughters, and his German wife.

We were actually thrilled that everyone came (and brought a dish!) but we did run out of chairs and forks. Rafa and I ate with spoons, and Saori ate Thanksgiving dinner with chopsticks. The twelve of us were really cosy- we had a kids table set up that many of Saori's crowd used, sitting on a bench we normally use for plants. I think only one person ended up sitting on the floor, actually. There was plenty of wine, people seemed happy, and the two kids running around leant a really homey atmosphere. It made me really happy because it reminded me of the big family Thanksgivings we had in the US.

I made a baked turkey which surprisingly turned out to be really good. I bought a bunch of turkey legs from Aldi, brined them overnight in an herb honey brine, and rubbed them inside the skin and out with an olive oil and herb mix. I may never attempt to wrestle an entire turkey again. The brining helped it stay really juicy, and the meat, which I shredded and served on some platters was quickly taken.

I also threw together a giant salad which went mostly untouched. I guessed as much when I made it, but it didn't feel right without a token green salad.

I also whipped up a big batch of garlic mashed potatoes, thinking about Tay the entire time since that is one of his specialities. Saori made two types of dressing, one vegetarian and without wine since one of our guests was a Croatian Muslim woman, but Saori was really disappointed with how they turned out.

The dishes people brought were really good. More sliced turkey, midwestern corn casserole, Croatian Bamyam, which is a tomato and okra dish (she wanted to bring something local to her, and she was surprised to hear that okra is not a vegetable which only grows in that part of the world, but then I thought it only grew in the American south, so there you go. Everyone labors under the Okra delusion). There was macaroni and cheese with sliced sweet peppers, there was bread, there was wine, there was honest-to-god pumpkin pie which Michael made from fresh Hokkaido pumpkins, and sweet potato casserole.

We ate about half of the food in the end. People were just stuffed. And they were all really, really jealous of the apartment.

I think Michael also brought a stomach bug, because Saori and I are now both sick as dogs. Saori was sick last night, and didn't go to work today at all. My stomach was unhappy for the last day and a half, and seeing the writing on the wall, took off work early to buy water, canned soup, and 7up before the bug started its happy work on me.

I am happy I ate something earlier today, because I can't hold anything stronger than water down right now. I hope this burns out soon, because it is seriously no fun. Saori and I both crawled out of bed to make something to eat since we wanted to try at least, and I found a really simple recipe for potato and leek soup which uses leftover mashed potatoes. I was perhaps a bit premature in having a small bowl.

Anyway, its one of those things where you feel creaky, tired, cold, and stiff, and you ride a roller coaster of nausea. I feel well enough to write (and about food!) but I will probably miss tomorrow morning at the office.

Bleh.

Nov 15, 2014

surprising ways to die in Stuttgart

Not so many years ago....

WORLD
WARS

EPISODE II

Last friday, one of our Mexican interns was alarmed to receive a text from her roommate, who informed her that the block was being evacuated because a 500kg bomb from WWII was uncovered at a nearby construction site. At first, she thought it was a joke, but I assured her, to her increased unease, that yes, this actually happens in Germany. Actually, I was reading that as recently as a few years ago, an unlucky digger on a construction site was killed when he hit an undiscovered bomb. Unfortunately, years are not kind to either the bomb materials or fuses, which become really unstable after more than sixty years of being buried in the earth.

I don't worry about it much because I don't live or work near a construction site, although it must make German contractors sweat a bit as an additional danger on top of an already dangerous profession.

Anyway, because unexploded bombs are so common in Germany, the evacuation of over 1000 people proceeded with apparent ease as the city immediately brought in evacuation busses to quickly move the residents and workers of the way of danger. Apparently the bomb was neutralized less than six hours later- either it was stable enough to be moved (most likely), or it was defused on site.

The intern was saying that if the bomb had killed, her it would have been the US's fault. I countered with immediate comment that it would be Germany's fault. Actually, thinking about it more, it made me wonder if it would have been the US's fault. Germany started the war, but the US chose how to respond with its warfare, and produced the defective bombs. Or, like many killed in war, our intern would simply have been considered a casualty of war, with equal blame on all participants.

Stuttgart is one of the safest cities in Germany, but being killed by WWII ordnance is one of the strange and surprising ways to die in this city.

Surprising Ways to Die in Stuttgart
1) WWII bomb explosion
2) viral meningitis from ticks (really! its a thing that always kills a few people every year)
3) luxury automobiles. Stuttgart was the original car fetish city. People here sometimes have more money than sense. You can buy beer at the age of 16. and hard liquor at 18. Some of the highways have no speed limit.
4) Street protest violence. People get really worked up about the Stuttgart 21 project. One guy lost his eyes in a water cannon blast when the police tried to contain a riot a few years back. The soccer hooligans here are also nuts.
5) [unknown] Someone was discovered resting in a the main square. In pieces inside of a suitcase.
6) Potted plants falling on your head from balconies.
7) Slip and falling on one of the many steep staircases of this hilly city.

And probably a few people choke on pretzels or something. Actually Stuttgart is one of the safest cities in Europe. At least, postwar.

Anyway, something like 40-50% of the city was destroyed or badly damaged in WWII. A lot of it was picturesque traditional southern German architecture, with lots of wood, white plaster, steep wooden roofs, stone etc. The catch, however, is that none of it was really that old, or as old as it was pretending to be. Stuttgart was a sleepy village with a tiny population until it industrialized, and the new city center was built to look historic and traditional not so many years before the first Modernist buildings started to rise in the city.

So when WWII flattened the old [new] city center, the city had to decide how much to rebuild in the authentically fake-old style and how much to start anew. Postwar Munich went the former way, Stuttgart leaned towards the latter.

Nov 13, 2014

A whirlwind of limited objectives in Munich

Lina Bo Bardi was a Brazilian architect active from the 1950s through the 1980s. One of her most notable works was the museum of art Sao Paolo (MASP), an iconic building easily recognized by its giant red concrete frame holding up a double deck gallery in glass. The space below the suspended gallery becomes a huge column free plaza which commonly fills with markets, fairs, and other public gatherings. The plaza extend to the edge of the museum's lower levels, and forms an overlook over the city.

Saori and I walked there one night when we were studying abroad, at the very beginning of our relationship, and it was there, sitting under MASP, with the lights and sounds of Sao Paolo below, that I worked up the nerve to kiss Saori for the first time. Later, we both took courses at university which dealt directly or tangentially with Lina Bo's work, guided by a certain professor, one Zeuler Lima, who had spent many many years studying her work.

After recently publishing a fairly comprehensive monograph of her works, he was invited to speak in Munich as part of a symposium and exhibition commemorating Lina's 100th birthday, had she still been alive. Zeuler invited us to come, and so we came: actually, we don't really need much incentive to come to Munich, but it was good to have a good excuse. I grabbed some surprisingly cheap tickets on the ICE.

After a fitful nights sleep, we dragged our sorry asses to the station for a 7:15am train. Normally, I crawl out of bed closer to 7:45. Got to Munich around 9:30, and we ditched the first panel of the symposium in favor of coffee and shopping at MUJI.

