Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hamburg Germany (Part 1)

Diana and I have been in Stuttgart for just about three months now and finally got our chance to get out of the house for a few days. A mutual friend of our last roommate and her husband live in Hamburg up on the other (northern) end of Germany and invited us to come for the weekend.

We really didn't think that we were going to be able to go since airfares and the train were super expensive, there's no bus service, and I still don't have my Euro drivers license so renting and driving up were out of the option. Leave it to the locals (our new roommate) though and we found a way to get there and back for a really good price (story coming later).

We got to Hamburg on Thursday evening and spent a couple of hours hanging out and eating snacks. The next morning we headed out to explore the town. Since there are a ton of photos, I divided them into two groups so consider this post "day one". I'll put up the rest of the weekend in a couple of days as my school and work schedule allow.

Hamburg is just about three times the size of Stuttgart and was interesting and fun. We started our tour in the center of town at the 120 year old Rathaus (city hall) and plaza:

I knew that Hamburg was a port city (15th largest in the world - larger even than the one in Los Angeles, which is huge) but I didn't know that it's sometimes called the Venice of Germany because of the number of different waterways running through the city. This Schluss is about a block away from the Rathaus:

The city also has two large lakes in the center. This waterway connects the lakes to the river Elbe (in the direction that this photo faces):

There are parks and walkways all along the Elbe. This area reminds me a little of Penn's Landing in Center City Philadelphia with its walkways, pedestrian plazas, and sightseeing boats:

Hamburg seemed to have more older buildings than either Stuttgart or Frankfurt (the only other cities in Germany I've visited so far). The architecture was very impressive and gave me a much better idea of what pre-world-war Germany probably looked like. I'm not sure how old this building is but I liked the style:

This building wins the award for the most unusual because of its cross-hatched style and strange, button-like emblems all over its facade. The building covers a whole city block and each raised feature has a different sculpture in it. Sorry the photo's not very good...

On the southern end of the center of Hamburg and right on the Elbe is an old industrial area called Hafen City. It's a series of industrial buildings built along the waterways and it's being rehabbed and updated to house new offices and businesses.

I saw all types of businesses from software and financial companies to Pakistani carpet importers. There's also some condos I think. They'd be cool buildings to live in I'm sure but there's not much life in the neighborhood (yet). Nice views though.

Later in the afternoon we went out one of the public-transportation, bus-like ferry boats that makes stops up and down the river. The cool thing is that our day metro pass includes taking the boat. This photo looks towards downtown with the new philharmonic building on the right and a Mississippi paddle boat on the left:

Further up river we went by Hamburg's most popular "beach". It's a stretch of sand in front of a residential neighborhood about a ten minute ride from the center of the city. The day was fairly warm and there were quite a few people hanging out and even some swimming...without wet suits! Brrrrrr...

We got off the boat to check out the scene and to get some drinks at one of the beach-side restaurant/bars. Everything was way over priced and fairly quiet so we decided to just go for a walk and then get back on the next boat to go to dinner in town.

A photo of the happy couple out on the river.

Our hosts took us to dinner at a swine-themed restaurant in downtown. I managed to splatter food all over myself but I still don't understand what I did. I was cutting some Schnitzel and all the sudden my knife and fork sprayed sauce all over me. Oh well. After dinner, we went back to the apartment and relaxed so that later we could go back to the city center and check out the lights. This is a shot of a couple of churches and the Rathaus (right-most of the three tall towers) from across the smaller of the two lakes:

All in all, a super fun super busy day. We were really ready to crash when we got back to the apartment especially because we knew that we'd get to do it all over again on Saturday!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Learning German

Yesterday was my last day in the first-level (European Framework A1) German class. I took the course at the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (I.F.A.) right in the middle of downtown Stuttgart. It was eight weeks long and very intense so we celebrated passing the class by going for ice cream together:

I put in a ton of extra effort because I hadn't gotten above 50% correct in any of the grammar-related quizzes that we had taken but I did do consistently well during the class on the reading, writing, and listening parts. In the end, my strengths ultimately pulled up my overall grade to a surprisingly high level. Everyone in our class passed, which I found out later is somewhat unusual especially in light of the fact that the parallel A1 class to ours had only four of twelve students pass.

Like when I got certified in CELTA in California last year, one of the best parts of the class was getting to know a small and diverse group of people that I'd probably not get the chance to otherwise know. Danke für den Spaß mal zu (from left in the photo below): Alex from South Africa, Fuka from Japan, (me), Michelle from Hawaii, Louise from England, one of our two teachers Ingrid, Fabiola from Brazil, Susana from Venezuela, João from Brazil, and Mayuri from India. Not in the photo were Manuel from Colombia who took this photo and Nischita from India who was traveling that day.

