Wednesday, September 30, 2009

101 Damnations

For Cubs, it's 'Wait 'Til Next Year: 101st edition' --

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One of the good things about leaving Chicago behind is to let things like the Cubs pass without much notice.  I've quietly watched their season slip by from thousands of miles away with a small MLB widget on the computer.  In true Cub fashion, they made a little surge mid-season only to fall flat on their face and, as usual, well out of contention.  

Sure, they've thrown a few curveballs the last few years, reaching the playoffs a couple of times.  But those last two seasons have left such a bad taste in my mouth that I've lost a lot of desire to follow the team on a daily basis.  My moving this year made things a whole lot easier. 

Somehow, seeing them fall apart this year was a little reassuring.  Life is back to normal.  Yes, I know, a real fan wants to see their team succeed each year.  And I do want to see them make it.  I hope it happens in my life time, I really do.

But the expectations that have been created since 2003 have just been too much.  It has brought out the worst in the fan base as well as the organization.  From the rabid, snarling fans booing ever minute mistake to the jacked-up ticket prices available at the team's own scalping re-sale facility, it just isn't what it used to be.  Let's not even think about all those terrible signings.  I know, baseball is a business.  I guess it just took longer to catch up with the Cubs.  Here's hoping that this year's slip-up will give everyone a moment to calm down a little bit while the organization once again tries to put it all together. 

This was a bit overplayed the last two seasons.  But always appropriate at this time of year. 

P.S. I did not cut the video - it is here more for the song by Eddie Vedder. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Meet the new boss...

... same as the old boss. 

Can I say "I guess they were fooled again"?

That's it for the big election.  I know I'm still not in any position to comment on the politics here, but I'm going to try anyway.

We watched the results come in on Sunday night.  It was all over in about two minutes.  Seriously.  Very anticlimactic.  CDU/CSU scored a victory with about 34% of the vote.  (That still sounds weird to say, victory with 34%.)  Meanwhile, the largest opposition party, the SPD really got it handed to them.  If I remember correctly, their totals were down nearly 10 points from the previous election. 

I know this is overly simplified but to compare it to the US system, I have it broken down like this:

If CDU/CSU is Republican, then SPD is the Democrats, although both are much more in the middle.  FDP are kind of Republican-light (but very pro-business).  The remaining parties that make an impact, the Left and the Greens are (obviously) left-leaning.  Here's a graph showing the results:

So what does that mean? How bad is it?

To be honest, I don't really know for sure.  At first glance, it really doesn't appear much different from the previous election.  CDU/CSU in charge, with SPD as the opposition.  But again, that is oversimplifying it. Here's another graph I stole (in the name of education!) showing the seats in parliament:

The CDU/CSU, combined with the FDP (CDU's preferred partner), now have a majority in parliament and can probably accomplish whatever they want.  332 seats out of 622 for the two combined partners.  Most people I know here are not too happy.  Then again, Cologne is one of the most liberal cities in the country.

I guess what most people were surprised by was how much SPD slipped and how much FDP received.  With the economic crisis still lingering, I wouldn't have thought that a pro-big business party stood a chance.  But Germany has weathered the recession differently than other developed countries and for different reasons.  So what do I know?  If you're still reading and have interest, this might provide a better post-election wrap up for you than I could ever try to provide.

Not only was I surprised by how quickly the vote was called, I was also surprised to learn the new government took over on the very next day.  No voting in November then waiting months for Inauguration Day.  And, like the local city election, it was the most simple ballot I have ever seen.  One piece of paper, two choices.  The first choice is for Chancellor, the second is a vote for a party seat in parliament.  It really couldn't be any easier to complete.

I had read an article about the idea of instituting mandatory voting.  Apparently the government is worried about the continued poor voter turnout.  The numbers have been going down for years.  First of all, forcing compulsory voting in a democracy sounds pretty damn ironic to me.  Secondly, they ought to consider what poor voter turnout means.  The previous election's voter turnout dropped all the way to 77%! The horror!

