Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I quit

So today, Wednesday, is not going well. The agenda for today goes
  1. Finish packing room
  2. Go to lab - review the class I'm teaching today
  3. Pick up projector
  4. Teach class
  5. Return projector
  6. Meet with new landlord to do a walk through of the apartment
  7. Go in Jarrit's car to get all my stuff for the new apartment
  8. Bring stuff to new apartment
  9. Feed Jenny's cats
All of these things are carefully scheduled, without a lot of time in between. And Germans don't like it if you're late. For example, I was late meeting the girl I'm renting an apartment from once (and I called to say I was running late), but now every time we have to meet she texts "please try to arrive at the scheduled time."

So after successfully completing number one, I walked out of the apartment. As soon as the door clicked shut, I realized that I had Jenny's keys. Not mine. There's a sign in the hall (in English) that says they won't help you if your keys get stuck, and that you should call a locksmith. So I went to work and asked the secretary if she could please call someone for me. The good news is that she called the janitor, and he agreed to let me in. If I had known that was an option, I could have asked him myself (and by asked, I mean acted out the situation until he got the general idea). So I took the bus back, Herr Witting let me in, and then I rode the bus back to work. It's now 9:49 and I'm to tired to do the rest of the things on the list.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


I've complained a lot about the weather in Jena, but this weekend has been incredibly beautiful. It's sunny, it's warm, there are dandelions even though I'm sorry to have missed the Inman Park festival this year this weather has improved my mood.

So to celebrate the good weather I spent the day outside today. First, I went to the botanical gardens.

Here's a picture in which you can see Jena's Intershop tower in the background.

I walked around for a bit, the sat on a bench and read a book. Here's the bench.

And I also took a picture of myself. Does it look like I'm naked in this picture? I promise, I'm not. But I was wearing a tank top. It was that warm.

After the botanical gardens I came into the lab, fully intending to get some work done. But then Carsten invited me to go on a hike with him and his girlfriend (I asked if they have the expression"third wheel" in German. Apparently they do, but he claims that I'm not). So I did. We hiked up a mountain just outside of the city, and went a tower that's a memorial to Bismark. But I didn't take a camera, so you have to settle for some other picture of the botanical gardens.

There's been some talk of making weekly Sunday afternoon outings for the group. I'm for it, obviously.

Friday, April 25, 2008


Wednesday night was a party for teachers and speakers of German as a foreign language at this place called the Rosenkeller - apparently it's more than 400 years old, making it the second oldest student club in Germany. Anyway, for 2.50 euro we got a bratwurst and a beer, and went down through a series of creepy tunnels into a network of stone rooms.

I'm going to take this moment to explain that earlier in the day I had a German lesson. My tutor, Luise, pretended to be a man named "Peter" who was attempting to pick me up at the bar. This was sort of tricky, since I can do little more than introduce myself and ask how someone is. Eventually, it was established that asking "Wie geht ist dir?" while raising the eyebrows with a brief glance at the crotch could be interpreted as a pick-up line.

Anyway, so while drinking beer number one I met some classmates of Jenny and Matt. I told them about my problem with the German toilet and I think they agreed. Here's a picture for you of Matt, who Christian calls "The epitome of a heterosexual male." I'll leave it to you to decide.

It actually isn't a very good picture. But I don't think he'll read this, so it's just as well.

During the next beer Jenny and I decided to find Peter. We decided a good way to go about this was to ask every guy meeting a minimum threshold of attractiveness (and by this I mostly mean heigt) and asking them "Bist du Peter?" It turns out this isn't an effective way of meeting men. Mostly they said no, and the conversation ended.

Meanwhile, Jenny and I were getting progressively bolder and at some point she offered me 10 euro to grab a guy's ass. Then Matt said he'd match it. I mean, 20 euro people! At the current exchange rate that's $31.34. Anyway, I did it. Here's the picture Jenny took right after:

That guy in the background? He looks happy, but really he was annoyed. So in order to see if it was just me, I offered 10 of my new euros to Jenny's German teacher (Mattias) to do the same thing. It turns out it wasn't me. That guy just doesn't like it. I thought Mattias might get his ass kicked. Anyway, we left muttonchops guy alone after that.

Meanwhile, we continued to ask men if their names were Peter. And they continued to say no. After a while a guy (whose name was Stefan, I think) came to talk to us. We asked him about German dating customs. I also got permission to post his picture if I sent him a link to the blog, so here's Stefan-Peter:

The things that I remember about him include 1) that he's learning to teach German as a second language 2) that he live in one of the nice sections of Jena, and 3) that he thought Jenny and I were a bit over the top.

