Assorted Musings: German Sojourn
German Sojourn
(March-April, 2000)
Day Eighteen:  Fasten-ating

I have finally emerged at the other end of my frenzy of work, and am partially caught up on sleep.  This is a very happy state, and I'm feeling very pleased with the world.  Steve arrives tomorrow morning, which means I'm watching the clock and counting down hours.  It's well under 20 now, so things just keep looking up.

Since I'm out from under a huge pile of work, I'm taking the morning to organize my "file" of papers on the windowsill.  Some are a bit crinkly from being rained on, but they are all legible.  Most can be shredded, but some I want to keep.  I've sorted and piled and all of that, and now I'm ready to staple and clip and file.  There's just one problem.  There are no staplers.

When I first got here, I looked for a stapler in this temporary office.  I had tape and a pile of paper clips, but no stapler.  No big deal, though, right?  I can just go down the hall to the copy room.  Hmmmm  No staplers in there, either.  And the copier is out of internal staples, so you can't even staple things you copy.  Oh, well, people must have stolen the copy room stapler.  I'll borrow one from the assistant across the hall.  But she doesn't have one.  Nor does the other assistant next door.  I've looked and looked, and there is a grand total of one stapler that I have seen my entire stay here, and that's in the SDG office in Leverkusen.  I tried to spirit it away Tuesday when I was at that site, but Waseem caught me and gave me a terribly hurt look.

Apparently one does not staple.  One clips.

The other thing one does not do is leave the office door open.  If you leave your door open (for example, to create cross-ventilation in this non-air-conditioned building), people walking by will helpfully close it for you, assuming that you simply forgot or it blew open.  Sometimes they glare at you for being so forgetful.  If I leave to go to the copy room or the ladies room and don't close my door behind me, it is almost always closed when I return.  In the evening, every single cabinet and door in the place is locked.  People carry their office keys on their keychains, and lock the door when they go to lunch.  I don't have a key to anything in my office, and I am constantly being apologized to for this lack.  Sometimes one of the assistants will helpfully lock my office for me (poor forgetful thing), and then I can't get in until I find one of them and beg.  This is not a company thing or a site thing -- it has nothing to do with security policy.  Apparently it's like this everywhere.  It's a privacy thing, I guess.

When we got back to the hotel, we noticed that:
1)  the bar was full with a large group of 20-ish Americans, drinking heavily
2)  the lobby had a row of luggage carts piled high with oddly-shaped cases and electronics
3)  there were a few stalwart teenage girls hanging out near the river outside

Yup, Hanson's here.  Waseem called me from the Regency Club floor to tell me they're staying up there, and all their roadies were the ones down in the bar.  I'm hoping to hear a humorous Hanson breakfast buffet story this evening over dinner.  Maybe Waseem can convince them to join his BMW scheme.

Days Nineteen through Twenty-One:  Steve's Adventures in Germany

Steve arrived early Friday morning in Dusseldorf.  I had to wake up very early to get him, and he didn't get much sleep on the plane, so it took both of us to figure out how to pay for parking and make our way back to the hotel.  A quiet day followed, wandering around town and shopping and sightseeing for a bit, then back to the hotel for a nap before dinner.  Very boring.  I kept pointing things out with great excitement and Steve kept attempting to join in while still sleepwalking.

Saturday morning we got up early to drive down the Mosel wine route. Fortunately I have invested in a very nice book of maps, so we were able to find the Mosel.  (That river, starts with an "m", kinda south
of here....)  The bad concierge at the hotel got us started on the wrong foot (and in the wrong direction), but once we fixed that we were ok.  We knew there was a famous castle on the route that we wanted to visit, but I didn't remember the name.  Naturally the bad concierge was of no help.  We therefore pulled over at the first
tourist information center to get a map.  Well, actually, we never found the FIRST tourist information center, but the second one had a nice illustrated map of the French.  Figuring this was at least half-useful, we got it.  Unfortunately, this map didn't really have road numbers on it, so once or twice we lost the river by following the wrong road signs.  Fortunately, it's usually easy to tell when you've done this.  Is there a big watery thing on one side of the car?  No?  Hmmmm.....turn around.

