Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Fliegen müsste man können

You had to be able able to fly

A Weihnachtsmann (Santa Claus) cartoon has just come on TV with this title. Once in every 100 years Santa throws a big party for the elves, other helpers in his workshop and other friends including Jack Frost and St Lucia (complete with candle-crown). And this is one of those years. It has only just started so I am not sure who had to be able to fly yet.

Well, apart from me. I have been checking the Lufthansa and Frankfurt Airport websites in a compulsive fashion since Saturday. Yesterday the flights to Manchester were badly affected, today all but the earliest were cancelled. I am taking the early flight tomorrow. Heavy rain is forecast. That's better than snow. So I am hoping for the best, crossing my fingers and pressing my thumbs.

My other flatmates however did not have smooth journeys home. After a scheduled departure to Heathrow on Saturday, one has finally arrived in Birmingham after three days of cancellations and waiting lists. My other flatmate is on a somewhat later than planned scheduled flight to Helsinki.

I am feeling slightly seasick. I think this is due to a combination of stress and the rocking of our office today. Two buildings away another office block is being torn down and every so often the office would suddenly rock or sway or judder. I was prepared at any  moment to thrown myself under a desk should I see a crack appear in any supporting walls. In a hospital or a news report about the collapse of a Westend office block would not have been my ideal start to the holidays.

An ideal start to the holidays would be a flight home tomorrow...I hope the Weihnachtsmann is right!

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Ich hätte gerne einen Glühwein bitte

I would like a Glühwein please

As you may have gathered from my previous post, Christmas has really hit here in Frankfurt. The Christmas market began just before the first advent and seems to grow daily. I found an extra twenty stalls today that I am sure were not there last weekend. Among the hand crafted decorations, crepes, sausages and general tat (hopefully more to follow on these later), the main staple of any Weihnachtsmarkt is Glühwein.

Glühwein is an alcoholic beverage, served warm, consisting of red wine which has been heated with herbs and spices and fruits: usually containing cinammon, cloves and oranges. So, basically, it is mulled wine. But somehow it is much, much better than the horrible mulled wine you would always try a sip of at Christmas parties when you were little and then spit out, claiming you would never drink alcohol again in your life because it tasted manky.

The whole idea of Glühwein is ingrained into every German (and temporary German resident) as soon as Christmas is mentioned or the temperature starts to hover around zero (whichever is soonest). It offers a chance to warm up, due to the temperature and alcohol content is served at, an excuse to visit the Christmas market, and a good reason to meet up with some friends and ensure the Christmas period is merry.

Glühwein is available at bars, cafes and of course the Weihnachtsmarkt. The going price this year seems to be 2,50 €. Prost!

'tis the season

The Christmas season seems to be upon us. And walking around Frankfurt is bound to give one some inspiration as to what to do to celebrate this most wonderful time of the year.

You could...
Go shopping on the Zeil...

Strangle a reindeer with your handbag...

Wear your finest pine skirt...

Lasso the baby reindeer that got away earlier with another handbag...

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Ich liebe Europa

Yesterday we went to our 'local' for a few drinks to celebrate the visit of a former intern. I had a Weizenbier (wheat beer). It was very pleasant.

There were 7 of us at the table: 3 English, 1 Slovakian, 1 German/Korean and 2 Finns. 2 of the English people and the the German/Korean were discussing work in English. Me and the Slovakian were speaking about Berlin in German. The Finnish girls were speaking Finnish (so I don't know what they were talking about). Our Slovakian friend commented on the range of languages being spoken and added "Ich liebe Europa" (I love Europe).

Later, we were outside as the smokers had a smoking break. Me and the Finns started speaking Swedish, commenting that we should go dancing (and then other shoddy Swedish expressions). Two Germans were sat outside. And started speaking to us in Swedish. Jag älskar Europa.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Die Buchmesse

The book fair

First, an apology (excuse) for the sparse writing lately. It seems that one of two things is usually the case:

  • I haven't done very much so don't have much to write about
  • I have done a lot so haven't had time to write.
I will do my best to reform as of now.

Two weeks ago my sister came to visit (for my birthday). One of our planned activities was a visit to the book fair. It is apprently the largest in the world. 

On Thursday night we went to get a meal at a restaurant at the Römerberg. I had Frankfurters; Jess had Rindfleische mit Grüner Soße after I ordered her the wrong meal. She did like it though so it wasn't a problem. There was writing being projected on to the Römer and other buildings which looked quite cool. And there was a literature night happening in the Römer itself. So after we had had our meal we went to see what was happening. 

