Friday, July 31, 2009

Stop the presses!

Just thought you'd need to know information like this before you make your choices at the bar this weekend.

And for any locals reading this, here's some entertainment options for the next several weekends.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Happy (Belated) Moon Landing!

Thought I'd try my best to be the last one to comment on this topic. Well, to be honest, I wasn't so much trying to be the last one to comment on this. Instead I just came across this yesterday while wandering around. Anyway, nearly 10 days after the hoopla ladies and gentlemen, Der Schmitz-Saule:

This can be found in the courtyard near the entrance to Groß St. Martin. Below is a close-up of the inscription.

Still can't find it? Look for this:

That's Groß St. Martin. You can find the Schmitz-Saule close to the entrance of the church. The church dominates the southern part of the skyline. Its foundations are built on top of old Roman ruins. For 50 cents, you can access these ruins in the basement of the church. From what I've been able to find out, most of these ruins are from warehouses. When the warehouses were built, the site was right off the Rhine River. Here's a couple of fuzzy photos from underground. It was difficult to take a photo down there that gave you any sort of perspective on what you can see.

More on underground explorations this weekend!

Saturday, July 25, 2009


I once came across another site about Cologne where the author posted random sounds recorded from the city. I can no longer seem to locate that one. If you know of it, please pass it along with a comment below. I thought doing the same might make for a fun occasional feature.

I only had an hour after class until She was done with work. I had a headache for most of the day and so ultimately, I just wanted a bench to sit on and wait. I found one on the Cathedral Square and spent the time watching the tour groups and street performers come and go. It is almost always windy by the Dom. You'll probably also hear a harp player and singer in the background. Let me know if this works, if you like it, etc. I'd like to do more of this if it all works okay but I'm really counting on you readers to let me know.

So without further adieu, here's my first attempt at posting some audio from yesterday afternoon. Try clicking here to download and listen:


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Political Follow-Up

A brief follow up on my last post. To recap, we've seen "Köln Kann's" and "Köln kann's besser." Enter a third variation:

The FDP promises "Köln kann mehr." (Cologne can do more.)

In all fairness, I haven't even been here for a month yet. And there is no way I could possibly make sense of the politics. But it sure makes it difficult to tell these parties apart when the slogans are all variations of the same thing.

Let the debates begin!

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Monday, July 20, 2009

If you go, take a jacket

She was at work hours before I ever woke up. She had been outside and already experienced the weather. But of course I ignored the advice over the phone about taking a rain coat. It looked beautiful outside the bedroom window. I'll wear my regular jacket and a bring a baseball hat just in case.

I was awake early and felt good. Two cups of coffee, some toast. Finally, a nice day to go for a long walk through the city. I thought I'd spend a few hours roughly tracing the remains of the medieval city wall and then meet up with Her for brunch before heading home together. I grabbed my iPod and my small city guidebook and made my way to the S-Bahn. It was windy but the sun felt warm on my black jacket. Feel free to tag along...

Here's a copy of the map in case you get lost. Click on the "More" button and switch on the photos to see other (most likely better) photos than the ones I'll post.

I arrived at Ebertsplatz. Much to my surprise, the weather had done a 180 on me and it was now pouring rain, windy and cold. I was frustrated. Still, I made it this far and I was tired of the weather dictating when I can and cannot talk a walk. Just about every shop is closed on Sundays so I had little chance of picking up an umbrella anywhere near where I was walking. I spent the rest of the afternoon carefully plotting my way via awnings. Occasionally the sun came out, although the rain always seemed to come back with a vengance. By the time I got to Neumarkt I was ready to start building an ark.

Though there are movie theaters in the area (including one that shows films in English), Ebertplatz is not named after the film critic. Most likely it is named after this guy. It is a rather poorly designed sunken park surrounded by a large roundabout. As far as I can tell, the main purpose of this park seems to be to serve the needs of overfilled bladders. But if you head out the southwest corner of the park and back up to street level, you'll come across this.

That's the Eigelsteintorburg or Eigelstein Gate, one of only three that remain from the original medieval city fortifications. We'll see another one in a little bit. It is surrounded by flower shops and cafes. If you walk through the gates and continue heading south, you'll walk through a mostly Turkish neighborhood. You'll also find the Gaffel brewery, one of the largest brewers of Kölsch beers.

Incidentally, note the campaign poster in the first picture above. (You can click on the photo for a larger image.) As of last week, it is officially open season for campaigning and these posters began springing up everywhere. Elections take place on September 27, 2009. 2009. I knew this was coming and was looking forward to all the variations on "Yes We Can." Apparently two parties are going to try to lay claim to this one. The local chapter of the CDU (the party of Chancellor Merkel) is going with "Köln Kann's." Meanwhile the SPD is trying to one-up them with "Köln kann's besser." Roughly, that's "Cologne can do it" vs "Cologne can do it better." Well played, gentlemen. Well played indeed.

