Monday, November 1, 2010

Riddle Me That

AAAAnd now, the moment you've all been waiting for: explanations of the cryptic photographs I posted last week. You all are very clever!  Some experience in Europe probably helped.

This is the "push for signal" box on my corner.  It's one of the old boxy ones that you actually have to push; the newer ones are rounded and have some kind of sensor you just have to put your hand over.  Both kinds, however, light up to tell you "Signal kommt," and usually the wait isn't long, as most seem to be set up to favor pedestrians over vehicular traffic.  Germans almost always wait for the grüner Ampelmensch* (the green-light man) before crossing the street.  This not only speaks to their cultural desire for Ordnung (order) but to mere self-preservation: I've seen some crazy traffic patterns, and you just never know when a truck is going to round the corner.  In addition, cars will stop if you are standing at a crosswalk without a light, and they wait well back of the buses and trams so passengers can get on and off.

My house and the bridge across the river are to the right in this image; to the left across the street is the bus stop I use to get into town.  The car is turning from Schillerstrasse, that mondo big hill I rode down after my first day at the archives.

On the right is the shower head on the wall above the bath tub.  I thought it would be more awkward to shower sitting down, but it's not.  Of course, I only run the water when I'm getting wet or rinsing. ;-)

Below is the light switch outside the door to our apartment.  The light switches in the common hallways here are pretty clever: you can turn one on downstairs when you come in from the street (by pressing down, of course!), and the hallway and staircase is illuminated for several minutes--plenty of time to get up to your Wohnung (apartment).  Then the environmentally-friendly compact light bulbs switch off again.

I've been air drying a lot of my clothes since my freshman year in college: it's cheaper than drying them when wet and then having to replace them when they fade.  This monster is not as compact as the racks I have at home, but it works like a charm.  I can either wash socks and such in the sink and hang them up, or I can bring back tops and what-not from Waschsalon (laundromat) in a plastic bag and dry them in my room for my less than in the large but inefficient dryers.  Unfortunately, there's no way it's coming home on the plane with me. :-(

Here you see our hot water pot.  It's faster than a microwave (which we don't have, anyway).  I use it to boil water for tea and couscous, and sometimes to measure water.  (A few mLs are within my ken, but what's 250ml??)  That's a bowl of Kandiszucker (rock sugar).

The serrated bar to hold open the outer window in my room was the inspiration for this exercise.  There's nothing inherently foreign about this mechanical technology, but it was very satisfying that with a little investigation (there's a small knob on the underside of the window frame), it became apparent how to use it.  For all I know, it dates to the building of the house c. 1906.  The floors may be original, too, as there are heel-sized divots in the wood of the hallway, right where you step when coming out of the kitchen or bathroom.

If you use public transportation at all in Germany, you must know how to use one of these!  These time Stempel (stamp) machines are found either at the subway entrances or in the buses and trams.  After you buy your ticket, you stick the end into the red "mouth" so it can be time- and date-stamped.  German public transit runs on the honor principle, supported by random Kontrollierungen (inspections).  Sometimes the agents are stealthy: my ride has only been kontrolliert once so far in Dresden, by a very unassuming middle-aged woman in everyday clothes and carrying a purse.  After we left the stop, she asked for our tickets and showed us her badge.  I had my monthly pass, of course, but I can't help but get a little sinking feeling in my stomach when that happens, because the first time I was in Berlin on my own, I forgot that I had to stempel my ticket.  The agents, who were wearing camo-type uniforms, were not impressed with my pleas that I had just bought my pass.  They marched me off the tram and showed me the Stempel machine.  Thus, when I couldn't find my pass the other evening, I went ahead and shelled out the Euro 1,90 to ride 3 stops on the trams, just in case.  Otherwise, it's a Euro 40 fine.

This medieval-looking device is a can-opener.  Maybe readers of a certain age are familiar with such a one?  I learned about it when I could not, for the life of me, open a jar of Essiggürken (pickles).  My roommate showed me how to break the vacuum seal with this handy little lever.  She says she learned the trick from her Russian mother and grandmother.

The last item is the generator for the head- and taillights on my bicycle.  When engaged, the turning of the back wheel powers the lamps.  I think that I may have had one of these on the bicycle Dear Husband bought me for my birthday a couple of years ago, and that I tore the wire (at that time not yet connected to a light) on my first ride.  Whoops.

All in all, you made an excellent showing.  Thank you for participating in this fun little exercise!


  1. Yay, I got two correct, and two close. I knew what the can opener was only because one of the churchs I have worked in the kitchen in had an old one similar to that, such that I recognized the shape and rusty-ness. Similarly, I have worked in really old buildings such that I have seen similar old window prop thingys. The shower head pipes/tubes I would have gotten, as I have seen similar tubing around, but only in laboratory settings, and since you don't do experiments in labs, I figured it had to be something other than a flexible water tube.
    --Cindy Smith

  2. I really enjoy how you mix in the German words into the paragraphs. - Eric Lee

  3. Hey I think I did pretty well. I got:
    1) Crossing box
    2) Window latch
    3) Ticket reader
    4) Can opener

    1) Shower hose (I guessed water heater hose)
    2) Drying rack (I guessed ironing board support)

    1) Bike generator (forgot what I guessed but I think I said it might be bike related)
    2) Light switch (I guess fridge panel)



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