November 30, 2005

To Berlin

Filed under: Travels, Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 2:42 pm

I’ve decided to take advantage of my 5 day weekend and am going to Berlin tomorrow. I catch a high speed ICE train from Stuttgart tomorrow morning, putting me in Berlin at about 14:00. I’m looking forward to this; I’ve been getting a bit stir-crazy in Tübingen, and feel like I need to get into a real city. Besides, with all the history there, I suspect I’ll be quite happy. I’ll be back Monday night.

Also, I added a bit of code that now shows my most recently posted image on the right sidebar. Make sure to check it out anytime you see something new.

November 27, 2005

Another Sunday, Another Ruhetag

Filed under: Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 8:30 am

Today is Sunday. Sundays, all over the Western world, tend to be a bit quieter than the rest. People get up late, go to church, do things with the family, maybe do some yard work, and generally just take it easy. Lots of stores have reduced hours, usually opening late and closing a bit early.

They take that to a whole different level here in Germany, though. Sunday in Germany is a Ruhetag, meaning quiet day. They take that literally. Nothing, save a few cafes, is open. The busses barely run. Every shop, every single one, is closed. The towns quite literally shut down for a day. Need groceries? Tough. Need something to do some work on your room or in the yard? Tough. I’ve never seen a place so quiet as Germany on a Sunday.

Germans are very big on the value of family, and this is the major argument put forth for why Sundays are so quiet. They take the day to take time with their family, many of them going for hikes on the excellently maintained trails in the woods. Conversely, as empty as the streets are on Sunday is as full as the trails are. Many Germans are fiercely protective of this Ruhetag, and argue that it is the best day of the week, and that the American way of Sunday being just another shopping day is terrible. I agree with them somewhat, and think that I would enjoy it as well–except for one problem. My family is 3000 miles away, and so Sundays for me are a day to sit in my room, bored, and figure out what I’m going to do for the rest of the week. I can’t easily get into town, can’t easily visit friends, and certainly can’t get much of anything done. As such, I’m somewhat split on the matter. I think Sunday Ruhetage are great, but like most of the foreign students, I just get bored.

November 25, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving; The First Snow

Filed under: Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 6:11 am

For all the Americans, yesterday was Thanksgiving. It’s a bit hard being away from home during one of my favorite holidays, and many of the other Americans here felt the same way, so we all got together and organized a bit of a dinner, with everyone being responsible for one or two dishes. I personally was responsible for making biscuits and sweet potatoes, both of which came out pretty well. Everything was ready by about 5, and we all dug in, everyone eating until we hurt. The aftermath was a sight to see–everyone leaning back in their chairs, moaning, with hardly a dent made in the food. I think it’s safe to say we made too much. We managed to rustle up a couple of people to eat some of the food, including the Brits from the Beer Pong post, and a couple of Germans on the floor, all of whom valiantly dug in in an attempt to dispose of some of the food. Unfortunately because no one really has much of a refrigerator and tupperware here is very expensive, everything basically had to be eaten, or it was getting thrown out. By the end of the night, we’d put a pretty good dent into it. And besides, it was fun explaining to the Brits and Germans what this holiday was, and why we were all eating until it hurt. Pain, I tell you, Thanksgiving is about pain.

First SnowAnyways, as I was leaving later that night, I walked out the door and was almost blinded by a deluge of snow. Yep, the first real snow was last night. There wasn’t too much, I think there was about an inch outside my window this morning, but it’s wonderful to watch it come down anyways, on Thanksgiving no less. I’m hoping for more snow, including some that sticks around, in the coming weeks. I’m also debating going somewhere this weekend. I’d like to go somewhere with some snow, but that might have to wait seeing as I have no proper shoes to walk in the snow with since the downfall of my boots. I have a new pair that Lindsay is bringing me when she comes in a couple of weeks.

November 19, 2005

Beer Pong

Filed under: Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 6:00 pm

Didn’t think I’d be naming a post “Beer Pong,” but there’s really no better way to describe this one, so here it is…

Beer PongLast night was one of “those study abroad experiences.” One of those things you never thought you’d be saying actually happened to you. Until it does. What started with just a few Americans playing a bit of beer pong to pass a slow Friday night soon turned into a multinational debaucherous event. The cast of characters:

  • Dima, a Ukranian. Note to self: Ukranians hate being called Russians. Especially when they are very, very drunk. Sorry, we were drunk too.
  • Paul, a Brit. And his friend Al, also a Brit. Moment of the night with them: walking down the side of the interstate with party kegs in hand because we ran out of beer and had to go to the gas station for more. Al dropping one and watching the thing roll down the side of the interstate. Sketchy hitchhiker girls laughing at this. Keg almost exploding when we get back to the dorm.
  • Alejandro, a Spaniard. Not the most outspoken guy, but we had a fun discussion about how big the USA is. This, or Bush, seems to be the most common conversations to have with Europeans. If you want to have a long talk with a European, bring up one of the two.
  • Gerard, an Austrian. I’d hung out a bit with this guy before. Pretty cool character. Has these huge tattoos on both arms. And a lip ring. Looks very much like the “modern” German youth.
  • Kiel, Karen, Julie, Cameron, and Markus, all Americans–or Canadians. Same thing.

