Tuesday, July 15, 2014

July 7, 2014: Schützenfest, Dirndls, and Food

July 7, 2014

#25) Hannover respects its marksmen and markswomen.  I think that’s pretty cool. 
#26) Buy a dirndl… or a beer stein.  Actually, buy them both.
#27) Cook like a vegan, even if you aren’t one. 
#28) Germans know how to do ice cream… mostly.
Here are some of the marksmen and markswomen that were in
the parade. 
           Every year, Hannover hosts the Schützenfest, or Marksman’s Festival.  It’s an entire festival to recognize the marksmen and markswomen of Hannover.  Being a markswoman myself, I think this is pretty darn cool.  The festival itself is quite similar to an American fair.  Actually, it’s almost entirely the same, except there are significantly more pub-style stands, here.  (It is Germany, after all).
            We went to the festival this past Saturday evening, but I didn’t stay too long.  For one, I don’t like to be out late, and then there was almost a camera tragedy.  My camera was in my purse, on my shoulder, and then a basketball from one of the games came flying back and hit my shoulder.  It knocked my purse off my shoulder, and my U.V. filter smashed (It’s a good thing it was there, or my camera lens probably would have smashed!).  So, I was feeling rather anxious, and wanted to get back to call dad and tell him what had happened to my camera. 
Yay, it's a candy apple!
            But, while I was there, I did enjoy a candy apple (Yes, those are apparently a “thing” at German festivals, too! *happy face*) and a really fun bumper car ride (It was a lot more fun than any bumper car ride I have been on before.  There were no rules, really.  You could ram head-on into other cars, if you wanted.).  Sadly, however, I was unsuccessful at finding a funnel cake.  There were tons of crapes, though!  Yum!  Those appear to be really popular in Germany.
            At the festival grounds, I noticed a decent amount of the marksman walking around.  These people were usually a bit older compared to the people you would usually see at a fair in the States (roughly between ages 40 and 70, I think), and they wore green jackets with many pins on them.  I guessed they were the marksmen and markswomen when I saw them that night, and my suspicions were confirmed the next morning at the parade.
This is the start of the Schützenfest parade.
            On Sunday morning, there was a huge parade in Hannover for the Schützenfest (It lasts for three hours, I heard!).  I went to watch the first two hours, and this is where you really see the marksmen and markswomen.   There are hundreds of them that walk past in their different groups, and nearly every group had its own band (I’m not really sure how this works.  Perhaps each group is assigned a band for the parade, or members of the group play in a band, or perhaps even each group just has its own band!).  But, I found it very interesting to watch.  There were other groups in the parade, too.  There were heritage groups and culture groups and some group that gave out bananas (Dear America, please start giving out fruit at your parades.  Sincerely, people who like fruit.).  There was candy involved for the youngsters, too.  And there were even beer floats.  (Yes, you heard that correctly.  There were floats that gave out beer.).  All in all, it was an interesting weekend.
            (Also, the first day of the festival was July 4th.  Since it was the first day of the festival, there were fireworks.  I think that the Germans were secretly trying to celebrate the 4th of July.  **shhhh, don’t tell anyone I’m on to them!**)

            Occasionally when I travel, I try to set aside a few hundred dollars, if possible, to spend on a large purchase.  On summer when I went out west, I spent about $250 on a pair of cowboy boots (I had saved my money just for this purchase), and they are my favorite pair of shoes!  Last summer, while in Spain, I spent a couple hundred dollars to visit Paris for the weekend.  It was my favorite weekend of my trip.  This summer, I bought a dirndl. 
I just love my new dirndl!  (I'm not wearing the
blouse that goes with it because I hadn't
gotten one yet when this picture was taken.)
            There are a few things that are “typical German souvenirs,” at least from the Bavaria, area (For those of you who don’t know, Bavaria is to most Germans as Texas is to most Americans.  Personally, I love Bavaria.  I think it’s eclectic!).  These “typical souvenirs” include dirndl/lederhosen, beer steins (really, all of Germany, and not so concentrated in Bavaria), and coo-coo clocks (also quite abundant in the Black Forest region).  There are other great, and less-expensive Germany souvenirs.  Some of my favorite of these include the Christmas decorations (again, Bavaria!), cow bells (oh, look, Bavaria, again!  *I’m noticing a pattern, here.*), wood carvings, and hand-made toys (another popular Bavaria thing, but also popular elsewhere.  The two most expensive of all these are the dirndl/lederhosen and the coo-coo clocks.  A dirndl/lederhosen outfit will run anywhere from 100 euro (on the cheaper end) to about 300 euro (on the affordable end) to 700/800 euro (on the very fancy, certainly-for-very-special-occasions-only end).  A nice coo-coo clock will run roughly the same (a bit more expensive, in my opinion).  An average-sized, average-priced beer stein will be about 40 euros.  All the other things vary.  They can all be purchased on the cheaper end (around/under 15 euro (some as low as 3 or 5 euros for smaller, less-detailed things, and the more expensive end (really, anywhere from 30 – a couple hundred euros).
            But, anyway, back to my point.  Before you leave for your major trip, set aside a few hundred dollars.  If there is something big that you really want and will wear/use/admire, get it.  If you don’t see anything, then save that money for your next trip.  But, factor it into your budget.  If you planned on possibly spending it, it will make you feel better when you do. (Please note, I in no means do this every trip.  I would have no money if that were the case.  I only do it for major trips.).