The castle in question, Berg Eltz, was very nice.  We elected to climb to the top rather than ride, and it was a good 30 minute hike up through some very lovely woods.  Except for a few steep patches, it was a pretty easy climb, so it was more a pleasant walk in the roads than a real hike.  The Berg is a lovely castle, built and re-built over centuries, with the luxury of only having been sieged once.  It is still privately owned, but is pretty much entirely on display. Judging from some of the furniture and rooms, the family never threw anything out and probably hasn't used this castle to live in for centuries.  They didn't light any fires, so it was frigid even in April.

The tour was (naturally) in German, but they sold us translations so we could follow along -- for fun, I got one French and one English. This turned out to be a wise move, as the two versions didn't match. We suspect they had a translater for each language take the tour, and then use their own notes to create the foreign language versions.  No one ever seemed to check that they had the same information.  As a result, both versions hit the same highlights, but some of the smaller features were in only one version.  Having both gave us a nice superset.  And a good laugh.  ("Why do you suppose the French care about St. George, but not the English?  Shouldn't that be the other way around?")

As we were leaving, we saw something very very strange -- a group of US tourists entering the castle grounds with large strollers.  This castle is not large, being built on a crag, and the tour had lots of small twisting spiral staircases and tiny doorways and such.  There is no way those strollers were going to fit.  I just hope someone stopped them before they tried.  This is far too typical of US tourists everywhere -- they are so used to the States where everything is safety-railed and labeled and warning-posted that if they don't see a sign saying "Tours are not open to children under 5" or something, they assume it must be ok.  Turn brain off, follow directions.  I was glad to leave before they saw what they had gotten themselves into, and also before the German tourists saw what they had to put up with. On the way down the hiking path, right near the bottom, we saw a US couple carrying a stroller with a 2 year old ensconsed inside up the rocky path.  The man was saying "Parker, maybe it's time you got out and walked."  Heh heh.  Just wait until you're another mile up the hill.  No wonder there are so many stroller-related accidents. Somehow I doubt Graco recommends lugging children up hills while not strapped in.

The rest of the drive was very nice -- we stopped for lunch at a cafe looking out on the river, meandered by countless vineyards, passed fascinating customized harvesting equipment, drove through cute little towns...  At one point the highway actually was diverted through a parking lot because the main street was converted into an antiques fair.  That was more than a little strange, but we got through the parking lot and back on the road with no trouble.  The towns are all tiny -- some just a few dozen houses -- and often the only real street is the highway.  There are some brick lanes leading up the hill to the other houses, but they are pretty casual.  There are a few larger towns, but even these have at most a couple hundred houses.  The towns are perhaps 2-4 kilometers apart, spaced out along the river, with bridges about every 10 kilometers.  There's a large bike lane next to the road that seems very popular for local commuting.  All houses face the river, usually with large windows and porches.  The vineyards climb all the way up the hills, sometimes on tiny terraces, and come all the way down to the road.  Sometimes extra vines are planted between the rail line and the road, or around a bus stop.  No wine-growing space is lost.  The vineyards are all small and locally-owned, and they produce some very good sweet whites.

At Bernkastel we saw an ominous sign that had Trier (our desination) crossed out and what seemed like a construction symbol.  We had encountered road construction all day, which had slowed us down a bit, so we decided to just head back to Koeln rather than go all the way to Trier.  This might have shortened our drive, but it meant we got back while it was still daylight and were able to make a very nice dinner. All in all, a picturesque day.

Sunday we woke up very late and went to the chocolate museum. Apparently Germany's second largest chocolate producer is from Koeln, and their early factory has been turned into a museum.  I've never heard of Stollwerck myself, but I trust them when they say they are large.  The museum was very interesting, covering the history of cocoa use, its production and manufacturing then and now, and finally the history of the Stollwerck company.  They were very matter-of-fact about the effects of the Weimar inflation, the war, and the reconstruction.  One item we puzzled out was that they built a factory in Stamford, CT in 1915 or so, but they have no US manufacturing now. We strongly suspect that the US government appropriated the factory -- wouldn't be at all surprised to find out Nestle or Hershey or someone owned a site in Stamford today.  They had a large display of vending machines from the late 1800s.  Stollwerck started placing very novel vending machines around Germany in 1870 or so, selling chocolates and cough drops and such, and by the turn of the century you could buy all sorts of things from them -- toothpicks, cigars, a spray of cologne, handkerchiefs, a comb, food of several sorts, etc.  The machines were
very funny and eye-catching.

