January 18, 2006

On The German Language

Filed under: Random, Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 7:25 pm

It’s pretty well known that Mark Twain liked to write all sorts of damning comments about the incomprehensibility of the German language, most of them quite accurate. Here’s a similar comment, but one that puts it into terms non-German speakers might understand with a very pertinent example.

A shortcomment on this ongoingdebate I have. In German biglongwordsthatcontinueforeverwithnoendinsight there are. Bigdeal. Two biggerproblems there are. First, in the Germanlanguage, verbs at the end of sentences or clauses go. In normalconversation, which is a question or which is a declarativestatement vocalinflection indicates. But in the writtentexts, only at the endofsentences with a period or a questionmark when you the difference can tell isn’t it? Second, negatives the noun not verb modify.

What the ruleimpact of this in English try to imagine would be. We ever where until there we got would we know are going? Many famoussayings notmemorable would be: “Before you leap look,” “Notcart before the horse put,” two examples are. Richard Nixon would have said, “I a notcrook am.” Connie Chung to the Newtmother would have said, “Why not you to me girltogirl it whisper?”

If you the Billandhillaryclintonhealthplan indecipherableandhardtounderstand as it written was think, it not according to germanizedbureacraticliterarystyle with all the verbs at the endofsentences be glad written was! Otherwise, we Harryandlouiseprotest would have had to hear, “To this listen! They my choice away take! I my notchoice to keep get! And this muchminemoney will cost! This stinks!”

And letterstotheeditor really, really no sense with Germanrules would make.”

By Donald Sensing.

A truer thing has never been said.

January 15, 2006

Germany: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Part II

Filed under: Random, Travel Tips, Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 11:44 am

This post is part of a series. See the first entry here and the third entry here.

The Good

  • The Trains. Germany’s rail system has the reputation of being the most punctual in Europe. I must say, this seems to be true. The trains are almost always on time, and it’s typically quite easy to get anywhere in Germany on the excellent rail system. Seven minute connection? No problem, your train will pull into the station just on time and give you enough time to get to your other train.
  • Sales Tax. The sales tax in Germany is included in the price. If something says it costs €3, it costs €3. No funny change at the end because of some 6.5% sales tax or whatever. Of course, the sales tax here is much higher, but at least it’s already in the price…
  • The Wine. And not just German wine–of which there are plenty of good ones, mostly white. But in general, I’ve found good wine to be much more accessible and cheaper than in the States. I don’t know what it is about the wine industry in the US that makes it extremely difficult to find even a decent table wine for less than $8, but here, decent wines can be had for €5. You can even find several places that will let you fill up a liter from the barrel for €3 or €4. The availability of affordable, drinkable wine here is astounding. Great wines are still expensive, but good, drinkable wines are cheap and readily available.

The Bad

  • Washing Machines. German engineering at it’s finest. The washing machines, at least the ones in all the dorms, suck. First, they are tiny. You can fit about two pairs of pants and a couple of shirts in them before they are full. Which means that it takes several machines to do a load of laundry. Second, they are slow. It takes two to two and a half hours to run a load. Third, they don’t do a very good job, and oftentimes your clothes still have a bit of soap in them. And then they don’t really do the whole dryer thing here, so you have to air dry everything. Laundry is an all-day affair here.
  • Credit Cards. No one takes them. Most hotels do, but that’s really about it. Everywhere else, everywhere, you basically have to pay in cash. Germany is the single reason there is a 500 euro bill. You go to the Saturn, the German version of Best Buy, and buy a 3000 dollar television, and have to pay in cash. I guess they don’t get too many impulse buys…
  • The Trains. Yes, also a good thing. But good lord they are expensive. I have a BahnCard 50, which gives me 50% off all German rail travel, and it’s still expensive. With it, it cost me 42 euro round trip to Nuremberg, a mere three hours away. Without it, it would have cost me 84 euro. To go three hours away. Ouch.
  • Beer Selection in Bars/Restaurants. This isn’t to say that the beer is bad, but rather that it’s hard to find anything different. I haven’t confirmed this, but I’m pretty confident that the bars and restaurants here must sign a contract with a beer distributor allowing them only to sell that brand of beer–I have never, ever seen a place that sold more than one brand of beer. Meaning that every place has a pilsner, a hefeweizen, maybe a kellerbier, and this time of the year, possibly a bock. That’s it. No selection. None of the places where you can stroll in and pick from 15 different beers. And because of the reliance on regional brewers, normally a good thing, sometimes it can be hard to find a beer from a company that you haven’t already had, a hundred times over. Sometimes you just want something different.
  • Water. Not the stuff out of the tap in your apartment, the stuff in restaurants. They don’t do the whole tap water thing here. If you want water, you’ve gotta pay €4 for the stuff in a bottle, frequently carbonated. Some places will grudgingly give you tap water if you ask for it, but they don’t like it, and some won’t give you refills. Other places flat out tell you they don’t allow customers to order tap water. I’ve been known to take a water bottle with me to eat because I don’t want to pay exorbitant prices for something I can get for almost free from the tap.

