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Monday was a holiday in Bavaria (Pfingsten or Pentecost). I got on a train to Zurich thinking that the stores and museums would be open there. Turns out they celebrate Pfingsten in Zurich too and everything was closed. That turned out to be rather fortunate for me…and my bank account!

I picked up a city map before I left the train station and started exploring. A river runs through the center of the old town, which empties into a lake at the south end of the city.

The weather was perfect—75F, crystal clear skies, and a slight breeze off the lake. I strolled through the parks along the lakefront, absorbing the sun and the scenery. The waterfront reminded me of Seattle, with houses on the hills and mountains in the background.

Zurich waterfront

I walked through the old town on the way back to the train station. I loved the old buildings. The city had character and history…with beautiful waterfront and mountains too! Perhaps the ETH (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) needs a science writer…

stained glass on balcony

the opera house

a church on the river

More photos on flickr.

On Sunday, the sun was out again! I woke up early and walked around the island taking pictures of parks that I found hidden behind unassuming corners. I’ll post a photo tour of the island soon.

The day was too beautiful to stay inside. I packed a lunch, filled my water bottle, and set off for a walk along the lake to Bregenz, Austria (about 10 km or 6 miles from Lindau). There’s a path, either gravel or paved, the whole way. There were lots of bicyclists of all ages out enjoying the weather.

When I got to Bregenz, I explored the town, but decided I would rather be at the lake watching the people and the sailboats. I had some apple strudel at a café and then I caught the train back to Lindau. It was a great day.

This Saturday, I went with some of my office mates to the Isle of Mainau (on the western side of Lake Constance) for the opening of the exhibition on energy. The powers that organize the Lindau Meetings also organized this exhibition. It’s a way for them to be involved in an outreach project that brings science to the public, to extend their visibility beyond the yearly meeting between Laureates and students.

Saturday was the first sunny day we’ve had in a long time. All the dignitaries showed up and the ceremony went well. I couldn’t understand the speeches (they were in German—surprise!), so I stood in the back of the crowd and watched a hawk circle the apple orchard. He was flying low enough that I could see him tilt his tail left and right to turn. Then, he tucked his wings by his body and swooped into the trees. When he came up, he didn’t have anything in his talons so I guess he missed his target. Bummer for him.

After the speeches, I walked through the exhibits. For the most part, I thought it was well done. It does a good job of telling people about ways to conserve energy and new technology that provides sustainable energy. I’m writing an article about the exhibition for the newspaper, so I’m glad I got to see the pavilions for myself.

Later that day, my officemate and I gave the director of the Deutsches Museum (a really big science museum in Munich) a ride to the city center to catch his train. We were talking about how to communicate science to the public and he brought up a new idea. He said that he is interested in teaching people about how science is done. Science is a “fragile process;” it is constantly changing as ideas are tested and refined. It is not a collection of facts that are set in stone. I liked that idea. I want to help people be able to evaluate science in the news for themselves, to be able to tell real science from bogus interpretations. Helping them understand the “fragility of science” is one way to do that.

The past few weeks I’ve felt limited by my extremely small German vocabulary. German has many sounds that English does not have, particularly scratchy sounds that come from the back of the throat—like you are hacking up a hairball. That’s not a very elegant description, but that’s the best way I can describe the sound. I have a hard time trying to make those sounds without someone rushing over to give me the Heimlich.

Even when I try to order in German at a restaurant or café, there’s a 30% chance that I’ll be understood. Here’s a funny story. When I was visiting Gina in Würzburg, I ordered a small bottle of water (kleine wasser ohne gas) at dinner. The waitress looked at me, blinked, said “You speak English” in German, and ran away to find another waiter. I was crushed….I’ve ordered many bottles of water and never had anyone run away! Gina reassured me that I said it correctly and we both had a good laugh. When our new waiter appeared, I ordered in German though he could speak English.

So, I’ve been scared to go exploring for fear I would get myself into a situation that I couldn’t handle because I couldn’t talk to anyone. Last week, I finally felt settled here. The fear went away.

