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Back in Deutschland, week 2

August 20th, 2013 No comments

I’m in Ichenheim again, for the first time in two years. It might as well have only been two weeks for all the noticeable change, except for the one giant difference of there being a 21-month old child here now. Now I’m writing another blog entry from this couch like so many times before, although this one feels like a chore as I’d rather just be relaxing.

There are no interesting stories from my second week of vacation. It’s mostly just been lots of relaxing, drinking delicious beer, eating delicious food, and having interesting or silly conversations. There are hardly even any photos worth posting—it’s mostly just pictures of me and Oliver goofing around while drunk. I’ll just briefly recount what each day consisted of for the sake of the historical archives.

On Saturday we had a little party starting in the late afternoon. Amanda came all the way from Berlin and I got to catch up with her. They also invited a colleague of Oliver named Ma Ren who was a really nice and interesting person I’m glad I got to meet, and a woman named Rune from capoeira who was really nice but didn’t speak much English and tended to steer all discussions in directions I had nothing to contribute to. But that turned out to be somewhat lucky, as I went to bed several hours earlier than most of the others.

The party continued well throughout Sunday, at least for Oliver and me. In spite of his hangover, I was surprised when he opened a beer first thing in the morning, and after breakfast began pouring shots of whiskey into our glasses of tea (though that might have been at my suggestion). We finished off the whole bottle and had one of the maddest Sundays I can remember.

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Oliver needed all of Monday and even a bit of Tuesday to recover, so we just took it easy those days and watched lots of episodes of Game of Thrones. On Wednesday we got everything ready to go for our bicycle tour of Hannover on Thursday, the one thing I most wanted to do while back in Germany. That involved fixing Oliver’s bicycle (we’d already fixed my old bike I’d sold to them when I moved away) and buying a little bike trailer for Buutsch, the dog.

I said we should get up at 9:30 to give ourselves plenty of time to get to Hannover relatively early, but the way Oliver operates made that rather unrealistic. It took forever just to prepare breakfast, clean up, have a shower, pack the car, and finally get going. In Hannover we also had to stop at the house of is friend Kolya who was letting us camp out in his garden house that night. We got the key and headed to the garden house, dropped off our stuff there, had the obligatory beer, and finally got under way at about 4:00 p.m.

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With Buutsch in the little trailer, we made our way to the start of the tour along the river where I used to go jogging. Buutsch hated the trailer and made whimpering noises the whole way. When we were finally at a section of river not too crowded, Oliver let him out and rode with him on the leash ahead. That dog is so full of energy that he ended up pulling Oliver at extreme speeds for the next several kilometers. Oliver had to stop him every now and then just to let me catch up.

The first part of the tour went perfectly. It was dark and cloudy while I would have preferred sunshine, but it was cool to be back in Hannover and to see all the nice parts of it I became so familiar with in my time there. When I’d left I’d hoped to come back and see them again, and now I was finally making that happened.

But after the Herrenhauser Garten and Georgengarten, things started to go wrong. We had to ride through the city a bit to get to the next part of the tour, the Eilenriede (city forest), and there was some construction blocking a part of the route. But Oliver said he knew this area of the city really well and could get us to the Eilenriede without a problem. It turned out he was mistaking it for where he used to live and was completely wrong about where we were, so we ended up going extremely far off course. When we finally checked his iPhone to pinpoint our location, we saw how far we’d gone and because it was starting to rain it seemed like we should just quit and maybe finish the tour the next day. We started to do that and head back to the garden house at Lindener Berg by the most direct route, but Oliver could tell I was upset and decided we should just go to the Eilenriede anyway.

So we got there, found a place to stop and have a beer, but when that was done it was already approaching 7:00 p.m. and I knew we wouldn’t be able to finish the tour before dark. So we started heading back to Lindener Berg by way of the Maschsee, and we were able to take a quick detour to the Hiroshima Gedenkhain very quickly so I could get a picture of the plaque explaining it that Lena had accidentally deleted two years ago and promised to get another one but never did.

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When we got to the Maschsee we discovered it was Maschseefest, so it was extremely crowded and we didn’t get too close. In the three years I lived there I never went to Maschseefest, and this made the 4th time I blew it off. Nothing about it looked fun other than the beer, and you could get that anywhere.

We headed back around the Rathaus—also really cool to see in person again—then by my old flat in Calenberger Neustadt so I could see that again. After that we stopped at my favorite Döner Kebab shop to pick up some dinner, then back up to Lindener Berg.

Kolya wanted to come hang out with us there for a bit, and he met us on our cycles on the way back. For the next few hours we hung out with him at his garden house, which turned out to be the most pleasant part of the day. He’s a really nice and interesting guy and he’s interested in Japan so it was great to talk with him. He suggested that he and Oliver come visit me in Japan next year, though I think the odds of that are still very doubtful.

He left us on our own for the night, and we slept in until 11:30 and didn’t get everything packed an underway until an hour later. Oliver didn’t want to ride anymore—his bike saddle hurt his ass too much—but I wanted to finish the tour. We decided to split up and meet somewhere around the Maschsee at 2:00. That gave me plenty of time to head back to the river and ride around the places we hadn’t gone the previous day. It was the nicest part of Hannover (the last territory I’d discovered after moving there) and the day was sunny and much nicer than the previous day. I didn’t have to worry about the dog, and I could put on some music and just get in the zone I used to get it when cycling around while I lived there. That was extremely pleasant, and made up for the previous day’s disappointments.

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We drove back to Delmenhorst at 2:00 and after getting stuck in traffic finally arrived back at almost 5:00 (normally it shouldn’t take more than 1:30), and had another easy night.

On Saturday we drove to Emsland in the afternoon to visit Oliver’s daughters and his 8-month old grandson Finn. I haven’t seen his daughter Nele in two years or Ronja in nearly four. Ronja was 16 the last time I saw her and is now a 20-year-old mother, so she looks twice as old as last time. Nele was 15 and is now 17 so doesn’t look too different. Finn is a cute little baby who seems pretty well-behaved. While the girls were getting ready for their evening plans, Oliver and I took Finn to a nearby lake and played with him for a little while, the first time I’ve played with a baby in as long as I can remember. After that we went back and gave the girls a ride to wherever they were going for the evening, then headed back to Delmenhorst.

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We stopped at the liquor store to pick up some beer, and I bought a bottle of whiskey on a whim, expecting to sip on it casually throughout the next day. Apparently, Oliver got another thing in mind after I bought it, and we ended up finishing off the whole bottle that night, with just a little help from Lena. We were up until 4:30 in the morning going mad, and were both glad to have one more night of that in what will probably be a very long while.

All we did on Sunday was relax and recuperate, and maybe walk Buutsch a few times. But we went to bed pretty early that night and got up at 8:00 the next morning to be able to have breakfast and get me to the train station to catch my 9:53 departure. I said a nice goodbye to both of them and the dog, and boarded the train to the next part of my vacation.

It’s only been a day and I miss them already, but I think two weeks was about enough time. My friendship with Oliver and Lena is one of the strongest I’ve ever made in my life, so it’s important to see them when I can. It may not have been the most interesting or eventful two weeks of vacation-time I’ve ever spent, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Goodbye, Hannover

July 14th, 2011 No comments

neues Rathaus Hannover

This will be my last journal entry from Hannover. In a few minutes, Lena will swing by to say goodbye to me, and at around 2:00 Oliver will come to help me put the finishing touches on my packing and throwing stuff away. When that’s done we’ll be driving to Dortmund where Oliver knows a guy who knows of a good place to camp, and we’ll either spend the night camping outside or in the apartment of Oliver’s friend. The next morning we’ll head from there to nearby Düsseldorf, from where my plane will take me back to America and the next chapter of my life.

I’ve spent the last few days living pretty much like I always have, spending lots of time in my box but heading out frequently for errands, jogging, or cycling. On Tuesday evening I went out for a little farewell dinner with Amanda, Tom (the guy from Atlanta), and Lena. We’d thought that would be the last time I’d see Lena but when we finished eating she said she didn’t want to say goodbye that night and would make sure to see me on Thursday. That goodbye will probably happen before I finish this entry [it did, and was very sad].

Once Lena and Tom had gone, Amanda kept buying us rounds of beer and we ended up staying there until extremely late at night, getting drunk to the point where I was loose-lipped enough to get into a discussion of my sexual issues, and she was insisting that we go to a sex-worker and get my virginity taken that night so it wouldn’t be such a big deal to me anymore. In a normal state of mind I wouldn’t even consider it, but it was kind of tempting at that level of drunkenness. Still, no amount of drunkenness would be enough to get me to throw my virginity away on a prostitute—sex with someone who’s only doing it for business has no appeal to me whatsoever, and since I’m perfectly content in my long-term virginity (except for a few highly unfortunate side-effects), that’s just not something I was willing to do.