Check out these numbers from the U.S. if you want to know what low turnout means.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

That's it, now I HAVE to get to Berlin!

Art, culture, history, next month's 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall... none of that compares with what I just read about.

Wählen Sie!

Don't forget to vote today! 

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Humans are (not quite) Dead

There have been a lot of events around town that I've wanted to attend. Some I wound up skipping. Others (like the Musik Nacht) had details I missed and therefore couldn't attend. I did, however, make it to Robodonien last weekend.

Courtesy of Google Translator:
ROBODONIEN invites artists from across Europe to transform the art and Kulturfreistaat Odonien into a multimedia, interactive science-fiction setting. The installations and kinetic objects on the weekend of the 18th to 20th presents spectacular shows, and offers visitors a wealth of unusal and thrilling impressions and ideas.

Odonien, from what I can tell, is the studio or workspace of an artist named Odo Rumph. (Apologies if I don't have my facts right.) The facility is an open workshop for artists of all types. It is located in a former Deutsche Bahn repair yard. Odonien has symbolically been declared a free state in order to keep outside influences away and to foster creative ideas. (Here's another site which provides much more information if you run it through the Translator.)

My only regret was that I didn't go at night. Judging by all the photos and videos I've seen online, it was a pretty cool scene after dark. Daytime wasn't bad either, but it was definitely more of a "family" day. If you've clicked on any of those sites above, you've probably seen much better photos of the place than the ones I took. If you're lazy, here's some of my photos.

Fireballs were constantly being shot off.
I can't say that I always felt safe there.
Then again, I think that was part of the fun.



The Barbie-Que. Barbie dolls submitted to open flames and cleavers.

By far the coolest piece was built by Bastiaan Maris. Again from the translator: "His interest in music, equipment, sound and powerful chemical based processes have led to an ongoing research in chemo-Acoustic Phenomena and the development of sound installations and musical instrument on these principles." I'm not entirely sure what that means either, but it was cool. The photos and video I took don't do any justice. The sound created from the blasts of air and fire was pretty intense.  Needless to say, I kept my distance.

Finally, for you musicians out there, beware. I've seen the future of music and it doesn't include you.

Here's a video I cut together from the event.

And of course, I couldn't let any of this go without adding a binary solo.  

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mystery Building - Part III

More just-recorded video of the Leverkusen Mystery Building.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pützchens Markt

Here's a few photos from two weeks ago when we attended the annual Pützchens Markt in Bonn. It is basically a gigantic carnival or state fair. Lots of food, lots of drinks, and lots of rides that'll make you lose those things. It is billed as a market so of course there's lots to buy as well.

I still have nightmares about the giant Bavarian.

Humongous Ferris Wheel

Fortunately, we did the rides before too much was consumed.

And finally, what family festival wouldn't be complete without the Condom Mobil? "Hey mom, check out these funny balloons I got!"

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Mystery Building - Part II

Still haven't made it over to see what the heck the building is all about. Instead of running some test patterns across the screens, it looks like the whole building is changing colors. Last night the building was lit up in a solid white light. The sky was so bright, it was as if we lived near the airport. Tonight isn't so bad, all considering. Here's some fresh video taken about 20 minutes ago.

Some much needed humor and sarcasm was thrown into a political rally today courtesy of a flash mob. Check out this little bit of election fun. Take that, Oprah.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Is it too late to seek asylum here?

I probably had a shot at securing that during the previous administration.  After seeing this video via a friend's Facebook post, I just wanted to crawl under a big blanket of embarrassment. I applaud political activism when there's actual thought behind it. But c'mon people, a little research goes a long way.

Why do I always feel the need to apologize for such ignorance on behalf of my fellow countrymen? CNN International is pretty bad, but I'm glad there's no Fox News available on our system here. 

From the politically challenged we now turn to the politically unenthusiastic. Here's what's going on in advance of Germany's national election. (I want to be tired of all the "Yes We Can" parodies but the one mentioned in that article was pretty good.) We tried watching the debate a bit but my German comprehension is no where near good enough to follow a political discussion. From the looks of it, I didn't miss any fireworks. In the interest of equal time, here's what the other parties had to say. What a mess. You know what? Scratch that thought about seeking asylum.