The first thing I did was go to the grocery store. I filled my little fridge with fresh veggies and fruit. For the first time in three weeks, I cooked something other than spaghetti or fried eggs. I browned sausage, onions, mushrooms, and added some tomatoes. I put this over polenta and had fresh green beans on the side. I celebrated with some wine and had some chocolate for dessert.

My kitchen is pretty tiny, but I was pleased with the meal I cooked in such a limited space. Living simply doesn’t have to mean spaghetti or cereal every night for dinner. It just requires a few fresh ingredients!

The holidays continue here in Bavaria. Thursday was Father’s Day, a national holiday where the stores and offices are closed. I hopped on a train and went to Würzburg to meet my friend Gina. We both took Friday off and we had a great long weekend together.

Gina and I in Rothenburg, Germany in 2010

Gina came to Tallahassee from Germany as part of an exchange program and spent a junior year at my high school. She doesn’t remember how we met, but I’m pretty sure it was in history class. To make a long story short, she fit right in with my friends and me. This photo was taken when we all went to Panama City Beach for my birthday. To this day, this is still one of my favorite photos.

The girls at Panama City Beach, FL in 2000

Over the past 10 years, we lost touch. She called my house every once and a while and we emailed occasionally. A few months before I left for Germany, she found me on Facebook. (See, it is good for something!)

We made plans to meet while I was in Germany. She showed me around Würzburg, including the churches, a fortress, and a large palace. We also explored some of the smaller cities outside of town, including Rothenburg, Tauberbischofsheim, Amorbach, and Miltenberg. We saw lots of German churches and cute houses. We drove a short stretch of the Romantic Road and saw a few castles on hills.

She had a craving for some American food. When I got off the train, she asked me to make BLTs. She had everything in her fridge and I cooked the bacon. On Saturday, we made peanut butter chocolate chip cookies.

We had a wonderful weekend and I’m really happy she was able to take some time off to spend with me. It was a great reminder about the importance of keeping in touch with old friends. She is moving to Switzerland in 4 weeks….closer to Lindau! I hope we can meet up again later, even if only for a day.

Cologne: the big cathedral, the Dom, and the River Rhine

On Friday, I took the train from Lindau to Cologne to meet a friend from Wash U. I’ve added Cologne to my Google map and some photos to my Flickr site.

I met Valerie during my 2nd year of grad school. She had come to Wash U from Cologne to do a one year Masters in German Literature. She plays the cello and I gave her rides to orchestra rehearsal every week. Now, she is back in Cologne working on a PhD in musicology. She’s blending her interest in music with her skills in literature analysis to study medieval German songs.

She had to work while I was there, so I went off on my own to explore the city. On Friday afternoon, I went to the chocolate museum and went shopping. We met for dinner at an Asian restaurant for sushi. I never thought I’d be eating sushi in Germany, but it was yummy. The place was packed too. I felt like a real local.

On Saturday, I returned to the shopping district and went to a big bookstore. They have some English books…lots of scifi/fantasy, chick lit, and crime novels, but not so much fiction and non-fiction. I thought it was interesting to see which authors are popular in Germany. The fiction section had 4 books by Paulo Coelho and the non-fiction section had several books by Bill Bryson.

Saturday night, Valerie, her boyfriend, another friend, and I went to the Stadtgarden for a concert. The club is known for having famous jazz musicians play there. That night, however, wasn’t jazz. The band was Kompott and the music was a blend of Eastern European (polka, klezmer,etc) influences and ska. The beat was really catchy and we couldn’t help but dance. They put on a good show and were fun to watch. Eastern European beats are becoming the hottest party music here and it is definitely something that I wouldn’t have heard back in the States.

In the end, I did some walking around the city to see the sites, but spent most of my time shopping. I had a map of Cologne and a U-Bahn ticket so I could have done some more exploring, but I was enjoying being in a large crowd of people for a couple of days. It was a nice change from quiet Lindau.