Anyways, proceed to the Europeans wondering what this strange game was. We quickly explained, while playing a “demo” round, and then started to play two games on the same pingpong table. The Americans started out winning, but they caught on real fast. Sorry, we tried to represent, but they weren’t having it. There were several impromptu wrestling matches through the night, generally involving the Brits. And at some point, Kiel tried to give someone a highfive, but that person missed and smashed him in the face, giving him a bloody nose. No problem, stop it up with some tissue paper and keep on going–while lighting the tissue hanging from his nose on fire. Hey, Blackbeard-style distractions are legal.

Anyways, good times were had by all. It’s a lot of fun to hang out and drink with so many people from different places. It’s definitely a good experience, meeting and talking with so many different people. And while I don’t normally like to get drunk like that, it was worth it. Besides, how many people can start of a conversation with “So this one time, I was playing beerpong with this Ukranian guy, this Spanish guy, and these two Brits…”

I posted more pictures on Flickr. I’m trying Flickr as an experiment. I don’t want to flood my proper photolog with poor, random shots, but I know a lot of people want to see these random shots anyways. We’ll see how it goes.

November 17, 2005

An Update

Filed under: School, Personal, Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 4:43 am

AuftenhaltsgenehmigungIt’s been a few days, so I thought I’d post with a quick update. I finally got my visa the other day, meaning I can now legally stay in Germany until November of next year. This thing is huge though–it takes up two whole pages of my passport, though I must say, I’d rather have it than two pages of generic, boring EU passport stamps. It also says that I can work 90 full days, or 180 half days, during that period of time. Nice gesture, but I doubt I’ll be finding gainful employment here when 10% of the native German population can’t find jobs. Anyways, the visa was my last “official” thing I had to do here, and it feels good to have all that paperwork behind me. No more reams of paperwork, funny opening hours, and long lines to take care of seemingly trivial tasks.

Also, the thought has been running through my head to come home for good after this semester, at the end of March. Things are great here, but I’m getting burned out on travel, and once I lose that, there really isn’t any other pressing reason for me to be here. I’m hoping that until March is long enough for my German to really pick up, but that’s something we’ll just have to see about. Also, if I leave early, I’ll be able to take both summer sessions at UNC, meaning I’ll be able to finish a German major without having to take two 18 hour semesters senior year. This isn’t a final decision to come home, but it is something that has been heavily weighing on my mind recently.

Tuebingen Stiftkirche, DetailClasses have been going pretty well for the most part. I’ve dropped my one “real” university class because I couldn’t understand anything the professor was saying. Our grades in that class would have been 100% based on a final, and I didn’t think that I would be able to pass it given my difficulties in understanding what was going on in the class. My other classes are going wonderfully though. I’m becoming much more comfortable with my German, and the classes are getting interesting. I have two projects I’m working on right now, although only one is really “work”–the other involves me going to different bars around town and then writing about what makes each one distinct. I did the first “research” last night.

I’m hoping to pick up my travel schedule significantly soon, realizing that if I do decide to go home early, there’s still a lot I want to see. I’m going to try to go to Vienna next weekend, and then probably Würzburg, Bamberg, and Nürnberg the next weekend. Hopefully there will be plenty more posts from such places…

November 11, 2005


Filed under: Random — Alex Ravenel @ 5:38 am

When I decided to start this site, I told myself I’d try to keep political ramblings out of it. It’s a travelogue, not a political discussion. But some things are just too big. Like the recent decision in Kansas to teach Intelligent Design, a thinly veiled version of Creationism, alongside evolution in science classrooms.

What. The. Fuck. There are so many things that are wrong with this. Like how it’s not science. Or how it encourages people not to explore, but to give up because something is “too complex not to have been created by God.” Or how this is crippling the students of Kansas, with universities refusing to recognize ID classes as science, such as the University of California system who is being sued for refusing admission to students who didn’t have the minimum science requirements for admission because their high school science classes had been ID. Or how this is making Kansas, and the United States, the laughing stock of the world.

I’ll just leave it to Kottke to summarize:


What the hell, Kansas? And those poor science teachers in Kansas public schools…what are they supposed to do? Teaching pseudoscience as real science, that’s like asking the math teachers to tell the kids that 2+2=5 because God said so.”