            When you are traveling for a long period of time or living somewhere foreign, it will make your trip better if you integrate with the locals.  If you are backpacking, this can mean striking up a conversation (I have heard tons of stories of people discovering/doing something amazing that they wouldn’t have done without the suggestion for a local.).  If you are living somewhere, this will help you learn about the culture where you are, make friends, and feel at home.  If someone invites you do something (a trustworthy person, and a safe thing, of course), do it.  This means even if you are not a vegan, and someone invites you to a vegan cooking event, go.  The food won’t kill you.  You’ll probably even have fun!
            You know that saying, “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”?  Well, I don’t know about the grass, but the ice cream is certainly better.  I first discovered this last summer in Spain when I ate at Llao-llao, a frozen yogurt company.  The frozen yogurt tasted like, well, frozen yogurt.  It was nothing like the frozen yogurt that I have had anywhere in the States.  Now, when I try to eat frozen yogurt in the States, I can taste the sugar.  It’s awful.  I might as well just eat ice cream.
I know that there is no ice cream in this picture, but I don't have
a picture of my taste of gingerbread heaven.  Perhaps the reason
I'm so happy in this picture, though, is because I had just
eaten the most amazing ice cream ever!  Perhaps.
            Speaking of ice cream, the Germans really know how to eat it.  In the states, I have never had anyone put alcohol in my ice cream (although, I have heard rumors about an ice cream shop in State College that will do that).  I have been in Germany for one month, and I have had it almost my ice cream twice, and once was almost by accident.  It wasn’t until right before I ordered my milkshake in Nuremberg this past weekend that I realized it was actually a “rum shake.”  Hey, I’ll take it!

            This past weekend, there was a gelato-tasting event in Nuremberg.  For 10 eur, one could get 6 “tasting cards” and one “milkshake card” (note: NOT actual milk shakes.  While there was ice cream involved, there was no milk.).  Then, one could go over to the cart and chose different ice creams to try (there were roughly 10 different varieties).  The portions that they gave you were slightly larger than you normally get if you purchase one scoop of gelato.  I tried the raspberry, chocolate, gingerbread, pear, cheese (Disgusting.  If anyone ever asks you to try cheese ice cream, just say, “no.”  Sadly, I didn’t realize it was cheese until after I had gotten it), and gingerbread again.  With the exception of the cheese (again, never try it.  Ever.  I cannot stress this enough.), it was wonderful.  And then there was the gingerbread ice cream.  This was the absolutely, positively, hands-down, best ice cream I have ever had (and I eat a lot of ice cream).  It was heavenly.  Like I said, Germans know how to do ice cream… mostly (I’m still trying to figure out what would possess anyone to make cheese ice cream.).

Monday, July 7, 2014

July 07, 2014: Physicists, Castles, and Carbonation

July 07, 2014

# 22) Physics majors tend to be… different.  But, it’s cool; we can be different together.
# 23) Castles are cool.
# 24) When in Germany, assume your drink will be carbonated.

            While in Hannover for my internship, I am sharing the apartment with two other students from the States who are in the same program as me.  Occasionally, something happens that reminds me of this.  Two specific examples of this come to mind:
            During our first weekend here, we went to the zoo.  At this particular zoo, you can go below the sidewalk to look into the side of the polar bear cage, looking underwater.  While everyone else in this area was trying to follow the two polar bears, the three of us physics majors stood off to the side.  You see, the water surface was just above eye level and we were discussing the surface tension and the wave-movement of the water.  The polar bears were elsewhere.
Vaishali and Germán posing with their gravitational-wave detector

            The other example comes from this past week.  I attended Lecture Week (a week of lectures geared towards Ph.D. students in gravitational-wave physics.) with some of the Ph.D. students from the AEI (Albert Einstein Institute), where I am working this summer.  During one of evenings, a bunch of us were at the beach, and two of the students decided to make a sand castle.  Well, it started out as a sand castle; it ended up being a model of two black-body systems radiating gravitational waves that were detected by a version of the e-LISA mission (this detector had three arms and star-shaped spacecraft.).  Perhaps a bit… odd; but, cool, right?  We all think so!
            A few other examples include: 
            a discussion while standing in the blazing heat to watch the Schützenfest parade in Hannover about how light travels (apparently, it really freaks one of my flat mates out that everything we see came from the sun roughly 8 minutes ago)
            a remark, while in a castle, about glass actually being a liquid… then, proceeding to observe several old glass windows to see and discuss their properties  