But I had to give Amanda credit for at least trying to help me out, and coming closer than anyone else has. It was a bittersweet farewell when I hugged her goodbye and she rode her bike away, then I stumbled back towards my apartment just as the rain began to fall heavily. I waited in a doorway of a building for it to let up, dozed off for awhile, then got back up and headed home as the sun began to rise.

I had to suffer through the after-effects for most of yesterday, so unfortunately I didn’t squeeze as much appreciation out of Hannover on my last full day here than I would have liked, but the weather was terrible anyway so all I did was go for one last bike ride in the morning.

But after the sun had gone down last night, the power went off in the whole city. One of the things I always found interesting about Germany was that in all the years I’ve spent here (almost 4 if you include my exchange-student year) was that I’d never experienced a single power-blackout. I’m not sure if this one was weather-related or simply the result of an overloaded grid due to the fact that those nuclear reactors aren’t running anymore (that would make my E.ON students very happy) but the fact that the very first blackout I’ve experienced in Germany came on my very last night in Hannover was a bit of a noteworthy coincidence. Of course I went outside and walked around to get a feel for it, heading through the train station (my last time there) and to the Raschplatz on the other side, which is the first place I had to go when I first arrived in Hannover about three years ago. That feels simultaneously like yesterday and a million years ago.

And this morning I went for one final jog down along the river and for a brief time next to the Maschsee, fully aware the whole time that I wouldn’t be seeing any of these lovely, familiar areas again for quite some time. I can hardly believe that my life here is over.

I’ll leave reflecting on my time here as a whole for another day, as right now I’m focused on the logistical nightmare of getting me and all my stuff back across the ocean. For now I’ll just leave you with some pictures of Hannover I took recently, most from the top of the Rathaus and a few from just walking or cycling around.

It’s been a joy, Hannover. Bis zum nächsten Mal!

From the top of the Rathaus. Towards my street.

Marktkirche Maschteich

Maschsee AWD Arena

Aegidientorplatz Stadthalle

 Eilenriede Deutsche Bahn

Hiroshima Gedenkhain This is in one of Hannover's loveliest parks.

My favorite spot in the Eilenriede. Moments made for living in the moment.

Maschsee at sunset. As far north along the river as you can go by bike.

My street. Auf wiedersehen.

A Dose of Night-Life

July 2nd, 2011 No comments

It occurred to me yesterday that it was the second-to-last Friday I’d be in Germany, so perhaps I ought to behave like a normal human being in his youth and go out. I checked the internet to see what was going on at all the clubs around and it looked like my best bet was a “Nuller Party” at the Faust, a music club about a 15-minute walk from my flat and right along the river where I go jogging. This is apparently the new thing now—in the last decade, 90s parties—where the DJ plays only music from the 90s—became very popular, and now they’re already doing the same thing with music from the 00s, a decade which somehow went by without ever getting an official name in English, but in Germany I suppose they settled on the “Nulls” and hence the “Nuller Party”.

Only photo taken, just before leaving.

After spending a few hours working up a buzz, I left my flat shortly before 11:00 when the website said this thing was supposed to start. The sun had only gone down about an hour earlier and the sky hadn’t completely darkened yet, so it felt much earlier than it was. But when I got to the club there was nobody inside. I don’t know why I hadn’t realized that if the entry started at 11:00 most people would actually get there later, but because I’d aimed to be there at 11:00 exact I ended up being the very first person to arrive.

A couple of hot German girls came in shortly after me, and though I stood next to them at the bar while ordering myself a beer, they neither spoke to or even made eye-contact with me. Of course I considered approaching them but there was this über-bitch aura radiating from them which is sadly quite typical of young German girls. These were the quintessence of young German bitches, and I felt like I could sense the cruelness of their hearts through the thin layer of surface beauty they possessed, so I didn’t try to talk to them.

I went up to the coat-check counter and asked the girl there when things usually got started at this place, and she said between 1:00 and 2:00. Ah, I thought, now I remember why I never go out. It was already past my normal bed-time of 11:00 and the party wasn’t even going to really get started for another couple hours.

I went outside and walked over to the Gretchen, a beer garden next to the Faust, and asked a woman working there the same thing I’d asked the coat-check girl, and she confirmed what was said. She was nice and she spoke English to me when it was apparent my German was bad, and when I ran out of things to say and walked away she said it was “a pleasure to meet me.” This woman was like the polar opposite of the girls in the club—clearly a wonderful human being on the inside but utterly unremarkable in terms of physical appearance. Why does it always have to be like that?

Anyway, I went to one of the tables outside near where others were sitting (the beer-garden was not as empty as the club) and sat down to roll up a cigarette. A young kid sat down on the other side of the table from me and asked if he could bum a smoke, so I happily obliged his request as his friend came with a freshly-ordered pizza from the food-stand there and sat down on the other side of the table. We got to talking and I ended up spending the next hour with them, and while it’s a fun little anecdote I’m afraid it’ll have to be edited out of the public part of this entry. If you’ve got access to private entries you might want to scroll down now and read the unabridged version.

They were young German boys all of 16 years old, the kind of kids I normally look at with reflexive disdain because they just seem like dumb little punks. But I was in good spirits and they seemed friendly enough so I engaged them in some conversation and told them about how I’ve been teaching English here for a few years and would be going back to America in two weeks. I guess they don’t meet people with quite as interesting a story very often so they quickly warmed up to me and wanted to hear more, particularly about the way things are in America. Ever since Cristiano suggested it in Rome I’ve been telling everyone I’m from New York, so they thought this was extra-awesome because New York City is one of the places they’ve always dreamed of going. The kid who bummed the smoke from me was even wearing a Yankee cap.

I liked these kids, and talking to them reminded me of talking to my younger brother and his friends whenever I’m back home in NJ. They also got major points in my book by attempting as much as they could to speak English to me, even though I was doing my best to speak German. The whole conversation was a weird mixture of English and German, often with words from both languages in the same sentence.

They learned a lot about America from me and I learned a little about what teenage boys in Hannover are like, and when we were finished talking they went home and I went back to the club. They said they were lucky to have met me, so I felt pretty good on my way back in, now feeling like anybody I might meet would indeed be lucky to meet me.

Back in the club it was now about half-past midnight and there were more people there but still no one dancing. I ordered a ridiculously over-priced water to get myself hydrated, then migrated to the back of the dance floor to do a little subtle dancing to the decent-but-far-from-great music that was playing. I was pretty buzzed at this point and seriously considered just letting loose on the empty dance-floor without caring at all how silly I’d look to everyone, but I apparently wasn’t quite buzzed enough for that.

So I went back to the bar and ordered a whiskey on the rocks (my current favorite drink) and the guy said it would have to be in a plastic cup, but if I wanted a glass I could just go to the bar at the smoking lounge in the back. I decided to check out the smoking lounge and discovered that there were even more people in there than out in the main area of the club. It was—as you might expect—pretty smoky in there, but not too bad.

I ordered my whiskey on the rocks (amused to see it served in a plastic cup anyway) and took the only empty barstool there between a couple of guys who were also there alone. I sipped from my drink and scanned the room, trying to determine which of these small groups of Germans sitting in the couches in the back looked to be the most promising to approach. As is usually the case with crowds of Germans, none of the groups seemed very approachable at all, which was another reminder of why I don’t go out very often.

I didn’t really want a cigarette, but in the spirit of “when in Rome” I figured I might as well smoke since I was here in the smoking lounge. I took out my tobacco and started to roll one up, and that’s when the guy sitting to my right spoke to me. He asked me if I had any filters, as apparently he had tobacco and papers but no filters. So once again smoking was the cause of my meeting someone. I wonder how non-smokers ever meet people. Seriously—I might give up the habit if it wasn’t so damned useful. 

So this guy—who looked exactly like Ron Livingston, star of the movie Office Space and Nixon The spitting image.from Band of Brothers—quickly realized my German wasn’t native and asked me where I was from, and seemed just as pleasantly surprised as the kids from earlier that I was from America (and New York in particular). It turned out he wasn’t a native German either but was actually a Russian, born in St. Petersburg and whose family migrated to Germany as soon as the Berlin wall came down. He said that the fall of the Berlin wall was the most significant historical event of his lifetime and that if that hadn’t happened he would still be in Russia right now. He’d moved here when he was 9, and was now 26. His family is scattered around Germany but apparently he also has an aunt and uncle in Brooklyn, thus providing even more evidence of my friend Mike’s theory that Brooklyn is the center of the universe.

