Satiated

The machine taunts me, its white facade cold, unflinching. Having gleefully swallowed up my sacrifice, it refuses to open its doors to me once more. I hope the damned thing is sated now, at least. The light above flickers off, and I press the timed switch to turn it back on again.

maschine01A little black box in front of me is the key to all of this, I’m sure of it. But how does it function? Where is the connection between this black contraption and the larger one? While the white machine taunts me, the black one only stares outwardly in silence. It too has a hunger, but for what? The small coins I fed to it seemed to do nothing for its stern countenance. Clearly, it does not store data regarding the state of its coffers, though it secures them steadfastly behind lock and key.

Runes are carefully etched on both machines, some of which I can decipher, but nothing seems to mention their relationship. Of course, my understanding in this may be flawed. Perhaps the cipher will provide me with an answer. Yes… yes, it seems the black box takes tokens of a predetermined size. This explains its distaste for my coins. But nothing here describes where the tokens may be acquired. The old thing must tire of standing here, waiting forever to be fed; perhaps it no longer functions at all.

A passing stranger! Excuse me, sir, do you know, by chance, how to activate this device? I have already paid it a tithe. Yes, I see, a token… but what quest has the token as its reward? The Man Upstairs collects them? But he cannot be reached today. Ah, but the box accepts coins of larger size as well!

I slip a larger coin into the box; it gulps it down with a gleeful tinkling, sending the spark of life to the white machine beside me. A fiery orange glow illuminates the machine’s face, as it awakes and stands ready to accept my commands. The door can be opened now as well, though for the time being, I need only to turn the dial. Oh thank the stars, I can wash my clothes!

Officialization 2: Accomodations

Officialization TOC

Accomodations

I was placed in the Wohnheim (student dorms) through the intensive German language program in September. These dorms aren’t like US dorms where you share a single bedroom with another person. Here, you get a small room to yourself with your own bathroom and a tiny kitchenette. (Honestly, it’s more of a kitchenbox… a tiny 2 burner stove with a minifridge under it and a sink next to it.) I also have a door that goes out onto a small patio. In my case, the room is also furnished, so it comes with a bed, desk, armoire, shelves, some end-tables and chairs. There’s coin-op washing machines in the basement too. It’s loud on party nights, but otherwise ok.

Unfortunately, it is competitive to get. I applied late, so it doesn’t look like I will get a dorm placement for the school year. Therefore, I’ve had to start the search for an apartment. My primary search method has been emailing people on WG-Gesucht, which is the easiest site to use with the biggest selection of WGs (shared flats).

Many problems are the usual. Firstly, I’m trying to balance cost, cleanliness, and, of course, location. Google maps doesn’t show it, but there are actually bus lines everywhere that come every 20 mins to an hour depending on the bus. But despite this, and despite the fact that the whole area really isn’t that large, it seems like it still takes 30 minutes to an hour to get most places outside of the direct city center, whereas by car it would take like 15 minutes. (I hope later I can get a bike.)

At first, I also had some difficulty finding a proper map of the bus lines in the area. I took a phone pic of a slightly outdated map and was using that for a while. However, I eventually found a huge, detailed pdf when I googled for Liniennetz-Plan von Saarbrücken. Additionally, there’s an app from SaarVV called Saarfahrplan that you can use if you already know the names of your stops.

busmap01Apart from the language barrier, which I’m managing to muddle through, the biggest hurdle I’ve had is that all the students like me are looking for rooms right now, making this process very competitive. At some of my appointments I got interviewed to see if I was a good fit (like in the movie l’Auberge Espagnol, haha). I guess I should have started booking appointments to see rooms before I even got here. This town is small. So small, in fact, that a classmate and I who were looking at the same time, happened to have independently made appointments in the same night for the same place within 30 mins of each other, which we only realized afterwards. What would have happened if we both wanted it?

Yea, it’s definitely a seller’s market in terms of rooms. In total, after sending over 70 inquiries, I managed to get in to just 7 or 8 viewing appointments. Many had major flaws. One I saw sucked because it had 6 people sharing one itty-bitty dirty kitchenette and bathroom, and there were no landromats nearby. Another wanted me to pay a deposit before signing a contract– haha, I’m not stupid (plus, I heard later from a local acquaintance that he is known as a bad landlord). Another wanted a copy of my official documents (passport, matriculation certificate)– why do you need this at this point? A third was super cute and had everything you could need (including a Turkish grocery next door) but it was 30-45 minutes away via two buses. A fourth was nice (with two other comp sci people) and in a perfect location, but it’s not available till November.

