Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sehr Billig or Hurry up and Pay Us. NOW!

In a land of taxes, fees, deposits, and fines, it is nice to know a few things are cheap here in Germany. Here is the list so far:

1. Beer (50cents a half liter bottle, on average)
2. Ice Cream (70 cents a scoop with cone)
3. Car vacuum at gas station (50 cents for 5 minutes, at least)

A good example of the illogical way that things are done here is the apartment deposit (or kaution as they say here, but I say "caution" as in "watch out, these bastards are going to screw you!"). When we moved to our apartment in Tamm, we needed to pay 2 months deposit, which was 1700euro. They were very antsy and pressuring us to give the money to them ASAP. "Where is the money". Ok, here is your deposit money. Now, flash forward to the present. We have been out of the apartment since August 9. Where is our deposit now that we moved out? I have to pull teeth to get anything from them. Then when I do bother them about it, we get the answer that it is standard in Germany to give back half of the deposit right away (we still do not have it, and it is almost October), and give back half when all of the bills have come through--AT THE END OF THE YEAR, or even later. They are telling me, late January, for the second half of the deposit. IN the meantime, our new apartment needs 3 months deposit, or 2034euro! So we are waiting waiting for the half of the old deposit to be returned to us, and then we have to scrounge money together for the rest, to make the 2034euro, all this by October 1. YOU JERKS. "Thats standard procedure in Germany". Whatever.

So we take anything cheap that we can get over here. Thats my rant for the day.

Groningen, Netherlands

We rented a house in Groningen, at the very north of Holland, a mere 3 hour drive from Hamburg. 5 days of relaxation and bikes. Basically that is it. We were lucky to have scored a rental house, just outside of the city, in a overgrown bamboo and palm tree laden yard. It felt like being in Thailand, it was so green and lush. The house itself was like a cabin, plenty of room for the 3 of us, recycled wood look, stone floors, it was really a cool place, and somewhere we will return again.



Groningen is a college town and is home to the highest rate of cycle use in the western world. Over 60% of all trips are taken by bikes here. It was scary and breathtaking and awe inspiring all the same time. We had ridden in Amsterdam and other Dutch cities before, but this was insane. At one point, we were in the 5pm rush hour near the city center, and we had to wait for a two cycles of the lights to turn before it was our turn to go through. Takes alot of balls and guts to get used to the crowds and the speeds of the cyclers. A couple times, we stopped and just watched the variety of people on bikes...young, old, fat, small, tall...everyone rides a bike, and the infrastructure can handle all of the traffic. The train station had 3 floors of bike parking, which each floor was double decked. Bikes rule this place, and trying to drive, or even walk anywhere is a challenge, because you have to be constantly aware of bike paths and people whizzing by. One thing we learned very quickly was that busses do not stop at a crosswalk, I was almost hit as I triued to cross...in Germany all drivers yield to cyclists. But in Groningen, if the busses were to stop for cyclists crossing, they would never get to their destination on time...there are so many of them, they would just sit there.



The house had 4 bikes for us to use, but I wanted to rent a bakfiets again, so we did that. This time it was a 3 wheeled bakfiets. Mayzie loved it, and we cruised out to the countryside and through the city, very slowly. The ride from our house to the city was through a beautiful, peaceful park. All is flat. Everytime I go to Holland I want to move there...it is a place I could enjoy and be happy for awhile. People actually said Hi to us on the street, on the bikes. The quality of life ooozes goodness here. The TV is even in English, which was a nice, since we do not watch TV in Germany at all. We watched some movies commercial free and even Little House on the Prairie. Damn you Germany and your over- dubbing!


Cantillon Brewery, Brussels



On the way out of Ghent, we drove into Brussels, which I do not recommend (the driving part). I had no idea the Cantillon Brewery would be right in the middle of the city, but after learning that it is over 100 years old and is the last traditional brewery in the city, of course it is close in. Luckily, we had our navigator get us there without too many troubles. We were freaking out trying to drive among the chaotic traffic and one way streets, at the same time tripping out on the diversity on the street. Felt more like Italy...the dilapidated buildings, the ignoring of traffic laws, and the store fronts, displaying goods from all over. Makes sense, since near by Antwerp is a majorly huge port city. Lots of people from the Congo. We got a parking spot right near the brewery and wandered in.