The guy’s name was Jevgeny, and he struggled to speak English to me throughout our whole conversation and while he kept apologizing for how shitty his English was, I thought he was doing just fine. He was deeply curious about America because he never gets to speak to actual Americans. That’s one of the great things about Hannover—it’s not a tourist city so Americans are a rare commodity, and people treat a conversation with you like a rare opportunity. He said that he had a perception of Americans as very stupid and closed-minded, and while he made sure to explain that he wasn’t talking about me, I took no offense because as I explained, most Americans are stupid and closed-minded. He told me a story about someone he knew who was an exchange student in Kentucky, and the family he stayed with kept asking him about Nazis and whether Hitler was secretly still alive. I had to admit that it’s true—when most Americans hear “Germany” they immediately think of Nazis and Hitler—but people on the coasts and in the cities tend to be more sophisticated than these hicks in places like Kentucky.

I was happy to disabuse him of the notion that all Americans are morons, and he complimented me more than once on my intelligence. That’s one great thing about being an American abroad—people judge you by extremely low standards so they’re impressed by you simply for not being a drooling idiot. He had a lot of questions about America and I was happy to explain things to him, particularly about the political situation because most Europeans have no idea that Obama is really just a puppet dangling from the same strings as Bush and Clinton before him.

But I also learned some very interesting things from Jevgeny. He works at a small grocery store in the south of Hannover, and while he didn’t say so explicitly he basically implied that he’s got connections. Apparently all Russians in Germany have some kind of ties to organized crime, and he said that it comes with positives and negatives. The downside is that when Germans find out he’s a Russian, they immediately back away and don’t want to talk to him. On the plus side, nobody fucks with him. He told me that if anyone came up and started shit with me while we were sitting there, he’d punch him in the face without fear of retaliation.

He also seemed concerned that he might be intimidating me, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. And he kept saying that I could go any time and he didn’t want to keep me there, but I explained that this was the whole reason I came out—to meet and talk to interesting people. Jevgeny was a very interesting guy. One of the most fascinating things I learned from him is that with his German passport he’s free to go anywhere in Europe except his home country of Russia. When he goes back, they stop him at the airport because apparently all Russians are supposed to serve in the military and he hasn’t, so he has to bribe them every single time to keep from being sent to the army.

Eventually, Jevgeny went home and just like the kids from earlier told me that he felt lucky to have met me, which never stops feeling nice.

Now it was finally time to go to the club area and do some dancing, as the dance-floor was now full of people. I downed another expensive mineral water, then proceeded to weave my way through the crowd and dance to a bunch of unrecognizable songs (I didn’t do mush listening to the radio during the 00s) and see if any of the groups of Germans might be approachable, or better yet if there were any attractive girls I could attempt to flirt with. I was at maximum-confidence, truly believing that any woman I approached would be lucky for the chance to meet me, but things didn’t work out that way.

None of girls so much as made eye-contact with me, and all the attractive ones were dancing with their boyfriends anyway. It’s the same story whenever I go to a dance club—the girls are either taken or totally not into me—and it was one final reminder of why I never go out. Even when I’m smiling, having a good time, and radiating confidence, I just can’t seem to attract anyone. But fuck German girls anyway. There are of course many many exceptions, but generally speaking they’re almost all a bunch of stuck-up bitches. I think I’ve been better off during my three years here for having not had my life complicated by one.

After giving up on meeting anyone new, and quite satisfied at the socialization I’d already had, I went to the coat-check counter to retrieve my jacket and go home. There was a slight problem—the little token they gave me had apparently fallen out of my pocket, and the girl there (typical stuck-up German bitch) gave me this whole, “sucks to be you” attitude like there was absolutely nothing she could do to help me. She told me to wait an hour for people to start going home. Right, like I’m really going to wait until everyone else has gotten their coat before I can get mine and go. I obstinately stayed at the counter and she finally relented. I  described my jacket to her and told her that I could prove it was mine because there was a camera in my pocket with some pictures of me in it. She found the coat, found the camera, and handed it to me. Luckily I still had some pictures of me from the last time I was in Celle, and I showed her one of me with Oliver’s dog and she laughed and gave me my coat back.

It was now past 4 a.m. and during my walk home the sky began to get brighter as the sun was already rising. I’d literally been out from dusk until dawn, but in Germany during the summer that’s not a very long time at all.

So that was my nice little night out. I’m quite glad I did that, and while I’ve got no desire to drink or go out again tonight, I’m sure I’ll have myself a few more nights like that before I leave.

End of the Beginning

June 30th, 2011 No comments

I just returned from my last day of work as an English teacher for Planeo in Hannover. It’s been a week of goodbyes, and now the reality that my time here is coming to an end has really begun to hit home. I’ll never teach an English lesson for E.ON employees again. I’ll never even go into those buildings again. After nearly three years of going and coming, it hardly feels real that I’ll never go there again.

E.ON Energie Mühlenberg, where I did most of my teaching.

The goodbyes began last Friday with my last trip to Helmstedt and my last lesson with the chatty secretaries who were the students I had the longest, and they were definitely the most sad to see me go. On the way back I stopped in Braunschweig to pay a second visit to my Grandfather’s cousin Elisabeth, which also ended with a farewell although we’ve only met twice.

Monday I said goodbye to two classes, the second of which was full of a bunch of guys I really loved teaching, both because of their sense of humor and the fact that they loved hearing me go on at length about American politics. I gave them one final rant, this time about the Obama budget talks and how I now think he has no chance of winning re-election.

Tuesday I had only one lesson, this one with two guys, one of them was Holger—the guy I went to the Coppelius show with many months ago—but our goodbye wasn’t too official as we’re now friends on Facebook and I’m sure we’ll stay in touch.

My last Wednesday lesson was last week but nobody showed up, so I didn’t need to say any goodbyes there.

And today I had my last three lessons back-to-back. The first was the lesson with Mandy, my most beautiful student whom I’ve contemplated asking out many times but never did because I always got vibes of a complete lack-of-interest in me from her. I’d contemplated saying something like, “Now that you’re not my student anymore, it wouldn’t be awkward for me to ask you out. How would you like a boyfriend for two weeks?” I wouldn’t have actually done that but I was spared the annoyance of having chickened-out by finally confirming after all this time that she does in fact have a boyfriend. She’s never directly mentioned him before but when I asked her about her plans for the summer and she said she wanted to go somewhere with her “friend” I asked “your boyfriend?” and she said yes. So now I can feel just fine about never having pursued anything there.

Then it was my last lesson with one of my favorite students, Katja, with whom I spent most of the time talking about politics and making jokes. My sense of humor always seemed to appeal to her so I always enjoyed those lessons. I’m definitely sad about never seeing her again.

And finally, my last lesson was cut mercifully short as the two women who take part had a meeting to go to only a half-hour later. They brought me down to the cafeteria and treated me to a drink as we exchanged farewells and best-wishes.

The last person I bid farewell to was the very nice receptionist at the E.ON building, whom I told it was my last day and I’d be off to Japan now, and of course the first thing she brought up was Fukushima. But she and the other receptionist wished me a very fond farewell and then I left the building, taking a deep breath of the fresh jobless air.

E.ON Energy from Waste in Helmstedt 2nd E.ON Building in Mühlenberg

This is the beginning of the end of my time in Germany, but the end of the beginning of my English teaching career. It’s been a fantastic experience, one I think was a great way to start out doing this. It’s going to be extremely different in Japan, but I’ve grown enough both as a teacher and a person to feel ready for it now.

All that remains is to get my affairs in order, enjoy the hell out of these last two weeks, and then head back to the U.S.A. for a month before finally going to Japan. I’ll be in three countries in the next two months. Another one of my life’s major turning points is under way.

The Last Season Change

April 3rd, 2011 No comments

No major events have happened recently, but I think it might be a good time to just write a quick overview of where everything in my life stands at the moment.

I’ve now spent three winters in Hannover, and with the first day of temperatures higher than 20°C yesterday it seems that my last one is officially over. A cold I got last weekend gave way to hay-fever yesterday, and now I’ve got a few weeks or months of itchy eyes and runny noses to look forward to. I love the spring, but it doesn’t come without a price.

Because yesterday was the last completely nice and sunny day they’ve forecasted for awhile, I knew I had to take advantage but I also knew that every single person in the city would have the same idea. I went cycling like usual, but I made sure to get out as early in the day as possible to beat the afternoon crowds. For the first time since the Fall I did a complete cycle-tour of Hannover’s nicest areas, a two-and-a-half hour giant closed loop that takes me up the river, through the park, through the forest, and back around to the area around the Maschsee before heading up the river again. It was fantastic, and for the first time this year I noticed the trees beginning to sprout new leaves. In a couple of weeks all signs of winter will be gone, and if all goes according to plan I won’t see those trees in their leafless state again.

Unfortunately, the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster in Japan has cast a shadow of doubt over the whole plan to go there this summer, but right now I’m operating under the assumption that it’s still going to happen. I wrote to Interac, the company that hired me, the week the disaster occurred and they told me that nothing has changed with regard to my situation, but of course you never know. Every time I watch the news I hear some new horror story about radiation and potential nuclear catastrophe, and it’s a constant source of uncertainty.

