Correction: since posting this, I have made the 9-hour journey, and it turns out I required both an S-Bahn and a bus to get from the train station to my new apartment, so the tally has been edited accordingly. Makes the post title that much more applicable!
One of the most immediate things to get used to is the built environment. For instance, the wall sockets. Because I live on my computer, these are a crucial part of my daily life. For one, they run 240V over here instead of 110V. Translated: my laptop would get its dear electronic brains fried if I were to plug it into one those.* IF I could plug it into one of those. See, there are two problems: 1) public places like cafes and train stations are not built for laptop users. I spent a long four hours in Aachen’s train station and managed to finagle one hour of plugged-in-ness from a café by buying a pastry, a hot chocolate, and dinner from them, and scramming 15 minutes after the barista scolded me that I couldn’t have my laptop plugged in the whole time. (All this was before a 2-hour train ride, so I admit I was trying to get while the getting was good. I’ve been spoiled by the café culture in the US—don’t even think about free wi-fi here!) The sockets are round and take two round prongs instead of the two round and one flat prong on my conventional grounded American plug. I had forgotten this until the weekend I spent in Baltimore, when my dad reminded me. I was able to find a converter/surge protector at Walgreens for under $15; but since I have only the one I can’t lose it Thankfully I almost never want to plug in both of my electronics at the same time (the other being my digital camera). Here is an illustration from “my” desk at the Deutsches Kochbuch Museum in Dortmund.
The light switches are different, too. At first I was a little confused, although they are very easy to work: obviously, just push the other side of the button if the lights aren’t on or off the way you want them to be. But I experienced some cognitive dissonance because in the US, up = on and down = off. But it works the other way here.
Since I took those photos in my hostel here in Dortmund, I thought I would share something else that is different. This is how to make your bed in this part of Europe. The flat sheet goes on the matress. On the right is the pillow, big and fluffy, just the way I like it! On the left is the Bettdecke, which is basically a comforter that you have to wrestle into an enormous pillowcase. These ones are squarish, but the one at the hostel in Maastricht was much longer and quite difficult to maneuver (especially with two European roommates watching me!). Also in Maastricht I encountered “Presto,” bane of hot water hogs! You have to push it in to get water, which then runs out after a set period of time. I didn’t measure it here, but I noted it was longer than at one hostel I used in Berlin a couple years ago, which had cruelly short bursts. The idea is to encourage you to soap up with the water off and then rinse off under the water. Makes good environmental and economic sense, so I’ve actually been showering like that at home for a couple of years. I figure I might be off-setting some small part of DH’s long hot showers. ;-)
Next post: Dresden!
*--Since posting this, a few friends have pointed out that my laptop can probably withstand 240V, and they're right. So the problem remains the shape of the plug. Thus, if I do lose my converter/adapter/surge protector, I really only need a plug adapter, which should be quite cheap. Thanks!
p.s.—I might be on DVW, German public radio! At least, a reporter came to do a piece on the Kochbuch Museum, and she interviewed me briefly (as a Benutzerin [user]). Although three Germans have said this week that I have “sehr gutes Deutsch,” I’m afraid the reporter probably didn’t think so. Ah well. I will keep you updated if/when it airs!