"Traditional", in regards to brewing in Belgium, means that the beers are spontaneously fermented...meaning that the beer is left open in a room, in winter, and wild yeast from the air lands on the beer and ferments it. This creates a style of beer called Lambic--a tart, sour beer that takes some getting used to. From the lambic that is brewed, a few different years are mixed together and re-ferments in the bottle, creating a style of beer called Gueze. Cherries are added to the Lambic, to create a Kreik beer. Cantillon brewery continues to make the best, and most authentic versions of these beers in their old building. We had the pleasure to tour the building and try some samples. These beers are special, and the equipmnt that is still in use, is ancient, wooden, and run by hand. This is a beer mecca, up there with Guiness in Dublin, Heineken in Amsterdam, and Wusz Brews in Portland, Oregon. haha.

It was really cool seeing how these beers are made, and to realize that the beer tastes the way it does, because of the local strain of wild yeast. If the vats were left open even 10 miles down the road, there could be a different yeast strain in the air, and the beer may taste very different. The old wooden casks were filled with Lambic, ageing away, getting ready to mix in a few years. There were spiderwebs everywhere, but they leave them alone, because they kill all the other bugs that may hurt the beer. They only brew in the winter time, to avoid molding and high temperatures, otherwise the building is open for visitors. Two guys were working on the botteling line, but other than that, the place was pretty dead. A really cool, unusual brewery tour.

If you are in Portland, Belmont Station has some Cantillon beers...I suggest a bottle of some Gueze instead of wine at your next dinner party or drinking session.




Ghent, Belgium

We spent 2 nights in Ghent, Belgium after spending one night in Apeldoorn, Holland, on the way down. Our goal--to explore a new area of Belgium, and try and buy as many beers as we can afford. Mission was accomplished.

Coming from Holland, Ghent felt like Hollands dirtier, scruffier, orphaned, seperated-at-birth, twin brother. Traffic was insane, there were hardly any bike lanes, and the lack of organization and signage struck us as unusual, being the neighbor to the overly ruled Germany, and the well organized and clean Holland. Our hotel was in the red light district area, so we saw some characters. Ghent is a beutiful medieval port town, and has some amazing buildings to look at while you drink the best beers in the world. We wandered all around and encountered some cool, hip markets, and an outdoor festival, and ate some great dinners right on the water. At the outdoor festival, they set up an area for kids to spray paint...awesome. Teaching them to tag so young!

OK, so the number one reason to come to Ghent (for us) is for the beer. Ghent is central in Belgium, so it is a perfect place to base yourself while finding the beers. Every market, store, or crappy convenience store in Ghent has beers that we pay big money for in the US. Bums are drinking Duvel, even! We went to a beer store sent from God above. It is called HopDuvel. Check out their website for their beer list. It was a hazy dream trying to keep all the beers straight in my head as we walked around this warehouse size room. They have nearly every beer that is made in Belgium, and for very good prices. I had a list of beer that I wanted, but I very quickly got disctracted by the variety and started piling them in. They had a staggering collection of Belgian beer glassware, which is necessary when drinking these fine elixers. We walked out of there with 80 euros of beer and glassware. I had some great helpers...




Sorry about that rotation on that pic...couldnt get that one to turn for some reason. So, yeah, it was a cool experience, and we have been slowly going through the beers. Lots of rare beers never seen in the US. A refreshing change after many months of German beers, which are good, but are nothing compared to the Belgians. We had a good time wandering the medieval streets, and going to the beer cafes. We did some long days of driving and walking around, and it really solidifies how lucky we are to have a good traveller like Mayzie. With the promise of a treat, she will do anything :)






Thursday, September 17, 2009

Losing Friends and other random updates

It has been awhile since an update, we have been super busy and we leave for a 10 day trip to Belgium and Holland tomorrow morning, so before I fall way behind, I will just list some recent going-ons.

--We are not moving to the countryside, after all. We had planned for a move south of the city on October 1, but near the last moment, we have decided to stay in the city. We found a nice apartment near to where we are now...it is a really great location, close to everything, and is a good price. We really are enjoying Hamburg and feel we should stick close in if we are going to get the most out of our time. We move in October 1.

--Because of this, we really pissed of Lena and Dagmar, who have been our helpers with all of the beuracracy and business stuff, and whom found us our place in the country, that we now do not want. They took it very personally and have pretty much not been in contact with us since we have told them about this. We feel very bad and have emailed and apologized, but they are being very German and inflexible and a little bit un-business like about the whole thing. Hopefully time will heal this wound and it will not be awkward when we meet again. They are great people, and really, our only German friends here, so it would suck if they do not want to help us anymore. Lena still has Oskar.

--Also because of this, Mayzie will have to move kindergartens again. There is a kindergarten, literally, across the street from our apartment, and we are meeting with them tomorrow, so hopefully we can get in. This would be a convenient 2 minute walk from our door. Poor Mayzie though! We feel terrible about moving her again...I hope she doesnt hate us. 3 kindergartens, 4 moves to different apartments, all in less than 10 months. She is doing very well at her kindergarten in the country (if you dont follow all of this, we completely understand...it has been a crazy year, and we can barely keep up with the changes. I like change, but this is too much change) and we know that this will be the last move of any kind for awhile.