My train home from Cologne went through Frankfurt, Mannheim, and Stuttgart. Outside of the big cities, there are lots of rapeseed fields, filled with yellow flowers.  I was happy to see the apple orchards, cows, and sheep in the Bavarian countryside as I got closer to Lindau. Most of the Bavarian towns had fancy maypoles up too. I guess for this next year the old adage “home is where you hang your hat” is quite appropriate.

As I mentioned before , my main project is to put together a newspaper that will be handed to the students on the last day of the meeting. Christian decided that it would be nice to have some student profiles in the paper. These profiles would also be given to the journalists so they have some “pre-screened” students to write about. My task: search through 680 student profiles looking for something interesting to write about. Kind of vague and daunting….like any research project.

Well, after three days of reading application essays, I can say I have a new appreciation for an original statement. Often the answer to “Why do you want to come to this school/meeting?” is obvious. “Because there are going to be Nobel Laureates there, silly. And it’s in Germany. Why wouldn’t I want to come to this meeting!” But there are ways to say this and make your statement unique and personal. However, the majority of the statements were generic.

By the end of the first day of searching, I had managed to find two interesting students to profile. By the third day, I had finally found some common threads and several stories that profiled students with diverse scientific and cultural backgrounds emerged. I’m looking forward to getting to know some of these students better. I hope they are willing to answer my questions via email.

I find I’m using a lot of the skills from my PhD research (literature research and analytical skills) plus a few creative ones too! I’m happy that I’m enjoying my work.

All of my coworkers speak German as their native language (big surprise, right?). So the office chit-chat and weekly meetings are conducted in German. They have weekly mandatory English lessons, as the official language of the meeting is English and they communicate with the Laureates and participants in English. These lessons have been cancelled since I arrived, as I am now the English lesson.

My German skills are improving….I can count and get bread from the bakery…..but I can’t follow much conversation. They’ve all been wonderful about translating for me. One of my supervisors even offered to translate the employment contract I had to sign. Instead, he sat down with me and talked me through the important parts instead of writing it all out. That was fine with me, and I really appreciated the effort.

They’ve all been wonderful helping me get settled into daily life as well. Anke helped me move down to the island, driving me in her car and talking with the landlord at my new apartment. She also took me to the Lindau library, which has a decent selection of books in English. She even let me check out a book using her card.

I’ve already finished ¾ of the books I brought, so I’m planning on getting my own library card next week to replenish my book supply. I saw several books at the library that have been on my “to read” list for 5 years now. They’re popular books in the States, often having long waiting lists. The best part is that there are no waiting lists for English books in Germany!

As if my coworkers weren’t amazing enough…..here’s the icing on the cake. There are no laundromats on the island. Actually, they’re not that common anywhere in Germany, except in the student areas. The landlords at my new apartment won’t let me do my laundry there because it takes too much water. So, my coworkers offered to do my laundry. I bring a bag of dirty clothes and they’re going to take turns washing it. Even both of the bosses offered to help!

I’ve already started thinking of ways to thank everyone when I leave. Chocolate chip cookies are definitely not enough, but it might be a start.

May 1st is a big holiday (Maibaum) here in Bavaria. Most towns have a party on the first of May, but the celebration starts a day early in Oberreitnau. In the evening on Friday, April 30th, the town gathered in the main square. I didn’t join them, but my apartment was close enough that I could listen from my window and feel like I was there. It was a big block party, with kids playing, adults chatting, and a band playing oom-pa-pa music. I recorded one of the songs on my iPod so I could share the festivities with you.

Unfortunately, the party ended early because it started to rain. As part of the celebration, the may pole was placed in the square. I took this picture Saturday morning as the cold weather blew in.

The maypole in Oberreitnau

Traditionally, families go hiking on the 1st of may, but this year many people stayed inside because the weather was wet and cold.

Apparently it’s cold in the Alps too. On Friday, I took this picture at the harbor on the island. It was close to 75 that day….perfect weather to enjoy lunch outside.

Monday, I took this picture of the harbor. Notice that there is new snow on the Alps.

It was cold and damp all last week. I hope the sun comes out soon!

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