Friday, September 14, 2007

It's a Nice Day for a White Wedding

The story so far: Our hero [that's me folks] has embarked on a 7-week trip to Germany in the summer of aught-seven to spend with his girlfriend of [now} 2-years, the OFOMOL. They have spent time in crappy Pforzheim and visited Strasbourg, France. They are back in Dresden.

We were invited to a wedding of a friend of the OFOMOL in Berlin. They were in the same undergraduate program and she was getting married to an American with the same name as me! Pretty crazy! So we took the train (have I mentioned how much I love travelling by train?) to Berlin. We had already done the tourist trip there last summer so we didn't need to see all the sights. While on the train, slightly before we arrived in Berlin, the OFOMOL asked if I needed to use the bathroom. The rational of this is that when we got to Berlin the bathrooms in the main station would charge to use the bathrooms. It has been documented here before how much I HATE this concept of paying for the bathroom. It ain't right! I didn't need to use the bathroom (at the time) and sat contently as we rolled into Berlin.

We arrive and we stop at the OFOMOL's favorite coffee shop, Starbucks. I am working (slowly but surely) on learning more German and I felt comfortable enough to order our drinks in German. I do this and feel proud of myself and then the barista says "seven eruos please." D'oh! I work hard to talk in German and she speaks English back to me! Not only that she asked for my name twice (for our order) and when it arrived they called out "Paul" (which certainly isn't my name). They were supposed to be two medium (no Starbucks sizes for me) vanilla lattes but I know my tasted like it was sans-vanilla. Oh well, we took the cups for Paul and were on our way.

Then (maybe it was the coffee, it is a diuretic) I realize that nature is calling and I will need to use said bathrooms in the main station. I mention this to my beautiful girlfriend and she says "oh no, I told you to go on the train!" and rightfully so, she raises her voice and tells me I am a little kid. Probably because she told me to go and I didn't and she knows how much I hate paying for the bathroom. OK Ok, she gets over it but tells me I have to pay for the bathroom. I get my money out and realize I don't have enough money and must borrow some from her to use the bathroom. Oh the irony!

So we make our way to one of the suburbs outside of Berlin to attend the Poltabend. I would say this is a bit analogous to the rehearsal dinner for American weddings, but it was so much more. Since the groom is American his family and some of his friends came over. After a couple of weeks in Germany it was nice to converse with Americans. The food was great! Fresh grilled wurst, steaks, all sorts of salads, and of course plenty of German beer! But that wasn't all! After dinner we gathered around near the door to the house. Everyone was supposed to bring some sort of ceramic plate/dishware. All the guests then throw the plates/etc on the ground near the door. The belief is that the noise of the glass breaking will scare away the ghosts (polt, ie poltergeist) the night (abend) before the wedding. The OFOMOL's mother gave us a stack of plates to take -- I thought it was excessive, that was until I broke a plate! It was pretty cool. I mean, really, how often do you get to break plates on purpose? Everyone had fun doing it. That is not all though as before the bride and groom get married, the have to clean up the glass into some container. Anyone, however, can go and dump the shards(sp?) of glass out at anytime. So as the bride and groom were shovelling the glass into a wheelbarrow a couple of times someone would go and flip it over and they had to start over again. There are stories of people dumping it out in the middle of the night and on the steps of the church so they have to clean it up before the ceremony! It was a really good time and it is something that can definitely be incorporated into an American Wedding.

The wedding itself was heald in a little vacation area. There was a lake, horseback riding and the place we were staying had unfinished wood. Gives it that cabin/rustic feel to it. The big difference between American and German weddings is that they have to be conducted by an offical person who does weddings. Church weddings are not recognized legally in Germany. While the ceremony was nice (it was outside), it had a bit of a regimented feel to it. The rest of the stuff was like any other wedding I've been to. Well there was a lot of crappy Euro/German-pop music -- even the natives complained about the song selection.

One aspect that is unique to German Weddings is the kidnapping of the bride. Since we were on a lake, a group of people took the bride out on a boat in the middle of the lake. The DJ started playing the music from Pirates of the Caribbean and the groom was like "hey! What's going on?" He promptly grabbed his best man (yet another American married to a German) and they rowed out to save his bride. Upon rescuing her and returning to shore he said "I saved the flag" as they had an American flag and then stated "and I found this girl." Hehe.

I know I've written a lot for tonight, but it was a fun time. As I mentioned before, I like experiencing these different cultural things. Since dating her, I've come to appreciate the differences we all have.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Take a Break Driver 8

Chapter II where we find our hero and his girlfriend travelling to Strasbourg, France.

Being close to France we decided to take a day trip to Strasbourg. Now if you haven't been to Europe, trains are a great and efficient way to travel. Especially in Germany, the Deutsche Bahn does a great job. Now I've never ridden Amtrak but aside from the east coast, I believe that train travel in this country is a joke. After several experiences with the trains in Germany, I can say I enjoy train travel (must more over air) and wish we had a better system here.