We got to Pinakotek der Modern just as the second panel was kicking off. I could have missed it. We met Zeuler briefly at the lunch break while we grabbed a mediocre sandwich at the museum cafe.

We were quite disappointed to discover as well that the associated exhibition would not be open until the following day.

Side note: why are museum cafes so mediocre? If it's the whole captive audience issue, then why isn't the food at least like a sports arena? Do we really need the "sophisticated" sort of food which pretends to be fine dining? If you are going to serve something from an international food service consortium, just give me pizza or fries or a hot dog or doner kebab instead of a pretentious brie, arugala and spicy mustard ciabatta which is not only overpriced but also bland, boring, and exhausted.

The third panel included a presentation by our professor. Gina, a friend of our and former classmate (well, she was my TA in urban books) also came to see Zeuler, since he taught urban books. She also works for Behnisch, although in their Munich office. Zeuler gave a good presentation, although he was still a little loopy from jet lag. He kept forgetting to advance to slides on screen which where clearly not synched to the presentation tablet.

Regardless, it was clear from earlier and later remarks from the other panelists, which included one Lina Bo's closest former associates, that Zeuler was respected as a deep repository of knowledge about Lina Bo.

After the third session, we broke for a coffee break. Zeuler, learning that we had wanted to see to exhibition, arranged for a private tour with the curator(!) so we got to have a quick spin with Zeuler with the exhibition design explained by the curator. It's one thing to see a museum exhibit explained by a docent, who talks about the work, and another to have an explanation of the exhibition by the curator. It was really wonderful, with all handwritten info and signage, and many of Lina Bo's original sketches and drawings. The only thing I was sorry about was that we had to breeze through it all so quickly.

To our surprise, Zeuler took a coffee break to visit with us, ditching the entire talk given by one of the speakers. We caught up about his work, life at Wash U, got an autograph in the book he just published, and told him about our life here in Germany.

It was really nice and I was sorry we had to rejoin the conference after, although there were some more good presentations, including some remarks and anecdotes by Lina Bo's former associate who spoke about working with her on the SESC project.

The symposium was not well attended perhaps there were ten audience members per panelist, although I was happy to see for the second half (including Zeuler's presentation) a busload of architecture students trooped in, filling out the auditorium.

The symposium ended at five, and we said mata-ne to Zeuler as he went to rejoin his colleagues and panelists. We caught a U-bahn across town to The Tap Room. The tap room is an upscale but unpretentious beer hall which serves a wide variety of international beers. While it would be entirely unremarkable in most US cities, it is nearly unheard of in southern Germany. I heard about them through Gina, who bumped them to the top of my list by serving beer on tap from Urban Chestnut brewery in St. Louis, brewed from the mixed waters of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

It's so good to have a Wing Nut ale again, and a strong wheat bock called "Elfkönig" from the same company. Also drank a really good "continuous [ly hopped] IPA" from a US brewer called Töeter(?). Not as good as my favorite IPA, "Bengali" from six points brewery, but Devin a rely second best IPA. We also chowed down on some delicious goulash soup to cushion the blow of these strong beers. (The elfkönig was 8% abv, the IPA: 7.5%).

Sadly, we had to chug the last quarters of our second round and make a dash for the U-bahn. Service was slow and we stoppe , twice, in the system between stations. We waited nearly ten excruciating minutes in the u bahn just shy of the hauptbahnhof station, and with ten minutes before our trains scheduled departure, Saori predicted we weren't going to make it.

Shortly after, the car started moving and we dashed to the platform. Thankfully, we were at the u bahn platform right outside the station platforms, only a few tracks away from our train, and we even had time to quickly thrust some coins into a machine for a bottle of water. The train left about four minutes after we boarded.

Had to unexpectedly change trains in Ausburg due to mechanical problems but now we are on our way back to Stuttgart, less than an hour delayed. Hopefully we will be back home before 11, since we both have to work again tomorrow. All in all, a good day, but a whirlwind of limited objectives in Munich

Thinking about German architecture

There is a saying in German: quadratisch, praktisch, gut. which translates to "square, practical, good." Actually, I'm not sure if that's an informal motto, or if it's just the slogan of RitterSport chocolate bars, but it applies equally.

Flip through any magazine of architecture from any German-speaking country and you will quickly discover a preponderance of glass boxes. In many ways, the Swiss and Austrians are even worse since they really enshrine the square in facade. Peruse Wettbewerb Aktuel a catalog of competition results, and you will be hard pressed to find find something that doesn't look like everything else. All of the renderings, for example, include the same whiteness, transparency, and burst of birds in flight, to say nothing of the reflective glass boxes depicted. A casual reader would be forgiven for thinking these magazines were rather a single office's monograph.

There are of course a few exceptions- sometimes inferior renderings do not crank up the etheriality to 11, but are clearly aspiring to do so. Or you get firms like Behnisch who are proposing something other than glass boxes.

There is a deliberateness to all German architecture. A high degree of rigidity and fixedness, a deathly seriousness which is as far removed from whimsy as is possible. At its highest form, German architecture reaches the rigid, crystalline, lightness which was first envisioned by Mies in his drawings of entirely glass skyscrapers. German architecture has no smell- at worst, a somber and ill-fitting tomb for the living, at best, an eternal and timeless open mausoleum for the saints.

Whenever attempts are made to make the architecture more lively, say with an angled wall or a kinked stair, I have the eerie sense of a mortician's attempts to position a corpse with more "life-like" appearance.

German houses and apartments are very compartmentalized. The hierarchy is stratified: the house is a collection of rooms of equal size evenly distributed around a hallway which serves as an entry. Each room contains one window and one large cabinet. This probably comes from a lack of floor space (space is much more scarce) and a very functionalist attitude. Realistically speaking, the area required to cook and to have cooking apparatus is not that different than the area taken up by a bed and the ability to get in and out of it.

Modern American houses have a more blended hierarchy: the spaces of the house range in size and importance from the immediate outside area to the tiny guest bathroom. Germans may also prioritize the importance of various rooms (I'm still trying to figure out what that may be, probably a sitting room) but it's the Americans who give form to their feelings about the spaces.

Is it an over simplification to say that American architecture prioritizes the feelings of its owners, a reflection of their aspirations and ideologies, while German architecture prioritizes functionality and visible order?

Nov 12, 2014

colorless fall

Been really tired and listless lately. Second wave of the settling in blues perhap? Or the onset of fall? Summer was cloudy, rainy, and cold. So far there is nothing to distinguish fall from the summer apart from all the brown leaves.

The fall of the Berlin Wall was commemorated saturday and sunday. I actually remember hearing about it when it happened, so it's strange to think back and to be actually in Germany. There are some great stories about the fall, which basically happened because of a handful of low-ranking bureaucrats and higher level people not reading what they were handed. A young chemist in east Berlin decided to go into politics that night: Angela Merkel. A KGB agent in Dresden watched and lamented the opening as he destroyed files: Vladimir Putin.

While I'm on the Interesting Facts part of the blog: Martin Luther King, Jr. received a blackmail letter supposedly from a brother disgruntled with his sexual adventures. It was detailed with names and dates and ended with a suggestion MLK kill himself. Actual sender: the FBI. Why? because Hoover disliked his politics.