An author called Harald was being interviewd. He had written a book about a woman which spanned 40 years of German history and was written from the perspective of the men in her life. He then read some of the book aloud. Well, quite a lot of the book. The interviewer desperately wanted to ask more questions but tried her hardest to look interested and not interrupt. I did my best to interpret for Jess but the people at the EU make it look a lot easier than it is. 

On Saturday we had ticekts for the book fair. So we went to Westend to get the U-Bahn. We bought day tickets thinking we might go somewhere for dinner afterwards. As we got on the train I remembered our Buchmesse tickets also counted as day tickets. I was dismayed to say the least that we were each 6 Euros down due to this forgetfulness!

We got to the Messe and got throroughly confused. It was very big. We didn't know what was where or when things were on. We missed the talk by the Simpsons creator. There were lots of 'Cosplay' people dressed as manga characters and as video game characters and I am sure I saw some dressed as Pokemon characters. We walked through the 'Cosplay Center' where you could buy wigs and other items to perfect your costume. We did not buy any.

We managed to spend a lot of time getting lost in the French publishers area trying to find Sweden. It was definitely worth it when we found the "Bäbis" series of books. These are books about a baby, written in Swedish, aimed at small children. I enjoyed them immensely. "Bäbis tittut" (Peekaboo baby) was my favourite - I laughed out loud, and to the point of tears - though "Bäbis jobbar" (Working baby) was damn good too. I would like to offer my services as translator of these books into English as more people need to enjoy the comedy gold (though maybe they were funnier because they were in Swedish). 

We then sat outside on the sunny day and ate the pack ups I had so dutifully prepared. Salami and cheese bread rolls, apples, paprika crisps and Milky Way Crispy Rolls were the main components. They were delicious pack ups.

We then went to look round the media and film area, where a whole film was being shown before its release. It was a German film about a rich famous man whose sone was in hospital. We did not stay long enough to find out anymore. 

As we left the film screening we saw a large crowd amassed by the ARD stage. They were listening to (Nobel Laureate) Günther Grass! He was talking about his new book about the Brothers Grimm and how fairy tales are important to our lives. The actual Günther Grass! My lecturers will be so jealous!

We then realised it was nearly half past two and that meant time to go and see (Eurovision entrant) Roger Cicero being interviewed. He also has a book out. It is an autobiography. 

Eventually we also found the English speaking section. We had to get the shuttle bus. When we arrived our bags were searched which we blamed the Americans for; we also moaned a lot that we were being suspected as dodgy because we were entering the English-speaking area. Not cool Buchmesse, not cool. 

In the English speaking  area we took free sweets from the Australians, free maps from the council of Europe, read some English as a foreign language textbooks and saw lots of new books by celebrities. Jess picked up a proof of Gwyneth Paltrow's cookbook. We were going to cook pancakes. We bought the buttermilk but forgot syrup. The buttermilk is still in my fridge. 

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Wie heißt das noch mal?

What's that called again?

Today, I went to Rewe, my local Supermarkt. Amongst other things, I bought a swede. When I got to the till, the cashier couldn't remember what it was called. I said I had no idea of the German word. He asked the cashier on the next till "Rote Bete?" she suggested. Now I knew that means beetroot so I said I didn't think so. So he went to check.

He got back to the till and put it through as a 'Rote Bete'. I thought maybe I was mistaken. But when I got home I checked on the online dictionary. Rote Bete does mean beetroot! I hope I was not overcharged!

The German word for swede is Kohlrübe.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

A relaxing Saturday evening at the sauna

Yesterday was Saturday. I woke up around 10, went to the library to return my books and read Newsweek magazine. I went to H&M and spent 64 Euros, which I told myself was more than justified as some of it was workwear. Then I walked home.

When I got home my flatmate said she and my other flatmate were thinking of going to a sauna at the swimming baths on the number 50 bus route, would I like to come along? I said yes, my skin would enjoy the experience. Did I have a swimsuit? Yes I did, so that wasn't an issue either.

At 7pm sharp we left the flat, my flatmates with their rucksacks, me with my H&M carrier (I don't have a rucksack), containing swimsuits and towels. It felt like we were going on a school trip. Noone had packed any sandwiches. We were at the bus stop 10 minutes early (it was closer than we had expected) and then got on the bus towards Rebstockbad. We went past the Messe and out of town.