It might be a long ways away, but this process right now makes me super concerned about next year when I am supposed to go to Italy and do it all there, because I don’t speak a single word of Italian– at least I’ve got a bit of crappy German (and many Germans speak English incredibly well, too).

In the end, it turns out my department at the school knew someone who had rented to students before, and I lucked out because I was the first to hear about this, so I should be signing the documents for this later this week. This place is tiny (14m sq), and there’s only a kitchenbox like in the Wohnheim, but it’s cheap (€225/ month), and absolutely perfectly located (right between the school and the town, so it’s 10 mins by bus from either). Plus, I really don’t have any better options right now.

In any case, I’ve learned a bunch of new German vocabulary about renting.

  • die Wohnung – the apartment
  • WG (die Wohngemeinschaft) – shared apartment
  • 2WGer, 3WGer, etc. – a 2-person WG, a 3-person WG, etc.
  • die Lage – the location
  • in der Nähe – nearby
  • weit – far
  • mieten – to rent
  • der Vermieter – the landlord
  • der Mieter – the renter (me)
  • die Miete – the rental fee
  • der Mietevertrag – the rental contract
  • die Kaltmiete – the rental fee not including utilities
  • die Warmmiete – the rental fee including utilities
  • die Nebenkosten – the utility fees (heat, water, but possibly not internet)
  • der Strom – electricity
  • die Heizung – heating
  • das Wasser – water
  • die Kaution – the security deposit
  • die Besichtigung – the viewing
  • der Termin – the appointment
  • der Besichtigungstermin – the viewing appointment
  • die Verfügbarkeit – the availability
  • sofort frei – free right now (ready for move in)
  • frei ab … bis … – free after … until ..
  • der Kühlschrank – fridge
  • der Herd – stove
  • der Ofen – oven
  • der Elektroherd mit 2 Platten – electric stove with 2 burners
  • die Waschbecken – sink
  • die Spülmaschine – dishwasher
  • die Waschmaschine – washer (clothes)
  • der Trockner – dryer (clothes)

 

Week Three

Last Sunday we went to a fair plus wine fest in Bad Dürkheim. On the way there, we had to get off the train and take a bus, because they found an old WWII bomb on the tracks and had to clean it up. This startled me, but no one else seemed particularly surprised– I guess it happens all the time.

The fair was very similar to the kind we have in the US — rides, games, sweets, lots of amazing food (which I’m a sucker for), plus lots of beer and LOTS of wine. You’d think at a wine fest they would give out overly priced small glasses and you would try a little bit of each wine. Not so at this wine fest. Here, you could buy a half a liter of wine for €6 (plus €2 for the glass, which you can get back if you return the glass). In US measurements, a half a liter of wine is approximately 1 pint of wine. Well, as you can imagine, some of our people had to be carried home. Two went to the hospital, but they were safe and sound the next day.

These phone pictures really don’t do the food justice. It was all freshly made and amazing.

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In between apartment searching and form-filling for matriculation, I managed to go to an opera night with my school group. We saw an adaptation of Falstaff. It was so ridiculous and completely chaotic. This production used props and costumes that looked like they were set in the 1980s (and at one point, two of the characters were wearing Pip Boy masks), except for the titular character’s outfit, who was dressed more like a middle ages era person. There was confetti, paper, and balloons flying everywhere. There were people climbing over the stage props, breaking the stage props, and flying through the air. There was a deer with red eyes, like the  Denver Bronco. The subtitles were in German, so I understood little, but it was still interesting to see.

Finally, at the end of the week, we went to Strasbourg, France. It was so beautiful, and the weather really cooperated. It was filled with uniquely Alsatian buildings of timber framing, with flowers in the windows just like in the movies. Well, we were in a touristy area so I imagine that’s why.

canal05

But most spectacular was the Cathédral Notre-Dame de Strasbourg in the very center. It towered above the entire city, as high as a skyscraper, and as intricate as lace. We arrived right around noon, and just as we were approaching, the bells started ringing. It was a chaotic, echoing sound, that was carried by the misty air through the entire city. We approached the cathedral itself in the middle of their song, and it was so loud, you couldn’t speak over it. I have never seen a cathedral so tall, and I have never heard bells (although perhaps they were over loudspeakers?) ringing so loudly and chaotically. It was massive, and breathtaking, and impossible to take in in just one glance.