Anyway, as I hid in a doorway waiting for the rain to slow down, my spirits were somewhat lifted watching the waiters and waitresses set up the tables and chairs at the cafes. I was hoping they knew something about the weather that I didn't.

Nope. I pressed on. Above is a shot of the Dom. Never difficult to get oriented in this city as long as you can spot the cathedral.

Wait a minute, what's this? Blue skies? Just two minutes ago I was hiding under a tree in this park waiting for the rain to ease up. The large modern building is part of the Mediapark, an area I have yet to explore.

Here's another bit of the Stadtmauer, or city wall, near Kyotostrasse and Hansaring. I haven't found much information on this site yet so if anyone knows more feel free to comment.

A little further along at Christoperstrasse you get a view of St. Gereon to the southeast (above) and the Colonius TV Tower lurking in the background to the northwest (below).

Crossing Christopherstrasse and looking again to the southeast you'll spot the Dom (above).

Our photos end here at the Hahnentorburg, the second city gate, at Rudolphplatz. This gate was often used as the ceremonial entrance by kings and emperors as they made their way to the Shrine of the Three Kings inside the Dom.

Note the rapidly approaching clouds. From here it was a bit of a scramble back to the Dom. Ceremonial it was not. I eventually made it to the Dom where it was grey and blustery. My hat was soaked. I met Her and we headed off in search of coffee and food. By the time we arrived in the Altstadt the sun was back out. This time for good. We grabbed a table outside in the sun and slowly re-energized. As far as I'm concerned, that's a Sunday morning well-spent.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Familiar sights in unfamiliar places

Not everything around here is completely foreign to me.

Sometimes it is the context that makes it foreign. For example, this field behind the S-Bahn (subway) stop I use to go to school most mornings:

The tepee is a real head-scratcher. We're pretty far north of the city center. And there's certainly a lot more open space around here. But seeing a pretty authentic looking tepee in an otherwise empty field... well, that's not something I expected to see.

As for the first picture? Don't expect a review anytime soon. I have it from a good authority that the food is, as the locals might say, "nicht so gut." Regardless, those of you who know me know I'm not a big steak person anyway. Still, I've been here a few times before and each time we've passed that restaurant I couldn't help but stare at it out of curiosity. It is located close to the Dom so it is nearly impossible not to stumble across it. After I took this photo I decided to finally go inspect the menu for myself. Nothing out of the ordinary for a steak place. On closer inspection, however, I found that the menu posted was actually a menu for Farmer's. (Note the name of the Italian restaurant they own!) I've seen several Farmer's restaurants all over town. So it appears to me that the Chicago Steakhouse is really no different than your average Sizzler. Suspicions confirmed.

Friday, July 10, 2009

VHS oder Beta

Today marks the end of my first week in the Volkshochschule (commonly referred to as VHS). I signed up for a one month intensive summer course. Before moving I took several months of private one-on-one German lessons. I didn't quite reach level A2 before leaving and was a little apprehensive about where I might be placed. I certainly didn't want to start over again, but was worried that being placed in the second level of an intensive course might go too fast for me. We were told to arrive at the school about a half hour prior to the start of the first class so that they could determine where to place me. I should have realized what I was in for when the "test" consisted of being asked in German "Where are you from?" I confidently answered correctly and they put me into level 2.

It is certainly a much different experience than my one-on-one lessons. To say it is frustrating is an understatement. We are moving incredibly slowly. Our book consists of four chapters. I thought it was safe to assume we'd get through one each week. So far we are on page six. That's about one third of the way through the first chapter. The class consists of fourteen other students from all different backgrounds; French, Russian, Korean, Turkish, Spanish, Mexican, Lebanese. With so many different backgrounds, it is no wonder we're moving so slowly. We've all gotten to this point with different teachers and different materials. I get frustrated when others get hung up on what seems really basic issues. But then a few minutes later we'll hit on something I've never come across and we all slow down for my sake. I'm sure I'm not the only one frustrated in that classroom.

Quite possibly the scariest part of the classroom experience is that I have to come to terms with my age. I could easily be the oldest student in the class. There might be a couple others in their 30s but I could be wrong. There is a brother and sister team in the class that I'm sure is half my age! But for the most part, it seems to be college age students spending their summer learning the language for school or work.

Regardless of the pace of the class, I walk out of there completely exhausted. I forgot what it is like to use my brain for four hours straight. I came home the other day and slept for two hours and still fell asleep by 11. Let's hope this isn't another sign of me showing my age.