This is Neuschwanstein castle.
           Germany is very well known for its castles.  It has a lot.  If you are every in Germany, and you enjoy castles, your life will be swell… or your life will be really difficult because you will have to pick and choose – it would be very challenging to see them all in one trip!  But, even if you aren’t particularly interested in castles, I suggest going to see at least one or two.  Many of them are quite impressive.  I mean, castles are cool.
Hohenschwangau castle 
            Two weekends ago, I traveled to Füssen to see the nearby castles Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau.  Neuschwanstein is one of the most famous castles in the world.  It was built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, and most-likely used by Disney as a model for his castles.  The castle remains unfinished, however, because King Ludwig II died under mysterious circumstances before it was completed.  Hohenschwangau, located near Neuschwanstein, is the less-famous and less-visited of the two.  However, this was the castle where Ludwig actually lived while growing up and while his castle was being built.
Here I am with my alcoholic ice cream/
This ice cream is shaped like spaghetti.  Neat!
            It was roughly a 7-hour train ride in total to get to the near-southern border of Germany.  But, it was well worth the trip.  The castles were amazing, and the town of Füssen itself was nice and quaint.  I really enjoyed the stay.  If you ever go to Bavaria, or Germany in general, I recommend these castles.  But, keep in mind that Neuschwanstein is one of the most heavily-visited castles in Europe.  To avoid the crowds, get there in the morning (even on a Saturday in the summer, it really wasn’t that bad because I got to the ticket booth at roughly 9:30).  The tours run 30-min long for each castle (and there will be many, many tours throughout the day with hundreds of people in total on a typical day).  Hohenschwangau is the less-crowded castles because it is not as iconic.  But, it is just as nice to see.
            The nearby town of Füssen is pretty nice, too.  There is an old town with pedestrian streets, restaurants, and shops.  It even has an old palace of its own.  I with that I had more time to explore Füssen as well.  As it was, I really only had an afternoon; so, there was much that I wasn't able to do.  But, I did discover a nice ice cream shop that conveniently put alcohol in with the ice cream.  Yum!

            This past week, I attended something called lecture week.  It’s a requirement for first-year Ph.D. students at the AEI, and since almost everyone else was going, my advisor thought it would be a good idea for me to go, too.  This lecture week was held outside a nearby (roughly one hour by regional train) town, at a hotel in the woods (There are three lecture weeks each year, and each of the three are held somewhere differently.).  The week consisted of three 1.5 hour lectures every day, meals, and general hanging out with the other students, lecturers, and attendees.  The week was a lot of fun overall, but it led me to discover two things: banana juice is a thing; and, be wary – anything can be carbonated, here.
I haven't tried it yet, but I brought these home
so I can try it!
            Banana juice is not a thing in the States; granted, neither is cherry juice, but I have at least heard of that before.  But, here, in Germany, a concoction of cherry juice and banana juice is common.  It’s apparently often given to children who grow up to crave the stuff.  While I’m sure it can be bought pre-mixed, you can buy it separate and then mix it yourself.  Yes, ladies and gentleman, you can buy a bottle of banana juice.  When I think about it, I suppose it isn’t too strange – after all, there is juice for nearly every other fruit (including tomatoes).  You know what I would be keen with drinking?  Kiwi juice.  I need to find some of that.
            Besides the strange juices, keep in mind that your drink might be, and probably is carbonated.  While at this lecture week, I chose to drink some nice orange juice for breakfast.  Well, when I opened the bottle, I heard the fizzing, and my heart sank.  There would be no nice orange juice for me!  (The next morning, I did successfully located un-carbonated orange juice.)

Also, it does no good to simply let the carbon exit the drink.  For one, this can take a very long time (I waited for hours at a conference for my carbonated water to release its toxin (alright, so they aren’t really toxins).  For another, the drink will still taste funny.  So, if you don’t like carbonated water, do yourself a favor and carry your own in a bottle.  The tap water is safe to drink in Germany.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

June 24, 2014: Lets Talk About Parks

#17 The United States had a fantastic National Park System. 
#18 So do many other countries.  Don't miss out just because you aren't in America. 
#19 Take a random hike.  You might just end up on top of a mountain.
#20 It is possible to see too many waterfalls in your life.  But, that doesn’t have to mean you don’t want to see any more.
#21 It’s totally alright to be a tourist.

            Let's talk about National Parks. The first national park was installed by Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872.  The park?  Yellowstone.  (Btw, this should please all you 'muricans out there: the National Park System was developed in America.).  Today, the U.S. has 58 national parks, and 401 national parks, preservations, forests, monuments, and battlefields.  Each park has its own unique features, and no park is the same.  It’s such a fantastic system with something to offer virtually everyone.
Here I am climbing around the sandstone in Saxon Switzerland
National Park last weekend.