We got to the swimming baths and I realised I had not brought my student ID, meaning I lost out on a saving of 2 EUR. We got the complicated directions of how to go through the turnstiles and through another turnstile to the saunas.

In the changing rooms we were greeted by several naked Germans (pretty standard fare at a German swimming baths) and did our best to protect our modesty as we got changed. We went towards the saunas in our swimsuits and a towel-clad German lady told us it was 'ohne Bikini' (without swimsuits). We tried to explain we thought we would be ok in swimsuits but thanks for the advice.

So we went through and sat in the first sauna room (65 degrees). As we sat, a member of staff entered. We thought maybe she was doing maintenance or doing something to the heater or whatever. Then she said,
"I can see the looks on your faces, you know what I'm, going to say."
We had no idea what she was going to say.
"In this sauna we practise FKK."
Oh. FKK stands for 'Freie Körper Kulture', free body culture, or, more simply, nakedness. We asked why and she told us some Scheisse about sweat and bacteria and swimsuits and the wooden banches which sounded totally made up.

Also, my flatmates needed Badeschlappen (bathing shoes). I had flip flops already.

So we went back to the changing rooms and changed into our towels (which were allowed.) and my flatmates paid 2,50 EUR each for some lovely white plastic sandals to walk around the complex in. There were 11 rooms including 2 steam rooms, saunas at heats from 65-100 degrees Celsius and a 'snow room'. We tried out most of the rooms and tried to choose the ones containing the fewest naked Germans at any one time. In the 100 degrees sauna a Ukrainian engineer asked us if we were from the US and what did we think of Frankfurt and as we left the steam room (which was very full of middle aged naked German men) my flatmate heard one of them saying something about British girls. She wasn't too happy: she's Finnish.

We decided againt the cool dip in our birthday suits so perhaps we did not get the full benefit of the sauna experience. Though the snow room was a fair enough alternative. And after about an hour we decided to have a drink from the bar/cafe in the middle of the complex to cool down a little. My flatmates had shandy, I had an Apfelshorle.

After some more experience of the steam room, snow room and the 100 degrees sauna we decided to make a move. And time was ticking on, we only had a 2 hour ticket. So we got showered and changed and then got to the bus stop with 5 minutes to spare. We got home and watched 'The Longest Yard'.

Next time we might just go swimming instead.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Beim Friseur

At the hairdresser's

Today, I went to book a hair appointment. I have been in Germany for almost two months now and felt it was time my hair had some attention as it hasn't been cut in even longer than that. So I asked my flatmates for their recommendations and as I didn't fancy Toni & Guy (too pricey) or C&M (too cheap) I decided to use the power of the Internet to find a suitable salon. After using Google maps and qype it seemed that Barbara Ochs in Bockenheim (10 mins walk away) would be a good bet. A bit cheaper than in the city centre and with excellent customer reviews - brilliant!

I walked to Bockenheim in the drizzle and noticed how cool it seems. 'Will definitely have to spend more time in this part of the city,' I thought to myself as I walked down another cool street. And I found the hairdresser, right where it should have been. 

I went in and asked if I could book an appointment (einen Termin buchen). The lady asked what my name was and started looking through her appointment book. I explained I didn't actually have an appointment yet but would like one. 'Oh, you want to make an appointment (einen Termin machen)!' Er, ja.

She asked when I would like to make my appointment and I asked when there was time available. Then she asked if I wanted a haircut and I said I did, and she asked the stylist if she would be free after the cut she was finishing. She was. So she took my coat and showed me to a chair and brought me a coffee with cream and sugar and I had a little sit while I waited for Steffi to finish styling her client's hair.

Then Steffi came over and asked how I wanted my hair. I said I would like it a little shorter and so on and used some hand actions to demonstrate how I would like my fringe (Pony, auf Deutsch). I was also very proud of myself for remembering the word 'Stufen' and hence being able to explain I would like some layers. Steffi suggested a 'Bob' and I was very impressed she had somehow understood exactly what I wanted, and somewhat disappointed I didn't think of just saying 'bob' with a German accent to start with.

I had my hair washed and cut and the receptionist (ok I think she was also a hairdresser) blow dried it for me. She asked if I wanted 'Shaumfestiger' which totally threw me. If you are ever offered this, it means hair mousse so don't be alarmed. Unless you are offered said Schaumfestiger by someone who is not a hair stylist, of course. That would be alarming.

