Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hop on the bus, Gus!

Thursday evening when I get to Dresden—“home” for the next 5 months—I will have been “unter Wegs” for 3 weeks: Champaign, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Heathrow, Copenhagen, Dortmund, Maastricht, Aachen, Dortmund, and then finally Dresden. The grand total of vehicular transport in that time (not counting intra-city travel) includes, in alphabetical order, 3 airplanes, 4 buses, 1 cab, 4 cars, 1 ferry, 1 Metro, 1 Strassenbahn, 9 trains, and 1 U-Bahn. Makes your head spin, doesn’t it?

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!

I have been trying to come to grips with the fact that I will be living here, in Germany, in Europe, for the next 10 months. I look at the people on the train or on the U-Bahn and wonder if they look particularly “German”? Or could they be Americans until they start talking? But appearances aren’t everything, and I know there are other Weltanschaaungen over here, too.

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!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Copenhagen, Part the Second -- In Which I Admire Sparkly Things

This is my second story about my stay in Copenhagen. The first one, about my trip to Tivoli, is posted here, and this is the second one, about my visit to Rosenborg Castle. Both have a lot of photos, so I apologize if the load time is long!

Christian IV built Rosenborg Slot (Castle) between 1606 and 1624. Three kings lived there, until Friedrich IV built Friedrich Slot around 1710. Rosenborg then became a ceremonial location, the Skatkammer (treasury), and—in 1838—a museum of contemporary history open to the public! Before the castle opened, I took photographs of some of the sculptures in the adjacent Kongens Have (King’s Garden). Maybe you can tell the weather was regnerisch (rainy) again.

It was one of the more interesting royal residences I’ve toured, probably because the styles ranged from 17th-century hunting lodge through roccocco villa to Empire mansion. The free map they offer helpfully includes a list of the Danish kings and queens and gives a few details about each room. I was curious about the cryptic description of “the king’s bloody clothing” in Christian IV’s bedroom, so I asked the guard standing in the doorway. (Almost everyone in Copenhagen speaks fair to good English, and they don’t mind using it, when it’s evident you know about 3 words of Danish.) He explained that the king had gone to war against Sweden, and when a cannonball hit the deck of the ship where he was standing, it blew to pieces, taking out the king’s right eye. Hence the rips and blood stains on the various objects of clothing in the glass display case. The guard went on to say that Christian lived in much pain for the last three years of his life, because the physicians didn’t have much medicine that actually worked. He showed us the “everyday” crown with a green silk patch that would have hung over the hole in Christian’s face; and also the pair of earrings made of gold hands holding two pieces of schrapnel pulled from the king's eye socket. Apparently the queen actually wore them—but they were so small that I wouldn’t have seen them otherwise. I’m glad I asked!

My roommate was particularly interested in the wax busts (I forget who this is). On the top floor was the Knight’s Hall, with 12 beautiful, hand-made tapestries. I overheard a guide telling a group of East Asian tourists that Denmark had fought 7 wars with Sweden, and lost 6 1/2 of them. The tapestries were to celebrate the 1/2 war they won! I didn’t take any pictures of those, but these are the thrones. 

I was particularly interested in the treasury: so many beautiful things! I felt like I ought to judge the royals for expecting such opulence (and paying for it with taxes on the common people), but everything was just so pretty that I could hardly hold their wanting such objects against them.  Although I don’t suppose they actually used or wore the half of what I saw—at least that was my understanding after seeing a similar collection in Dresden (the Grüne Gewolbe). As with the pantomimes at Tivoli, I just wanted to look and look and look.  After seeing the size of the gems on this crown, and having just gotten out of a conference on medical objects and museums, I wondered where premodern Europeans got the precious metals and jewels they used for all this finery. A few semi-useful Google searches later, I was left with “Asia,” “Africa,” and “the New World.” Ah well. At least no blood must be shed or peoples brutalized or oppressed to bring you these (blurry) images.

p.s.—From Copenhagen to Dortmund I took 1 cab, 2 trains, 1 ferry, and 1 U-Bahn.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Copenhagen, Part the First -- In Which I Amuse Myself in a Park

I will tell you two stories about my stay in Copenhagen. The first one is about my trip to Tivoli Gardens, and the second is about my visit to Rosenborg Castle. Both have a lot of photos, so I apologize if the load time is long!

Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest amusement park in the world (est. 1843), is located across the street from the main train station, right in the center of Copenhagen. (The oldest one is outside Copenhagen and is [generously] dated to 1583!) Tivoli consists of rides for all ages, indoor and outdoor performance venues, eateries, four casinos, Europe's longest saltwater aquarium, exhibit space (currently hosting dinosaur skeletons), and interspersed gardens. The first thing I saw when I got into the park was the famous Peacock Theater, which shows pantomimes based on Hans Christian Andersen stories as well as more modern dance performances. The first and last thing I did at Tivoli was to watch parts of two pantomimes, and I was completely hooked. The sets and costumes are colorful, there’s a live orchestra, and the dancers are really very good. I didn’t know either fairy tale, but I mostly followed along. Disney wishes it were this cool.