Many people think I’m crazy to still want to go there given the situation, but I just hope those people’s perceptions are as warped by the media as mine. Interac told me that less than 10% of their business was affected by the tsunami, that Japan is a big country. They probably won’t place me near the disaster area, but I don’t even care if where I go was affected. I just want to be there instead of looking at things from afar and wondering if it will affect me. I even feel bad that with all the devastation there and with all those poor people who’ve lost everything, I’m more worried about my own situation. Had I been there when it happened, there might have been something I could do in the aftermath to help. But from here all I can do is wait and hope they get the situation under control. I’ve also got to face the fact that the Japan I’d been trying to go to has now been altered, and that now the only Japan I’ll ever know is post-tsunami Japan.

But I try not to think too much about that as I continue to get ready. I won’t have to do anything until next month when they will presumably finally tell me where I’m going, but in the mean-time I make time to study Japanese every day, which I still can’t believe how much I’m enjoying. I’ve also learned Spanish and German, but for some reason Japanese is by far the most fun language I’ve ever studied. The writing is one reason—who doesn’t love ひらがな and カタカナ?—but the words themselves are just so fun to say: “I’m typing this on my konpyuutaa which sits on my teeburu.” Even if I don’t wind up getting to live in Japan, I think I’ll go on learning the language.

As for Germany, I’ve only got three and a half months left, and not much to do in that time. I’ll be going to Ichenheim one last time for Rheinfest, and there are two Roger Waters concerts to go to but those are the only definite plans. I’d thought I would try and make it to Rome once before I leave Europe, but I’ve decided for a number of reasons it would be wise to forego that trip and save my money for other things.

My friend Luke from college is currently travelling around the world (he’s keeping a pretty good blog-record of it, which you can check out here) and if all goes according to plan he should come out and visit me this summer before I head back to the states. I finish teaching in June and I’ll have the first two weeks of July free to travel around and basically give one last goodbye to Germany before I embark on the next chapter of my life.

Assuming nothing goes wrong and it really happens, it’s going to be the most unique chapter of my life so far, and potentially the most interesting. It’s also going to be a lot more difficult than the one I’m in now—I’ll have to work longer and harder than I have to under my current job-situation—but I have a feeling the work is going to be more rewarding, as I’ll be teaching actual schoolchildren instead of business people who are either too old to learn well or already speak perfect English and just want to practice. Instead of a few lessons a day and then a bunch of free time, I’ll be occupied nearly all day every day except weekends and holidays, like being back in school myself. But that should be very interesting—I always anticipated being a public schoolteacher at some point in my life, but I never guessed that it would first be in Japan.

Until then I’ve just got to try and not let this time fly by as quickly as it has already this year, and make sure to appreciate what I have while I still have it. I can’t say these past three years have been my proudest—I would have liked to have become more social, met more people, improved my German more, etc.—but I’ve certainly enjoyed them. It’s almost felt like a three-year-long vacation.

But all vacations must come to an end, and if I had to spend another year here I’d probably go insane. I wasn’t built to spend so much time in one place—there’s a wind in my soul that makes me want to keep moving and keep accumulating new experiences. The fact that I have such a hard time connecting with other people and that it’s impossible for me to get a girlfriend are both advantages in terms of being able to live this kind of life, so I’d better take advantage. I hope I make more friends in Japan than I did in Germany, though the friendships I have forged here with Oliver and Lena are invaluable and will probably last a lifetime. As for women—I stand ready to be the only Westerner to live for years in Japan without ever getting a Japanese girlfriend. It’s not that I’m going to try and avoid that—I haven’t deliberately avoided it here either—but life just has a way of preventing that from happening for me. But like I said, I can make that work to my advantage.

And those are all the random life-situation-related thoughts that are floating around my mind at this point in time. This is where things stood at the beginning of Spring 2011, as I round the final stretch of my time in Germany.

Skeptic at the German Anti-Nuke Protest

March 20th, 2011 No comments

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For the past two and a half years I’ve made my money by working for a private language school that stays in business mostly through one major client, E.ON, one of Germany’s largest energy companies. E.ON has power plants of every kind from coal and oil to wind and solar, but generates most of its electricity through nuclear power. Nuclear energy has been tremendously unpopular among the German people for decades, and over the course of my time as an English teacher for E.ON employees I’ve heard just about all of them lament at one time or another how uninformed the people are on this issue. Anti-nuclear protests are nothing new in Germany, and the visibility of this public sentiment has made the politics of nuclear power very difficult for the politicians, as they struggle to find a balance between the interests of the energy industry and the will of the people.

As an American, it surprises me that for the most part, the government has generally responded more to the pressure of the masses than to the energy lobbyists, and for awhile planned to close down Germany’s nuclear reactors after only a fraction of their natural lifetimes. The E.ON employees I teach find this monumentally stupid, as they all tell me that without nuclear energy in the mix, Germany would simply not generate enough power to keep the grid running. They would have no choice but to buy energy from France, which generates most of its energy through nuclear power anyway. When Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat Party (CDU) ran their re-election campaign in 2009, one of their platforms dared to go against popular sentiment and extend the lifetimes of these nuclear plants back to their original expiration dates. Naturally, the E.ON employees were all quite happy when her party won the election.

It took some time and much additional lobbying to get them to actually follow through on their promise, but last year it began to look as though the German government was finally going to extend the lifetimes of these plants. Then Fukushima happened, and this decision was instantly called back into question. Plans to extend the lifetime of these nuclear plants have now been put on hold so the politicians can debate it even more, giving time to leftist organizations and political parties to launch another major anti-nuclear campaign nationwide.KT20110319_Atomdemo_06_imagelarge

One of the anti-nuclear rallies took place yesterday in the city of Hannover where I live. One of my friends, Lena, the girlfriend of another friend Oliver, is a member of the Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany (MLPD) and she wanted to take part in this demonstration. I decided it would be an interesting experience to go as well, even though my opinion on the nuclear issue is more closely aligned with that of the E.ON employees I teach. I was hoping to hear some arguments against nuclear energy that I could take to the E.ON employees this week to see how they respond. My mind is not entirely made up on this issue.

Here is where my opinion is now: I agree that nuclear energy is dangerous, but I don’t think it’s as dangerous as most people think. The incident at Chernobyl was a result of poor planning and design, and the Three Mile Island incident was more of a scare than a disaster as it resulted in no confirmable loss of life. As for Fukushima, there were some design flaws as well, but in any case I do think it’s foolish to built nuclear power plants when your country is in the Ring of Fire, positioned along a major fault line in the earth’s crust that you know for a fact is one day going to erupt in a major earthquake. But in Germany, where the earth’s crust is stable and where government oversight is stricter than almost anywhere in the world, I think building nuclear power plants is quite sensible at the current point in time. The E.ON employees have thoroughly convinced me that with all of the safety measures and failsafes upon failsafes that must be put in place before a nuclear reactor can start operating, disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima would be unthinkable here.

But obviously, nothing is impossible, and even if the plants are safe there’s still the matter of the nuclear waste, which we still have no ideal way to dispose of. We should not go on using nuclear energy indefinitely, and I’m firmly in favor of a worldwide shift to renewables in the coming decades. Where I differ with the protesters is that I think we need to keep using nuclear energy for the time being, as the technology behind wind and solar power is still in its infancy and generating power from these sources is still very inefficient. Most of the base-load energy generation is from nuclear and fossil-fuels, while wind and solar only come into the mix during periods of high energy usage. They supplement the power generated by nuclear and fossil fuels, and couldn’t power the entire grid on their own by a long-shot.

So if we decide at this very moment to shut down the nuclear reactors in Germany, we would have to A) buy energy from France which is generated through nuclear power anyway, and/or B) use more fossil fuels, thus accelerating global warming. The biggest virtue of nuclear power in my opinion is that it does not add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and thus does not contribute to climate change. If we replaced all coal and oil-fired plants with nuclear plants, the climate change problem would be far less dire.

For these reasons I think we should go nuclear for now, while we invest heavily in improving renewable energy technology so that we can one day move away from nuclear as well.

At the demonstration in Hannover, it felt very strange to think that I might have had the most conservative opinion there. I’m normally to the left of just about everyone in a room, but on this issue I was to the right of the whole crowd. I was hoping to engage a few people in a debate about the topic and possibly learn some things I didn’t already know, but nobody likes to speak English so the only people I talked to were Lena and others I already know.

The crowd itself was something to see. They expected about 3,000 people but I read online later that there were at least twice that number, and now they’re estimating 10,000. You could see banners and flags of all kinds of organizations and political parties there, from Lena’s communist party to the more mainstream SPD, Green Party, and Die Linke. The crowd was about as mixed as you could imagine as well, with just about every age group  represented.