We wandered around Strasbourg all day, sometimes part of a tour, sometimes on our own. I’m happy, because I got to be a real tourist. In Germany, Saarbrücken feels like a typical small city– there’s a mall, there’s some bars, there’s a university. But Strasbourg really felt like a cute European city that I could just see myself getting lost in, in that stereotypical touristy way, haha.

At one point, we ended up in an adorable tea house right around tea time called Patisserie Christian, where we got an alcove room all to ourselves. It was crazy expensive, but it felt completely awesome. Basically, I spent way too much money on food and confections! It was a big splurge, but it was worth it.

Also, I feel so much more comfortable in French. Of course, I don’t speak French particular well (officially, B2 on the CERF), but I understand it much better than German and I feel like if I had to ask for directions or help, it would be fairly easy. In German, I am still trying to piece sentences together, and it still feels so unnatural (apparently I am B1 but I don’t believe that).

Anyway, I wish I had a lot more time to explore Strasbourg, and I hope I’ll have a chance to go back (especially because I failed to go inside the cathedral, which I had intended to do).

Costs this week:

This week was expensive. Not counting school fees, I spent almost €100 Euro on basically food splurge… ugh, food is my weakness.

  • €20 – food and drink at the fair
  • €4.5 – breakfast twice at the school cafe
  • €2.5 – ice cream when out with a friend
  • €9 – registration for a trip to Strasbourg
  • €42.3 – food and confections in Strasbourg
  • €16.66 – groceries (veggies but also a lot of deli meat and cheese, because man, it’s so good, but I need to cut this out!)
  • €207 – school fees
  • €301.96 Total

Bewilderment

On Rentrischer Straße, a slow siren escalates, like that of an air raid signal. Bells join the call, ringing wildly. A dog barks furiously in annoyance. The sound fills the streets nearby, drowning out the hum of traffic. Should I flee? No one on the street seems perturbed. The siren sounds four or five times, the bells keep ringing pell-mell for 3 minutes, until the last one finally fades away. What has happened? I think it’s… lunchtime?

Saint George slays the dragon on a church’s clocktower near the townhall. The heat of the day has passed but the evening is still warm, so hundreds of people sit outside on the cafe patios, enjoying their beers. A warm red glow emanates from four wide, low windows on the street corner. Smoking a cigarette, a curvaceous woman lounges over luxurious red and purple pillows, her breasts spilling out onto the windowsill from her lacy black bra. She knows we are not her clients, so she pays us no mind. Others sit on a stoop nearby. Their dress (insofar as they can be considered dressed) is designed to show off as much of their bodies as possible given the temperature outside. I find this to be an interesting fixture in this neighbourhood, as it makes a curious juxtaposition with the churches nearby.

Officialization 1: WTF comes next?

img_20160917_150713

A view of the Universität des Saarlandes from a nearby hike.

Officialization TOC

  • Officialization 1: WTF comes next? (Now with more flowchart!) <— You are here
  • Officialization 2: Accomodations
  • Officialization 3: Health Insurance
  • Officialization 4: Matriculation

WTF comes next?

Before I left the US, I was told that as a US citizen, the most common process for getting set up in Germany is just to come over on my US passport (which automatically grants me the Shengen visa for 3 months), and then deal with the student visa once I am here. I also have to deal with enrolling in the school (“matriculation”), which is a separate issue.

The problem was that once I arrived, I really had no idea the order in which I was to do things. Does the visa require me to have a bank account to show proof that I can support myself? Does the bank account require me to have a physical address? Or maybe does the apartment require me to have a bank account or a visa?  There was a lot of info given in the documents I received from the school, but it wasn’t well organized.

In any case, I’ve finally spoken my department at the university, who are incredibly helpful, and they are going to help me out with things, where “things” seem to be:

germany_bureacracy

 

This is a lot of stuff, so I am going to break up each of these into separate posts which will be forthcoming as I complete each task. Most likely, I will need to edit this post after I’ve finished all of my write ups for you (i.e. like a month from now), but I think this will be a good start.

Actually, I have to say, that although things up until this point have been confusing, they haven’t been horrible. The people who I go to speak with about these problems are very helpful. They sort of admit that the process is overly complicated, laugh things off, and don’t take most things too seriously. They are able to do this because they live here and they know the system. They know when they can laugh things off, vs. when they need to pay closer attention… but I am not afforded this luxury.