While my hair was being styled, another woman went to the counter to pay. She couldn't find her purse. She looked all over. She went out to the street to check. I was somewhat glad this did not just happen to stupid English people in post offices. She left her address and was going to come back tomorrow to pay.

I paid without any hassle at all. I felt slightly bad I didn't leave any Trinkgeld (tip) but when I realised I had been charged 13,50 EUR for blow drying I felt quite justified in my decision. I am also offering free advertising to Barbara Ochs Friseuere via this blog which I think more than makes up for it.

Receipt No. 19/Salesperson: 3, Operator: 3/Women's Cut & Go medium - 26,00 EUR/Women's Cut Go Blow Dry  medium- 13,50 EUR/Total - 39,50 EUR/Net amount - 33,19 EUR/Taxable amount - 33,19 EUR/Incl. VAT @ 19% - 39,50 EUR/ VAT @ 19% - 6,31EUR/Cash paid - 50EUR/Change - 10,50 EUR/Thank you very much

Monday, 20 September 2010

Heute ist nicht Ihr Tag

"Today is not your day"

Today after I work I "quickly popped" to the Verkehrsinsel (transport island) in town to buy a rail card and some train tickets. I did not think it would take very long. I was terribly mistaken.

I arrived and joined the queue for the Deutsche Bahn counter, rather than RMV. There were four people in front of me. An older lady sat on a chair and explained she was waiting too. The woman in front quipped she had been waiting half an hour longer than the seated lady. She was getting pretty stressed. There was a couple at the counter already who did not speak German and were taking ages. I thought to myself "I will be quick, I shan't become those people." I probably don't need to tell you this, but I became those people.

I finally got to the front of the queue after half an hour of waiting. I asked for tickets to Munich and my mangled pronunciation of München caused the man at the counter to start talking to me in English. But I didn't relent and continued in German, the good student that I am. So I explained I wanted to go to Munich and he sucked air through his teeth in an expression of "expensive!" and then I explained when I wanted to go and he seemed even more alarmed.

So then I said I wanted a railcard if he thought it was worth it and he suggested a BahCard 25 which costs 25EUR for 25% off all fares for four months. I had filled in a form for a BahnCard 50 already so asked if I could use that. I couldn't, and I didn't even need one of the photos I had paid 6 EUR for at a photobooth (and apparently made me look like a 1970s West German terrorist - thanks Mum). He also told me never to put my bank details on a form as anyone could read that and steal my identity! He warned me about this at some length and I started to become more aware that an elderly lady had been waiting all this time.

So I finally decided which train I would take. And I had bought my rail card, after filling in a new form. I said I wanted to pay by card. So I gave the man my card. And he put it in the machine. And I entered my PIN. And it was wrong. So I treid again. And got it wrong again. So tried a thrid time. And still didn't get it right. "Credit card?" he suggested, so I used my British bank card and tried not to think about the commission.

So finally I had managed to pay and I pulled the seat out for the elderly lady who had been waiting all that time. I apologised profusely. I went to the other counter to get my free timetable book. It is over 1000 pages long. And then I asked to buy tickets to the Buchmesse. And while I was buying them, who needed to buy something from the counter? The elderly lady who had been waiting all this time! I could not apologise enough and offered her my seat but she said she would rather stand. So I said I would pay cash and half my coins fell out of my purse and over the counter. I started to apologise again and the woman on the counter remarked "Today is not your day."  "Genau." I replied. "Exactly."

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Bei der Post, 2. Teil

At the post office, part 2

Mitarbeiterin: Hallo
PO worker: Hello

Ich: Hallo, nur diese Postkarte und eine Briefmarke für Großbritannien, bitte.
Me: Hello, just this postcard and a stamp for the UK please.

Mitarbeiterin: Ist das alles?
PO worker: Is that everything?

Ich: Ja, danke
Me: Yes, thanks.

Mitarbeiterin: Also, Euro fünf und zwanzig, bitte.
PO worker: So, 1 euro 25 please

Ich: Ok (wühlt die Handtasche durch). Verdammt! Ich habe mein Geldbeutel vergessen!
Me: Ok (Rifles through hanbag). Damn it! I've forgotten my purse!