            Every year, thousands of people come to America to visit national parks.  When you are inside one of these National Parks, you will meet people from all over the world. I have discussed photography with an Indian in Glacier NP, met a European teenager who is fluent in 7 languages in Bryce Canyon NP, and marveled at geysers with Asians in Yellowstone NP.  Some of these people haven't even explored the national parks in their own country.  Let me tell you something, and I don't want this to be a secret: they're missing out; there are hundreds of fantastic national parks that aren't in America.
            Yes, that's right -- the United States is not the only country with national parks. Actually, it's not even the only country with awesome national parks.  I've explored a few that are just as good as the ones in the states.  In Masaya Volcano National Park, in Nicaragua, I hiked on volcanoes, and peered into the sulfur-filled interior of an active one. Last summer, I came face-to-face with sheep in Dartmoor National Park in England.
            Just this past weekend, I climbed a mountain, and crawled among huge, natural, sandstone structures in Saxon Switzerland (not in Switzerland) National Park in Germany.  Before I went, I had several people tell me that the national parks here wouldn't be as good as the ones in America.  I also heard things, like, "All the 'hiking' trails there are paved," and, "It will be nothing like you're used to, here."  Guess what, every single one of those people were wrong.
Here you can see the town of Bad Schanadu (left)
 and Krippen (right).
            I only really noticed one big difference between American and European national parks. In an American national park, you will only find a handful of buildings: there will be one lodge (maybe two), anywhere from 1 to about 5 information centers (depending on the size of the park), a few ranger houses (but, these will be difficult to spot because they are usually somewhat hidden), possibly some camping cabins, and some restrooms (scattered about). A European national park contains entire towns, although this is really only because the towns existed before the national parks, and there were too many towns to avoid them all. But, to protect the landscape, there are now very strict building regulations within the national parks.  Other than that, they are very similar. I have encountered wide, paved footpaths in American national parks, and I have encountered thin, dirt footpaths in other countries' national parks.  So, wherever you are, make sure to look into visiting a national park. You won't be disappointed. 
This is the Kirnitzschtalbahn,
the historical tram that I rode.
            While you’re out and about in a national park, be sure to do some exploring.  It’s perfectly alright to take hikes that you know will end at such-and-such landmark (after all, you have to do that if you want to see something in particular!).  But, make sure you do something random, too.  Hike that trail.  Which trail?  That one!  No, that one over their!   No, wait, that one.  It really doesn’t matter.  Just pick one and find out where it goes (make sure you have plenty of water, and some snacks with you!). 
            While in Bad Schandau this past weekend, I took a historical tram (on a path that was over 100 years old) to see some waterfall that I had found in one of my pamphlets…
The slightly disappointing -- mostly
because it was man-made --
Lichtenhainer Wasserfall.
            … and tangent; GO!:
            My father has always had a fondness for taking pictures of water falls.  I would be hard pressed to remember a vacation (or even a weekend trip) to the great outdoors that didn’t involve some sort of hike to a waterfall.  We’ve even taken multiple trips with the main purpose of seeing, and photographing, waterfalls.  It gets annoying to hike somewhere, sit there for hours while dad takes the perfect photo, and then hike back.  It can get even more annoying when that somewhere is the 75th waterfall you have witnessed in your life (That really isn’t an exaggeration.  There may have been more.)  I thought I would never elect to go see a waterfall on my own.  And, yet, that’s exactly what I found myself doing this past Saturday.  I found some waterfall in my pamphlet, realized it wasn’t too far from me, and thought, ‘I have to go see that!’  Like father, like daughter, I suppose. 

the Kuhstall
            When I arrived at the waterfall, however, I discovered that it was a small, man-made waterfall that really wasn’t much more than a trickle compared to some others that I have seen.  And, yet, there were tons of people crowded around snapping pictures.  They all seemed to think it was fantastic.  And that’s when it hit me: I’ve seen too many waterfalls.  I’m no longer impressed by measly man-made trickles.  And, yet, I had wanted to go there.  I had been excited to see yet another waterfall.  Strange.
            … and back to hiking anecdote; GO!
the way to the top of the Kuhstall

            After my slight disappointment about the waterfall (alright, there wasn’t TOO much disappointment, but I had still been hoping for a hike), I decided to, well, take a hike.  However, I didn’t really know too much about where I was or what would be a good hike in the area.  I just knew that my pamphlet said all the tram stops along this stretch offered good trails.  So, I picked one.  I didn’t know where it would take or how long it would be, but I chose it anyway, and good things happened.  I ended up on top of a mountain, at some landmark called the Kuhstall, or “cow shed.”  Interestingly enough, I had seen this hike in my pamphlet and ruled it out without really reading it thinking that it would lead to an old barn once used to hold cows.  I was pleasantly surprised to find an impressive sandstone arch.  What a great hike.  Good things can happen when you take a gamble.  After all, I accidently hiked a mountain (well, it wasn’t too accidental; about half-way up I became suspicious that it might lead me to some interesting lookout (after all, there were a lot of other people on the trail); but, at the beginning I had no clue!).