Two malls opened one after another recently. In typical German fashion, people say 'lets not do things the American way' and then open bad imitations of our worst urban tenancies. The malls here, at least, are smaller than their American counterparts since there are fewer vast expanses available for paving. But they are almost entirely filled with crap. Accessories, disposable fashion, dollar stores. And the clothing stores all try to emulate American. One of the new malls is basically anchored by Urban Outfitters, which turns out to be the best quality store in the mall.

Saori and I went last saturday to the Milaneo, which was open until midnight. In an unusual bout of shopping, we shopped for about four hours there and checked out the place. It was packed, packed, packed. Of course, being Stuttgart, we ran into friends there. Actually the most exciting thing about the mall for me is Pull&Bear, one of Zara's stores closer to the Urban Outfitters line.

I am looking forward to getting out of town tomorrow. We have an early morning train to Munich to catch a day long symposium on Lina Bo Bardi at the Pinakotek der Moderne. Our old professor from Wash. U, Zeuler Lima, will be speaking and we want to catch him. Also, I have heard that there is beer from Urban Chestnut brewery in St.Louis for sale at a few places in Munich so we are definately going to check it out.

It's been not so much fun at the office lately. A string of competitions submitted with nothing to show for it except lost time and sleep. Incredibly frustrating.

Also frustrating is German language. An example: in English you might say 'The apple is in the kitchen. I threw the apple there.' In those two sentences in German, each article 'the' is different. Not because of noun gender, which is its own deal, but because of the position of the noun and how it relates to the action of the sentence.

Actually, since there are four basic articles for 'the' depending on the action, position, and relation, and four different genders (masc, fem, neu, pl.) there are sixteen forms which has been consolidated to one (the) in English. But they are not all unique- only der, die, das, den, dem, and des fill the sixteen roles. And this is considered the most basic level of German grammar. 

Nov 11, 2014

the fog of English

For lunch I walked down the other side of the hill to Ostendplatz, one of the neighborhoods with a large immigrant population. I grabbed a falafel to go and walked around the pedestrian areas. Spotted some graffiti: fog you. Yes, and fog your dedication to learning English.

Nov 3, 2014

Halloween and Dia De Los Muertos

Friday was Halloween.
I saw a trio of witches out with their father trick-or-treating, and a conspicous minority of people at the hauptbahnhof dressed up for parties. Overall, it was low-key. The impression I get here is that American culture is already so entrenched (and begrudged) that most people give overt American holidays a miss.

Friday was also the day before a state holiday on Saturday, where no stores would be open. Since no stores are open on Sunday either, we got to pretend we were facing an impending zombie apocalypse at the packed and cleaned out grocery store as we stocked up on vitals such as eggs, cheese, and limes for halloween margaritas.

At the apartment, we spent the evening with lights out and candles lit, listening to eerie music, drinking margaritas, and working on our skull heads.

Saturday and sunday were beautiful and sunny, but we stayed in, enjoying the warm snap with all the windows and doors open and sunning ourselves up on the roof. I made berry pancakes, we studied German for a few hours, wrote letters and emails.

Saturday night Saori wasn't feeling well, so she stayed home while I went out to the nachtflohmarkt (night flea market) at Wagenhalle, a former train shed now used as venue. It was a major major hipster scene. The advertisement said clothes, art, and music, but it was 90% clothes, and mostly für Hipsterfrauen. Cheap though, super cheap. I picked up a jacket for Saori for five euros, no negotiation required. The vendors apparently all came with the goal to sell out and sell out quickly. I got there an hour after it opened and it was already packed. When I left, there was a line out the door since the max capacity had been reached.

Looking at everything I bought once I got back home, I realized there was good reason they keep the lighting as low as prices.

Sunday, we built an altar for Dia de Muertos. Apparently the setup for a typical altar is also pretty much the same in Shinto and Buddhist family altars as well. I didn't have pictures for everyone, so instead, I made tarot cards with their name, as well as the the things I remembered about them, or things they really loved. Saori had just her grandfather, but I had both grandfathers, an uncle, a cousin, a great-grandmother, my old work mentor, and the old landlord from the house where I used to live.

We lit candles, offered fruits and cigarettes and whiskey, and put in a few other personally meaningful items. I left a screwdriver for Grandpa Case, who could fix anything.

And the weekend ended. Much too soon.

Oct 31, 2014

Top 12 Real Reasons Germany is a Great Place to Live

Germany ranked as the fourth most popular place to work abroad globally, after the US, UK and Canada respectively. One third of the 200,000 respondents surveyed said they'd like to move to the country.
-thelocal.de

What is it about Germany that makes someone like me learn German?
  1. The German economy, while flagging, is still a global powerhouse, providing lots of jobs like the one I was hired for.
  2. The cities are based around pedestrians, not cars. This fundamentally different attitude means more lively cities, places easier to access, less worry, less stress.
  3. There is an idea of following through commitments. People do the things they say they are going to do. Things happen on time. The bureaucracy is slow but it moves. 
  4. Germany happens to be in the center of Europe, with easy and fast access to great European cities.
  5. Quality matters here. Tools, objects, cars, food. There are still tons of independent bakeries and flower shops because apart from the huge footprint, there is a fear that malls and supermarkets streamline and degrade the product and the experience.
  6. Germans have probably the most time off in the entire world.
  7. Related to #6, relative to other countries, the emphasis is shifted less to commercial profits and more to human well-being.
  8. People appreciate nature here, from remote gardening patches outside the city centers, crowded sunny lawns, long nature trails, to the outdoor beer gardens everywhere, people just like being outside surrounded by green.
  9. There is a better social safety net. Women, as well as men, get paid maternity and paternity leave. There are many more protections for the poor and the workers.
  10. The bread, far more than the beer, is amazing.
  11. It's healthier to live here. People walk more, they eat better quality food, they spend more time outside, they take more time off.
  12. Wages are higher than most places in Europe, while the cost of most things is relatively low for Europe. This means the living wages are quite good, actually.
There's a lot of crappy, crappy things about living in Germany too, but I'm sure that gets filtered through the blog clearly enough. 

Oct 30, 2014

You Won't Believe What This Blogger Did After Reading A BuzzFeed Article!