Left: casino; center: pantomime; right: Peacock Theater

It cost about 95DKK ($17) to get into Tivoli, and I splurged 75DKK ($13.50) for three tickets to get on one of the biggest rides. Apparently the park is famous for the Rutsjebanen, one of the oldest wooden roller coasters still in use today. (Wikipedia informs me it was built in 1914 in Malmö, Sweden.) But because I’ve always liked carnival swings, I chose the Himmelskibet (The Star Flyer). I have just learned from Wikipedia that this, the world's tallest carousel, was built in Austria in 2006 and is eighty meters high (that's 262.5 feet for you metrically-challenged readers). It took us up so high that, not only could we get a bird’s eye view of the entire park, but we could see for miles in all directions. It was quite chilly all the way up there, but totally worth it.

After such a cold ride, I needed a warm drink, which I acquired at a nearby Konditerei. Have I mentioned that’s one of my favorite Germanic words? Or maybe, it’s one of my favorite Germanic meanings.

I had hardly finished my hot chocolate before the Tivoli Boys Guard could be heard approaching. It consists of dozens of boys from eight to sixteen playing instruments and marching in “lobster-back” uniforms around the gardens. They accompany a horse-drawn carriage with a small prince and princess inside. Quite the spectacle.

Thereafter I wandered around and experimented with my camera. I’m no photographer, but the light was poor on account of the rain clouds, so I got a crash course in “exposure time,” “shutter priority,” and “aperture priority.” With some trial and error I was able to get pictures like this one. One of the interesting features of Tivoli is that it is almost possible to forget you’re in a major city in some parts of the gardens. Below you can see the tourist attraction probably most commonly associated with the capital of Denmark: den lille havfrue. The “real” version of The Little Mermaid is usually found in Amaliehavn, but “she is on vacation” at an expo in Shanghai until February 2011. This version is sculptor Edvard Eriksen’s family’s copy, on loan to Tivoli so visitors won't have to go without a photo of Hans Christian Andersen's tragic beauty. By-the-by, the sculpture was commissioned in 1909 by Carl Jacobsen, of the dynasty that founded the popular local beer, Carlsberg. It was unveiled in 1913.


When I left the amusement park two hours after I came, it was dusk and had started to drizzle. I imagine all the lights are quite pretty at night. 

p.s.—For those of you scoring from home, from Champaign to Copenhagen I took 3 car rides, 3 airplanes, 1 bus, and 1 Metro.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

An American in Dresden

“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality,
and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.” ~ Samuel Johnson

I like to travel, probably most of all because I like to be out of my usual, hectic routine.  While traveling I can leave a messy room, a stuffed schedule, and most of the books that I'm supposed to be "reading."  Alas, I now have the technology to scan books or download pdfs onto my laptop and edit them (ie. highlight, underline, scribble notes in the margins--if you're not using PDF-Xchange yet, let me put in a plug for them; it's free and so much more agile than Adobe!).  Anyway, I will never be without my "must-read" list by virtue of its physical bulk again.  Ah, well.  Perhaps this crush of reading can now be accomplished on trains--my favorite method of travel--or in foreign cafes, which improve upon their American counterparts by virtue of lower pastry prices and by offering me Sahne with my hot chocolate. cultured.

Does travel really make you a better person?  Some people say yes, because it broadens your horizons, lets you see how other people live in other places.  Personally, I have found that "Germans" are more real for me now that I have seen them go about their daily lives in person, than when I first read about them in my high school German textbook (the one from the 1980s with pictures of Jungen named Hans and Uwe playing Fussball in short-shorts).  Some say no, because it is too easy to find only yourself when traveling (cf. Eat, Pray, Love and the second Sex & the City movie).  I believe this was often the case for both my fellow American students and our aloof South Korean roommates the summer I spent at the Goethe Institut in college.  Others don't like the question, because answering it, especially in the affirmative, may make it sound as though travel is the only way to improve yourself; or that the supposed benefits of travel (an open mind, new experiences) can only be acquired by physically going there, wherever there is.  This discriminates against those of lesser means, but not those of lesser minds.