            Lastly, I want to talk about “being a tourist,” and this goes beyond national parks.  In this sense, by “being a tourist,” I mean seeing all those touristy things that people tell you are overrated.  For example, tons of people will tell you that the Eiffel tower is overrated.  Chances are these people have been there several times before and have seen it several times (it’s not hard to miss), and are ready to move on to doing other, less-touristy things.  Or, they really dislike commercialization (who doesn’t?),   But, there is a reason that so many people visit it every year – it has something to offer. 
the Bastei Bridge
Yes, I walked across it!
            It’s perfectly alright to go see these often over-populated or over-commercialized things.  Another example would be Old Faithful in Yellowstone national park.  You want to see it once, perhaps a few times, and then you are finished and ready to explore everything else the park has to offer.  It was the same with the Bastei Bridge in Saxon Switzerland NP this past weekend.  I really wanted to see it; everyone else really wanted to see it; it was a totally touristy thing to do, and it was still really cool.  (Although, I do with that I had a car and was able to go in the morning to avoid all the people.  But, you can only do so much).

the view from the top of the Kuhstall
            So, with that I will leave you.  If you’re an American, and this post has peaked your interest, take a look at and find a park near you.  Parks make great, affordable travel destinations.  There is camping available in all of the parks, and if you aren’t into camping, there are hotels near the parks, too.  Admission is pretty cheap especially when you compare it to the cost of a ticket to an amusement park, and pizza shops and grocery stores selling sandwich-making materials make for cheap meals.  If you don’t want cheap, there are lodges and fancy restaurants around many of the parks, too!

Friday, June 20, 2014

June 20, 2014: A Trip to Berlin

* I would like to begin by apologizing about the font mishap on the last post (and this one, and probably future ones) that causes some of the font to be very light.  It seems that when I write part of the post on my iPhone, that part gets messed up when I try to post it, and I don't know how to fix it.  So, if you would like to read the words, but don't know how, simply highlight them and it will make the background appear blue, and you will be able to read the white words.  Again, I apologize.*
The Berliner Dom


#13 There is more than one way to day “lunch.”

#14 Berlin is a pretty cool city with something to offer for every taste.  If you’re ever in Germany, make sure it’s on your list.  But, when you are there, do what you want to do, not what everyone else wants you to do.  (or don’t go to Berlin.  Like I said, do what you want to do.  But, at least consider Berlin.).
#15 Sometimes, you can’t ask for a nicer day to be in a place so depressing.
#16 You never know when there might be an… adult (*gasp*) on your train.

            I think accents are fantastic.  I think it’s even more fantastic to listen to someone speak English who isn’t a native speaker.  Next time you are around a non-native, English speaker, pay attention to how that person words things.  Often enough, he or she will make a word choice that you, your friends, your family, and everyone else you know never would have chosen.  But, the word works.  It makes perfect sense.  You just never would have thought to include it in that sentence.
            It’s also interesting to pick up on the nuances of the other speaker’s English.  A lot of times, this has to do with the structure of the speaker’s native language.  The speaker will word things differently because that is how the sentence would be said in whatever other language.  I find it interesting.
            There is an individual at the institute where I work who really likes lunch.  Every day around lunch time, everyone will converse in German for a minute or two (I assume asking everyone else if they are ready for lunch), and then someone will tell me lunch.  This individual always gets really excited about the prospect of lunch, and when it’s time to eat, he will look at me and say, “looonch.”  I think it’s great.

the Brandenburger Tor and my little buddies,
Tigger and Shaymin who travel with me and
like to have their picture taken.
            My general rule of thumb when traveling is to make sure you get to do what you want to do.  Now, when you are traveling with others, it is considerate to take their wants into account, too.  I don’t mean drag your compatriots to every single old building in the area if they aren’t into architecture because then they aren’t getting to do what they want to do.  When you travel in a group, you will all probably have to make some sacrifices when it comes to activities.
            For example, last weekend in Berlin, they two people with whom I traveled likes to eat.  By eat, I don’t mean grab food and take it with them as they explore; I mean sit down at a restaurant and have a half-hour to hour-long meal.  That’s what they liked to do (and that’s not a problem).  What they didn’t have any desire in doing was souvenir shopping (again, no problem, everyone is allowed to like what he or she likes).  I, on the other hand, am not a big fan of sitting to eat while traveling (well, really, I’m not a big fan of taking the time to sit and eat in general. If all food came in a convenient, portable form, lunch would be amazing.  But, I do also highly value family (or, while at college, friend) dinner). *end side note*).  So, we did what any logical group of travelers with different interests would do.  I sat with them while they are some meals, they waited outside shops while I browsed, and sometimes, they say down for a meal while I shopped nearby.  (You don’t always have to stay in a group all the time).
            Anyway, back to what I mean about #14.  I’m not taking about the people with whom you’re traveling – I’m talking about the people with whom you aren’t traveling.  Nearly everyone is going to have a different idea of what you should do when you are at your destination.  I recommend listening to the ideas; after all, someone might have thought of something that sounds really cool that you hadn’t found on your own.  But, sit down before your trip and decide what you, yourself, and only yourself really want to do. Then, think about what kind of sounded fun, but you wouldn't be overly disappointed if you didn't do. I'm a big fan of lists, so this is when I get out the pen and paper or computer and write it all down: what's the thing; how do I get there; when is it open; how much does it cost?  I star the things I really want to do. Then, I do them! Even if someone else said it would be dumb, if I thought it looked cool, I go do it!  And guess what; I have yet to choose something that I didn't enjoy. Hmmm... I guess I know myself better than other people know me... What a strange notion...
            Here's a decently-recent example: Last summer while in London, my mum and I wanted to go to Stonehenge. Gordon, a relative of mine who lived near London, couldn't understand what would possess me to see a bunch of rocks.  But, I wanted to go anyway, so he helped me find a bus going there (I have some pretty good relatives), and it was one of my favorite things that I did last summer!  
            You are the only one who truly knows what you want to do. Do it.