Last year I attended a different protest in Hannover, this one against the military. It was in response to a group of high-ranking military officials and members of Germany’s military industrial complex meeting for a fancy dinner at Hannover’s Congress building, and the only groups there were the leftiest of the left. There hadn’t been a specific issue behind that protest other than the demand to remove German troops out of Afghanistan, but it was mostly just to yell and shout at these officials with their blood-stained hands as they made their way into the Congress building. The crowd there was only between one and two hundred, almost all of them in their twenties or thirties and looking like the stereotypical hippie-protest crowd.

KT20110319_Atomdemo_21_imagelarge But the people at this demonstration just looked like any random sample of Germans, plain and ordinary people who came out in all likelihood as their way of responding to the disaster in Japan. There were old people, families with babies and little kids, and even teenagers there. At the anti-military demonstration there had been about one police officer to every protester in case things got out of hand, but here the police force was barely visible.

There were a lot of kids coming up to the MLPD stand where Lena was working, as they had set up a little fund-raising game where for 50 cents kids could throw tennis-balls at a stack of tin cans with pictures of Germany’s nuclear power plants taped to them. Honestly, I thought this was rather silly, but the kids liked it and the Marxists managed to raise a total of €15 which apparently goes to pay for the cost of printing flyers.

I spent the first thirty minutes helping out there while the crowd gathered strength outside the opera house, and then the march began. It was then that I asked Lena if she could find someone to convince me that nuclear energy generation in Germany should be stopped, and she took a stab at it herself. It was nothing I hadn’t heard before—what about the waste? What if there’s a disaster? Etc. I gave my counter-argument that because renewable energy technology isn’t yet efficient enough to power the grid, our only two real options now are fossil fuels and nuclear power so we should go with nuclear as a temporary means of keeping things up and running. Lena had to go do something else at this point, so she passed me over to Kai, a guy I met at the MLPD New Years’ Eve party, who struggled to find the English to explain why I was wrong. He said that Germany produces more energy than it uses and that it exports 7%, so if they just stopped exporting they wouldn’t need nuclear, an argument I found very un-convincing. But he also insisted that Germany could transition to a completely green-energy-based economy in just five years, a fact that if true would give me reason to reconsider my view, but I’m skeptical about that.KT20110319_Atomdemo_32_imagelarge

I stopped talking politics for awhile and just marched next to Oliver making jokes and scanning the crowd. It was amazing to see how many people were there. A line of protesters marching down the street as far as the eye could see—this was definitely the largest demonstration I’ve ever been a part of (though I’ve only been to three).

The day took a much different turn as Oliver and I got bored with the march and broke ranks with the protesters to go have a beer, which led to another beer and then another and before we knew it the protest was over and we were sitting in an Irish pub where Lena met up with us when her work was done.

Lena and I got back into the discussion and she gave me some additional arguments that I can’t wait to take to my E.ON students this week. She insisted that if they were really serious, the German government could switch to an energy grid powered entirely by renewables in five years’ time. This morning she sent me links to the sources from which she got her information, including an online pamphlet from Greenpeace, an article from rf-news busting some supposed myths about nuclear energy, an official document about the future of Shell, and a few other anti-nuclear pamphlets from various organizations. Unfortunately my German abilities aren’t good enough to parse these documents, but they at least prove that the anti-nuke crowd has plenty of facts on their side. What’s unclear is just how selectively chosen those facts are.

The last point I made to Lena was about the efficacy of these protests themselves. In an ideal world, the German government might actually respond by forcing the energy industry to convert to purely green-technology as quickly as they possibly can. But that’s not the political reality. The German government, widely viewed by the people as a pathetic do-nothing body of squabbling politicians, would never make such a bold move. At best, these protests will result in the shutting down of Germany’s existing nuclear reactors before they reach their natural expiration dates, thus forcing more energy to be generated by greenhouse-gas emitting power plants or imported from France where it would be merely come from their nuclear power plants instead of Germany’s. Germany’s nuclear problem would merely be replaced with other problems.

Lena said she completely understands that point, but she offered one last counter-point that I thought was actually quite strong: if we don’t force the energy industry to convert to green energy, what incentive do they have to do it? Nuclear power plants are like money-printing machines for the industry, generating about €1 million in profit per day. Why would they bother investing so much money in more research and development on wind and solar technology when they can just keep on doing what they’re doing? What’s to stop them from building more nuclear plants in the future instead of wind and solar farms if the people aren’t demanding they don’t?

In the coming week I’ll be taking these arguments to the E.ON employees and hearing their responses. If I learn anything interesting, I’ll write a follow-up post next weekend.

But for now, I just want to say for the sake of my American readers that while I am comfortable with nuclear plants being used in Germany, I don’t feel the same way about building new nuclear plants in the United States where regulation and government oversight aren’t quite so strict. Given what happened last year with BP in the Gulf of Mexico and what happened before that with Massey Energy in West Virginia, I think it’s safe to say that the U.S. government does not have a very good track record of making sure corporations don’t cut corners. The cutting of corners claimed 25 lives in West Virginia and 11 lives in the Gulf as well as massive environmental damage, but these disasters would be nothing compared to what could potentially happen if a lack of oversight leads to an explosion of a nuclear reactor. Building a nuclear plant in this kind of political environment is just as short-sighted and potentially disastrous as building one in a volatile geological environment.

As for those victims and potential victims of the nuclear industry in Japan, my heart goes out to them and I sincerely hope that the worst is behind them. It is entirely appropriate that this crisis makes us take a second look at nuclear power generation, but let’s make sure we have an intelligent discussion instead of just a massive knee-jerk reaction, and that the policy changes we make are based in facts and not just political calculation.

Grünkohlwanderung II

November 28th, 2010 No comments

Yesterday was the second time I’ve gone on a Grünkohlwanderung, a popular activity in Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) involving walking through the woods and stopping frequently for shots of liquor, ending with a dinner of Grünkohl at a restaurant. The first time I went nearly two years ago, I went into it feeling very low and came out feeling even lower thanks to the torture of sitting across from the extremely beautiful Inge and her boyfriend Matthias at dinner. This time I went in with a good mood, determined not to be crushed by desire as I had last time. Although Inge and Matthias were there I was quite successful with that, which makes the whole experience hardly worth writing about in spite of the fact that I had a much better time.

A group of about sixteen people were meeting up “unter dem Schwanz” in Hannover, an expression which means under the statue of King Ernst-August but literally means “under the tail” referring to the horse (apparently this king was kind of an asshole and that expression arose as a sleight towards him). Oliver and Lena weren’t there yet when I got there so I had to go up and say hello on my own.

Inge was there along with the girl I referred to in my first Grünkohl entry as “the cute one” and she greeted me warmly when I approached. I asked them in German how many people were coming and when we’d be leaving, but Inge approached me and asked me in English what my name was because she’d forgotten. I told her, then couldn’t resist saying, “You are Inge if I remember correctly, and your boyfriend is Matthias.” They were very surprised that I remembered that but didn’t seem weirded-out by it. I just said I’m very good with names, which is true. I didn’t say that I’d written extensively about them in my online journal.

I had a brief chat with “the cute one” whose name I now learned was Marianna, but her English isn’t very good so even though I said she could speak German because I understood it well enough, our chat didn’t last long. I wasn’t sure if she was single and I wasn’t sure last time, but I found out later that she’s not. It’s just that her boyfriend and her aren’t very affectionate (at least not around others) so it’s not obvious that they’re together.

Oliver and Lena arrived with his dog Buutsch, we boarded the train and got off somewhere near the town of Haste. As soon as we began the walk it was clear that this was a completely different trail than last time—perhaps even different woods. The weather could not have been more perfect, with sunny skies for the first time in two weeks and a little bit of snow on the ground and in the trees, making the woods about as beautiful as woods can possibly be.

I chatted with Oliver mostly during the first leg of the walk, but after stopping for the first round of shots I started chatting with more people, in either English or German depending on their English skills. The woman who organized the event had a bunch of activities planned for every stop, the first one being a three-legged race (optional participation so I opted out) and later on less physical stuff like riddles and mind-teasers. The people who participated in the race and the people who answered the riddles first were rewarded with a mystery shot from a bag of test-tubes filled with all different kinds of alcohol so you dug your hand in and didn’t know what you were getting. I got a couple of the brain-teasers even though they were in German, so I was quite proud of myself.

As we were walking we frequently had to move aside for others to get through, but almost everyone seemed friendly and they probably all knew what we were doing. When I’m out in the woods or a park I always hate passing by large crowds of Germans and I wonder why they feel the need to get together in big groups like that. I always think “why do you need twenty people to go for a walk in the woods?” It felt weird to actually be a part of one for a change.