The night more of less ended there. Matt and I decided we were tired and that it was time to go home. And so we did.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

German Lessons

I think it's nice that I look like I might be German. At least, I assume that I do, since people come up to me and speak to me in German. I've become adept at saying "Ich spreche kine Deutch." Well, sort of adept. Anyway, I signed up to take a German class for adult beginners partly to learn how to get coffee in a cafe (Ich hatte gerne ein kaffee, bitte - I ask for one coffee because I can't remember the correct article), but mostly I thought it might be a way to meet other English speakers. But the day before the class I got a notice that it had been canceled - leaving me with no German and no friends outside the lab.

After an extended period of moping, I decided to answer an add I saw on the university bulletin board. It said something like "Do you want to learn German?" and I thought, well, yes. So it turns out that my new German tutor is a 23 year old college student named Luise trying to earn some extra spending money. We met yesterday and learned how to conjugate some verbs (sein and hei
ßen) and that nouns are capitalized in German. All of them. Weird, huh? Also, is it really necessary to have masculine, feminine, and neuter nouns? But I really like the ß. I don't know why, but it makes me happy.

Anyway, since I've done a bad job of posting pictures here's the book that we're using:

I'll keep you updated of any progress that I make. I have another lesson tomorrow, followed almost immediately by some sort of party that Jenny has invited me to. So maybe I can practice there. "Ich heiße Emily. Wie heißt du?" After that the conversation may trail off, but I can always start it again by asking for one coffee.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


One of the guys in the lab (Carsten) is going to be spending some time in San Diego this September and October. I think he's really nervous about going to a place where he doesn't know anyone, and he's hoping that people will be nice and hang out with him on the weekends. Consequently, he's trying to improve his karma by being really nice to me. He's a nice guy anyway, but he's really made an effort to make sure I'm not too lonely.

So yesterday he invited me to go with him and his girlfriend to a place called the GalaxSea - a cross between a public pool and an amusement park. I kinda imagined that I'd be swimming laps, which was technically possible, but there weren't actual lanes. So I'm there in my giant one peice bathing suit and goggles trying to swim back and forth between the couples flirting in the pool. It was strange. But my companions were really impressed by my swimming ability - I think because I was willing to put my head underwater.

The best part of the GalaxSea is that after swimming we got to go down two different waterslides. They were the kind that you find at White Water - you go down on a raft through a tunnel. Next we paddled around in the heated pool for a while, which was full on nooks and crannies for hiding and making out. I tried to make a lot of noise when going around corners.

Later, in the hot tub, I tried to thank Carsten for keeping me from another evening of watching Dexter alone in my room (although it's a really good show) by giving him some tips about America. "Unless you're a professional swimmer" I said, "you should never wear a speedo." I also pointed out that American men do not wear capris - "pants must come all the was to your shoes and shorts can be from the kneecaps to three inches above the kneecaps. These are the only appropriate lengths." Carsten looked worried, but I told him I'd check his clothes this summer and alert him if he wore any clothes that wouldn't fly in the U.S.

Friday, April 18, 2008


I think you know that you've adjusted to a new place when your dreams start taking place there. Which means that I haven't quite adjusted to Jena yet. I think I told some of you about the zombie dream I had a few weeks ago, which involved me hiding in the kitchen of my pink apartment in Atlanta (I think I lived there in 2003) while a zombie was terrorizing the police trying to catch him right outside the door. I woke up to hear the neighbors getting it on next door. I'm not sure how that relates to zombies, but I'm sure there's a connection somewhere.

Last night's dream was part of a series of dreams that I thought might be over now. Dreams about my former adviser (and if she's reading this it's important to remember that these dreams are more about me than her). There were a couple of classics: The one where she explained that Amy was defending before me because I didn't work hard enough. Then there was the one where she explained that I'd never be a good scientist because I "think too much like a woman."

Anyway, in last night's dream I was saying goodbye to her when she hugged me and suggested that I should try to loose some weight. And then she gestured to my thighs. Needless to say, the dream version of me was incensed. So in the dream I spent a lot of time going around to people saying "can you believe she said that?". People got sort of shifty and avoided eye contact, and said something like "well, you know...".

I'm not sure why the former adviser shows up in my dreams to give voice to all my insecurities. I doubt I'll have similar dreams about the new adviser, but I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Things I like about Jena

I've decided this blog might be a little on the negative side about Germany. I refuse to take back my comments about the shower, but I thought that I'd try to focus on positive things.

Thing number 1: Windows that open.

As far as I can tell, all the windows in this city actually open to the outside world. Even in institutional buildings like the lab. So if it's a nice day outside I can open the window to let some fresh air into my lab.