Sachsenhausen concentration camp, minus many of the barracks. 

"Work makes you free."
This door greeted those about to enter the camp.
It reminds me of the book 1984.
            While in berlin, I went on a tour of the nearby concentration camp, called Sachsenhausen. It turned out to be a really nice day, although being in a concentration camp put a damper on things.  The sunny weather almost seemed to betray the mood… until I really began to think about it.  The people who lived, worked, and died in that camp did it every day in every kind of weather.  Their conditions weren’t really improved by nice weather.  I mean, during the winter, yes, there was frostbite.  And a chilly rain could give one pneumonia.  But, on a nice day – not too hot/not too cold – they still didn’t have enough to eat; they were still forced to work; and they still died. 

            Sachsenhausen is one of the smaller concentration camps, but, it was the first official one.  Although it was not a “killing camp” (“killing camps” such as Auschwitz didn’t exist inside Germany), but that doesn’t mean the conditions were any better.  It just means that throngs and throngs of people weren’t sent to the gas chambers every day.  People were still killed – there was a firing trench, a hanging noose, and a systematic killing routine for the soviet soldiers.  Apart from that, the guards had guns, rocks, large-wooden sticks, metal pipes, and anything else they could want to “keep the inmates in line.”
Sadly, this is exactly what you think it is --
furnaces for burning bodies.

            It was a very somber-ing experience.  If you every have the chance to go to a concentration camp, please do.  It might not be the happiest several hours of your life, but you will be paying respect to the hundreds of thousands who lived the most miserable days, months, or even years of their lives in a camp.  Apart from that, you will be learning about a tragic time in human history, and something that is still taking place all over the world today.
            You might end up with a rainy day, a cold day, a cloudy day, or a sunny day, but the weather won’t bother the camp’s effect on you.
            Hint: if you ever go to Sachsenhausen, pay the money and take a tour.  They don’t cost that much (mine was 13 euros/ 15 euros for a non-student and the guide went with us to the camp from the city, so there was no worrying about how to get there), and they will help you focus while you are there.  The camp contains a lot of artifacts, and it could be very easy to get overwhelmed.  A tour guide helps because you can ask him questions, and he will tell you about things you never even thought to ask.  If you feel like you still need more time after your tour, just tell your guide that you will be staying longer to do some looking on your own, and the guide will not mind.  Then, you will be able to look at your own pace as well.

            I’m traveling again this weekend, and, like I will be doing quite often this summer, I took the train.  I have been on three major (greater than 2 hrs) train rides in Germany since I have been here, and two out of the three times, there has been a small child seated near me.  On the way to berlin, she was in the seat in front of me and spent the entire trip talking/interacting with Cedric, one of the other students in my program.  The second child-train ride was on the way back from Berlin, and that child actually cried some as well as made general, small-child noises.  Neither of those times was really that bad.  Then, there was today’s train ride.
            Today, the front quarter of the compartment seemed to be filled with a group of adults who were all traveling together; at least, they were all talking to each other.  They were loud, talked nearly the whole time, shouted across the seats at each other… and there was also champagne or some other bottle with a cork involved.  By the end of the trip, my headache and I were ready to have the children back.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

June 11, 2014: A Beer Garden and an Observatory

Hannover, Germany:
June 11, 2014

10: It will be the little things, not the big things, that make you realize you are not at home.
11: You never know when that random word/phrase in that one language might come in handy. 
12: Americans: if a European tells you something is within walking distance, don't be surprised if it’s really not walking distance.  Europeans, if an American tells you something is not within walking distance, they may be, subconsciously, lying to you.  You’re better off consulting a map.

            At home, you take these things for granted; abroad, or away from home at all, they make you realize that you aren’t at home.  This is actually an anecdote from last week, but I forgot to include it in my post.  So, I will include it now.
            I was watching a presentation at the AEI (Albert Einstein Institute).  When the presentation was over, I picked up my hands to clap.  I completed one clap before I realized that no one else was clapping.  Instead, they were all using a fist to knock on the desks.  Strange, right?  Well, it wasn’t strange to them.  In fact, it was quite normal.  I guess I wasn’t in Pittsburgh, anymore.
            It turns out that the knocking only happens at the AEI, it’s not a German thing.  But, still, it was enough to make me think about differences between cultures.  When you travel, take notice of these little things.  It can be just as interesting as the major differences, and often, it’s a little more shocking than the big differences.  After all, you expect the big differences; it’s the little ones that get you.