Besides, why not just teach that the world was created by The Flying Spaghetti Monster? It has just as much “scientific” merit.

OK, rant finished.

November 9, 2005

Germany: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Filed under: Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 9:00 am

Note: This post is part of a series. See the second post here and the third post here.

I’ve been here a few months now, and noticed lots of things about Germany that are great, not so great, and some that just plain suck. As I’m sure that I’ll notice more things as time goes on, this will probably turn into something of a series. For now, here are (a few) things I’ve noticed from the last few months.

The Good

  • The Beer. As if this one needs explaining. This is a stereotype that is true—the beer in Germany is great. Even the cheap stuff tastes better than a lot of the swill you get in the States. That’s not to say that there isn’t good beer in the States—quite the contrary. I love Sierra Nevada, or Sam Adams, but those are premium beers in the States. Here, the normal, everyday stuff is just awesome.
  • The Chocolate. German chocolate is on par with Swiss or French. For 35 cents, you can get a 65% cocoa bar that is light years better than anything you can get for less than $5 in the States.
  • The Coffee. Germans drink more coffee than beer. Considering it’s hard to find coffee in sizes larger than 6 ounces, and beer comes by the half liter, that’s saying a lot. Suffice it to say, like most of Europe, they know how to brew a good cup.
  • The Travel. Germany is right in the middle of Europe, meaning you can easily travel to eastern, western, or southern Europe. And Germany itself has plenty of things to see. Germany is often wrongly one of the more overlooked countries in terms of European travel, but that just means less tourists to deal with for those of us that do travel through Germany.
  • The People. People say that Europeans, but Germans in particular, are cold and unfriendly. This isn’t true at all—they’re just not as “falsely” friendly. By that I mean that they aren’t as likely to small talk with you at the bus stop. But when you actually do talk to one, they are incredibly open, outgoing, and friendly. They take it seriously when you ask “How are you?”, and they listen just as seriously to you when they ask it.
  • The Environment/Parks. Germans love their forests, gardens, and parks. And just as much as they love die frische Luft, they are fanatical about protecting these green spaces. Conservationism and environmental protection is huge here, and it shows.

The Bad

  • Opening Hours. Things here don’t stay open as long as in the States. There’s no such thing as 24 hour stores, and almost everything is closed on Sundays.
  • The Travel. Yes, I know this is also listed as a good thing. But because Germany is in the middle of Europe, none of the big western (France, Spain) or southern (Italy) things are real close. It’s nice being able to do pretty much everything, but sometimes it sucks when you realize that most of Europe’s big sights (Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, etc) are 6 or more hours away. Nothing is far, but nothing is close, either.
  • The Internet. Internet connectivity in the dorms here doesn’t seem to be quite the necessity it is in the States, though this is changing. And you can get DSL that’s twice as fast as in the States for almost half the price, so that redeems it somewhat, but still doesn’t help in the dorms.
  • Americanism. Germany is probably the most “Americanized” of the European nations, probably even moreso than Great Britain. Naturally, a good bit of this is to be expected, given that Germany was occupied after the war, but they continued on with it afterwards. This isn’t all that bad of a thing, but sometimes you wish things were a little more different. I came here to travel and go somewhere new, and when things feel just like at home, it makes me feel I’d rather just be back home than here, away from my friends and family.

The Ugly

  • The Bureaucracy. They love it here, maybe more than beer and coffee. Trying to get anything done feels like an exercise in futility. I’ve never seen so many papers that have to be signed by so many different people. It annoys me even thinking about how difficult it is to do anything official here. Which brings me to my next point…
  • The Economy. It’s no secret the German economy sucks right now. But this affects things in more ways than you would think. Case in point—they are installing internet in my dorm, and we have been warned that things might take a little longer than normal because the workers are likely to deliberately drag things out to keep work longer. And the fact that it takes forever to do anything official here certainly isn’t helping at all.

So, that’s it for now. I’ll continue to compile more things as I notice them.

November 5, 2005

Burg Colmberg, Rothenburg

Filed under: Travels, Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 4:54 pm

Castle ColmbergI just returned from my travels for the weekend. On Thursday morning, I hopped a train to Ansbach, and then from there a bus through endless green farmfields to Colmberg, a sleepy Franconian farming town just inside Bavaria. You immediately notice the castle sitting on the hillside, surrounded by fields on one side and forests on the other. It’s a most impressive sight–all the moreso because I knew I was staying there for the next two nights.