Thing number 2: Ice cream shops

There's a store that sells ice cream every couple of blocks here. I find it a little strange, since it's cold most of the time, but people are walking around in heavy coats licking ice cream cones. It makes me think of that time Lorelai and Rory were walking around Yale in heavy coats eating ice cream, which makes me happy. Also ice cream makes me happy.

Thing number 3: The bus is really coming at 7:46

I am constantly amazed at how punctual the buses and trams are. They're synchronized! And they pick you up and drop you off at exactly the time written on the schedule! How can this happen? I mean, you can actually plan your day based on the bus schedule. Pay attention Atlanta. This is a valuable lesson for you.

There are other things, but I'm going to leave it at three for today. Perhaps this will be part of a continuing series.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

German Efficiency

I think that we all knew at some point I'd feel obligate to post about German bathrooms. Your wait is over my friends - today is the day.

Anyway, I've been spending a lot of time since I've been here thinking how things are different. I think it's probably annoying for me to say things like "Hey! My keyboard has a 'z' where the 'y' should be" over and over again. But I keep doing it, because it's a never ending source of fascination for me and I have a hard time keeping my thoughts on the inside. So yesterday I was eating lunch with the lab and talking about my shower. Before I continue, here's a picture of my shower head.

And here's a close up view:

The disadvantage, of course, is that it's waist high and facing the wall so that I have to hold it the entire time I'm showering. And if I want to shampoo or something I get cold because I have to put it down. The rationale for this totally escaped me, but apparently the general idea is that if you don't enjoy the shower you won't waste water. Do you see? The whole point is to make it intentionally annoying and unpleasant. I think that this realization points to a more fundamental difference between Europeans and Americans.

Anyway, all this brings me to my next point. Toilets. Specifically, the toilets in the lab. Unlike American toilets, these do not have a big bowl full of water. Here, fortunately I have a picture of this also:

I'm not sure if you can tell from the picture, but there's a big ledge in the back. So anything, shall we say 'deposited' on the ledge just sits there until the toilet is flushed. Which is probably good if you're taking samples to be tested for Giardia, but bad in almost any other context.

I'm willing to walk up the 71 stairs to my room at night and up the 70 stairs to my lab in the morning. I'm willing to hang my clothes in the drying room instead of using a dryer. I'm willing to walk and take the bus instead of driving a car. But I'm proud to be a citizen of a country that choses to savor showering and to make trips to the toilet as pleasantly scented as possible.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I'm too old for this...

You may have noticed that there was no post yesterday. That was because I didn't quite make it into the city use the internet. Actually, I didn't make it out of my room.

Part of the problem is that I don't drink enough water here. It's just that there aren't any water fountains and you don't really get water in a restaurant unless you ask for it. And I'm a chicken so I avoid unnecessary conversations in German. So I think that Friday I may have only drunk coffee all day.

Anyway, it was pouring when we left for the concert last night, and my hair was hanging in wet clumps when we arrived at the Kassablanka (the venue for the evening's activities). It had sort of a warehouse feel, and seemed to be filled mostly with high school Goth kids (Actually, much of Jena seems filled with high school Goth kids, but that's beside the point). We ordered a beer and chatted until the warm up band started playing. We think that they may have been Russian, but the spoke to the audience in German and they sang in English. Being able to understand the lyrics was no advantage - they were one of the worst bands I've ever heard in my life. Part of the problem may have been that the genre seemed to be mostly punk, but I don't think so. They were just bad.

It was a relief when the main band, No Relax, started to play. They may have been Italian but it seemed like they were speaking in Spanish and occasionally English. The many genres listed on the add was a lie - it was mostly punk - but that was okay since they were quite good. They reminded Matt of "No Doubt" and I could see it. Plus, I now have a crush on the lead singer. She's hot - it's hard to deny it. I didn't take my camera last night so here's a picture stolen from the web.

Had the evening ended here, Saturday would have been a much more pleasant experience. However, we'd missed the last bus and they didn't start running again until 3:30. Jenny and I decided to stay out. We went to some bar that was mostly dead and Jenny had a conversation in German with the bartender while I smiled and drank my beer. At some point the bartender (who wanted to close up) said that he'd take us to the club downstairs and buy us a drink. We went.