Everyone I talk to here seems pretty disenchanted with the current government.  That said, they all seem resigned to another four years of the same situation.  The more I think about it, the more this all reminds me of 2004.  It is probably too late but you can change things, people.  Get out there and get organized.  More importantly, get out and vote.  And make sure your friends and family do as well.

On a lighter note, I now make my last mention of FC Köln's season unless there's actually something positive to mention.  They are 0-1-4.  5 games and not a single win.  If I read correctly, one of the local papers are already calling for the firing of the head coach.  I suppose it is only a matter of time.  I'd say "Go Bears" but that's not really working for me either right now.  I hate to repeat myself, but again, what a mess.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

U-Bahn ride

For my second attempt at posting random audio from the city, I thought I'd record a bit of my trip back home this afternoon.  Our trip begins here at Rudolfplatz

and ends here in Ebertplatz.

It was mid-afternoon and it seemed to be a pretty quiet crowd.  I started recording when I got in the train.  I stopped recording after stepping off the train in Ebertplatz and watching the train take off. Click below to listen.  

Here's a random photo I thought I'd share.  As you are aware, the national elections are coming up at the end of the month.  There's campaign posters everywhere.  To be honest, they all look the same to me.  This one, however, stands out.

Monday, September 7, 2009


See how you fit in Germany's political landscape. Answer 38 questions and see your answers compared to various parties thanks to the Wahl-O-Mat. I can't vote (wählen), but it helped me make a little more sense out of the landscape. You can even choose between English and German.

Mystery Building

I can't be the only person to notice this. Then again we live in Merkenich, and that's quite a ways from central Cologne. Nevertheless, for about the last week I've been keeping an eye out on a development just across the river from us. Leverkusen is directly across the Rhine from us. I only know three things about Leverkusen:
  1. It is the home of Bayer AG, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical manufacturers, and the reason you probably won't catch me dipping my toes in the river.
  2. Their football squad, Bayer Leverkusen, is much better than Cologne's.
  3. They seem to be building a giant video wall.

Check out these images from our 'penthouse' view. This is looking southeast.

I probably started to notice this over a week ago. I've seen the building frame going up since I first arrived. One day while heading home on the U-Bahn I could have sworn I saw it change colors. But I only got fleeting views between trees or buildings. As far as I can tell, it hasn't been lit up at night nor was it on during this past weekend. For now it just appears to be cycling through colors or patterns. Can't wait til I get to look out my window and see ads for aspirin all day and night.

We'll probably make our way across the bridge sometime this week to see what the heck that thing is all about. Until then, feel free to contribute your own theories below.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Third time's a charm...

at Central Bureaucracy.

By now I should be freaking out. I arrived with just a three month tourist visa. My return flight is set for the end of this month. With a little bit of good fortune and patience we no longer need to worry about that. Last week we got my visa extended. For a year.

As I've written before, we've had a lot of trouble finding out just what conditions need to be met in order to stay longer. Or, at the very least, how long I would have to return to the States before being allowed to come back. I am sure this is written down somewhere official. But we've never been able to find out. Everyone we speak to, everything we read, all seem to tell us something different. Already during the end of August we were both getting a little nervous about the situation.

Most of the people in my classes were from the EU and they don't need to worry about their situation here as much as I do. Fortunately for me, there was at least one in the same boat as me. She comes from Japan and told me about another school that she was going to attend once the current session at the VHS ended. It is a private language school located near the Media Park. They were able to help her get her visa changed. We immediately went and checked out the place. We signed up that day.

To be honest, there wasn't much to complain about with the VHS. I was pretty happy with the classes I took there. We use the same books at the new school so the method is pretty much the same. The difference comes in the administration. As with most things state run, the VHS didn't seem to have much concern with me as a student. The private school, however, not only gave us the necessary paper work for applying for a longer visa, they also let us know about a few other benefits. They offer a really cheap student insurance plan that covers nearly everything. The other benefit was letting me know I am eligible for a student pass with the KVB (the public transportation system). All this and the price per session is just a few euros more than at the VHS.

