January 28, 2009

Excursion Nummer Eins

Last weekend we traveled to the lovely little town of Erfurt, a forty-minute train ride west from Jena. Things really bustle around here on Saturdays because everything is closed on Sundays. It is a mandatory day of rest and you can be fined for making too much noise doing things like recycling your glass bottles or mowing your lawn.

The trams and buses run right down the middle of the street, so you have to be aware of where you're walking at all times. I'm not always good in crowds, so there were many times when I felt my head would explode trying to watch kids and pedestrians and trams and figure out which way to go!

This is one of the oldest churches in Erfurt and the first one we encountered as we left the train station. I think construction on it began around 1300 A.D. Can you imagine what that was like? Every piece being worked and carried by hand?

Next we climbed to the top of a bell tower in another church, constructed around 1100 A.D. Up and around and up and around we went on a rickety old staircase, which Jonathon assured me was OSHA approved! The view from the top was nothing short of amazing as you can see. The whole expedition reminded me of a scene out of Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame.

There were six adults and six children under the age of nine in our party, so we spent quite a lot of time waiting for someone to catch up or pee or get a drink. My guy gets a little antsy when he's not moving, but what a great backdrop against which to take a rest.

I'm not much of a religious person, but the beauty of this cathedral was astounding. All the scrolled woodwork was hand-carved in the 15th century and the statues of the saints were gold-plated. This cathedral houses one of the largest organs I have ever seen in my life and I would love to hear it being played; the sound must resonante so sweetly against the 100+ foot domed ceiling.

The city was crawling with police in riot gear. It turns out there was a demonstration in front of the train station that day by the "far left". They were protesting the fact that the government would not let them "squat" in abandoned buildings in the city. From the number of police on the streets and helicopters in the air you would think it was a soccer game! It was way overkill if you ask me, but fascinating nonetheless.

This scene greeted us in the train station and of course we had to snap a few photos. The police did not like this and the guy on the left of the picture walked over to me and pointed at my camera and started asking me questions in German. I explained to him that I didn't speak Deutsch, I was an American tourist on my way back to Jena, and was it against the law to take pictures at a demonstration? He then asked to see my passport (which luckily Mark had brought along), grunted and turned around and went back into formation. It was then I learned tourists are supposed to carry their passports at all times. Okay. Carry your passport and don't recycle glass on Sundays. Got it. Anything else I should know?

January 27, 2009

Internet Is In Da House

Guten tag, Amerika! We got our internet connection and I have stopped twitching!

Check it out. This is the view from my kitchen window. Does this not look exactly like the proverbial German town? The kitchen itself leaves much to be desired, but it is completely adequate and not without its own charm. The fridge is so tiny that even a small child could not possibly lock themselves inside. It is so tiny because the Germans buy tiny little packages of everything, hence no need for storage. As you know, we do not have a car, so all groceries must be carried up a very steep hill in our backpacks (do you think the kids complain about this??), so I appreciate their packaging foresight. However, it makes grocery shopping almost a daily chore, but my legs and ass will be looking mighty fine when I return to the states!

Here's our house, Schroeterstrasse 10. We live on the 3rd floor of this recently renovated building, with 2 bedrooms and 1.5 baths. It is so much more beautiful that I ever expected and that view from the kitchen is pretty much standard in all of our windows. The laundry facilities (2 washers and 1 dryer which took Joslin and I the better part of one day to figure out) are in the basement and can only be operated with tokens which must be purchased from Frau Epp. I have not met Frau Epp. She works at the institute so Mark has to deal with her, which is fine with me because I heard she's a little pinched.

This is the Platz downtown where an amazing farmer's market is held every Tuesday and Thursday. It is also where the tourist bureau resides, so I've spent some time there getting maps and tickets for the tram. The kids love to chase pigeons here and I like to spin around and around like Mary Tyler Moore, being grateful that I have the opportunity to call this city home for a while.

The kids and I are taking 2 hours of German lessons each day. Ben hates it and rarely makes it through a lesson. Claire is getting the gist of it but is very shy about speaking and won't practice. I am in way over my head, but I've found that if I just keep plodding along it tends to come together in the end. I have no delusions about holding a conversation here, but it would be nice to know if I'm on the right train or buying cow tongue at the market!

There's an endless amount of discussion for the blog in my head, but I'll pace it a little. Next time I'll tell you about our trip to Erfurt and my involvement with the riot police. Tschues!

January 26, 2009

Still more patience required

by Mark

You guessed it,,, still no internet at home. Please don't mention that to Kristi,, it makes her get this funny little twitch. The problem is that we need to sign a 24 month contract to get it, but since my work contract is only 6 months they won't give it to us,, even if we paid the whole 24 months upfront. I have learned that we are allowed by German law to break the contract if we leave the country and can't get the service, but they won't let us in to break it. We still have one more try in the works and a back up plan so we haven't given up navigating around the barriers, yet. We had very few expectations when we left home, but being able to get internet was one.