A friend of mine sent me a link she though I might enjoy,
26 Reasons Why You’ll Never Be The Same After Studying Abroad In Germany
which was published by a BuzzFeed staffer who obviously spent two weeks in Germany. Here is the version without the photos and ads:
  1. Because Neuschwanstein Castle is the only place you could live like Sleeping Beauty. surrounded by thousands of tourists, who wouldn't want to be comatose?
  2. And Hohenzollern Castle will make you feel like royalty. I hear the outside is much nicer than the inside.
  3. Nothing else will compare after you go to Oktoberfest in Munich. true, where else can you have beer dumped all over you by Australian tourists?
  4. And American beer just won’t do after your first German sip. If you only drink BudLite
  5. Especially when you get used to an ice-cold Hefeweizen in a glass boot. nobody serves ice cold beer in Germany. Ice cold beer has no taste. If you like your beer ice-cold, then stick to BudLite
  6. Because fall in Heidelberg doesn’t leave any color behind. I could believe it
  7. And the Christkindelmarkts are truly a magical way to get excited for Christmas… probably true
  8. … especially with a piping-hot festive cup of Glühwein in hand…also probably true
  9. … topped off with crispy potato Kartoffelpuffers with ice-cold applesauce. all right, a solid four reasons so far
  10. Speaking of food, the bratwurst is incomparable. it's slightly better than what you can find in the US.
  11. You can’t get gingerbread hearts that say “I love you” anywhere else. probably, but who cares
  12. Because your sweet tooth will be satisfied whether you want something hot…five
  13. … or cold. six good reasons
  14. Because it doesn’t get any better than a glass of wine in Würzburg. street tacos in Mexico City. Boom.
  15. Because every city’s Main Street always looks straight out of a fairy tale. because it was all rebuilt after WWII. Some places are still charming though
  16. And Rothenburg ob der Tauber lets you live in the real Medieval Times. I think this is a variation of #15
  17. Because this is how Berlin does art.[photo of graffiti] and every other urban center in the entire world
  18. And this is how Hamburg does chocolate.[photo of stack of RitterSport] actually, this is how Stuttgart does chocolate since the factory is here, not Hamburg. But it's a valid point. Up to eight.
  19. Because there is nothing more grandiose than Cologne’s cathedral. except another 100 monuments around the world
  20. And the Black Forest couldn’t be any more serene. True.
  21. Because the Berlin Wall is truly breathtaking…the parts that are left are not quite breathtaking.
  22. And the Brandenburg Gate is awe-inspiring. Granted. Ten.
  23. Because a boat ride down the Rhine will take you back in time. I heard this is true.
  24. And Romantic Road will make you fall in love… Sounds specious
  25. … not just with your fellow students and teachers… as long as the school policies permit it
  26. … but with Germany itself. I'll be charitable and allow that the Romantic Road will make you fall in love with Germany. Twelve reasons. 
I should write a Top Ten Real Reasons You'll Never Want to Leave Germany.

Oct 28, 2014

fall weekend

It is decidedly fall here. It dropped down to 4 Celsius this morning, and the early part of the week has been heavy coat and scarf weather.

The weekend, though, was lovely.

Saturday we ran around all morning shopping. I had heard from a former Mexican intern that one could buy mezcal at Galeria Kaufhof (such an imaginative name: Kaufhof = buying courtyard), so we swung by and found one bottle.

It was the San Cosme mezcal joven- the same kind that I bought the first time in Mexico City, mostly because it was a cheaper premium mezcal and because I liked the bottle design. Actually, and I think I wrote about it before, this is bottled specially for German export, so its really not a great shock to find it here.

As for tequila, their selection was limited to Corralejo and Patron Silver.

In the afternoon, we started making Dia de Los Muertos masks. Big ones to cover our heads. Mine is really big.

Sunday, we joined Saori's former roommate, S for a hike through the vineyards around the city. There are numerous trails that wander up into the hills and across the ridges to various hilltops and vinyards (no winery stops though). We started in Unterturkheim and hiked up and across all the way over to Esslingen, a distance of probably 12 kilometers, around 7.5 miles. Along the way, we stopped in at a circular mausoleum of the beloved Queen Katherine, a Russian monarch who married the local King Wilhelm. The high point was in fact, the highest point, a grassy hilltop where people flew kites, there was a beer garden and an observation tower. From there, one could see the Stuttgart spread below, as well as the distant Swabian Alps to the south.

Due to the odd warm weather so late into the year, the vinyards had only begun to change, so there was still a lot of green and yellow, and not quite the seas of crimson and orange yet. But the weather could not have been better.

That night, we were too tired to work on the masks more, and we had homework, so we took care of that.

Oct 21, 2014

plantzen

Last Thursday, I left work a little after noon since all the competitions had been packed and submitted. L had actually given me instructions to have the interns in the competition room clean things up and clean up the files, and if they got all that done, that they could leave at four.

I ducked downstairs and delivered the tasks. Except I told them that they could leave as soon as the tasks were done. Seriously, they had been given about 30 minutes of work and four hours to kill. Plus, we had all put in some serious hours this week already.

After work, I stopped by a middle eastern market and bought harissa paste and some flatbread and chickpeas to try out a new recipe for lamb couscous. I was surprised to find Saori already home when I got there at three.

She had just been having a really off day at work, so decided to take the rest of the day off. We were also both really tired so we did some German homework in preparation for our class, and then took a nap before heading back to the city center for class.

Friday we were both feeling much better, and invited our friend Apo to dinner after work. I made a huge mess making dinner. Harissa is my new favorite condiment. Used widely in north African cooking, especially Tunisa and Morocco. It's an oily paste made from  roasted peppers and chiles and garlic, and an assortment of other herbs and spices. I used it as a rub on the lamb, and its pretty wonderful. It's an oily orange mess though, which stains everything it touches. The recipe turned out to be Saori's new favorite.

Saturday, we went downtown and shopped around for a few more things for the apartment. At design store Magazin, we bought a small trash bin for the kitchen wet trash since we separate out paper, bottles, and plastic. We are plagued by tiny fruit flies here, so we have to be scrupulous about keeping things clean.

Apo picked us up outside the hauptbahnhof in a black mini cooper, his new company car. It was a spectacularly beautiful day, warm, sunny, and I was the only person out wearing shorts. We fought hellacious traffic out of the city to a cluster of big box stores in the suburbs. Actually, these were better than big boxes- the Pflanzen Kölle store was actually a series of giant greenhouses.

Saori has been obsessed with plants lately. It started with her 30th birthday, when one of her coworkers gave her a tiny fig tree plant. Then when I arrived and started talking about getting some orchids, she got really excited and we bought a few from Ikea. Then she got started on succulents, and just got totally hooked. She can spend hours just looking at the plants, and reading about them. The only trick is living in the city, the selection is limited, and expensive. So Apo, who is also very into plants, offered to take us out to the giant plant store.

We splurged a fair amount, for a plant store. We bought many many cheap cacti and succulents, I bought a bird feeder and seed, and also some pots and soils. Now we have a much greener house.

Oct 16, 2014

sprechen sie deutch?

Monday was the first day of German classes. The classes are really close to my office, in a historic building. I have permission to leave work early to get to classes on time, which is good. I saw Saori there, starting her class, and went off to find my own classroom.

It was strange to be back in a school setting. Kind of a fun nostalgia to find your name on the list, find your classroom, introduce yourself to your fellow classmates. The woman who sat next me was an Indian working at Bosch, which applied to 75% of the class of fifteen. Actually there were two other Indians, but they worked for Daimler, breaking the stereotype that all Indians work for Bosch.

The guy on my other side was an American, a military analyst from D.C. working for AFRICOM. He lives close by, in the city center, pretty from the base, mostly because the government heavily subsidizes his housing. They found him an apartment, and paid for most of it. Or I should say, I, we, pay for most of it since military is taxpayer funded.

Anyway, interesting classmates! I think I'm in the right class level which is good, but I need to play catch up with grammar.

The rest of this week was late, late nights at the office. Last night, I took a cab back at 1:30AM. I am so fried from work and travel.