Downstairs the club was filled with 17 year-old Goth kids. Fantastic. Here are some things that happened (in bullet form):
  • We had another beer
  • Some high school kids wanted me to take a picture with them. They were between me and the bathroom, so I agreed.
  • We met a man named Sebastian. He was quite taken with Jenny.
  • I decided I wanted to go home, but didn't know how to get to the bus stop.
  • I had another beer
  • I noticed it was somehow five o'clock in the morning
  • I fell asleep on a couch
  • Jenny asked if I was ready to go home.
  • We walked to the bus stop. It was 6:15
Standing at the bus stop in the cold may have been the highlight of Saturday. I'll spare you all the details of the hang over, but it was bad. And I had no Tylenol. And getting some required getting dressed, walking to the bus stop, taking a bus, etc. So instead I slept, read, and swore off drinking.

Friday, April 11, 2008


Some of you out there may have a desperate person in your life. A person that you try to avoid when you get the group together for lunch. This person may eagerly emerge from his/her office at the sound of voices in the hallway. This person may ask, with an overly casual voice, "so... anyone got any plans for this weekend?" People - I am that person. I don't think anyone is actually avoiding me yet but unless I can reign in my desperate need for human interaction it's going to happen. In fact, I find myself having long conversations with the guy who was formerly the most desperate person in the lab. I only understand every third word or so, but I'm just so happy to talk to someone.

Anyway, I've managed to find plans for this evening... I'm going to an Irish/punk/country/hardcore/rock n'roll/reggae band. I've got absolutely no idea what the music will be, or even what some of those genres are. But before that I've roped another lab member into taking me to by a monthly bus pass. Good times. Anyway, I'll update you all tomorrow on tonight's dual excitement of the bus pass and multi-genre band.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


I know St. Patrick's day was a long time ago, but Melissa wrote a series of frog limericks
- and I don't have anything else to share with you today. I apologize for their general lameness.

First, we have an autobiographical verse with a built in plug for this blog:

There once was an Atlanta girl
who gave living in Europe a whirl.
Check this blog every day
to see what she'll say
and to watch her adventures unfurl.

The rhymes are a little tortured in this one:

I walked in to get out of the storm
and a chance for my feet to get warm
but in front was a man
with a pen in his hand
and he forced me to fill out a form.

And another weather related limerick:

The rain here in Jena's a drag
My morale is starting to sag
I pray for some days
of the sun's friendly rays
or I'll be a cranky old hag.

In the fine limerick tradition there's a racier version of the last one, but since I'm not sure who my reading audience is exactly, you'll have to contact me individually to see it.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Lab pictures

As requested, I took some pictures of the lab to share with you all.

This is my lab. The major disadvantage of it is that my desk and computer are in the same room, so I'm not supposed to eat there. Fortunately, the grad student who acts as safety officer (and takes it very seriously - but he is German after all) is out of town.

Everything is in a separate room here, so if you walk with me downstairs, you'll see:

The culture room! Those of you from my previous lab please note the clutter. I'm fairly sure none of these rooms have ever experienced lab cleaning day.

This is the MS room. Here's one MS. Exciting.

Here's a picture of Christian working - I think he's cleaning macroalgae.

Finally, the break room. It's unfortunate that I suck at Fuseball. People will play with me, but it's mostly out of pity.Can you see the coffee maker by the window? It's very impressive. You can adjust the ratio of coffee to water from strong all the way to "American." But every time I try to make some it flashes some error message at me. I'm told it's the machine in the lab that requires the most maintenance.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Am Herrenberge

Okay finally - some pictures. Assuming that someone is reading this let me show you where I'm currently living.

This is my kitchen. One of the cabinets underneath has a small fridge. Actually, I think I probably have as much counter space as I did in my last apartment.

This is the rest of the apartment. Note that I'm not any neater in Europe than I was in the US. The apartment also has a small balcony, which is nice even if it's currently too cold to stay out there very long. The view varies dramatically depending on which way I turn my head.

This is what I see if I turn my head to the left.

But this is what I see if I turn my head to the right. Much better.

And for a today's final picture - I broke down yesterday and bought a skillet and a pot. I also bought stuff to make pasta. As a special treat I bought a diet coke (actually, a coke zero - they didn't have diet coke, but it was close enough). I carried all this stuff the mile from the bus stop home. It may not actually be a mile, but it's close and it's uphill. I regretted the coke after the first five steps, but in the end it was all worth it. I managed to actually cook dinner for the first time. This is what I ate:

Those of you who are looking closely may notice the copy of Cormac McCarthy's book "The Road" in the background. It's possibly the most horrifying thing I've ever read. Just for future reference you should probably avoid reading books with words like "post-apocalyptic," "desolate," and "unflinching" on the back when you're spending a lot of time alone in a strange country.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Weather report

I'm not an expert on these things, but I'm pretty sure it's started to snow here. I wish I'd worn puffy coat today. I'm discouraged.