*          *          *

            You know those little words that you learned during school in a different language: the ones you always laughed about, knowing full-well that they would never come in handy?  Well, one day, they might come in handy, if only in a small way.
            This one's to you, Maggie Hess, you who taught me how to say, "I'm a jelly doughnut," in German (Ich bin ein
Berliner, by the way).  For those of you who know even a tiny bit of German, or a bit of history in the case of JFK, you also know that this phrase means, “I’m a Berliner,” as in, “I’m from Berlin,” in a figurative way.  Well, this was the interesting coincidence that led me to finally being able to use my knowledge of the northern-German word for jelly doughnut.

            We were sitting at a beer garden during a social event, and someone asked another person at my table about the term for people from Hannover (I don’t know how to pronounce or spell his answer (my German pronunciations are terrible, and my spelling is even worse).  But, he did say that he thought it was an ugly-sounding word, and that the word “Berliner” was much better.  Then, he began to laugh and said that the word has a double-meaning in German.  “It means a person from Berlin and a baker, no, a pastry.” 

            “a sweet of some sort,” someone else chimed in.

            It was then that I spied my opportunity to make use of my knowledge.  “It’s a doughnut!,” I exclaimed, and the Germans at the table agreed.

             “Yes, that is it.”

            So, like I said, it was limited usefulness, but usefulness none the less.  That seemingly-random phrase finally had a purpose in my life.  Thank you, Maggie.


*          *          *

            "Walking distance" refers to a different distance depending on where you live. If you live in America, for example, a five-minute walk might be pushing it. If you live in Europe, your daily commute is entirely possibly a 15-minute walk. (And no one, unless that person is an American living in America, will pitty you if you complain about it, so don't even bother (trust me, I have not bothered; as a matter of fact, no part of me minds the commute. I'm definitely European when it comes to walking... and air conditioning, but I'll get there later)).  Europeans also like bikes. It makes me long to live somewhere more bike friendly.
            Anyway, mini rant about my frustrations with the American people over (and I honestly mean no one offense, to each his or her own, but the average American walking distance is significantly shorter than the average European walking distance).  Now, on to my little story:

            Currently, I’m partaking in a three-day training conference for the LTPDA language on Matlab (it’s a 3rd-party language that will be used to perform data analysis on the LISA Pathfinder).  Last night, after the conference, there was a dinner at a beer garden in the area.  Early in the conference, the organizer announced that, according to MapQuest, it would be a 45-minute walk (one could also take the tram system and cut the commute to 20 minutes and minimal walking).  To a significant majority of Americans, this would mean they were taking the tram.  Period.  And then they would complain about the 2-min uphill walk at the very end.  To the conference organizer, and a surprising number of Europeans, this meant that MapQuest was probably lying; it would probably be about a 30-40-min walk; and that sounded like a very reasonable distance.  After the conference, we met outside, and roughly half of the participants (and virtually all of the participants under 30 years of age) walked to the beer garden.  Easy Peasy.


            Now, I believe that I promised you a mention of air conditioning.  At the beer garden, this came up in conversation.  They were all very impressed when I informed them that air conditioning isn’t something we use very much at my house, and that my apartment at college doesn’t even have it.  We also don’t use a lot of heat in the winter (that, I will admit, I hate), and my apartment at college has a hole in the wall through which much cold air enters during the winter months.  But, I’m all for minimal use of air conditioning.  I enjoy the heat.

             After we went to the beer garden yesterday, we went to see the nearby public observatory.  I don't really have any stories from that, but I do have two pictures (also, I PROMISE that I will start taking more pictures).  We were unable to stargaze because it was a very cloudy night.
That's the city of Hannover.

This is one of the telescopes at the observatory.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Jun 08, 2014: Hannover, Germany


Here I am at the Hannover zoo.
: Hannover, Germany

8. You can get around pretty well with a few words that share the same roots, some pointing, and a little bit of English.
9. You’re never too old for the zoo.

So, I keep trying to speak Spanish to the people of Germany.  It doesn’t go over very well, and I just end up with a lot of strange looks.  Significantly more Germans speak English than speak Spanish, which is to be assumed judging by the amount of people in the world who speak at least some English.  When I run into someone who doesn’t speak English, pointing and a few common words usually works pretty well for me.  When it doesn’t work, I apologize and find someone else.  And, it might sound awful, but I’m alright with that… at least for now.  I’m in the process of learning Spanish, and I would like to become semi-fluent in that before I begin to learn a third language.  I’m not sure what I want that third language to be, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.