We have settled in and made the apartment a home. Being up in a remodeled attic means great light and views as well as lots of places to whack your head in the dark. Kristi seems to be doing well on the synthetic hormone and Claire as you might expect already has a troop of friends. We did get to take a nice Saturday excursion via train to Erfurt. They have a very nice Gothic Cathedral and lots of medieval towers and old streets. We climbed to the top of one tower that was first mentioned in 1100 and took in the view. Ben was most thrilled to find a Burger King. We did get some lovely pictures that I didn't get on a USB stick for the journey to work, so boring old text is all I have to share for now.

German Bureaucracy is something to behold. We are now into our second week with no end in sight and I have no idea how many people at the many different offices I've showed my passport, work contract, proof of health insurance, and I'll need my kids birth certs and even my marriage license before it is all over. I'm sure without my lovely handler, Angela (pronounced Ahn GEE La), I would be in jail. If anyone here changes residences they have a week to change their government registration, take a number please, and they ask you everything including your religion. I guess that will come in handy if they ever want to round up the Jews on short notice, again.

On that note, the Buchenwald concentration camp is in Weinmar about half way from Jena to Erfurt. Since there wasn't a train station there, the Nazis off loaded everyone headed to Buchenwald at the Paradise station in Jena (same one we used) and marched them in winter to Buchenwald on a Jewish trail of tears. The Soviets erected a huge memorial, but apparently it fails to mention that the Soviets used the camp for political dissenters as well.

January 21, 2009

Patience, Bitte.

We still have no internet at home and German bureaucracy is taking it's toll, but stay tuned, we will get up to speed soon.

Our apartment is a lovely "loft with charm" and has a nice view of Central Jena and the Saale river valley. We have been walking a ton, the family takes German lessons every morning. Ben and Claire have been having a great time playing with the kids of our local friends. Kristi is trying out the bus and tram today and we are planning a train ride this weekend to Efurt, a nearby burg that is supposed to have a nice medieval town center.

The institute is amazing, people have been wonderful, and the bread is very good.

January 14, 2009

Auf Wiedersehen

Passports are in the backpack, DS is charged and ready, Panda is sitting by the door, the animals are fed, the floors are swept, and the alarm is set for 5:14 a.m. We're making it out with seven smallish pieces of luggage and one backpack each. We have confirmation that someone really is meeting us at the airport in Frankfurt to drive us to Jena and that we do indeed have an apartment which will be available when we arrive. Whew! I think we're ready. If all goes well, we'll arrive at our final destination around 8:00 p.m. Friday evening, 11:00 a.m. here on the west coast. Even though I won't be scrapbooking per se (it's true that I am taking nary a one scrappin' tool), I will be spending plenty of time observing and documenting our journey through words and photos that I hope to share with our family and friends here on the blog. Stay tuned and see ya 'round harvest time!

January 11, 2009

Subaru jumping aka bored country folk in winter

By Mark (of course!)

I think the world would be a happier place if everyone had a beater old Subaru. I mean really, check your ego at the door and just enjoy the ride.

This all started one day when I was heading to the IBC greenhouse and noticed a nice pile the plow had left behind. The snow was light enough that I thought it would be a hoot to blast through it. Well after I went through it, I said out loud,, I think I jumped. Sure enough paced off it was seven size nine boots between the time the wheels left the ground until they came back down all in a really fun smooth ride. I went back and got a picture for a memento, but was always kinda bummed that I didn't get to see it in the air. The black thing in the picture is my glove,, gotta have a scaler in pics like this.

Then as the snow receded there was a nice drift/plowed pile that looked like it might work for a repeat. The first time I didn't let the old girl warm up enough and I couldn't get the speed I needed; though all four wheels were confirmed off the ground at the same time I stuck it pretty hard and had to use the recovery vehicle to get it back out. There are vids of that too, as well as ripping one of the tie down loops off the car. This movie is actually the third jump! Tee Hee Hee!

January 9, 2009

First comes winter then comes muck

by Mark

Santa put some window markers in Claire's stocking and this is what our little artist did with them Christmas morning. We were thinking spring then and there was a lot more to come.

That is the railing at the TOP of the stairs.

An interesting day to swing

Guess I shoulda bought a D5

Thanks for finding your way through a white out, Bob. The right tool for the job as usual.

And then the rain came and turned our Wintery White Wonderland into a Blustery Brown Bog

We didn't have any trouble getting around the lane and a half of landslide that was just around this corner in the morning, but by the afternoon we have to wait for the Spokane news crew to get pictures after it is all cleaned up, c'mon!

Lots of snow and lots of rain equals lots of water

Little ol' Union Flat Creek wakes up from its icy sleep. Time for a canoe and a dry suit if you dare cuz it might be your last chance to run it for a couple years.

January 6, 2009

New and Improved?

Not sure about that, just know I need some freakin' green right now! Pipe up if you think it's too much. Working on lots of last minute details around here and trying to plow out from the last round of storms and get the kids back to school for their final days. We can hardly wait for this adventure to begin.