Volksfest

What a week. Got back from Geneva saturday night. Sunday early afternoon I went to the Volksfest Wasen, the second largest Oktoberfest in Germany, and possibly the world, with the Mexicans plus Oscar, so, the Mexicans. The nice thing about Volksfest is you can take the U bahn, step off, and you are within 20 feet of a booth right off the bat, in the middle of the festival grounds.

It was packed, but not terribly so, since it was sunday very early afternoon, and the people who went last night were still probably sleeping it off. We got into the Stuttgarter Hofbrau tent, a giant tent with probably a thousand people jammed inside. It must have been high school day since the tent was particularly filled with the under 20 crowd (the legal drinking age in Germany is 18, 16 for beer).

Not too surprisingly, a particualry roudy group of teens dumped some beer on a buddy on the table, and ended up accidentally splashing poor Paola. You don't want to dump beer on anyone's girlfriend, but especially not a Mexican's. Rafa, one of the most laid back, calm, peaceful people I know here, got up in the kid's face. I thought 'there's going to be some action here.' But no. The table of kids apologized, including the poor bastard who had the beer dumped on him in the first place. We changed tables and Paola went to the bathroom to towel off the rest of the beer, most unhappy.

We each finished off two maß of beer, nominally two liters, but actually closer to a liter and a half. It's still a staggering amount of alcohol, and stagger we did through the park, taking a few rides before calling it an evening before the crowds got thicker and rowdier.

Oct 14, 2014

Columbus

Monday was Columbus day in some cities of the US. Social media and internet media outlets took the opportunity to build on a rising tide of criticism of the holiday and the eponymous explorer.

Let's be honest, Columbus was a pretty awful person by any standard of conduct, by any primary source on the man. Actually, I don't know how the Italian-Americans can rally behind him.

What seems to be forgotten in the race to crap on Columbus is his historical context. Europe was controlled by rulers in an religious and political arms race with each other and the Islamic empire, and a new continent meant a new source of converts, economic spheres, and revenues. Not one single European was ever recorded in the 17th century saying, oh we should let these natives alone.

To the leaders of the western world, the native Americans were like wild pigs, to be exploited as slaves at the minimum, as colonial vassals and religious converts at best. The leaders of Europe sent arrogant, violent, ambitious, and merciless shits like Columbus because they were precisely the kind of men you need to bring a continent to its knees for the raping.

I'm not sure how you can call the killing of 90% of two continents populations "progress", let alone dance away from the term "genocide." Actually, the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth rock had an easier time of their arrival because the village where they landed had already been cleared by European diseases.

Oct 13, 2014

Genf

So I got back to Stuttgart from Venice very late at night Sunday, and then went into work monday afternoon. I'd actually requested the entire day off, but we had a major competition due so I felt like I should put in a least a half day.

Wednesday afternoon, the company decided to send me to Geneva for a meeting on friday, so I quickly bought rail tickets and booked the cheapest hotel I could find. I didn't have to stay: the meeting was going to be quick and I could have just hopped a train straight back, but its six hours by rail each way and I usually like to explore a new city a bit, especially if the transit is paid for.

So Friday morning, I caught a 5:45 am train out of Stuttgart, lugging my meeting materials and a backpack with a change of clothes. When I crossed the border into Switzerland at Basel, I had at that point been through four European countries in five days.

It ended up taking five trains to get to Geneva, but I eventually got there, and took care of the business I'd been sent to do, and then had the rest of the afternoon and next day free. After my meeting I went straight to the hotel since I was totally exhausted. Geneva has a small red light district, and I was bemused to discover my hotel was on its edge. Actually, the store next to the hotel was a sex shop, and from my window I could see the hookers on the street corners, and once, a drug cache pickup. For all that though the hotel was nice. Low cost, but no flophouse by any stretch of the imagination. The hotel also included a public transit pass for the city and breakfast, which substantially lowered my food costs.
On the free wifi, I arranged to meet my old coworker Sergio for dinner that night, since he was going to school in Lausanne.

I struck out in the afternoon for the main UN building and took a tour of the buildings. It was nice, kind of fun to be in the center of international diplomacy land, although I found myself humming the theme from National Geographic over and over. In the end, though, the UN campus lacks a kind of identity because it is really just a stage for things to happen- its an ornate vessel. The guided tour was good- the guide was animated and interesting, but very matter of fact and diplomatic. She dryly reported that Russia's seat on the security council had recently blocked eight resolutions on Syria. Security was not as bad as I had expected- check of my passport, a bag xray, and they printed me a special visitor badge with my photo on it.

Anyway, after the tour I went back to the hotel and slept for a few hours before meeting Sergio downstairs for dinner. We walked over to a recommended (for its quality and low cost) Lebanese restaurant and I got some grilled lamb. We got caught up over what the we'd been up to in the intervening year and a half since we parted ways in Mexico City. It was surreal to see him there in Geneva. We had a beer in a plaza near the old city center and called it a night.

Friday, I took advantage of the continental breakfast to load up for the day. I went to explore the other big Untited Nations buildings in the area, taking photos and walking around. All the architecture was transparent glass boxes, emphasis on glass.

Crossing town and the Rhone, I browsed the luxury stores on Avenue du Rhone. My search for Mezcal turned out to be fruitless, but I found an international beer store in the train station after I checked out which was a treasure trove. I bought probably two liters of beer, including Red Stripe (Saori's favorite), some Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Karhu (Finnish), and some Belgians. Another big score was a kilo of Argentine yerba mate.

Got back to Stuttgart just with one train change in Zurich, and made it home Saturday night before 8:30.

German is not the most lovely language, but the things it does to other names is especially awful. Venice, Venezia becomes Venig in German, and the lovely Geneva, Genéve, is truncated to a stumpy Genf.

Oct 10, 2014

Veniceland

When you arrive to Venice by bus or car, there is a very small area which is drivable where the parking garages etc are, basically a big parking loop actually, and a big ticket office, information point, etc. And then you can either board of the vaporettos, the small ferries which run around venice (1 day pass: $28), take a water taxi (more like a water limousine, and you don't even want to know how expensive), or take the bridge into the city proper.

We opted for the bridge. It's one of those great bridges, one of the three or four which crosses the grand canal, newly opened and designed by starctual engineer Santiago Calatrava. Going up and over, you leave behind the world of cars, of reality, of the dismal postwar European cities, and cross over to a baroque Italian fantasy.

You get the butterflies in your stomach, like you are entering Disneyland and walking down Main Street USA, except you see the canals and the green domes and the gondolas and you think holy crap, I'm in Venice! Not Venice Beach, not The Venetian Hotel in Vegas, but the actual sinking city itself.

What Venice does best is to look fantastic. It's a period theme park made real. When I was backpacking Venice, I took more photos there than anywhere else. It's a city that looks like a model ready for a photoshoot. Most people don't even make it over the bridge before the camera comes out. You take pictures of everything, everywhere. It wasn't until this trip that I realized that Venice is a city where everywhere you look there is something interesting. I mean everywhere- you can close your eyes, turn to a random direction and look up at a random angle, and some fascinating detail or view will present itself.