Needless to say, I haven't gotten out and about as much as I would have liked to so far. But I think we're going to try to correct that this weekend. She has to work late tonight, but we're going to hit the local pub once she's home. Tomorrow night is the big night. All over the city and subway are ads for Kölner Lichter (enjoy the awkward translation!). It is a gigantic fireworks show synchronized to music. Apparently this event has gotten so big, they've moved it a little further north of the city center because of the huge crush of people it brings in. The weather however doesn't look too promising. I don't mind the cold but I hope there's no more rain.

What else is there to do around here? I've got a little widget running some headlines from The Local on the right side of this page. It contains German news written in English. They also post listings of local events and movies weekly. By no means do these look comprehensive, but it is a start. Here's one to file away if you live here or are planning on visiting. If anyone else has better local event listings in English, please let me know!

So, in the spirit of Kölner Lichter and VHS, enjoy this one before you head out for your own weekend debauchery:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Auslander has landed

It has now been a full week since we've arrived. It has been a whirlwind. I think we arrived on fumes (us, not the plane). In addition to the sad goodbyes came the physical toll of all the packing and carrying of heavy suitcases. We carefully weighed each bag before we left. Somehow I was able to get by with just four suitcases plus carry-on items. For those interested, on international flights you are allowed to check 2 bags no heavier than 50lbs (32kg?). An additional bag will cost money as will any overweight bags up to 70lbs. So technically, I checked three, She checked two.

When we arrived in Frankfurt I came face to face with Adjustment #1:
Air Conditioning is a Privilege, not a Right.

Granted, we arrived at the back end of a heatwave. And I do realize that temperatures are more moderate here and that A/C isn't needed as much. The airport did indeed have the air conditioning going, but it was kind of like visiting that friend who has A/C but refuses to use it until the news issues a warning. Pushing those big heavy bags around the airport while hustling to make the train didn't help either. Each time we entered a new building or corridor I thought "okay, this is where it'll be cooler." Nope. Nevertheless, we eventually arrived in Köln and hauled our luggage up four flights of stairs to the non air conditioned apartment.

The heat combined with the jet lag to give me a pretty awful start to this adventure. By Saturday I developed a pretty wicked stomach ache that only went away when I ate just bread and soup on Sunday. When I visited over the holidays I had the same stomach ache though not as intense or as long lasting. Until then, this never happened. I'm curious if anyone else out there ever came across this after an overseas trip. Hopefully this isn't a recurring issue.

No need to worry about us dying of heat exhaustion. The weather quickly changed over the weekend. Saturday afternoon the clouds rolled in along with hail. I'm not sure I've ever seen hail in such warm weather. Since then it's been much cooler. In fact, as of today it is starting to feel like summer is over. And She always laughed about how extreme the weather is in Chicago. Ha!

Last Friday we registered at the local branch of the city hall or Rathaus (insert joke here). I read my share of expat information in advance of this move and I was prepared for all sorts of red tape and bureaucracy. It actually wasn't as difficult as I had expected. There was just one truly ridiculous moment.

When my number was called, we were told to bring the paperwork to an office. The lady in that office seemed friendly enough. She did some data entry then told us to bring the forms downstairs to another office. This second lady (not nearly as friendly) also did some data entry. Once she was done, she had us bring the forms back upstairs to Lady #1. As goofy as that was, it didn't seem all that different from the DMV back home. However, I have the feeling that was just the beginning of a long process that isn't too different than the beginning of this episode:
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Monday, July 6, 2009

California rewind

No need to worry, I've arrived. Will have lots to write tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy some photos from our blast through California.

Alcatraz Island

View of California Street from back of California & Van Ness Cable Car

Somewhere on Highway 1

Fairly self-explanatory

Finally made the beach

La Brea Tar Pits!

Kermit as the Little Tramp (Jim Henson Studios, formerly Chaplin Studios)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A month of farewells

That's it. Time's up. Just a few more hours and we're off to the airport. This month flew by quickly. We had a great time in California. We saw about as much as possible in the time we had. Of course the best meals we ate on the trip were with family.

For those interested, no, I'm not quite finished packing. What did you expect? Honestly I am shocked at how much we got done before today. If it weren't for Her, I probably wouldn't have started until late last night. We actually had nearly everything done by Sunday. My whole life is packed into about 4 giant suitcases now. Unfortunately more than a few things will be left behind. So much for getting rid of what I don't need.

I was hoping to make this entry a bit longer and more profound but I think I have too much going on at the moment to concentrate. I'll be back soon (and regularly!) so stick with me.

Thanks to all of you who have wished us the best. And a special thanks to those of you who made the time to see us during this past month. I didn't get to spend nearly as much time with each of you over the last few weeks, but you all mean a great deal to me. And of course a special thanks to my mom and sister for all they've done. I love you.