A few weeks ago, I came across the line (above) by famous British author Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) while looking for some travel quotations with which to spice up my posts.  I chose it because it sounded familiar...probably because I wrote something similar on my Fulbright application.  On retrospection, I also find it interesting because one of the historical intellectual conflicts I will address in my dissertation is the nature of evidence--namely, what kind of evidence about nutrition and digestion did early-twentieth-century Saxons find convincing?  What did you have to tell them to get them to change their behaviors one way or another?  Many proponents of alternative medicine and food fads spoke from the authority of personal experience.  While many food gurus today still hold up their own weight-loss or recovery from illness, other experts (namely the medical establishment) insist on the gold standard of evidence-based medicine, the double-blind randomized and controlled trial.  (Or even better, a meta-analysis of double-blind randomized and controlled trials!)  Johnson is advocating for the importance of "autopsy" (eye-witness) for moderation of personal intellectual growth; I don't know what he thought about convincing others with one's own experience.  Travel literature and testimonials have long been popular genres, I guess because at the very least they are entertaining.

I study a topic in a time period for which many published sources by a wide range of experts are available and can be obtained from an academic library.  But there are still some institutional records, rare books, and handwritten documents that require me to go to Germany.  More importantly, I believe, my dissertation research needs to be done in Saxony, and not via Inter-Library Loan from the comfort of home, because I am writing the history of people who lived (and ate) in a particular place (and time).  So I need to ground my scholarly understanding of food history in the realities of Dresden, and Leipzig, and Chemnitz, ideally through personal experience.  Not only will I be living with Germans, but I hope to travel some around Saxony and to learn to cook some local dishes.  Could this project be done from home?  Sure.  The result would be different, but it could be done.  I'm lucky I received funding to taste Saxony for myself, while you are subjected to my travel-blog!

And now I am about to embark on this adventure.  My flight leaves at 9pm, I have a 3 hour layover at Heathrow in the morning, and I arrive in Copenhagen at 3:40pm local time.  My next post (hopefully) will be from Denmark, in the city of Hans Christian Anderson.

p.s.--I've included a photo of me with all my gear, so you can judge for yourself whether I was successful in my attempt to "pack lightly."  That's one rolling suitcase (carry-on size), one stuffed backpack with laptop, and one LLB tote bag for over-flow.  We'll see if I'm still smiling in 18 hours...

Monday, September 6, 2010

Wie ist das Wetter?

Caveat lector: in this long post I muse about the weather, clothes, shoes, and packing. If these subjects do not interest you, come back in a week or so, when I write about traveling!

                                                  Maximum            Minimum
Dresden weather in January        2°C / 36°F          3°C / 27°F
Dresden weather in February      4°C / 39°F        -2°C / 28°F
Dresden weather in March          8°C / 46°F          0°C / 32°F
Dresden weather in April           13°C / 55°F         4°C / 39°F
Dresden weather in May           18°C / 64°F          8°C / 46°F
Dresden weather in June           22°C / 72°F         11°C / 52°F
Dresden weather in July            23°C / 73°F         13°C / 55°F
Dresden weather in August       23°C / 73°F         12°C / 54°F
Dresden weather in September 18°C / 64°F          9°C / 48°F
Dresden weather in October     14°C / 57°F          6°C / 43°F
Dresden weather in November   7°C / 45°F          2°C / 36°F
Dresden weather in December    3°C / 37°F         -1°C / 30°F

Wie ist das Wetter in Deutschland?  On the whole, it will be cooler than here, as Saxony lies farther north than most of the US. For comparison, the northernmost town in Maine is Estcourt, which lies on the 47th parallel; Winnipeg in Manitoba is on the 49th parallel; Dresden lies on the 51st parallel.  From the table you can see that the warmest Dresden typically gets is in the low 70s in the summer, although the text from the website actually says that because of the climate of the Elbe River valley, summer temps often reach the low 80s.  The coldest is usually just below freezing.  Compared with negative temperatures here the last two winters, it should be relatively mild!  An umbrella or two will be a must.

I will spend this, my last week at home, cleaning out my study and trying to maximize my packing capabilities. In preparation for my preparations, I solicited advice from grad students who have already completed their foreign research. I was particularly interested in what kind of clothes to bring.   The general refrain was that while some locations (notably university libraries) have more relaxed sartorial standards, some archivists equate one's wardrobe with the seriousness of one's project; and that to be on the safe side, I should dress more formally the first day or so, and then relax as I gauge the expectations of the people who will be answering my thousand questions and fetching me more or less obscure materials.  The problem is that I am planning on visiting both libraries and archives, and since I can't know the unspoken dress codes ahead of time, it seems I should pack a wardrobe that ranges from "graduate student" (= jeans and hoody; read: comfortable) to "conference presentation" (= suit or equivalent; read: uncomfortable, not to mention not very travel-worthy).  This advice clashes with another sage saying I heard: pack twice as much money and half as much clothing as you think you will need.