The best thing to do in Venice is to simply explore it on foot and by canal. You can't get too lost because the city is so small and you always run into water, but its a delight to lose your way. Only the main streets are wide- most of the city is a network of narrow alleys and small streets, and by small streets, I mean streets so narrow, its only two people wide. With the heights of the buildings around you, the city is a labyrinth.

Venice is a city for tourists: during high season I imagine that on a given day, the tourists outnumber locals 3:1, and probably 5:1 at night. However, there are still people who live here, and not just those working in the tourism industry. The best moments for me is to come across parts of the city where the locals live, which is just as picturesque but in a different way. Saori and I came across some residential blocks where the street was entirely shaded by the fluttering laundry hung to dry.

We booked an apartment with AirBnB, by far the cheapest option for sleeping on the island for a group of five. Rafa told us we needed to look for Abraham, the Israeli, at the foot of one of the main bridges crossing the grand canal. Abraham was not difficult to spot. A huge Israeli, with a hisaidic beard and dressed for the high holy day on which the weekend fell, he stood out, even in the multinational mix of tourists. His associate, a quiet, nervous looking woman (girlfriend? business partner? cleaning lady? all three?) also met us there, and together we walked to the apartment. On the way, he chatted about this and that, pointed out the historic Jewish Ghetto and happily broke out his Spanish when he discovered the Mexicans.

The apartment was nice, comfortable. One bedroom and a living room with a cot and a big fold out bed. No random guests that the host failed to disclose. We drew straws for the bedroom. Saori and I lost, but Apo got the cot.

It was late afternoon by the time we struck out, trying to find our way to an out of the way palazzo Prada which was hosting an exhibition "Art or Sound?" We lost the Mexicans on the way, since they were tired and hungry. We were too, but too excited to see some of the Biannale sideshows.

The exhibition was interesting and the palazzo was lovely, and we hurried through in about an hour before it closed. From there, we slowly made our way to the giant square at the center of the city, St. Marks. Saori was really excited to see the palazzo since its one of the places, or really, an ensemble, of buildings and plazas, which we studied in school and which she remembered distinctly. We roamed the palazzo a bit before heading back to grab a super mediocre meal near the apartment.

Oct 8, 2014

The Road to Venice

A few months ago, the six of us, the two Mexicans, the two Greeks, Saori and I, were sitting having drinks at night outside of a city center bar. Paola was nursing a bright orange cocktail called Aperol spritz, and the conversation turned to Venice, from whence the drink was known. We decided there to plan for a trip, to see the city and the architecture biennale.

So, after scrambling like mad the week before to finish a competition, with little sleep and less planning, I threw together a backpack and met Rafa, Paola, and Apo in their car downstairs around 5 am friday morning. The five of us jammed in to the small BMW, Paola's car, and we took off in the darkness out of town.

I have a hard time sleeping anywhere but my own bed, let alone jammed in awkwardly to a European backseat, so there was not much sleep for me on the way there. We stopped a few times for gas, to pee, and once for food, at a McDonalds outside of Innsbruck. This McDonalds was the most beautiful one I've ever seen, a huge curving restaurant perched on the hilltop with an amazing panoramic view into one of the alpine valleys. It was also packed with Germans also on holiday.

Our route took us from Stuttgart, past Ulm, and into the land of mountain castles, to Innsbruck, where we cut south to cross the Alps via the Brenner pass. Passing through one of the mountain tunnels into Italy, the sky opened up, and gray gave way to warmth and sunshine. I am not taking poetic license here: it was actually sunnier and warmer the moment we crossed into Italy.

From the Brenner Pass, it was another four hours or so to Venice, highways all the way. The music on the radio was terrible. Worse in Germany. As Americans, we never stop and wonder what happened to all that terrible pop from the 1960s-1990s. What happened was it was all exported to central Europe. I heard a solid contender for the worst song. Not a bad song, the worst song. Even I was impressed.

 We finally crossed the causeway and pulled into the parking garage about nine hours after we left Stuttgart. Rafa had a reservation for the garage, which is apparently necessary here. For all the visitors and commuters to the city of Venice, there are only two or three parking garages, and only one small area which is drivable. Venice is a lot like Disneyland in this way. Actually, a lot of Venice reminded me of Disneyland- a fantasy city, dazzling to explore, exorbitant prices, mediocre tourist food, and packed, packed packed.

We booked an AirBnB apartment in Cannaregio, close to the train station, and across the canal from the Jewish ghetto. It was a bit far from the main attractions, across the entire island from St. Marks square, but many more locals lived here and north of here on the island. We didn't mind the distance so much actually, since the city itself it the main attraction, and the best way to see it to cross it by the less populated routes.

This was not my first time to Venice. I remember as a backpacker that after I got over taking photos of everything, I was not that impressed with the city, its lack of things to do and see, its expense, and the hordes of tourists. This trip, I fell in love with the city again, perhaps with the distance of seeing more cities around the world, and with older eyes.

Sep 28, 2014

weekend

We had a pretty good weekend. Saturday we were out early and went to a nearby bakery, Backerei Bosch. I have written before about how in Germany, you can't throw a pretzel without hitting a bakery, so you can imagine our surprise when this one has a standing line out the door and around the corner. All the time.

Numerous awards in the window testified that this was the best bakery in Germany, and served the best pretzels. The line moved quickly, and the staff inside the small counter service store were surprisingly cheerful. It was a category killing pretzel. I didn't even get it with butter, just fresh and hot. Like eating a really good croissant in Paris kind of good.

We went to the Flohmarkt (flea market) next, where we rummaged through the square filled with tables and wares. Big old carpets, 60s furniture, CDs, records, rusty metal tools, teapots, beer steins, bags. Saori picked up a bright orange and blue leather satchel, and I negotiated for a pair of binoculars.

On the way there, we saw the first people going to Was'n. Also known as Volksfest, or the second largest Oktoberfest in Germany. Tons of people of all ages, although mostly in their 20s, dressed in the Tracht of Lederhosen und Drindl Many were already too drunk to even get on the train. It is an understandable pre-gaming strategy considering the cost of a Masse (liter mug) at the fair is now up to nearly $12 USD.

I was here for Fruhlingsfest, the German celebrating of the halfway mark to Oktoberfest, but already I am seeing many more people dressed up for the event. This is going be huge. From the roof our apartment, we can see the lights of the amusement park rides in the distance.

Also saturday, I went to the discount store and bought a volksfest shirt, no lederhosen though. Then I hit the Markthalle for some charcoal.

That night, Saori invited over her coworker and her coworker's boyfriend, a charming Italian couple, and we all sat on the roof, drank a beer, and munched on caprece salad while we chatted and watched the sun go down on the city. Saori grilled chicken and bratwurst, and we were stuffed at the end.

Today, we didn't get out at all, just cleaned, read, did laundry, organized spices and the tea shelf. Nobody told me that I when I would turn 30, I would do these things more or less spontaneously and even more bizarrely, actually desire to do them.

We did get some time to sunbathe and read up on the roof to enjoy the sunshine and heat on this very warm day.

I am hoping for an Indian summer, but the tree tops are already beginning to hint at the approach of fall.