Well we did run into a slight problem with the DB. Apparently the drivers/employees were on strike that week, well sort of. Instead of being on complete strike, they just refused to start working until 9am. Now I am no labor expert but I thought the point of a strike is to refuse to do your work until your demands are met. If you are providing a service (driving trucks, teaching kids, trains) and go on strike it disrupts yhe business and puts the employer in a corner to keep business going. Ergo, you are more likely to have your needs met. To me this seemed like a half-assed strike and only caused minor problems.

Because of this strike we were delayed for a good hour and a half and spent some quality time in Offenberg. Eventually we did make it to France. Unfortunately because of the EU, I did not get my passport stamped in France, oh well, c'est la vie. Strasbourg is a nice little city although it was a little chilly and we were faced with off & on rain throughout the day. We did see the cathedral. It is unique in that it should have two steeples, but they never finished the one side. So it looks a little funny and you can see where the 2nd steeple should go. Now all these cathedrals in Europe are great. They are huge and several hundreds years old and have a lot history to them. After seeing a few of them I can say that if you've seen one Gothic cathedral, you've seen them all. We were going to go to one of the art museums there but apparently it was closed on tuesdays. I should have known this as I took 3 years of French 12-14 years ago.

Instead of the museum we took a boat trip around the city. We got to see a lot of the historical sections and they took us past the European Parliament which is located in Strasbourg. As the weather was pretty crappy we did take the opportunity to go to the city museum. It had just reopened in the past week and featured a lot of interactive stuff. I enjoyed the museum as I have a soft side for all this historical stuff...never mind that I couldn't read anything. In the museum there was a little video session we saw, although since it was in French neither of us understood it and we wondered why we sat there for 10 min to watch the video.

Then we went to dinner. Since we were in France I had to try escargot. The snails were served with a very-garlic butter sauce. I wasn't too impressed and they were rather chewy. I would say they are similar to mussels, but not as good. Though the OFOMOL has had them before and said that the ones we had were not very good. I also had a beer from a brewery that was founded in the 11th century. The 11th century!!! We have no idea what the natives were doing here in the 11th century but in Europe they were brewing beer.

It was a nice experience. Yeah the weather could have been better but I can say that I have visited France. As a side note, the OFOMOL is travelling to Mexico tomorrow for a semester in Monterrey. Please wish her safe travels.

Coming Tomorrow: the joys of a German wedding

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Far Away From West Virginia

I am back in the states. I've been back for about two weeks but I've just found time to put up a new post. Hopefully all my readers are not totally kaput. I had a great summer spending 7 weeks in Germany/Europe. I can tell you that it was an amazing time. It isn't always easy being in an intercontinental long-distance relationship but we know that when we are together, we have a wonderful time and life is pretty much perfect. I can say without reservations that it was the best 7 weeks and the best summer I have ever had. We made lots of memories we will take with us for the rest of our lives. We did so much to include in one post, so I'll take the next couple of days to describe some of the experiences we had.

We spent the first 10 days or so in Pforzheim where she is in school. The OFOMOL doesn't think too highly of this city, but considering where I live, I had no problem with it. I flew into Frankfurt and had to take the train there. She met me in Karlsruhe and I had no idea where to find her. I got off the train and saw, out of the corner of my eye, someone running directly to me. What a great reunion it was.

I had a chance to meet most of her classmates. She is in an international business program so there are students from all over -- Germany (of course), Romania, USA, Belarus, Sudan, Taiwan, China, Mexico, Columbia, Turkey, and Lithuania. I think I got most of the countries. They are a nice group of people and I do appreciate being exposed to other cultures.

The first friday there I did do a 10K Race, the Citylauf Pforzheim. It has been quite awhile since I have run competitively and I thought I would be able to handle it but it kicked my ass. It was a 2K loop that we ran five times. I got passed by the top-guys during my 2nd loop (ie they were on their 3rd) and on my 3rd loop my legs were really starting to feel it. It became a battle of wanting to finish and keep my legs moving rather then try to do well. I finished with a stellar time of 52 minutes. Back in the day (18 months ago) I ran sub-36. But it was nice to get back into the running thing and I was treated to a very-tasty doner afterwards.

We also took a trip to the Daimler Benz Museum. That was pretty cool and I had a good time there. It is one of those interactive museums where you could spend hours in. There was a lot of history to the company. Some of the highlights include a Mercedes garbage truck in which I got to sit in and the Popemobile. As the Daimler Museum is in Stuttgart which is special in the fact that it has one of the American food places that the OFOMOL loves; that's right, Starbucks. Upon her insistence we stopped there for a coffee.

As Pforzheim is close to France, we did take a day trip to Strssbourg. The details of that trip will be addressed in the next post.