Armed with all of this knowledge and paperwork, we made our way to Central Bureaucracy to apply for the student visa. Now, we had been told from a few people that you no longer need to apply for these things at the nearest Ausländerbehörde, or (roughly) Foreigner Authority. For us, that is at the Bezirksrathaus, or District Town Hall. Because my school friend had success we decided to go to the same location. The lady was less than friendly with us and then told us we did indeed need to go to our nearest Ausländerbehörde. We were disappointed not only because we expected better luck but also because we had driven into the center of the city, only to have to turn around and drive back out past where we lived.

We got to the local Ausländerbehörde and patiently waited our turn. This place seriously looks like something out of Terry Gilliam's "Brazil." I realize it is undergoing renovations but it sure helps reinforce your stereotype of Central Bureaucracy. Exposed pipes and wires hang from the ceiling, while fluorescent lights buzz and flicker off the concrete walls. I desperately wanted to take a photo for the blog but I didn't want to piss off the authorities who essentially held my fate in their hands.

When it was our turn, we walked in and tried to be as pleasant as possible. I showed all my documents. Unfortunately, we had decided against signing up for the new school's insurance offer because I am still covered under a shorter policy. When this one ends, we figured we would sign up for another one. That wasn't good enough for Central Bureaucracy. With no apologies we were told to return with proof of longer insurance. And a passport photo.

We called the school and told them our situation. The secretary said she'd arrange for all the insurance stuff so that all we had to do was get in there and sign the necessary paperwork. I'm realizing customer service like that is a rare thing in this country! We drove back to the city for a second time that morning. We ran into the school and got all the insurance taken care of. On our way back to the car we realized we had parked in front of a photography studio. We stopped in, got passport photos taken and then raced back to Central Bureaucracy before they closed.

This time we KNEW we had everything. We had my passport, passport photos, school registration, insurance receipt. Nope. Apparently the insurance papers we had were still not good enough. Although it contained all the information to prove that I was signed up (and paid!) for this insurance, she still wanted to see an actual insurance card. That would arrive in the mail with all the other paperwork from the insurance company. As we left the office I am pretty sure I saw a smile on the lady's face for the first time. All we could do was try to smile while gritting our teeth. It was a Friday and with a little luck we figured we'd have the insurance card by Monday or Tuesday.

Once we received that we returned to the office to find the lady in a much better mood. Finally we had everything she needed. She made copies of the insurance card, told us to pay €50 down the hall and then return. We paid the money, returned to her office and watched as she attached the visa to my passport. We walked out of there relieved. I think we ended up taking a three hour nap that afternoon.

So if you find you need to do the same thing, here's an easy check list of what you'll need to bring with:
  • Passport
  • Proof of insurance (for at least a year)
  • Passport photos
  • Proof of school registration
  • €50
  • Plenty of patience
Your luck may vary.

Friday, September 4, 2009

September happenings

A couple events coming up next weekend worthy of mentioning (I hope):

First off is Robodonien, a weekend long Robotic Art exhibition. Yeah, I'm not too sure what that means either, but it looks interesting.

The Kölner Musik Nacht is next Saturday evening. Its an all night music fest spread out in various locations all over the city. Lots of experimental music, jazz and classical choices. Here's the timetable.

I'd like to get to the Stadtgarten tonight to see "We Were Promised Jetpacks," but I'm not too sure it is going to happen. If you clicked on that link, make sure you disable the annoying auto-start video at the bottom of the webpage so it doesn't interfere with the music player!)

I realize Lala doesn't work here in Europe (yet), but for those back in the States, here's an appropriate one to enjoy. Summer seemed to end abruptly this week. Summer weather one day, cold and blustery the next. Leaves are starting to pile up here. I broke out a sweater for the first time last night. Looks like we're heading for winter...