The museum also had a production line showing how the cocoa is processed, and a working section where they make little mini-bars, truffles, and molds in front of you.  Patient-looking women tend machines and paint white chocolate on bunny ears and such while people stare at them.  Every now and then they pause to offer samples.  At
one end of the floor is a great metal pipe arrangement built to look a bit like a cocoa tree that spouts fresh warm chocolate, which a nice woman swishes wafers through to offer to the crowd.  Shades of Willy Wonka and the river of chocolate.  The place smelled thickly of chocolate, no matter where you were in the building.  I'm sure there are those who would love this, but I have to admit that by the end I was getting a bit sick of the smell.  I was also a bit put off my the section on the 2nd floor about the nutritious value of chocolate. This was largely a historical section, documenting how chocolate was used as an aphrodesiac, how it was used in medicines, and so on.  The modern section had some very condescending bits about how "Chocolate is the perfect food for women, with the ideal mixture of fat and sugar for the female body" and such.  Harumph.

That afternoon we wandered a bit more, ate some of the world's best french fries while watching the crowds in front of the Dom, and were generally quiet.  We did see a great stone in the floor of the plaza in front of the Dom -- "This Could Be An Historic Site".  True, I suppose, but then that could probably be said of the central square in
any European town.  Given that this spot has been the center of Koeln since Roman times, I think I'll give them that something interesting DID happen right at that spot -- you've got at least 2000 years to play with.

In the early evening (6:30pm), we went to see Saturday Night Fever, on extended open run at the Koeln Musical Dome.  Theatrical spaces are a little different in Europe, but this one was odd by any standard, I think.  We were forced to check our coats (actually, not a bad custom if you can get them out again in under an hour).  We sat down in the very nice theatre and were offered pretzels, peanuts, and ice cream by passing vendors.  No beer or other drinks in the hall, but ice cream is no problem.  Odd, too, to hear people crunching on popcorn as the show started.

The show itself was only partially comprehensible, since the dialogue was in German.  We were able to infer some things -- this is the love interest, they seem very upset about that picture, he seems to like those pants, she's spurning his advances, he just made a lewd joke to his friend, etc.  Really, given the show was Saturday Night Fever, I'm willing to bet we got about 70% of the plot between us.  I am still wondering why everyone was so excited about 4 dollars in act two, but Steve thinks it was a raise that German Travolta got at work.  I made an error by supposing that one character was comic relief, when he was clearly supposed to be tragic.  I think my big clue was when he sang a song called "Tragedy" and then jumped off a bridge.  So much for my theatrical interpretation.  The only line we were absolutely able to understand was "Annette, don't you understand English?", spoken in German of course.  That got a good laugh from us.

The dance numbers were good, although the choreography was very broad. Lots of fist-waving and hip swiveling.  The DJ character was played by a guy who obviously spoke English very well, as he sometimes used
American slang in the background patter.  Between the huge brunette Charlie's Angel wig, the enormous tube sock down his shorts, and the cheesy white pullovers, he was already scary enough before he started singing "Disco Duck".  Yeech!  Another basic flaw in the show is that disco songs do pretty well for large group dance numbers, but the lyrics are too limited for tender plot-moving ballads.  There were several numbers that consisted entirely of a lead character singing the same three lines tenderly on an empty, sparsely-lit stage.  <yawn>

The set and lights were actually very good, and the costumes were hysterically marvelous.  I really wanted the costume designer to come out and take a bow.  The stage made good use of floor panels -- a section covering about 1/2 the stage was created of translucent panels with colored lights beneath them that could be used to create all
kinds of patterns.  This both served as room definition in the smaller scenes and cheesy disco dance floor in the big ones.  A cool idea.  In act two, the set had its best moment when a giant disco ball was revealed.  This thing took up about 1/2 the available space, and I swear each mirrored panel was about 4 feet on a side.  It was spinning (of course), and so I think it is meant as this show's answer to the Miss Saigon helicopter.  I really wanted someone to climb into it and be carried away to Disco heaven.

The end of the show was a bit of a downer -- some tender scene between German Travolta and the love interest.  They obviously decided that they couldn't end the show there.  People came to hear disco and see dancing, right?  So after the bows they went into a strange medley dance number with lots of gymnastics and lifts and such.  The crowd
rose (as one) and started clapping (as one), so the place was really loud and energetic.  It was strange to see how orderly the crowd was, though -- no one was standing in the aisles, few people left, everyone was facing forward and clapping in time.  Even the pretzel sellers.