I had some good conversations with some of the other people there, most of whom were between age 30 and 50. The one guy I actually ended up talking to most was Marianna’s boyfriend Torsten who speaks very good English and had some interesting things to say about Japan, where he recently spent some time. If there had been any attractive single women there the entire experience would have been different but luckily there weren’t. And in spite of Inge’s beautiful presence I was able to feel quite content with the fact that she wasn’t mine. She hardly seems my type anyway personality-wise (although it was hard to get a sense of that from overhearing her talking to Lena in German).

Bla bla blah. A ridiculous number of shots were drank (I must have had at least twenty), much fun was had, and after about three or four hours we reached the restaurant to sit down for our delicious Grünkohl meal. As luck would have it, I once again ended up sitting directly across from Inge and Matthias but it was far less difficult this time, and even when the meal was over and I let myself once again indulge in a study of her uniquely beautiful facial features, I actually felt that I had reached the ever-present goal of “appreciation without desire”. To just be content that the beauty exists and not to feel the need to possess it.

And that’s really all there is to say about it. I was drunk enough to be singing out loud on the walk back to the train platform, and sat next to Torsten on the ride back where he gave me some useful tid-bits about Japan, like the fact that tipping is not only unheard of but that they actually get angry with you if you try to leave them a tip. Very good to know because my inclination is always to tip and tip big.

Back at the Hannover main station we all said our goodbyes and parted ways. I shook Matthias’s hand goodbye and got a little half-hug from Inge which was nice. The same for Marianna, who once again said “bis nächstes mal” (until next time) which I repeated in English and she said “ich hoffe so” (I hope so). Her and Torsten may not be big on PDAs but they’re both incredibly nice people and I hope they get married and bring lots of friendly children into the world.

After getting home I listened to some music for an hour and went to bed, then woke up this morning feeling incredibly low for a completely inexplicable reason. I don’t even have a hangover (which is a bit of a minor miracle considering all of the different kinds of alcohol I’d mixed together yesterday)—I’m just a little cloudy-headed. But for some reason I really feel down. Maybe it’s from the reminder of what it’s like to have a lot of friends who do fun stuff together and the fact that I kind of miss it. But on the other hand I really enjoy solitude and I’m glad to back in my comfort-zone again. So who knows?

Anyway, I wish this story had more of a point but that’s all there is. Until next time.

Der Dämon ist Verstummt

November 20th, 2010 No comments

Twelve years ago yesterday was November 19, 1998—which I still consider to be the most significant day of my post-childhood life. That was the day I met Aimee. We hit it off really well, and had I played my cards right it’s likely that she would have become my first official girlfriend. Back then my wall was still under construction so had things gone well it might never have been finished. But my life took a different path, as I stupidly revealed my over-sensitivity to her too soon and scared her off, thus initiating years of unrequited love and isolation. That incident started me down the road I’ve remained on to this day.

From the moment I woke up yesterday, I felt extremely low. That doesn’t happen every November 19th—in fact last year it went by with my hardly noticing—but the recent re-emergence of human emotion in my life, brought on by an effort to actually go out and try to meet women, had me in as melancholy a mood as it gets.

My lessons were cancelled so I had the day off, and I passed the time by engaging in the most intensive apartment-cleaning endeavor I’ve done since moving here. When the three-hour process was over I felt slightly better for having removed most of the grime from my flat, but there was still a massive clog of grime in my soul.

After last week’s epic battle with the demon inside me that keeps me isolated and alone, I’d resolved to go out and try again. It had been a terrible struggle to stand next to the most beautiful girl at the concert and not be able to work up the nerve to say anything to her until the very end, but after proving to myself I could do it I knew I had to keep at it. I’d broken the most significant barrier—actually going up and talking to a woman I find attractive—but unless I keep on wrestling the demon he’s only going to regain his strength and seal me back up inside my wall.

I’d had it in my head all week to check out a nearby goth club called the Dark Star, as the goth scene is where Corey has been having his success with approaching and flirting with women. He became a regular there and in just a few months was the guy that everybody wanted to meet. I figured if I could find a place like that and keep showing my face, I might eventually find it as easy to meet people as he does, even in spite of the language barrier.

All day long I knew I’d have to follow through with my plan and go to the club or I’d never forgive myself, but my desire to leave the comfort-zone of my apartment could not have been any lower. I came very close to deciding not to do it, as I figured I had a good enough reason. It was November 19th after all and the only two emotions I’d been feeling all day were depression and anger. That’s not the state of mind you want to be in when you go out, especially if your goal is to flirt with women.

But I ultimately decided I’d compromise. I wouldn’t make myself go up to anyone but I’d just go scope out the scene. I’d go to the Dark Star and have one beer, and if my mood remained the same I’d just leave and come back home to dance with the demon, by which I mean sitting in the dark listening to depressing music and brooding over the last twelve lonely years.

I started off the Friday night as usual, watching some downloaded entertainment while having a few beers. After working up enough of a buzz it would be much easier to make myself go out. The alcohol converted all of the remaining depression to anger, which is useful for its motivating effects. “All right you fucking world, I’ll go out if it’ll get you to shut your fucking mouth.”

Here I must digress from the main narrative because there’s another significant thing to report. Before going out I decided to check my e-mail one last time, just in case there might be something there to change my mood. It turned out that there was.

Several weeks ago I received a job alert from TEFL.com, informing me that a company called Interac which hires Assistant Language Teachers for schools in Japan was currently looking for candidates. This was nothing special. I get job alerts rather frequently, though not so often from Japan. I went to Interac’s website and decided I could see myself in the role of Assistant Language Teacher, so I went through the arduous application process, not optimistic at all that anything would come of it. Of the four language schools I’ve applied to in Japan, only one of them even answered my application and they didn’t have any openings anyway.

But Interac did respond about a week ago, and I had a preliminary phone interview with one of their recruiters operating out of an office in Oxford, England. She didn’t seem too impressed with me and since jobs in Japan are now so hard to come by I figured nothing would come of it. But there was an e-mail from her last night informing me that I’d passed their initial screening process and was now invited to a face-to-face interview, either in Barcelona on December 11th or in Oxford at my earliest convenience. I guess I’ll be going to Oxford soon.

Interac hires people to begin in either March or August, and I said I’d prefer August which would give me plenty of time to prepare and save some money (as well as go see Roger Waters in May). I’d be extremely pissed if I go all the way to England and they don’t hire me, but I’m sure I’ll win some points just for going. It will show them from the start that I’m serious about wanting to do this.

So suddenly there’s a possible exit-door from Germany in my near future. It feels like the pressure is lifted a little. Now when I go out and flirt it will be for the sole purpose of practicing my flirtation skills—not to find a girlfriend. In fact if I get hired in Japan and then find a girlfriend, it would be a fucking disaster. The god of irony would laugh his ass off.

But at least now as I leave my apartment and head out into the world I’m feeling slightly more optimistic. It doesn’t really matter what happens tonight. Besides, nothing probably will happen. I’ll just go to this club and have a beer and come back home.

It’s only a five minute walk, but as I approach the place I think that something’s not right. What happened to the Dark Star? It’s not there. No cheesy Star Wars font or pictures of Darth Vader on the window. There is a club there and there is something clearly going on because there are people everywhere, but it’s definitely not a goth club. Everyone standing outside looks middle-aged and normal.

I walk around the building to see if maybe the Dark Star is on the other side of the block, but it seems that if there ever was a goth club here it’s either gone or relocated. They should update the website.

But I figure I might as well go in, goth scene or not. I’d go through with my grab-a-beer-and-leave plan, as this place is still conveniently located five minutes from my apartment. It’s called the Capitol and it seems like a combination of dance club and concert venue. There are two rooms downstairs and another upstairs, one of the rooms downstairs with a big stage on which a couple of musicians are now performing.

It costs €15 to get in because there’s a show going on, and while it’s a steep price to pay to just have one beer and leave I still pay it because my mind is made up. At least the music is good. There’s a bassist and a guy with a guitar and harmonica, and from their accents they appear to be Irish although they keep switching between English and what sounds like perfect German as they speak to the crowd. I suppose their style of music could be described as “folk rock”. A far cry from Coppelius, anyway.

So I’m standing there with my beer, scanning the room for attractive women and not finding any. The crowd is mostly middle-aged people and they’re all in groups, so I figure I probably won’t speak to anyone tonight.

Just as I have this thought, a guy walks up to me and says hello in an American accent. I don’t recognize him at first, but because I can count the number of Americans I’ve met in Hannover on one hand it’s not too hard to deduce who it is. It’s the guy I met after St. Patrick’s Day in Kassel a year and a half ago who rode with Oliver, Aiden and me back to Hannover and with whom I chatted as we took the tram back into the city. That was a long-ass time ago and he’s since shaved off his beard, but because I’d written it down for my journal and included his name in the entry, I actually remembered it. “You’re Lucas, right?” I ask.

