When I was last in England, I slept rather well the first night, staying in bed until 14:30. This made sense, since I'd been up for something on the order of twenty-seven hours the night before. The next night I went to sleep and woke up at… 02:30. Not knowing what else to do, I walked downstairs and installed Linux on my new laptop. It was more of a trick in “those days” to get it up and running, but I still wasn't tired when I was done, if that says anything. So I stayed up longer reading James Harriot.
Wanting to start things off right in Heilbad Heiligenstadt, I entered into things being pre-emptively tired and went on a good long run last night. Since I forgot to bring sheets, despite reminders from several parties on this end, I ended up sleeping in my sleeping bag. And, since my giant window does not have a screen and I didn't want condensation/dew in my laptop, I left that window closed. The result was waking up sweating at some early hour of the morning and climbing out of the sleeping bag. This is a task that I've come to dislike because the bag does not zip open all the way and I am rather tall.
I'd arranged to start the day off right, though. I have always wanted to awaken to the opening theme of the Lion King with its African singing and drums. So I told my computer to do that today at 7:00AM.
It was great! I didn't even have a heart attack. So great, that I will do it again tomorrow.
View from my flat's window
Bathed in the morning sun, my room and the lot behind it take on a special kind of glow which is not at all present in the gloomy quasi-flourescent light I am writing this by. I'm sure I'll improve this soon by adding more and varied lights, but for now it feels somewhat like like a cell. Comparisons with Bristol were coming naturally today and I can't help but feel the living arrangement was nicer there. It wasn't a full apartment like this, but the furnishings were better and the room was consistently homey. I'm also reminded of how beautiful my flat in Alaska was. TODO: Find my pictures of this.
Ping shared a couple of pieces of toast with jelly and lactose-free cheese and kept saying we needed to hurry as I took some photographs of my room.
Welcoming by morning and soon to be welcoming at night!
However, once we got outside and began biking, Ping lost all sense of urgency and began peddling her way towards the IBA. Somehow, Uwe arranged for both Ping and Madisen to both get bikes for 60‐70€1 and Madisen has lent me hers for the morning. Ping's bike is somewhat mal-adjusted and mine is waaay too small, but it's workable and we glide through town and out the other side.
Pine trees line either side of the road to the IBA and the air is crisp. I'm just beginning to wonder when it will appear when we pass a field with four horses prancing along and find the entrance road just beyond.
It's another electric fence… they're everywhere!
We park the bikes in their own special lot behind the building, just above where a small brook is burbling along through the woods. And then we go inside and I might a lot of people in a very short amount of time.
Noteably, there's been a mix up about my arrival date. When I received paperwork regarding this back in the spring, I'd said the 15th to allow time to finish my work up in Alaska, with the understanding that this was something of a target date; however, Uwe took this to be the actual start date of my work. Today, I got a handy transponder fob which was already set up to open all the building's various doors as well as to be used for clocking in. When I scanned it by the machine, it read out a menacing “-80:00”, indicating that I have some time to make up.
Ping and Madisen seem to indicate that this isn't as bad as it seems as most people leave the building by 15:30, or even earlier on Fridays and that the time also includes a lunch break and several tea times (though these are supposed to be for discussion of scientific topics). By the end of the day, I'm at “-69:54”, which I find somewhat incomprehensible… not that I'm complaining.
We also visit the institute's director whose office, like so that of so many directors, is awash in a sea of paper. Next door, there's a lady whose official capacity I do not know, but whose capacity for me is the production of a good folding map of the town (on one side) and of the surrounding countryside (on the other). She also takes down orders for lunch. For about 3€ I get split-pea and sausage soup, a bread roll, and a thingy of pudding which I was told magically appeared fully cooked at noon.
Not that I got to see it. Instead, I road back into town and met Madison at the grocery store. I'd left the bike leaning in a hidden alcove whilst I searched for her, an act which left her disturbed telling me that bike-crime is sort of the only crime in the area and that she always locks hers up, unless it's only for a few minutes. It's better not to debate this criterion, I decide.
Next stop: the bank. It's a super-modern glass affair with a square atrium in the middle topped by a completely flat glass roof with automatically closing, artistically-shaped shapes. Madison and I enter and mosey up to one of the tellers to whom Madison announces, ”We speak English.“ After she repeats this a second time, the teller goes back and reappears with a higher-up who speaks some broken English. Within a short time, I'm set up with a bank account.
View on the way to the foreigner's office, close to the bank.
Next stop: city hall. This has an exciting plaque on the wall of historical events in the city's past. The first one is in 958 or so, and no, I didn't forget any numbers. An entirely Germanic conversation leads to a piece of paper being produced which will grant me a residency permit at our next stop.
Next stop: the alien's (foreigner's office) on the hill. This walk is uphill onto increasingly-cobbled streets and climbing a cobbled road at twice the average grade up past the church at the center of the city and into a neighbouring church-like building of unknown origin. Along the way, Madison tells me about her work with gecko adhesion—a fad topic in the world of biophysics. As we approach our destination, she turns and warns me that the “blond lady is a b****”.