Mitarbeiternin: (starrt mich an)
PO worker: (staring at me)

Ich: Es tut mir so Leid, ich habe mein Geldbeutel vergessen, dass ist so peinlich!
Me: I'm so sorry, I've forgotten my purse, this is so embarassing!

Mitarbeiterin: Kommen Sie zurück?
PO worker: Are you coming back?

Ich: Ja, in ungefähr...dreißig Minuten?
Me: Yes, in about...30 minutes?

Mitabeiterin: Aber Kommen Sie zurück?
PO worker: But are you coming back?

Ich: Ja! Ich bin gleich da! Es tut mir so wirklich Leid... (Gedanken: Ich bin Idiot)
Me: Yes! I'll be right there! I'm really sorry...  (thoughts: I am an idiot)

I really don't think I can show my face in this branch of Deutsche Post ever again.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Adventures by telephone

Talking to Germans on the telephone is not quite as easy as I had hoped. After nine years of learning German, I was hoping that such a simple thing as answering the phone and asking what the problem is would be simple, but this has not always proved to be the case. 

The first challenge is, er, answering the phone. In Germany, it is not enough to say "Hallo", as you might have thought. People like to know who they are talking to. So most people answer with just their surname. I felt that a bit too ridiculous and answered with "Guten Tag, wie kann ich Ihnen helfen?" (Good day, how can I help you?). But then irritated Germans would start to tell me their problems and halfway through a sentence ask who I was.

So now I answer the phone with the company name, my surname (doing this still makes me feel ridiculous) and then Guten Tag. This stops Germans asking who I am two minutes into the call but doesn't make it any easier for me to find out who they are.

As soon as the German at the other end of the line has found out your surname, they return the favour and tell you theirs, very quickly. However, this always catches me by surprise. I am never prepared to be listening for and writing down a German surname, so several rounds of "wie bitte?" are likely to follow. Usually when they ask to speak to someone and I realise that person might like to know who's calling.

After the identity confusion things are usually fine. I have explained to people how to copy and paste, how to change settings on their computer and possible reasons for their IT problems. I have also explained that no, we don't offer building work and told a caller to my mobile they must have the wrong number. 

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Missent to Vancouver, B.C.

I sent my parents a postcard on Tuesday. It arrived in the UK on Friday.

My parents sent me a card on 25th August. It arrived on 4th September.

It was delivered via Vancouver, B.C., Canada.

Deutsche Post 1 - Royal Mail 0

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Beim Flohmarkt

At the flea market

As I crossed the Eiserner Steg (iron bridge) to the Sachsenhausen side of the river yesterday, I was confused by how busy it was. People everywhere! Was there some sort of festival on I didn't know about? Was the Dieter Rams exhibition really so popular?

Well, no was the answer to both of those questions. It was the time of the weekly Flohmarkt (I say flea market, it was basically a car boot sale, with fewer actual car boots). The variety and variation in quality of goods on offer was amazing, here are just some of the items to be bought*:

A selection of oil lamps and cutlery

A portrait of Jackie O

Second hand bicycles in various states of repair

Hats from every region of Germany

And of course, a novelty plastic deer head

The Flohmarkt takes place on the Sachsenhausen bank of the River Main every Saturday morning. If you like retro clothing and accessories, dog-eared books, candlesticks, toy cars or even plastic replicas of hunting trophies, then this is the place for you. Arrive early for the best picks, that deer head won't be there next week!

*if you want a closer look at the wares, just click on the photo and you will be shown a larger version - the wonders of technology!

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Bitte nicht berühren

Please do not touch

Today I hit the Museum für angewandte Kunst (Museum of applied art) to see an exhibition about Dieter Rams. It finishes tomorrow so I thought I had better take the chance while it was still there.

The exhibition began with a wall with biographical details about Herr Rams (born in Wiesbaden, studied there and later in Frankfurt). To read the details all the visitors ended up in a line, moving along the wall; the woman ahead of me translated the odd word into Spanish for her boyfirend. After reading details of Dieter Rams life, you moved into the exhibition space. One of the first things you encountered was a Thonet bent wood chair above your head. There were numerous examples of design classics and the egalitarian dreams of designers were quoted on the walls in a sans serif typeface.

The majority of the exhibiton was dedicated (this may not surprise you) to Dieter Rams' own designs. As well as camera flashes, pocket and desk lighters, hair dryers and electric shavers, there were also the revolutionary turntables and radios which were designed to not seem designed at all. They were simple and easy to use and there was no fuss. And it was a thrill to see in real life what before I had only ever seen in books and television programmes about design.  However, something spoiled the exhibition for me.