It seems to me that part of the problem with being a foreigner here in Germany is less the language barrier (you can usually translate things, or find someone to help you), but more your the lack of awareness about the system and processes involved. I can’t imagine doing this in the US. People here in Germany (especially people under 40) speak amazingly good English, and are willing to help you out. In the US, no one speaks anything but English, so if you don’t speak English, you are SOL.

Order

trier_cathedral

One side of the Trierer Dom (Cathedral of Trier)

Words lay strewn about like puzzle pieces on the floor. The puzzle must be solved. The corner pieces are already joined, as are the ones in the middle with the picture of a cottage on them. The blue sky and the green grass are mostly featureless and finding pieces that fit is difficult. I shove one in, perhaps with a little too much force; now that I inspect it closer, it seems like the shape isn’t quite right. The word ending must be wrong, or perhaps it’s just my pronunciation of it.

I reach for another piece from the pile, but this one is the wrong colour. It must come from some other puzzle all together– how did this get here? German, French and English mix in my mind as I try to switch between them.

I need more pieces to complete the picture. I stretch my arms wide and rake in every word I can find. Some come off the street, some from the texts and signs around me. The puzzle pieces fall like Autumn leaves, and turn brown as they touch my mind. My strange brain warps and distorts them until they are no longer recognizable. The cottage in my puzzle grows chicken legs. This can’t be right…

Week Two

saarshleifeThe weather has been similar to the Pacific Northwest. It got up to 32 C (91 F), but then it dropped off sharply out of nowhere and rained. The rain seems to come and go a little less unpredictably than in the PNW, but not by much!

Last Sunday we had group trip. First we stopped by the Saarschleife, which is a bend in the Saar river that makes a horseshoe or oxbow shape. I really didn’t know rivers could bend this way and keep flowing. The area actually reminded me quite a lot of the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

After that, we went to Trier, which is amongst the oldest cities in Germany (it boasts that it is the oldest, but this is apparently contested). We had a walking tour of the city center, which included the Porta Nigra (a UNESCO World Heritage) site, and multiple churches, one of which was built in antiquity, but added to in the middle ages, again during the Gothic period, and I think again later. So it had all these different stones and architectural styles, which was quite interesting.

Finally, we went on a wine tasting, where we sat inside a 400 year old cellar as a German man described the five different wines in turn (I understood little). On the way back, they played cheesy 80s and 90s music in the bus, and everyone sang along.

I met more people that day and spoke literally every language I know. It’s so awesome… except my brain went all higgledy-piggledy and is now kaput! But it was a very fun day.

Later on in the week, we went to a karaoke night (my first ever) and a BBQ night with the group. I had to leave a little early from both to do some apartment hunting (more on this in a future post), but still enjoyed the opportunity to get to know some of the folks that will be staying here for the year a little better.

Finally, on Saturday, we went on a little hike through a nice wooded area, and spent the rest of the day wandering around town before eating dinner in the evening. Someone’s app estimated that we burned 1400 calories or more just from walking. We spent a little bit of extra time walking around than we had too, because we wanted to avoid an Islamophobic protest. The protest had just a few people involved, and as it went by, the townsfolk all gathered to counter-protest at them, crying “Nazis raus! (Nazis get out!)”

The whole thing made us somewhat uncomfortable, especially those of our group who were Muslim, so we just ended up walking around a lot to avoid it. Eventually we ate at an awesome Turkish restaurant in the downtown area, so it worked out in the end.

Costs this week:

This week I really did eat out too much.

  • €7 – lunch at a restaurant in Trier; by the way, if you order a “stilles Wasser” (plain water), it comes from a bottle and you have to pay for it
  • €5.8  – a couple lunches at the Mensa (cafeteria) due to a failure to cook in time
  • €14 – registration for some more group activities
  • €5.5 – splurge on some fruits and sweets at a Turkish grocery
  • €2.4 – fare for a bus that wasn’t covered by my bus pass
  • €7 – dinner out to socialize
  • €1 – a shot of vodka at karaoke night (so cheap!)
  • €5.5 – laundry (it didn’t have to cost that much, but I messed it up)
  • €5.5 – another dinner out
  • €9.9 – groceries mainly for breakfast
  • €63.6 Total