A friend of mine with apparently heroic self-discipline got through the usual year of dissertation research with three shirts, two pairs of slacks, a pair of jeans, and a winter coat.  He always looks proper; but I am afraid I could do no such thing. I know, I know: you can only wear one pair of pants at a time, etc.  But at the end of the winter I always despise my (admittedly ample) sweater collection--but perhaps it is more the drudgery of the cold weather that has worn thin my patience than "nothing to wear.  On the other hand, I can't pack the way I used to when I went home for the month of winter break back in college.  Whereas my friend took only a backpack for a year, ...I used to lug home two suitcases, a toiletries bag, and a backpack.  For one month. At home.  So it's not like I was trying to avoid the cost of laundry!  I just couldn't help but think, "What if I want to wear that shirt?"  Of course, I probably didn't wear half of what I lugged on the airplane.  Checked baggage fees and some travel maturity have largely cured me of that bad habit.  But what to bring for 10.5 months living in Europe?

One factor befuddling my packing is that I have only ever experienced Europe (Germany, Czech Republic, England, Ireland) in the summer.  With the exception of a heatwave one July in Prague, my impression is of cool and rain.  I only got through the two months of a supposedly atypical but by subsequent experience standard summer at the Goethe Institut in Göttingen by appropriating a sweatshirt from a classmate; thank goodness I had included one pair of jeans with all my shorts and t-shirts.   This time, however, I will be arriving in the middle of fall, with a long winter ahead of me.   For instance, this week in Dresden daytime highs are in the 60s with fog or rain, and nighttime lows are in the lower 50s.   By the time I arrive there October 1, it should be in the 50s during the day and the 40s at night.  The final complication of this sort is my brief stop-over in Baltimore, where the temps are still in the 80s!

Another piece of advice I have received regarding packing for this trip is that "Germany is a civilized country, after all"--meaning, if I forget something, I can just buy a replacement when I get there.  Several people have suggested buying everything from shampoo to a bike helmet once I get to Germany.  However, the frugal me doesn't see why I should spend money over there for something I already own (over here), especially something like a helmet that isn't consumable.  We'll see if I change my tune once the packing begins.

One thing that will improve my preferred wardrobe (jeans, tees, sweatshirts), is that my favorite comfy tops are printed in English, with med school and other slogans.  There are any number of reasons not to want to stand out as an American, but probably prime among them is my personal desire not to repeat an episode from that summer abroad during college.  Despite the suggestion not to bring clothing with English words (it was 2002, after all), my attire at the time largely consisted of Dance Marathon t-shirts.  While walking through the town center of Göttingen wearing one of them, I was accosted by a boy, probably 10 years old: "Do you speak English?" he asked.  "Vielleicht [maybe]," I replied, indicating my preference to speak in German. "Vielleicht," he repeated, mocking my accent.  I had been revealed as a double impostor: an American who wouldn't speak English but couldn't speak German.  Then he and his friend ran away.

With the weather and a rough dress code of "nice graduate student" in mind, I am planning to bring only (unprinted) tops that I can wear for more than one season--i.e. pieces that layer well.  I am often cold, so in addition to my winter coat, I will bring at least one hoody for all those chilly archives, plus some leggings to wear under my pants like longjohns.  (Leggings and herbal tea were about the only way I recently survived a very cold winter of classes in the basement of the hospital!)  Speaking of pants, I suspect the limiting factor will be the bottoms, or more precisely, the shoes.  Most of my nice tops can be worn with either dress pants, khakis, or jeans.  So far, so good. But what shoes to bring??  I don't consider myself a shoe-horse (is that the equivalent of a clothes-horse?), but the volume of the provisional list I'm made of footwear already alarms me: sneakers, 1 or 2 of the 3 pairs of nice shoes I own, probably one pair of sandals, and boots.  Maybe also my slippers?  Probably I will leave the black shoes and bottoms home, but then I have to choose between the gray shoes that make my feet look small and the practical but boring brown ones.  Oh woe, the decisions!

One "cheat" I may use is asking DH to bring me a small bag of clothes (probably sweaters, maybe the boots?) when he comes to visit in November; he can take them away again in March, and I will have gotten through the winter with an expanded wardrobe.  Similarly, my parents hope to visit next spring; maybe I'll pack a bag of summerish clothes and sandals for my stopover next week, leave it there, and ask them to bring it with them?

Either way, perhaps from the undue length of this post you can tell that I've thought a lot about packing--but not really as much from worry as from my secret glee at problem solving.  Packing is like three-dimensional Tetris (my favorite two-dimensional computer game): how can I get all this stuff to fit in that little space?  I relish the challenge.   Hopefully my send-off photo from the airport will prove that I was up to the task!