See you guys soon in level A2! In the mean time, I'll be brushing up on the an/auf/zu/in/aus/etc., der/die/das, and a bunch of grammar weak spots...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Jäger Lunch

When we moved to Germany a couple of months ago, I found a place for us to stay on airbnb. (If you've never used airbnb, I highly recommend it as I've used it a bunch like when we went to Italy last year and when my family came to Barcelona for the wedding.) It was supposed to be a one-to-two week stay until I could find something more permanent. Well, that two weeks ended up being more long-term as we got along swell with our host so much so that Berat invited us to be his roommates.

The house we're living in is very nice and in a quiet, suburban-style neighborhood located about a 10 minute ride on the metro to the center of Stuttgart. Sometimes it can be a little too quiet in "da' hood" but overall it's great. One of the things that I noticed right away was that one of our new-to-us neighbors had some antlers mounted on the front and side of their house.

I asked a couple of people what it was about but no one could really tell me as they just didn't know. The best they could come up with was that he was probably some kind of hunter or something. It intrigued me as  I've seen them inside of buildings but never outside. I figured that I'd see the guy one day and ask him once my German got better.

About a month after we moved in, Diana was outside our neighbor's house, the one with the antlers, talking with the guy who lives there and petting his dog. Over the next week or so, we made friends with him (our first neighbor friend here in Germany!) to the point that we invited him to come over for lunch one Sunday afternoon. He turned out to be a very interesting guy. He's around 77 or so, speaks a little broken English (like my broken German), used to be a horse-mounted policeman in Stuttgart, and has always been an avid hunter, or "Jäger" in German. Yep, we lived next to a Jägermeister!

You've probably heard the word Jäger at some point, most likely related to a bad run in with Jägermeister alcohol. The word Jägermeister, which means "master of the hunt" or "gamekeeper", is a title that was first given to Herman Göring, an important member of a "certain political party" that "came to power" in the 1930s in Germany. Now, it's use is pretty much associated with college students getting drunk and/or fringe groups.

He later invited us over to his house on another Sunday where we got to hear about his exploits and check out his hunting booty:

We brought the local wine aber er hat bier getrunken (but he drank beer). The spread:

The Jäger prepared a venison he had hunted in the Black Forest (!!!), Kartoffelklösse (German potato dumpling), and Rotkohl (red cabbage). The meat had zero fat and was delish! The potato dumplings are slightly chewy and taste like...a potato...but good. I happen to love sauerkraut so I was excited to try the red version. Let's just leave it at I like the white kind better.

He's got an amazing collection that he's put together over the years. I liked this photo of him with a rack, his hunting outfit, and his trusty sidekick Waldie:

He's turned one room of his house into his hunting trophy room. There were probably more than 100 different trophies on display along with lots of photos and mementos. After lunch and our tour, I mostly got out of helping clean up by busying myself with Waldie. He's super cute and we had fun playing fetch together.

Thanks to our very own Jäger for having us over for lunch. It was interesting, delicious, and memorable!

I think it's our turn again. Maybe some burgers on the grill if it ever gets warm enough here!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Stuttgart International Trickfilm Festival

I haven't written anything here for a while because I've been spending most of my time either in German class or studying German. The class is pretty intense with four-and-a-half hours a day in the classroom and usually at least two-to-four hours of homework each night. I've also been meeting with other students after school to help each other with difficult topics and to do some speaking practice. This past Tuesday, we were surprised that during our regular afternoon study sessions that a film festival broke out...

The Stuttgart International Trickfilm Festival and Festival of Animated Film (link) started on Tuesday and goes to Sunday night. It takes place at the Schlossplatz (Castle plaza) in the center of town and about two blocks from my school:

They set up a big LCD screen in the center of the Schlossplatz, which I think of as the front lawn of the city. It's sort of like Stuttgart's equivalent of Plaza Catalunya and La Rambla in Barcelona in that everyone meets up and hangs out there:

The films range from quick, two-or-three minute computer and stop-motion all the way up to two hour action movies. During the day they have been showing "family-friendly" films and at night full-length movies. On Tuesday afternoon the movies were really good and I ended up staying until around 6pm. Wednesday threatened rain so I went home and caught up on studying. Thursday was probably the first summer-like day that we've had here so I hung out for about two hours until the sun was too much to take. I ended up getting not-quite burnt but a pretty good red color on my right side - doh!

Das ist Louise. Sie kommt aus England. (That is Louise. She comes from England.) She's the one laying on her stomach along with a friend of her boyfriend's next to her:

Today (Friday) was our last class of the first level of German (that went fast). Five of us from class went to watch films for about an hour or so. I'd like to say that all the movies were good but there were some "not-so-good" ones like the two-plus hour live-action-death-march one from India that they showed on Thursday night. Yuck! At least we got to practice some German since about half of the movies were in German! Aber, Montag habe ich meine Abschlussprüfung! :-o   Ich spreche und verstehe ein bisschen Deutsch!