German Telekoms and other Kafkaesque Damned Vermin

Internet set up was a headache and confusion from the onset. The previous tenant, Philip, told us we could not get cable internet, but we had to get everything through the telekom jacks. There is no cable outlets in this apartment, which looks like it was a later addition in the 1970s.

But then Philip was hardly a reliable source for us, especially when his downstairs neighbor reported that she could have cable. So for me, it was a question of do we pay to install a cable box and run cable up here? Do we try satelite uplink internet? Do we stick with the telekom system? Just what the hell are these holes in the wall anyway?

In the end, after two weeks without internet at home, I signed up for the fastest speed we could get in the apartment through the telekon, which was advertised at the painfully slow speed of 50.000 kbps. Kilobits, not Megabits. As we happily discovered later, the comma and period occationaly switch in Europe, and so in fact, we had a download speed of 50 Mbps, which is considered very fast for this city.

German advertising is mystifying. Telekoms advertising their speeds in Kpbs is kind of like listing prices in tenths of a penny.

Anyway, the German telekoms it turns out, are about as eye-gougingly awful as the ones everywhere else. We got a really good rate for our internet for the first 24 months- it turns out I signed up for a 24 month contract. Contracts here have special terms and conditions. One of those terms is that contracts automatically renew. So I fail, before the end of two years, to end my contract in writing I will be automatically signed up for another two years with a 50% rate increase.

Another fun thing: it takes the company two weeks to turn on the internet after you sign up. Not coincidentally, this is the exact amount of time they are required by law to allow you to cancel your contract. Even if the apartment is already wired, even if the last tenant had the same company, it still takes them two weeks.

The only reason I have internet now is because I requested a fast start package, which consisted of the modem/router, cables, and a USB cell phone stick and a SIM card. So right now, my tablet connects to the router, which is connected to the USB stick calling the internet through the cell networks. It was part of the monthly costs, so it didn't cost me anything but a few euros for shipping.

Getting the damned thing set up felt like a major victory since everything is only in German.

Sep 26, 2014

food, glorious food. and beer.

Last night we invited some friends over for Indian food. I was testing out two new recipes, a red dhal and aloo gobi, so right after work I headed over to the Indian market close to Saori's office. Their vegitables were not impressive but they had a ton of spices and, I might add, key limes, which are used in all types of Mexican cooking and I was tempted to grab a bag just for making margaritas.

Anyway, the two dishes took a long time to prepare- I started cooking around 7:15 and didn't serve the food until 9. Of course, the first half our was just me soaking the lentils. Overall, it wasn't too hard to do. The dishes came out really well, our guests cleaned out both pots. I think the aloo gobi is my new favorite dish to make. Really easy.

It turns out both recipes I used came from one Food Network host's show. Here is a link to the recipes.

While I'm on the topic of food, I might as well include a guide to

Where to buy non-German beer in Stuttgart
Asahi  Japanese Asiatisch Lebensmittel
Boddington's Pub Ale British Piccadilly English Shop
Budweiser Czech most large grocery stores
Chang  Thai  Asiatisch Lebensmittel, Occasionally Lidl
Chimay  Belgian  Manufaktum
Corona  Mexican  Most large grocery stores
Fuller's London Pride  British  Piccadilly English Shop
Guinness   Irish  Piccadilly English Shop
Kirin Ichiban  Japanese  Asiatisch Lebensmittel
Orval  Belgian  Manufaktum
Tadcasters IPA  British  Piccadilly English Shop
Tsingtao  Chinese  Occasionally Lidl


Sep 25, 2014

Autumnal Equinox

Tuesday was the Autumnal Equinox, a state holiday here because of the date's significance to the pre-Christian Germans. Saori and I got up early and sat on the roof to watch the lighting of the fires. Just before sunrise, bonfires were lit in the hills ringing Stuttgart, and the smoke caught the first rays of light.

With the rising of the sun, everyone came into the streets wearing white, and we joined the crowds of people to form a parade back to the old city, where the stilt walkers were already throwing quarkballchen, local donut balls. This years festival Lords were seated on life sized wooden horses mounted on platforms, and these were passed through the crowds on our shoulders. It was actually not too heavy, since there were so many people helping and it was only one guy, dressed in his costume of moss and oak bark with the amazing antler hat. I want that hat.

There was some shouting and the crowd parted, and I watched someone in an elaborate wolf costume running down the street with a lit torch. Saori told me that the torches were taken from the hill top bonfires, and they were going to light the roasting fires in the city center.

When the seven lords reached the markt platz, the horse/litter things were set down and the lords had a contest in a circle made by a group of men holding up a heavily weighted rope. Each lord was armed with a long (padded) stick and each attempted to beat the other lords to the edge of the circle. If they touched rope, they had to leave and the men holding the ropes were shouting and encouraging and jeering and acting as the line refs. For every lord that was kicked out, he had to give his antler hat to the guy nearest holding up the rope and I guess they get to be lords next year.

As soon as there was a winner, they dumped a barrel of red wine over him.

As soon as the contest was over, we followed the crowds to the hog roasts which had been set up across the old city and in the parks. The schloss garden where we were was filled with maybe twenty big hogs on spits, slowly being turned by guys in blue clothes, while kids in black ran around carrying charcoal to the fire pits. It was a long, long line to get some meat, but it was so worth it. The pork was covered with a kind of simple berry sauce.

And wine. Lots of wine.

At noon, they blew the big horns from the hills and the bells in the church towers rang incessantly, while they blocked off Konigstrasse and raced horses along its length.

There was a quiet time after all the wine as people were mostly sleepy or drunk after the wine and food. At sunset, we went back to our apartment and threw shredded yellow paper. All over the city, people were throwing yellow confetti from open windows and rooftops, while in the street women in big white and gold dresses chased the wolf runners back to the hills.

Actually, none of that really happened. The only exciting thing that happened Tuesday was I used the electric oven for the first time in our new apartment to bake a frozen pizza since Saori was working late.

Sep 21, 2014

IKEA

It's been one week since we moved in and things are coming together much better. The kitchen counters are 34" high, just a little shorter than the standard, but there is a window which tilts open over the sink which makes it all a little more claustrophobic.

We have been up on the roof a few times now, just to relax and watch the clouds. Bonus features for an apartment: roof access. The other bonus feature (besides our big terrace) is a long low closet tucked away behind the bathroom wall and between the pitched roof. Its carpeted and there's a light and a switch. It's basically a large storage space and the previous tenant stored his luggage and snowboard there. We were joking that it could be our panic room.

So what do you do when you move into a new place?
You go to IKEA!

Friday night Rafa gamely agreed to take us to IKEA for their late hours- he's been kind of bored and lonely with Paola gone to the US. There are actually two IKEAs near Stuttgart, which gives you an appreciation for the size of the regional population. It would have taken us about an hour to get there by public transit, but less than 30 minutes by car. We both enjoyed the drive out: I hadn't been out on a freeway drive through suburbia in about six months, or seen this spread of the city, and Saori fell asleep in the warm and cozy comfort of the back seat.