Indeed it was. Pat on the back for remembering that. Seriously.

So I chat with Lucas for a moment. It turns out that he’d also gone back to America for a quick visit recently, so we bonded over the strangeness of returning as a visitor to our home country. He says he’s been in Hannover for eight years now and I ask him if he thinks he’ll ever leave. He says that he might but he’s got a girlfriend here so he’s not planning on leaving any time soon. (The god of irony perks up his ears)

Lucas’s friends walk up to him and they start talking. I focus my attention on the band, and before I know it they’re all going up to get closer to the stage. Lucas clinks his glass of beer with mine and I give him a nod goodbye, content to remain where I am and not have to force awkward conversation for the rest of my time there.

I’m just enjoying the music, glad that I came out of my flat and now content that I actually had engaged in some form of socialization. Now I can go home relatively satisfied.

But a moment later I turn my head to the right and who should be standing there but an attractive girl—the first I’ve seen all night. Not only that, but she’s standing there alone.

You’ve got to be kidding me, I think. Again? This is fucking crazy.

So now I gear up to do battle with the demon, but right from the start I know this is going to be much easier, as this girl actually looks at me when I look at her. Not only that but as I maintain eye-contact for an extra two seconds, she does as well. And not only that but she smiles at me.

Okay, this is definitely happening. We’re good to go. The demon wasn’t prepared for this. As soon as the song ends I lean towards her and tap her on the shoulder. “Do you know the name of this band?” I ask.

Holy fucking goddamn Jesus Christ that was easy! I can’t believe I spent three fucking hours trying to work up the nerve to do that last time.

She turns to me and says in English that she doesn’t know. I say they’re pretty good and she agrees. “I’m Kyle,” I say. “I’m from America.” How simple is that?

“I’m Julia,” she tells me. I ask her where she’s from. Turns out she’s from Mainz and she’s just in Hannover visiting her sister and her parents who are sitting at the table right in front of us. That removes the last remaining bit of pressure. She doesn’t live in Hannover so she’s not a potential girlfriend. This is just going to be chatting for the sake of chatting.

Luckily I’ve been to Mainz because it’s right next to Frankfurt and I told her I was an exchange student there. I ask her if she’s been to America and she says she’s been to New York and San Francisco but she really wished she’d gone to Los Angeles. I told her she didn’t miss anything.

From there the conversation moves in the natural direction. We tell each other what we do for a living and what our hobbies are. I make funny comments which she laughs at. She says she speaks French and Spanish but that English is hardest for her, and I offer to speak German (using a deliberately terrible accent) but she says it’s okay. Her English is quite good anyway.

All of this is coming so naturally to me that I can hardly believe myself. Am I the same person who was at the Coppelius show last week? Could I have come so fucking far this fucking fast? Or was I always like this and just needed to break that one barrier before I could actually become myself?

As the music continues we stand next to each other and dance. I’m not inhibiting myself nearly as much as last week, not embarrassed to enjoy myself in front of her. Every now and then I turn back to her with a fresh new comment and we exchange a few words before turning our focus back to the stage. She doesn’t seem put off by me at all. In fact she almost seems into me, not that it matters.

When I finish my beer I have to go to the bathroom. I ask her if she wants something to drink, water perhaps, but she politely declines. I take care of business, buying an unexpected second beer and returning to the concert hall.

I’m unable to stand directly next to her when I get back, but I stand a little bit behind her and within seconds she turns around and smiles at me. It’s not long before the people in her former position walk away and we are once again standing next to each other.

The first band finishes and now we have fifteen minutes to chat. As the lights are now slightly brighter I get a better look at her face, which is not quite as extraordinary as Zora’s—the girl from last week—but still very cute. I’m enjoying my close proximity to it.

As I chat with Julia I start to feel much better about the Zora situation. I’d regretted leaving so soon that night but now I realize that there wasn’t anything wrong with that. Julia clearly enjoyed talking to me, and Zora seemed to be downright afraid of it. Even if I had misinterpreted Zora’s signals and mistaken shyness for lack of interest, any conversation I might have had with her would have been doomed to awkwardness. With Julia, everything was flowing naturally and we were both very comfortable. There was really no shame in giving up on Zora due to the uncomfortable vibe I got from her.

Somehow I manage to chat with Julia throughout the entire 15-minute break. I don’t remember everything that was said of course, but at one point the DJ plays “I Don’t Like Mondays” and I mention that the first time I heard that song was at Live 8 when Bob Geldof performed it. I give her an extremely abridged version of my Pink Floyd story hoping she might reveal herself to be a fellow fan, but unfortunately she doesn’t seem to be (or fortunately if you consider that I have no intention of forming any long-term infatuation with this girl).

We run out of steam when the next band starts and she goes to sit at the table with her family. The next band isn’t as good as the first one and I’m resolved to leave once I finish my beer. At one point her father brings her a CD, presumably from the first band, and I go up and ask her if I could have a look which she gladly obliges. The demon has remained conspicuously silent this whole time, but I can’t resist giving him an extra slap in the face.

And when I finish my beer I go up to her one last time to say goodbye. “It was nice meeting you…Julia?” as though I didn’t remember her name. “Kyle?” she asks. She remembered mine. Suck on that, demon.

We shake hands and I go my merry way, my mood on the way home a complete reversal from what it was when I’d left. I’m in a state of pure joy. I feel even better than last week after the Zora incident. That had just been a first step. This was like I’d just leap-frogged steps two through ten.

There were still about ten minutes of November 19th left when I got back, and I spent them celebrating my incredible victory. How appropriate that I should have this new beginning on this exact date. Perhaps I’m about to finally change paths. Perhaps the wall is ready to come down. Perhaps the demon is ready to die.

Recent Activities / Future Plans

October 14th, 2010 No comments

When I first got to Hannover and for nearly the entire first year I was here, I used to write personal journal entries about nearly everything I did, even if it was just going for a walk somewhere. I stopped writing those kinds of entries when these things had become enough of a routine that I ceased to think them interesting enough to be worth writing about.

Recently I’ve done a few things that back then I would definitely have written about right away, but these days I barely find them noteworthy. Since returning from America I’ve gone to Celle to visit Oliver (the first weekend in October), went to Quiz Night at the Dublin Inn with Frank, the boss of Planeo, Amanda, and a few other teachers including an American guy named Ron who seems really nice and who won major points in my book for quoting lyrics from The Final Cut without knowing I’m also a huge Roger Waters fan.

And this past weekend I took a long five-hour bicycle tour to every nice area of the city including the river and park where I go jogging most often, the city forest, the Maschsee, and the area just to the south of the Maschsee—the Ricklinger Kiesteiche—formerly referred to in this journal as the “New Territory”. I even stopped at a Middle Ages festival that was going on in the Georgengarten (a.k.a. “Marry Poppins Park”) because I had plenty of time and thought it would be worth checking out. It was about a 2 out of 10 on the coolness scale though, and I only spent 30 minutes there, most of it watching a dressed-up woman perform a version of Der Frosch Prinz (Frog Prince) using kids and fathers from the crowd. I was the only person there in my 20s—almost everyone else was either over 40 or under 14.

The weather was extremely beautiful—I fucking love October—and it felt like the whole city was out enjoying it. Riding from beautiful area to beautiful area throughout the afternoon gave me the best feel for the city that I think I’ve ever got in a single day. I’ll definitely be doing that same tour again if we get another nice day before the winter weather really kicks in.

But the whole time I was thinking of how to write a journal entry about it and make it interesting, but I couldn’t come up with anything. It was a great experience but didn’t easily lend itself to a written narrative. I couldn’t even come up with any interesting observations about the people around town. Just a bunch of Germans doing their thing.

And yesterday I had my Wednesday off and decided to finally go to the Zoo that everyone is raving about. I spent a good three hours there, watching the Gorillas get fed and making sure to be at the new “Yukon Bay” exhibition featuring two massive polar bears that you can watch swimming around form an observation platform half-way under water during feeding time. That was really awesome, but nothing noteworthy beyond that. Again, I was the only person there in my 20s (who wasn’t there with a girlfriend) and felt kind of strange. It was mostly kids, which I thought was strange because it was the middle of a weekday but I just found out today that the students are now on a 2-week holiday. I often found myself paying more attention to all the beautiful girls around than to the actual animals, but I did my best not to let my brain go down that familiar road. I think I’m getting much better in that department, and while I apparently still can’t help but allude to it I no longer feel compelled to waste a lot of words on self-analysis.

So since I’ve made peace with my inner demons and no longer find my day-to-day activities particularly noteworthy, the result is far fewer personal entries than there used to be. On the flip-side, the fact that I’ve been going out and doing things in the real world has drawn my focus away from the political world, and I’ve even lost motivation to write political entries. I’m still doing it but more as an exercise than a genuine desire to. I’ve even gone days at a time without visiting my new website, Revolution Earth, at all. I’m sure once the winter weather settles in and I go back to spending most of my time inside, the political side of my life will pick up steam again, but for right now my heart just isn’t in it.