The Ugly

  • Smoking. Everyone smokes here. Everyone. Far moreso than in the US. To make it worse, they don’t really do the smoking/non-smoking sections here–they’re just all smoking. And the bars… Most of them are built into old cellars, so there isn’t much ventilation, and when almost everyone in them is smoking, you can’t see the person sitting next to you. They’ll even smoke on the trains here. I’ll never forget my trainride to Munich for Oktoberfest, with over 200 people crammed into a train car meant to sit 100, when the train broke down on the tracks, and everyone started smoking. Nothing like tons of smokers in a traincar to make you unable to breath. Not to mention I’m tired of all of my clothes perpetually smelling like smoke despite my not being a smoker.
  • The Bureaucracy. I know I already said this in the last one, but it has to be said again. The German bureaucracy has to be seen to be believed. It takes forever for anything to happen here, because 47 different bureaucrats have to sign 92 pieces of paper to replace a roadsign, or something else as trivial. And the blind insistance upon following every rule to the letter is maddening. No one will bend a rule, no matter how silly the rule or how light the bending. Want to send that package that is 11 grams over the 500g airmail weight? Sorry bud, not happening. Open it up and pull out the equivalent of a couple paperclips worth of stuffing paper. Since I’m sure that plane is going to crash because I had 11 grams too much in my airmail box.

Thats it for now. I’ve got a few more brewing, so there will probably be another similar post in the future…

January 13, 2006

The Year in Cities

Filed under: Travels, Random — Alex Ravenel @ 5:54 pm

I saw an interesting post on Kottke, The Year in Cities. Here’s my 2005, in cities that I’ve spent the night in:

Charlotte, NC
Chapel Hill, NC
Lansing, NC
Sparta, NC
Charleston, SC
Columbia, SC
Bonneau, SC
London, England
Rome, Italy
Florence, Italy
Venice, Italy
Tübingen, Germany
Stuttgart, Germany
Berlin, Germany
München (Munich), Germany
Nürnberg (Nuremberg), Germany
Colmberg, Germany
Paris, France
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

With study abroad, it’s been a big year for me in terms of travel–though my American travel is noticeably small. I’ll work on that this year…

Email List

Filed under: Random — Alex Ravenel @ 3:48 pm

I upgraded the Wordpress software to the newest version. With it, I added a few new plugins–namely a mailing list plugin. Sign up your name in the box on the right, and you will be notified everytime there is a new post. You can remove yourself from the list at anytime.

Less noticeable, under the mailing list registration form is now a list of my most recently played tracks from Last.fm.

December 12, 2005


Filed under: Random — Alex Ravenel @ 11:44 am

Everyone, go give Pandora a try. Pandora is an online radio station, but a bit different from most. Enter a band or song you like, and it’ll play that artist or song, and then move into other songs/artists that are similar. You can then rate these selections, making your future selections more accurate. It introduces you to tons and tons of music you wouldn’t have otherwise found. Most excellent.

December 11, 2005

Photo Gallery Fixed

Filed under: Random — Alex Ravenel @ 8:31 am

I fixed a couple problems in the photo gallery, namely the category views being all sorts of messed up. Turned out to be some buggy code in the paged archive code. Upgraded to new version, and all is good. Anyways, the photo gallery should be much easier to browse through now. Enjoy.

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 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…

October 29, 2005

A Few More Fall Photos

Filed under: Random, Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 6:48 am

Tree, PlatanenalleeI went out again yesterday, back to the Platanenallee, to try once again to capture some of the fall colors. Things weren’t as successful this time around, but I still came out with a few good ones. As normal, head over to the photo gallery through the link above to check them out.

October 27, 2005

New Photos — Fall Comes to Tübingen

Filed under: Random, Germany — Alex Ravenel @ 2:56 pm

Family, PlatanenalleeWalking home from class yesterday, I noticed the warm fall afternoon light filtering though the golden leaves of the sycamores along the Platanenallee, the island park in the middle of the Neckar. I decided I would return today, camera in hand, and see what I could do. The light was gorgeous, but unfortunately I was a bit late, and the one really good picture I could have had was spoiled by a couple of different things. No worry; I’ll return sometime soon, maybe tomorrow, and try again… Nonetheless, here are a few I did get…

0.136 seconds WP 2.0.1    Based on Deichnetz    xhtml css