The 'Please do not touch' labels on everything! Everything was so well designed, the first thing you wanted to do was turn the dials, pick the items up, turn them over in your hands and appreciate what had gone into them. But you couldn't. I accidentally tried to pick up a travel hairdryer and was glad I realised what I was doing before anyone noticed. I didn't want to get thrown out of a museum, that would have been simply too embarassing.

After enjoying the Dieter Rams exhibition (to an extent) I decided to have a look around the museum. Er, it wasn't great. I might not have taken the best route, but I only saw a room on the middle ages (yawn), the Renaissance (there was a nice silver bowl) and a room about modern and hi-tech design (a bit better) which had a lot of chairs. I wasn't sure if you were allowed to sit on the chairs though so didn't take the chance and kept on walking.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Becoming German

A few things have happened to me recently which have caused me some concern.

In the supermarket, I actively sought out the salami aisle and then took some time to consider which type of salami I would like. When I got to the checkout, I paid efficiently with my Sparkasse card and did not try and enter my PIN, but waited to be asked for my signature. I had also packed my groceries into the bags I had brought with me very efficiently and did not have to fuss around for five minutes after paying to sort out my shopping.

When I was making my salami sandwich on vollkorn Brot (wholemeal bread), I thought it could really do with a slice or two of gherkin to finish it off.

At work, I received three rubber stamps for my desk for stamping letters and felt a thrill of excitement I would get to do something bureaucratic and involving rubber stamps.

In a bar, I ordered a Weizbier (wheat beer) and then, without being prompted, 'Prost'ed, and made eye contact, with everyone at the table before having my first sip.

I think I'm becoming a bit German.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Goethes Geburtstag

Today is the birthday of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, probably Germany's most celebrated writer, poet, playwright and all-round literary deity (he would be 261 today, if people lived that long).

Baby Johann was born in a house on Großer Hirschgraben in Frankfurt am Main. You can go for a look at the Goethehaus (in the city centre) and have a tour. However, it's not actually the same house. It is in the same location and looks just the same, but it had to be rebuilt after the original was destroyed in WWII (this goes for most of the 'old' things in Frankfurt actually; the 'Alte Oper' isn't really so 'alt' at all, having been finally rebuilt in 1981).

Crowds assembled outside the Goethehaus

Goethe is also commemorated with a Straße:

A Platz with its own Parkhaus:

and a fancy statue:

Amongst other things.

Frankfurt is very proud of its famous son, so please raise your glasses and join me (and no doubt the rest of the city) in saying:

"Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, Goethe!"
Happy birthday, Goethe!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Donner und Blitzen und Popstars

The rain is falling hard over Frankfurt. At about seven o'clock the sky dimmed and it started to pour with rain. I heard thunder and saw the flash of lightning and a little girl was running along the street outside the kitchen window and squealing as her umbrella wasn't quite as good a protection from the elements as she had hoped. And it was supposed to be 27 degrees today.

I decided to use my time indoors productively and watch 'Popstars: girls forever', which is the German version of  'Popstars' of course. Here it is not a talent show, but a 'Casting-Show' and from the subtitle you may also have gathered they are trying to form a girl band this year.


The panel has its own version of Paula Abdul, Marta. During one candidate's rendition of 'Beautiful' by Christina Aguilera, she crouched behind the desk and danced among the jury's chairs, while lip-synching to the the song.

There were of course the usual stories and oddities as on any Casting-Show. There was the punk who told the presenter she was her ideal woman and then it cut to a VT of her telling her sob story of how she used to do drink and drugs. The jury liked her but not her singing.

A girl called Marie arrived dressed in her Oma's old frock and 70s sunglasses and then sang "the only song I like from the charts", 'Soul Sister', to great effect. At the call-back somehow her Facebook profile had been sourced and it was revealed she was just an actress and didn't really dress in Grandma clothes at all (I don't see the problem myself of course) and the choreographer man on the panel shook with rage that the jury had been used as an experiment.

It is still raining in Frankfurt and now I think it is time to go to sleep, with the not so gentle pattering of raindrops on the windowsill. Gute Nacht!

More Adventures with Saturn and bureaucracy

I needed to buy a mobile phone. After two and a half weeks I realised maybe waiting until another weekend when I would inevitably make plans/forget to purchase one, I hit Saturn after work.