And that brings me to my plans for what to do after the winter. Obviously I’m quite settled in to Hannover to the point where it no longer feels like an adventure, and I know that as soon as I go to Asia I’ll be overwhelmed with fascinating things to write about. But when I was two-thirds of the way through my bike tour on Sunday, as I rode around the Rathaus on the way to the Maschsee, it occurred to me that I’ve now completely fallen in love with Hannover, and I don’t want to leave just yet. Having a bike has opened up a whole new way of seeing the city, and I want to stay and experience Hannover by bike during the Spring and Summer as well.

If I were to simply wait for a job in Japan as I’ve been planning to do for years now, I’d probably end up waiting another year anyway. But I’m now starting to consider going to a different Asian country instead because Japan seems full. One of my college friends, Myson (who was one of the guys I moved to Santa Barbara with), has been working in Korea for a year or two, and I just got in touch with him to ask him about possibly doing the same program that he did. It looks promising and I’m really considering that, but they’re accepting applications for the Spring right now and I’m not sure I want to go that soon.

Another major factor playing into my decision-making is the fact that a few months ago I bought tickets to see Roger Waters perform The Wall live twice—once in Mannheim and again in Berlin—both shows happening next May. When I bought the tickets I’d assumed I’d be starting teaching in Japan this Fall, and I could easily take a vacation and return to Germany to visit people and see those shows. But if I start working in Korea in the Spring I don’t think it would work to come back to Germany so soon after. Of course I could sell the tickets—probably to Ron the new English teacher—but I wouldn’t want to pass up such a rare opportunity. I’ll never have another chance to see The Wall performed live ever again.

Still, it’s only October and the thought of waiting almost an entire extra year before moving on feels…wrong somehow. I’m not getting any younger and who knows what can happen in a year. Leaving next Spring feels more appropriate.

But I could easily imagine myself taking that route, going to Korea, and realizing very quickly that I was in a much better situation in Hannover and that I could have stayed and enjoyed it awhile longer. I’m enjoying the hell out of my life right now and it almost seems stupid to leave when I know I could go on enjoying it for another year. On top of that, there may be an opening in Japan between now and the time I’d have to apply to Korea, so that’s a major factor as well.

I was up-in-the-air about this before I started writing this entry but now I feel like I’m leaning very heavily in the direction of waiting until next Fall. Nothing like writing to clarify certain things. I guess that unless something unforeseen happens, I really will be here for another year. Which means that for another full year, these personal entries will remain few and far between.

This afternoon I’ll be doing the next thing on my check-list, which is to ride my bike to the Wilhelm-Busch Museum—a small art museum in the Georgengarten—and check out the Gerald Scarfe exhibit they’ve got going on there until October 24. Gerald Scarfe did the animations for the film version of The Wall, so I’m definitely obliged to check that out while I can. I’m documenting it now, before the fact, because it almost certainly won’t be worth an entry of its own.

Perhaps if I’d bought a bike when I first got here, I’d be much more inclined to leave now.

Two Days in One

September 30th, 2010 No comments

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Flying overnight from the U.S. to Europe is both one of my favorite and least favorite things to do. Because I can never get to sleep on a plane, the flight just takes me from one part of the day to the next, though the second part is a completely different day. Then you have to make it through the rest of that day without going to sleep, or your sleep-schedule is going to be messed up for days. So by the end of the second day you still remember the things that happened in the first as though it were the same day. It can be pretty tough on you both mentally and physically, but there’s something very fun about it too.

The beginning of the first day was about as mundane as it gets, though enjoyable. My mother took me to Wal-Mart to buy a bunch of things before I left, a generous offer I was glad to take her up on. We then had lunch at a nearby diner before returning home so I could finish packing and we’d head to the airport.

I said goodbye to that house once again, and we drove about half-way to New York to meet my dad who was coming from work. We drove the rest of the way to JFK, which meant once again crossing the Verrazano Bridge onto Long Island, and I commented that I’ve never crossed that bridge so often within one short period.

My parents waited on line with me as I checked in, then bid me farewell before I got in line for security. The rest of the airport experience was about as typical as it gets, waiting around until boarding and then waiting around until take-off.

The flight itself was similarly unremarkable, the only annoyance being a group of three German girls sitting next to me who somehow never ran out of things to yap about through the entire 7-hour flight. Even when they finally turned down the cabin lights so people could get some shut-eye, the girls kept yapping (I’m pretty sure they were the only people talking on the whole plane) for nearly an hour.

At some point it became Friday, September 24, 2010. By the time the girls finally shut up and I was just about ready to successfully pass out for the first time ever on an airplane, the cabin lights came on again and we were all told to wake up because they were serving breakfast.

They’d just served dinner about an hour and a half beforehand, because some turbulence had forced them to delay the meal (which also shortened the lights-out time). I wasn’t even hungry enough to eat again, and I was surprised that everyone else did. I tried to relax a little more before the landing but before I knew it we were descending and my ears were in horrible pain. When we landed, I managed to pop my left ear but the right ear remained clogged for the rest of the day and the days that followed.

Going through customs was quick and painless. Upon taking my American passport, the guy asked me how long my visit would be. I said I live here and work here, which was good enough for him and he let me through. No one checked my luggage either.

Once I got my luggage I hopped on the SkyTrain over to the train station and boarded the next ICE train which stopped in Hannover. I was almost able to fall asleep on the two-and-a-half hour train ride, but not quite. We got to Hannover at about 11:30 and I took a cab back to my flat, experiencing the very weird feeling of looking at the city as my true home. For the rest of the day, I’d be comparing it to the first day I arrived in Hannover when everything had been new and alien and I felt so strange and out of place. This was so much different—now I know the city as intimately as I know the back-roads I used to drive on all the time to deliver pizza.

When I got home I forced a quick journal entry out, then began the annoying-but-necessary process of going shopping. Looking back on my first day in Hannover, when I just stopped at a corner shop and picked up about €5 worth of groceries. Now I knew exactly where to shop and I bought about €50. I also stopped at the electronics store Conrad to buy another plug-adapter for the second lap-top I brought back from America, an old one that I figured I could still make good use of.

I was very tired and cranky by the time I finished the shopping, but at least now I could just enjoy the rest of the day. I did that and got on my bike to ride around. It was cold and cloudy, quite the juxtaposition from warm and sunny New York but appropriate enough for Germany. My entire disposition changed and that bike-ride became the most enjoyable experience of the day by far.

Again I couldn’t help but think back to that first day in Hannover when I could barely get from my flat to downtown, but now I’m so familiar with the city that I can improvise my way around all these different bike-paths and always know exactly where I am. I also made sure I rode across a little pedestrian-bridge I’m kind of fond of (for some reason I get sentimentally attached to bridges quite easily) and made sure to appreciate the coolness of the fact that I was riding across this little bridge on the same “day” (in my mind at least) that I’d driven across the Verrazano.

The most profound thought that occurred to me was that during my time in America nearly every experience was the result of other people’s decisions—where they ended up living, when they had time to see me, etc.—but in Germany nearly every aspect of my life is the result of my own decisions—from the furniture in my flat to the areas I like to ride my bike to simply the fact that I decided to come to Hannover in the first place. In America I exist in a world constructed by others. In Hannover, I’m in my own domain.

In a funny little parallel to my first day in Hannover two years ago, the plug adapter I bought for the lap-top apparently didn’t work for the 3-prong type of plug this lap-top needed. So just like the first day when I kept going back and forth between my apartment and Conrad to get all the electronic stuff sorted out, I rode back to Conrad again to pick up the right kind of adapter.

It wasn’t really until evening when I settled in to watch my downloaded entertainment from the news podcasts to the TV shows that things really started to feel like they were back to normal. I made it all the way to 9:00 before turning in, having only a few moments to reflect on what a long and varied two-days-in-one it had been, and how odd a feeling it was to have left my old home to return to my new home to discover that the new one actually feels more like “home”.

It’s been almost a week since the flight now, and it’s taken about as long to get back to the same basic head-space I was in before leaving. Things felt very different during that whole first weekend and even the first couple of days of work, but now that my first week back is almost over it’s starting to feel like it did before I left.

Looking back on those three weeks, I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever had as much of a learning experience jam-packed into such a small period of time as that. Seeing America through whole new eyes and reflecting on myself and how I’ve changed throughout the last two years—the differences have never been more striking. I could see them when I was in America but now that some time has passed it’s even easier to discern exactly what’s changed and what’s stayed the same.

Now I’m even more motivated to go to Japan, as living there for a couple of years will almost definitely be an even greater learning experience. I’m just not very eager to leave this home to start a new one.