I verified the presence of snow with one of the grad students who told me not to worry "it's too warm, so it will not lay on the ground."

Apartment hunting

I've forgotten to bring the cord to transfer pictures from my camera, so you'll have to wait another day to see where I'm living. But it's sort of like a hotel room with a stove. The stove is less useful than you might think because I have no pots in which to cook anything. Some of you may know that I smuggled a jar of peanut butter to Jena, so every morning I toast an English muffin directly on the burners and eat it with my precious peanut butter. This is as close to cooking as I've gotten. I also occasionally make sandwiches. I should probably just buy a pot, but I'm hopeful that I'll get to move out by the end of the month, and I don't want to accumulate anything that I'll just have to transport to a new place.

Which brings me, gentle readers, to the subject of my post. Finding an apartment. It turns out that it's quite difficult. The only apartment complexes are far away (in European terms - something like 3 miles) in places that the lab assures me I don't want to live. So in order to find a place in the city one must check the six websites and two bulletin boards (not virtual ones, real ones with tacks and all) with apartment listings, call and set up appointments, visit the apartment, and decide immediately whether or not you'll take it. There is a 65% chance this process can be conducted in English. Otherwise one (by which I mean me) must ask a German speaking lab member to call and translate.

So far I've set up two appointments. The first woman found someone to rent her apartment before I got there. The second turned out to be some sort of government subsidized place and I made too much money to live there. My next appointment is Tuesday at 5:15, and I think it might be too far away. I also have an appointment sometime next Monday, but I can't remember which apartment it's for. Hopefully I can figure it out by then.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Der Mexicaner

One of the bad things I've discovered about my new lab is that Friday happy hours may not fly. Yesterday, Jenny and I left at 7 (or 19:00 if you prefer) and everyone was still working. While I found this troubling, my enthusiasm for the evening's activities were not dampened. Jenny and I were going to the one Mexican restaurant in Jena - a place called either "Der Mexicaner" or "El Sombrero." I couldn't tell because both names were written on the window.

We started with a margarita. They only served them frozen, which was a bit of a disappointment. But mine was blue and delicious - my only complaint is that it was a little small.

Next came the dinner. I ordered something called the "Macho Nachos," and while they may have been macho, they were like no nachos I've ever seen. Actually, they seemed more like tacos. There were two, with a crunchy shell - one was filled with chicken and the other with ground beef. Both were tasty, although the seasoning was unfamiliar. The most exciting part was the "salad" under the tacos. I've never had pickled green beens and cabbage before. I think it's enough to say that I probably won't have them again.

After dinner, Jenny and I headed to a bar called "Flower Power," which was pretty much like you'd expect - tie dye on the walls, flower decorations, and American 60's music in the background. It turns out that 9 was a bit to early to arrive, and were were the only people there until 11, when the crowd arrived. We drank dark beer and talked to a guy named Tony (doesn't seem like a German name to me either) until after midnight when we decided to head back.

So this is the part I'm a little ashamed of - it was cold at the bus stop, and the bus wasn't due for another 20 minutes. We went to the only non-bar establishment that was open. McDonald's. McDonald's is apparently a teenage hang out in Jena, and the fries taste exactly the same as they do in the US. I was somewhat comforted by that.

Anyway, the night ended with the long walk uphill from the bus stop to my apartment. All in all, I think it was a successful evening out.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Damn Forms.

I've been here for about 3 days, and I've filled in about 9,000 forms at seven different offices. Germans love their forms. And stamps. And stamping forms. My favorite form is the Furhrungszeugnis - which is a "certificate of good conduct" in Germany. Luckily, since I've been filling out forms for the past 72 hours I haven't had time for any bad conduct. But I am now an official resident alien, with an official address, and hopefully an official bank account (I'm not really sure what happened and the bank today - if I get account information in the mail I'll know I succeeded).

Some good things about being here include my labmates, the bus system, and the fact that starting right now I can refer to "the time I lived in Europe." Some bad things include not speaking German, the exchange rate, and the weather (rain).

I a little concerned about some things - for example, what if I start writing my dates backwards even when I don't have to? Or worse, what if I forget how normal light switches look? On one hand making comments like "Oh, I started putting lines through my sevens when I lived in Europe" will make me seem sophisticated and pretentious - attributes to which I strive. On the other hand I suspect that putting commas instead of decimal points in my numbers could cause a lot of confusion should I return.

I've taken some pictures of my tiny "apartment" that I'll post for you, my fellow Americans, some time in the near future. Until then I'm going to lurk around the other lab members and hope that they invite me to lunch.