IKEA was mercifully uncrowded, best time to visit is a Friday night. Actually I was reading somewhere that Germans are somewhat hostile to IKEA: actually there was a terrorist who tried to bomb this one. Something about the invasion of cheap, substandard quality, foreign.

We ended up running out the clock at IKEA, with a mad dash to the registers at the end like a US game show, throwing in dishtowels, wooden spoons, and cheap dishware with wild abandon.

And two IKEA beers just for kicks: a dark and a light lager

Sep 17, 2014

Moving: Saturday Sunday

Saturday morning we got up early and continued packing. I met the old tenant at the new apartment and he showed me around, gave me the keys, showed where the circuit breakers were, how to bleed the radiators, etc.

After he left, Rafa and Tolli showed up at the van and we drove it over to the apartment and started bringing stuff up. We are on the 6th floor. This is a bit misleading since to an American, we are actually on the 7th floor, and the ground floor is actually half a floor up too so in the end we are climbing seven and a half levels.

It's a long way to carry furniture, especially since it feels like you are there, and then you realize there is one smaller, more narrow stair you still have to climb.

Anyway, the three of us unloaded the car in about twenty minutes. I am incredibly indebted to Tolli for driving and for Rafa for also driving and both of them for tirelessly hauling our crap up 7.5 floors.

After unloading, we all drove back to Saori's apartment where we met up with a few of her coworkers who gamely agreed to help us move. Tolli was sweating as he manuevered the van into the small parking area behind the apartment building. Saori had a lot of stuff. We split into teams to work- there was a group carrying stuff down to the van, a group loading the van, and then after we headed out to the new place, a group was left there to bring stuff up to the apartment after the first group headed back to Saori's for the second load. It was my apartment so I never stopped moving or taking a break as I shuttled crap up and down the stairs. Tolli actually carried the entire mattress on his back, which could not have been good for his knees.

Finally, finally, the last load was carried up and we popped open some beers to pass around to our crew and we toasted each other and the new apartment.

We were done!

Well, almost.

Once again, we were starting from scratch at a new apartment. We did it once in St. Louis, one in Boston, and now again in Stuttgart. A new house needs a thousand tiny new things. Salt and pepper. Toilet paper. Internet. We had no pots and only one fry pan I found in the basement of the old apartment. We boiled water in mugs in the microwave.

After everyone left, we went to the local grocery store, a Lidl, which is a pretty crappy grocery store. It's basically like an Aldi. We both missed the grocery stores we used to frequent. At least it was close by.

That night, we worked on putting stuff away, re-assembling the bed, unpacking, running laundry, washing dishes.

Sunday morning, I woke up in our new home for the first time. For the first time in a while, I could wander out in my underwear to the kitchen and start some coffee going. We made a Lumen sandwich with bread toasted on the grill outside, topped with butter, parma ham and bergkaeze cheese.

Saori left our St. Louis apartment back in February of 2013. We had not shared a home in a year and a half.

After breakfast, we did a bit more cleaning and I reluctantly headed back up the hill to camp Fox to get the rest of my belongings. I say 'reluctantly' because I had no idea how the other tenants were going to react to my brazen removal of a hall cabinet.

It turns out they had assumed that since I had my former landlady's permission to take what I needed, I was going to ransack the building like a horde of vikings. Chandra cornered me in the kitchen. He had been sought out by the Germans upstairs who had been in closer contact with the lawyer controlling the property. It turns out that the house was not going to be destroyed, and was instead going to be sold. The listing price is 400-500 thousand euros, and everyone involved thinks that it could be sitting on the market for years at that price. So the rooms will be re-rented. Chandra is going to take over my old room.

"Take anything you want," he implored me, "I do not need the cabinets, the desk, or the table, but please, please, just leave me the bed."

I assured him I had no designs on any other furniture in the house which made him very happy.

I ended up carrying back a full duffel bag and a full IKEA bag. Old glass jars, clothing, and a few odds and ends. I still need to clean out the room properly.

Back at the new apartment, Saori took off for work and I worked more on putting things away. When she got back, I made home made Kaezespaetzel. Lacking measuring cups, I had to estimate a lot of stuff, and it ends up I put too much milk in the pasta batter so my spaetzel ended up goopy. Oh well. With enough cheese, salt, and fried onions it ended up quite good.

Sep 15, 2014

Moving: Thursday Friday

The tenant of the apartment we are moving into asked us if we wanted to move in early. He was already out of the apartment, early in the month and was interested in recouping some of the rent. We took it because we were dying to get in the apartment and we had plans for early October anyway. So we arranged to move in last weekend.

A bit of backstory first. I live in a large house along with four other people. The house was owned by a man named Klaus, who was apparently involved in politics, evangelism, textiles, and possibly legal affairs. He died a few weeks before I arrived in Germany. Apparently he left everything to the church, leaving his widow, Chista, in a bit of a tight spot financially. The house and everything in it, wound up in the hands of a lawyer representing a bank. From about a month ago, Christa couldn't even come to the house anymore. Apparently, the house had long been used as a storage and boarding house, and also as Klaus' office, and Christa had a home elsewhere.

My greek coworker Tolli called up Christa thursday at my behest, since I was interested in taking some of the furnature with me. She ended up telling him basically her life story over the phone and ending with basically, take whatever you need.

I invited Tolli over after work to do some digging. There was attic we were both interested in seeing. Armed with flashlights we dove in like treasure seekers on a reality TV show. The house is filled with stuff top to bottom, although it turned out to be mostly filled with old books on evangelical Christianity. And I do mean filled. Probably 1000 volumes through the entire house. Some1950s and 1960s furniture. And an old BMW in the garage, still with sunglasses on the dash and two bibles visible inside. Coats and stuff from over sixty years of accumulation. Apparently Klaus was a member of a Reader's Digest book of the month club, so Tolli took home a two still-unwrapped volumes on gardening and herbs in cooking.

Anyway, after Tolli left, I packed my room which took me until about midnight.

Friday morning, I woke up before 6 am to make it to the office by 7am, two hours before work normally starts. I had to make some progress on some renderings that needed finishing. The renders came out well.

Friday, right after work, Rafa met us outside the office and Tolli and Lukas drove with me back to my apartment and together we loaded up my belongings. We were considering taking the bed, but it was too big and too disgusting with all the springs covered in years of dust and grease. It was a bit of an awkward moment when I was carrying out the hallway hutch, but the record player inside was broken, I'd specifically notified the other residents I was taking it, and had the explicit permission from Christa. Along with a chair, my stuff filled the van we had borrorwed from the office. I couldn't believe it. I had arrived with two suitcases and a duffel bag, and less than six months later, I had filled a 'space runner' van.

We dropped the van near the new apartment building and then I headed up to Saori's place around 8.

Saori was still working on a big presentation for a very big and demanding client so she didn't get back until close to 11 at night. In the meanwhile, I tackled dismantling the Ikea bed. The bed, which we didn't realize until that night, was actually an adjustable bed, meaning you could raise the foot and head like a hospital bed. It was an extra layer of complexity, so I had to take many notes and drawings to make sure I was going to re-assemble it correctly.

We made some more progress packing Saori's room and then called it a night around 1 am, both of us exhausted.

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to Medium.com, a more writing-centric website. medium.com/@wende...