After some time comparing the Handys (mobile phones) on offer, I decided a Samsung on T Mobile looked like the best choice. So I took it to the till (somewhat logically, you might think). However, it had to be registered first. So I took it to a sales assistant in the phones department. I asked them about the tariffs and another salesperson kept trying to tell me about mobile Internet, but I wasn't intreseted.

So I asked if I had to register the phone. I did. The salesperson asked if I had ID. I offered my driving licence. This isn't classed as ID in Germany. I went home.

On the way home I got a little lost in the music I was listening to, and consequently a little lost in Frankfurt. I missed the turning I would usually take so think I added about a kilometre to my journey. Oh dear. But I got to see a different part of the city which is always good.

The next day I went back to Saturn after work. I had my ID and had fortunately packed my Anmeldungsformular (registration form) in my handbag too, so I could prove not only my identity but also my address. I am not sure why mobile phone companies need so much information, perhaps it is to stop people buying mobile phones and using them for evil means, like they always seem to do on CSI. They can never track down those unregistered Pay As You Go mobiles! And that Germans don't seem too fussed by the amount of personal information you have to give to people (ok, Saturn employees) to do anything also seems a little at odds with the recent German fixation on the evil that is Google Street View, and that Google is becoming, basically, the new Stasi.

The cover of this week's stern magazine:

How the Internet company wants to traffic pictures and details of our lives

So my phone was registered, after some initial problems the salesperson had finding 'Großbritannien' on the list of countries, after looking for 'England' and 'Vereinigtes Königreich' beforehand. I took it to the till, got some rubber stamps and took it home. I opened up the packet and found some PIN numbers behind scratchcard-style panels, but didn't need them in the end.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Meine Pflanze fährt schwarz

My plant is skipping the fare

Yesterday I woke up at 0845 after my housemate advised we should get up early to have time to go to IKEA and the Wiesbaden wine festival. I didn't get out of bed until 0930 though and I was the first one up. She decided she didn't need to go to IKEA in the end, but me and my other flatmate still did. So I got myself ready and made a checklist of what I would need to buy from IKEA, and then I checked how we would get there:

table lamp, scissors, wastepaper basket, rug?, coat hangers, mirror, storage?

We made sure we knew where we were going and then set off. We felt we were sensibly dressed in our jeans and cardis, until we left the front door. It was 27°C. Nonetheless we proceeded to Grüneburgweg U-Bahn station (yes the site of my recent fright) and got the U2 in the direction of Gonzenheim (not Gonzenhem as I managed to write, above). Kalbach was the 11th stop. We discussed Germany's love of dubbing television programmes and films. They're dubbed well but we'd still rather watch the originals.

We got of the U-Bahn at Kalbach. It already felt like we were a long way out of the city. The skyline was on the horizon and there were fields the other side of the tracks. We went to wait for our bus. The carpark next to the station had a strange feel and parked right in the middle was a mushroom-coloured car that was at least 30 years old. It was a little too much like looking at a scene from a late 70s cop show and that car would explode at any moment. The 12 minutes until the bus arrived could not pass quickly enough.

Three teenage boys (let's say they were about 13) were also at the bus stop. They asked us if the bus went to McDonalds. "Keine Ahnung" was my response and they went back to studying the route map. Surely they could just go into town for a McDonalds?

We boarded the bus and sat down. We went round the semi-rural streets and stopped at the McDonalds. We got to Gewerbegebiet Nieder-Eschenbach and alighted. IKEA was obvious enough but the entrance wasn't so we just followed the other alighting passengers across the car park and hoped they had more of an idea than we did. We found the entrance and got our yellow bag and trolley and skipped the furniture displays.

IKEA is pretty much the same everywhere, as far as I can gather. The prices are in Euros in Germany though, and the lingonberry drink is fizzy not still. We got very confused by the self-service tills and I was saddened it would not accept my IKEA Family card because it was not German. Then I forgot to pay for my mirror so had to use the self-service machine again, and this time it did a different process with my bank card which was rather confusing. Next time, we are going to a proper till.

We went up the escalators to the restaurant and got our portions of köttbullar and lingonberry drink (as previously mentioned). It was a pretty scenic view for an IKEA as well (beyond the car park at least):

After we bought our Swedish godis (and I bought some plain crisps as I genuinely don't know where else to buy them in Germany as yet) we headed back downstairs to try and get out of the shop. We ended up walking half way around the Markthalle again and then had to show our receipts as we once again walked past the tills, to show we were not ostentatiously stealing two bags of homewares, a mirror and a plant. The lady told us to use the lockers next time. 