Castle Colmberg, ApproachAs I walked up the hill and into the castle, I became more impressed with every passing minute. The place just oozed character, from the 14th century stones to the green moss on the trees. I checked in and walked to my room, continuing to be impressed by the castle as I wound my way up the stairs to my room. After dropping off my bags, I proceeded to explore the castle, trying to see every bit possible. Castle Colmberg, SunsetThen, noticing the sun going down, I went out to watch it dip below the sunset from the castle walls. That evening, as I was walking around, and through the restaurant, I heard two people–the only two in the restaurant at that time–speaking the strangest combination of German and British English. I noticed this and started talking to them, asking them why that was. They explained that they were married, and that they both spoke the other’s language, though when speaking, they just sorta mixed it together in whatever jumble it happened to come out in. Castle Colmberg, Derrek and HeidiAs we started talking more, they invited me to sit down with them, and treated me to a glass of wine as we continued our conversation. We discovered that we had several things in common–them with relatives in Maine, and a love for Charleston, SC; in fact, they are going to Charleston for Christmas, while my family is coming here. Seemed an odd switch to all of us. They soon invited me to dinner, and insisted on paying, treating me to a wonderful pumpkin soup and venison steak served in a peppercorn sauce. It was a delicious meal, and I enjoyed it all the more having such an interesting conversation with such an interesting–and generous–couple.

Castle Colmberg, ViewThe next day, I wandered around the castle some more, this time camera in hand. There was a thick fog and it felt like it was going to rain, but this only added to the atmosphere and made the place seem even more real. I trapsed all around the borders of the castle, then headed back inside to read for a few hours in one of the common areas I had all but claimed as my own.Castle Colmberg, Lounge Something about the room really resonated with me; I think it was the combination of the high, dark, exposed wood cielings combined with the furniture and the old bookcases crammed with old books, and the view out the windows into the castle courtyard. I read half of my 900 page novel sitting here over the two days I was at the castle.

RothenburgThe next morning, after thoroughly relaxing and enjoying my time at the castle, I departed, catching the 8:00AM bus to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a notoriously touristic–though gorgeous–medieval German town. Luckily I got myself there early, and enjoyed a couple of hours of quiet, winding cobblestone lanes before someone opened the floodgates and Rothenburg, City WallI found myself suddenly crushed between throngs of Japanese tourists running around trying to get pictures of themselves in front of every possible building, fountain, streetsign, and storefront. Tour busses. Anyways, I enjoyed a nice cup of coffee and small lunch, then walked to the town walls and walked around the tops of them for a while, where I found it much quieter and more relaxing. Besides, it’s always interesting to get up close to something like that, and the views it afforded were quite rewarding as well.

Rothenburg, CathedralSo, after deciding that I was tired of schlepping my luggage around and feeling somewhat tired, I walked back towards the train station, making sure to pass once more by the cathedral to admire at how it had been seemingly built in the air, with the road going underneath it. Four hours later, back in Tübingen; time to start planning a trip for next weekend. As always, make sure to check out the photo gallery for more images.

November 2, 2005

Burg Colmberg

Filed under: Travels, Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 3:12 pm

Tomorrow, I’m going to Burg Colmberg, a castle hotel in a town about 2.5 hours from here. It’s been a rough couple of days, and I need some time to just relax and try to clear my head. Hopefully this will be just the thing. Watch for a post about it when I return, either Friday or Saturday.

November 1, 2005

Duck A L’Orange

Filed under: Random, Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 7:41 am

Yesterday, while walking through the Marktplatz in the center of town, I came across one of the butcher’s stands that setup there a couple of times a week. Peeking in through the display, I found something I had been looking for since getting here–duck breasts. Immediately buying one (€8.80 for a .44Kg, roughly 1 pound breast), I headed home and started pouring over recipes to decide how I wanted to cook it.

Eventually, I settled on duck a l’orange, mainly because the ingredients were easy to find. You need a thick, somewhat sweet sauce to go with duck, and this fit the bill without any obscure ingredients that would be very hard for me to find. A quick trip to the grocery store later, and I was ready to cook.

The thing that surprised me the most about cooking it was how much the breast smoked when cooking. Duck has a thick layer of fat under the skin, necessitating scoring the skin with a knife before cooking so the fat can drain out. Combine that with the relatively high heat needed to get the skin crispy, and there was plenty of smoke. Good thing there aren’t any smoke detectors, because I certainly would have set them off. After getting it nice and crispy, I threw it in a barely warm oven to keep it warm while I worked on the sauce, a reduction of carmelized sugar, water, orange juice, chicken stock, sherry vinegar, orange peel, and, the reason I cooked the duck breast first, drippings from the cooking of the breast. After letting it reduce down into a sauce-like consistency, I sliced the breast into thin strips, fanned them out on the plate, and spooned the sauce over them. By far the best meal I’ve had since getting here.

And the best part is, I still have half of the breast in the freezer. I’ve gotta decide how I’m gonna cook that one…

0.137 seconds WP 2.0.1    Based on Deichnetz    xhtml css