Inside she explains to the first, dark-haired lady we meet that I've just arrived. The dark haired lady replies in German too complex for me to handle and certainly too complex for Madison, who does not know German. Madison tries again, using small spaced words and hand gestures. The first lady calls back and a second lady with blond hair emerges. We go through the process again and the blond lady begins to explain in quite broken English that Madison's ID photos are not to specification (the photos and the alignment of the face are measured in millimeters) and that Madison should make an appointment. Madison tries to explain that Uwe is out of town and that she's looking for paper, the two ladies something unintelligible in German. I try to translate, but Madison cuts me off, speaking in louder, much shorter, inflected words. I try to translate, but Madison cuts me off again.
Eventually they offer Madison an appointment later in the day and tell me I can have one now. The dark-haired lady then explains with painstaking gestures and referrence to my map where the photo studio is. Madison tells me that photos there are 25€, but, as before, translation is difficult.
Heading outside, I ask if Madison would like me to come back at 14:00 to help translate, but she says no, she'll be fine and heads off to try to take new photographs of herself and find photopaper on which to print them. A three minute walk later I'm at the photo studio where I find, inquiring in German, that no one speaks English. But it's no matter. The dark-haired lady at the foreigner's office had wrote down the correct German phrase for the photos that were needed and I know enough German to be able to inquire about the price. 11.95€, they tell me. I ask again in different words to be sure and they walk over to the cash register and point.
The photos take only a few minutes. The photographer, an thin, smiling, older lady speaks a soft stream of German while fiddling with the camera and then making waving motions with her hands until my face is lined up correctly. Done, I head back to the foreigner's office and am soon seated across the desk from the blond lady.
From there out the conversation is mostly in German and there are forms to fill out, fingerprints to make, information to read. It's a standard bureaucratic process made exciting by the location and the language. The few times we hit road bumps (how tall am I in metres? what is a permanent exhibition?) we use Google translate, which produces hit-or-miss results. As I prepare to leave, the lady tells me I should return at two. “Should I?”, I ask. She nods and says, ``Frau [Madisen's last name]" is…" She pauses and types something into Google translate which, for once, hits the nail on the head: &lqduo;exhausting”.
Afterwards, I take a glance at bikes and learn that I don't yet know how to ask where the bathroom is in a way which doesn't require rewording the phrase fifteen times. I also notice this is true of asking the time. Both phrases are idiomatic, so it's just a matter of finding the write combination of words, I'm sure.
I walk the 3.7km (2.3 miles) back out to the IBA, and have some the pea soup which Ping has saved for me and explain tactfully to Madison that I should accompany her back to town. It's 13:30, so I power-walk while Madison rides. On the way, she tells me that the IBA has the widest range of scientific equipment on hand that she's ever been exposed to; she wonders aloud about how they could possibly have funding for it all. The description does sound impressive, though we come from different backgrounds: she from a small liberal college arts and me from a much larger university. Though my department had only a small presence in biophysics—probably it was elsewhere at the university—so much of the equipment she mentions has been beyond my exposure: we build satellites and neutrino detectors, but bioimpedence (and related instrumentation) isn't something that comes up very often.This time, the two ladies open the door and take Madison's new pictures, then promptly close it again. The rest of the transaction procedes in this manner. Madison and I sit in the dark, stone interior of the building and occassionally the door opens and a form is proferred for signing and I am given a look which says, “Explain.” The process goes smoothly enough, though, and shortly we're heading back out of town.
At the IBA, Madison gives me a book on dielectric tissue properties to read through and I finish the pea soup. After everyone else has left, I take a German language exam to indicate my level of proficiency for a class the institute is putting together for us. When I finish the exam, it says I've done well and should consider taking a second, more difficult one. When I finish that my score is right on the border of a third, even harder test. But I'll leave that for tomorrow.
On the walk home I stopped at at least three grocery stores, all within a half-mile of each other. The town is full of them! The prices are seductive. Everything is in the 1–2€ range and my instinct is to buy everything in the store. I'm stocked with cereal, Romane, pasta, milk, and pasta sauce for a few days now.
Leaving the grocery store
Looking across one of the valleys
I become disorientated on the way home and walk on extra mile, bringing the daily total up to twelve. Luckily, last night I made a long run and found a series of impossible-to-miss landmarks which can be found from anywhere in the city. After some wandering, I find one and head home.
Thus, I arrived home late and have spent the evening working on another EWB-USA project, eating, and getting this blog going. Hopefully I'll have the journey part of things up tomorrow. In short, it was a productive day. I'm an official (or soon will be) resident of Germany now. My German is turning out to be quite functional and has been useful so far. The IBA is still something of a mystery, but there will be further explorations tomorrow.
1From Wikipedia. The euro currency sign was designed to be similar in structure to the old sign for the European Currency Unit, ₠. After a public survey had narrowed the original ten proposals down to two, it was up to the European Commission to choose the final design. The eventual winner was a design created by a team of four experts whose identities have not been revealed. It is assumed that the Belgian graphic designer Alain Billiet was the winner and thus the designer of the euro sign. Quoting the European Commission: “Inspiration for the € symbol itself came from the Greek epsilon (ε) — a reference to the cradle of European civilization – and the first letter of the word Europe, crossed by two parallel lines to ‘certify’ the stability of the euro.”.