--My cousin Darren graced us with his presence for 4 nights during his European vacation. We had a great time exploring by bike, boat, and ship. We drank beers outside, on the bus, on the ferry, and came across an awesome outdoor rave, punk rock street festival. I cant explain it, it was amazing. We found a 100 year old car tunnel and took the elevator up the highest church steeple in Hamburg. We ate hamburgers and turkish food and even some schnitzel. Took lots of pictures of graffitti and German cars, this guy is a car freak. Darren is a great guy and we had a most excellent time...he is in Amsterdam now, back home on the weekend. Mayzie loved having someone else besides us to hang out with....

--I bought beer for 15 year olds! Me and Darren saw these kids in the Getrankemarkt and they awkwardly approached me in perfect english to ask if I could by them beers. Of course! So they hand me 5 euro and a 6 pack of Becks Ice--2.5% alcohol. Why are you drinking this crap?? 16 is the drinking age over here...I bet their dad would have bought them that stuff. Like drinking flavored water. They were stoked.

All else is good...we are really enjoying Hamburg. We went out to a Pakistani restaurant tonight with a friend of Jennas from the American club, and her German husband--our first time out with locals since we have been in Hamburg. We look forward to settling down now....as long as I dont piss off any more Germans (like this crazed swan), we should be OK.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Who Is This Kid?



Too old to be my baby. SIGH. Growing up so damn fast, hope we can stay in the moment.

Airbus

Once a year Airbus opens its gates to a few friends (like 50,000) and those lucky enough to have a ticket (I scored some from work...tickets are limited) can see the plane assembly lines and flying machines on display. I work at a sattelite office, away from the headquarters and airfield, so seeing these things up close is something I do not get to do. Although, 2 weeks ago, me and my work mates had a tour of the A380 (big, double decker passenger plane) assembly line to see for real what we are designing. My work is on the A350, which is an extra wide body plane, made from carbon fiber structure, and is the rival for Boeings 787 Dreamliner. I am working on the rear section of the plane, designing the Hydraulic systems that supply power to the horizontal and vertical tail fin. The 350 is far from being built, but the systems we are working on are very similar in the 380, so it was really amazing to see how this gigantic beast of a plane is built. You really get a feeling for how much work is involved in a plane, how many things could go wrong, and why they are constantly delayed. It is intense.

For the 380 (and the 350) in Hamburg, only the rear sections of the plane are built. The center is built in Toulouse, France, the wings are built in the UK, the cockpit in Spain, and it is all brought together in Toulouse, for final assembly. Then, it is brought to Hamburg for interior design and installation. As you can imagine, this is a logistical nightmare. When the rear section is finished, it is put on a boat to the west coast of France. From there it is transferred to another boat (more like a canal barge), to float down the river towards Toulouse. It clears bridges by a hair (like 1 meter). Remember this plane is 3 stories tall! About 150km from Toulouse, it is put on trucks, which have to go in the middle of the night, because they take up the entire road. For the wings, from the UK, Airbus designed and built a plane specifically for the sole purpose transfer them easily and quickly between the factories. It is called the Beluga.




Thats a funky looking plane. From my office, I can see it land in Hamburg from time to time, and it looks awkward and unsure in the air, like a teenager. Up close, it was gigantic. Its short little wings make it look impossible to fly. On teh contrary, when it is unloaded, it is very difficult to get the plane to land since aerodynamically it is off balance and wants to stay in the air. A strange bird, and the highlight of this Family Day thing.

We saw some of the A380's being finished, just after painting, ready for delivery to the customer. Standing below the tail, these planes are so big, it is quite a treat to see them up close.

We missed the flyover of the 380, earlier in the day.

Of course they make other planes here...we saw the assembly line of the single aisle passenger plane, I think the A330. They make 1 per day in Hamburg, and have orders for 3000 planes, so if you ordered a 330 today, you wouldnt get it for almost 10 years.

I am glad to get the opportunity to see these planes like this. Mayzie and Jenna were excited even. The Family Day was like Oktoberfest on an airstrip, it was weird. Beers everywhere, sausages and candy, and things for kids to do. Only in Germany.

Back to School

Mayzie is back in school now, and she is loving it. She already has a friend, named Tino, and Jenna saw some girls chasing her around the playground yesterday when she was picking her up. I went with them one morning and the teacher said something in German to Mayzie, and she nodded, and said yes. We could hardly understand the teacher, but Mayzie did. Awesome.