Sunday night I packed the suitcase Steve had brought with him (about 4 things that he brought, a few things we bought on Friday, and all my dirty clothes -- thank you!).  We woke up at 5am to get to the airport in time, and off he went. <sniffle>

So I've shopped, I've seen SNF, I've driven around the countryside, I've lost the car, I've found the car, I've encountered numerous cultural oddities, and I've climbed the Dom.  Time to come home.  A few more days to finish my work, then I get to wing home as well.  Now that Steve's taken back some of my stuff, I might even make it in the same bags I came over with.  :-)

Days Twenty-Two through Twenty-Four:  We've Got to Stop Meeting Like This

I have exactly three very boring things to say.  (And if anyone just got an "Emma" flashback, I'm impressed.)

1)  The other day Waseem and I were trying to park and having trouble.  We pulled up to the hotel garage entrance, but the machine wouldn't give us tickets since the garage was full.  We therefore had to back out of the rather tight entrance-way in sequence.  I opened my window to ask Waseem where he wanted to go next and to coordinate the stunt backing.  Naturally, we spoke English.  Boring English, but English.  This random guy who was walking by stopped in his tracks and called over to me:  "Hey!  Are you American?"  At first I thought he was talking to someone else -- I was busy backing up!  "Hey!  You!  Are you American?"


"I'm from Michigan!"  The guy is just beaming at me.  Excited to be from Michigan, excited to be in Germany, excited to see another American in this God-forsaken isolated major American hotel in a common tourist destination.

I was sorely tempted to say "Good."  Perhaps even "How nice for you." Instead, I took a long pause and said "We're from Boston", then drove on.

Kimmerie, I'm afraid I have to blame you for this.  People from your state are very strange.

Waseem and I walked over the bridge talking about what we could have said -- he thought it would have been fun to beam at him and say "Really?  Do you know Brian?"  But that might have meant talking to him for more time, which is an unacceptable solution.

2)  Steve bought me a really nifty ankle-length black leather coat, Matrix-style.  I look about as cool as I'm ever going to look and Waseem is very very jealous.  Hee hee.

Ok, that might not be interesting to YOU, but I'M excited.

3)  A long time ago, I asked the hotel to upgrade me to the Regency Club floor for my last week here, starting when Steve arrived.  The Regency Club is reserved for people with lots of status and other VIPs, so I didn't initially qualify.  I do, however, now have top-level Hyatt status.  When I first asked, I was told that I was confirmed into a room for the weekend but that they would have to check on the rest of the week.  Excellent!  The nice lady would send me a voicemail to let me know the results.

A few days later, I hadn't heard anything, so I checked at the desk. Hmmmm.  They still weren't able to confirm the whole week, so they suggested I stay on a waiting list and check back soon.  I remembered only after I was in the elevator that I didn't ask which nights I was confirmed for.  Oh, well.

A few days later (last Tuesday or Wednesday), I checked again.  I am no longer confirmed for any nights, and in fact it will most likely not be possible to move me up at all -- I might be able to get up there for a night, but then I'd have to move back.  This sucks, so I give up.

Elizabeth was also unable to get on the Regency Club floor this week, even though last week they said it was likely.  We therefore decided that someone important must have booked the rooms, or perhaps someone pulled rank.

Last night at dinner we discovered something interesting -- not only is Waseem on the Regency Club floor this week (he has the same status I do), BUT they actually kept his room for him all weekend.  Instead of checking him out on Friday and back in yesterday, they kept the room for him, with all his stuff in it, without charging him.  Guess now I know why there was no room confirmed for me for the weekend.

Just goes to show that status means nothing when compared to being handsome and personable.  Harumph.

Day Twenty-Five:  Lasts

This morning I woke up to my last breakfast in the hotel, shortly followed by my last drive to Wuppertal and my last day here in my office.  I opened the window for the last time, enjoyed my last carafe of coffee, and dropped
the adaptor for my computer power cord for (hopefully) the last time.  I am having my last meeting with the client soon, and hope my last lunch is not too lasting.  The last project I was on lasted much longer, with lasting effects.  I hope I can last until tomorrow morning through my last dinner and last night in the hotel.  My last sight of the Dom will be very sad, but this account might last long enough that I can come back at last.

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