The red panda is my favorite animal.
I’ve been in Hannover for nearly a week, now (it will be a week tomorrow), and I am very excited to get started working in the lab.  Sadly, however, I have another week before that will happen.  This coming week, from Tuesday until Thursday, the department where I am interning is hosting a training seminar for the LISA Pathfinder OMS (Optical Metrology System).  This past week was spent preparing for that (I had to learn how to use a set of programming rules on MATLAB that was developed by the people working on the LISA Pathfinder.).  This upcoming week will be the seminar (Monday is a public holiday, here).  And then NEXT week (and possible even this coming Friday), I will be able to work in the lab!  I will say, though, I’m excited for the training seminar, too!

Yesterday was our (I’m here with two other people from the IREU program) first day off from work, and what did we do?  We went to the zoo!  That’s right, three adults (ages 20, 21, and 21) went to the zoo as our first “activity” outside of work.  (*pst* It was totally worth it!).  My favorite part of the day, besides seeing the red panda (which is always a favorite), was watching the gorilla feeding.  One of the gorillas was feeling particularly dominant before the feeding and kept trying to fight the other males.  The weather was beautiful, and it was a great day.
The zoo has a little boat ride through its Savannah section.
I just love polar bears, too!

Aren't these guys just the cutest?!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Jun 01, 2014: Amsterdam, Netherlands

Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands
5. It never hurts to do some planning.
6. Explore more than you would think to explore.
7. Enjoy it anyway.

            I would like to begin by saying that I have nothing against Amsterdam.  I’m sure that overall, it is a great city and that many of its inhabitants love it.  I’m also sure that many travelers and tourists love it for reasons other than the fact that many things that are illegal in other parts of the world are legal here.  It holds The Rembrandt museum, the Ann Frank House, and many other museums and buildings of cultural and historical significance.  However, it is not a city that I have ever had any real desire to visit.
            I’m sure that if I had more time to explore, I would find and love all those wonderful places.  But, as it is, I only had one day, and I was quite uncomfortable.
            I left the hotel this morning around 10 and headed into Amsterdam with a group of other IREU participants.  We began by just walking around aimlessly looking for a place to eat.  While this is all well and good (and has lead me to some wonderful eateries in the past), today it made me uncomfortable.  We passed many vibrator stores, sex shops, coffee shop (which, while it’s entirely possible also sell coffee, are known for selling weed), and scantily-clad women sitting in windows as “advertisement” for the prostitution front. 
Here I am in Amsterdam.
            We did go on a nice little canal tour at one point.  It wasn’t too expensive (€9,00), but I would have enjoyed it much more if it would have been more informative.  The audio was in four languages and it played throughout the entire boat.  So, everyone heard one language, then another, then another, then another.  Because of this, and the fact that the boat was constantly moving (as expected on a boat tour of this type), there was only time for roughly two sentences about each site.  It was frustratingly uninformative.  I have been on multilingual tours like this in the past (i.e. my night, bus tour in Paris last summer), and everyone received an individual headset that was set for his or her language of choice.  It allowed for a lot more time to discuss each sight because each sentence did not need to be repeated in four languages. I’m sure there were other boat tours today that operated that way; we just did not choose the correct one.
I'm about to begin the Canal tour.
            Overall, though, the boat tour left me in a good mood.  But, then we went into a sex museum near Amsterdam Central train and bus station.  I paid €4,00 to look at sculptures of penises, vaginas, and sex; pictures of the same thing as well as a very strange grouping of photos of women peeing; and paintings and such.  It was not an activity that I would have chosen, but I figured that I would go along with it and keep an open mind.  Surprisingly, it was not nearly as bad as I thought it would be, and I did laugh along with the jokes people in my group made, but it did make me uncomfortable again.
            After the sex museum, we walked around for a while.  I enjoyed looking at the architecture (and this time we were in a slightly different part of the city, so there were not nearly as many of the… certain things… that we found on our first walk.  It was a nice day, and it was nice to be outside.
            So, the day could have been a lot worse.  All said and done, I really didn’t mind it.  However, if I had it to do over again, I would have done a bit more planning (for example, with some quick research, I could have found out that the Ann Frank house often draws LONG lines, and that it is best to go right when the museum opens).  I did do a minimal amount of research; but, since I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I figured I’d just go along with what everyone else wanted to do.  It never hurts to do some planning.  I probably would have enjoyed my day a lot more if I would have actually gotten some useful information about the sites (i.e. hours of operation, prices, reviews by other tourists, etc.). 

            Explore more than you think to explore.  I did get to see some of Amsterdam by simply walking around aimlessly (even though I never would have chosen to do that on my own).  Also, when I got back to the hotel (I left Amsterdam much earlier than everyone else), I decided to go for a little walk.  It turned out to be a very nice stroll through greenery and a little town area. 

            Enjoy it anyway.  I didn’t think that I would have enjoyed Amsterdam at all, but I decided to go into the day with an open mind, and I came out of the day with a contented feeling.  While I was a bit uncomfortable at times, I focused on enjoying the architecture and the beautiful canals, and I enjoyed Amsterdam anyway.

This is most of the IREU participants for Summer 2014 in front of Amsterdam's main train station  (We're missing one because he didn't wake up in time).