We waited in the baking heat for the bus. I used my mirror as a sunshade. Then we got back on the bus and couldn't work out which tickets you needed so decided to be Schwarzfahrerinnen (fare dodgers) for the short stretch to the U-Bahn, where we would once again acquire legitimate tickets back into Frankfurt. I was slightly terrified. We were hardly inconspicious with our outsized IKEA purchases and I started to convince myself this was the one day that the northern suburbs of Frankfurt would have a crackdown on those riding without tickets.

Die Schwarzfahrenpflanze
The fare-dodger plant

Of course, that did not happen and we got to Kalbach (the mushroom-couloured car had still not exploded), bought our tickets and resumed our journey back to Grüneburgweg. A lady sat next to me and commented on the sun. It was very warm. By the time we were back at Grüneburgweg we couldn't wait to get home and drink some iced water. Luckily we still had some ice left from my 'welcome party' so we got our iced water and then had a little rest. 

On keeping up to date with local news

"Did you hear someone got shot at the central station on Thursday?"


While enjoying some evening drinks with co-workers on a balcony on Friday, the conversation came upon this shooting incident. One of the people there had been walking by the station and heard the two shots. She said the police shot two men as they tried to rob a bank. What an exciting tale!

However, the events which actually went on seem a bit less exciting.


Shots were fired in front of a bordello in the area of the main station. One man has a poorly arm. Several people have been taken into custody. SWAT (die Sondereinsatzkommando) were called out. Around 15 people (mostly prostitutes) were taken to the police station as witnesses. No-one's life is in danger. Some other people were arrested, but not in connection to this shooting.

Don't worry, I don't hang around the area by the train station. And I will start reading the local news.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Das Vokabelheft

Yes, I really have learnt something since coming to Germany. In fact, I have learnt some German. Despite beng well prepared on the language front (so I liked to think), there are still a lot of German words I do not know. But I'm getting there.

At work, there is a lot of computer-related vocabulary to learn, like der Reiter (tab, as Internet browsers have), das Laufwerk (hard drive) and Spalter and Zeilen (columns and rows on Excel). Then there are the more everyday words you thought you must surely already know, like erhalten (to receive) and gegebenfalls (if necessary). There are the words you need to know for official purposes, like die Lohnsteuerkarte (wage tax card), the ones you want to know to explain that it rains a lot in Sheffield because it is in a valley (das Tal) and the ones you want to know so you can find out what the witnesses on the cop show claim to have heard as the shots were fired: they thought the 'strange tock tock tock' was a woodpecker (der Specht).

Monday, 16 August 2010

Deutschland: Land der Stempel!

Germany: Land of the rubber stamp!

I thought I would 'pop in' to Staurn, the electronics megastore on the Zeil, in my lunch break today to swap a faulty (and somewhat moustache-like) headphone/microphone headset. My first error. I went to the till to tell them that the item was faulty and I would like to bring it back. "Sorry, you have to talk to a salesperson in that deprtment."

So I trotted apparently miles across the vast shopfloor to Computer Zubehör (accessories) and asked the salesman there if I could return the faulty item. "Sorry, you need to go to the service desk."

So I trotted more miles across the vast shopfloor to the info desk (another error on my part). I asked them if I could return the item. "Sorry we can't help you but the security man there will give you a form."

So I went over to the security man who looked at the item and looked at the receipt and filled in a form to say I had brought the item with me and it wasn't stolen. He signed it and stamped it so I asked the lady on the counter if I could return it now. "Sorry but you will have to ask a salesperson in the department you bought it from."

So I trotted off across the vast shopfloor back to Computer Zubehör. "Can I return this now? I have a form!" "Sorry no, you need a bigger form, go ask at the service desk."

So another epic journey across the vast shopfloor, back to the info desk. "Can I return this?" "Sorry you need the service desk over there." Cue another expedition through the aisles of electronics.

I reached the service desk. The queue was very long and not moving anywhere. I had to get back to work.

Work finished early so I decided to 'pop back' to Saturn - surely the service desk would sort this out and I would have a Gutschein (gift certificate) in no time at all!

I queued up at the service desk. I was first in line but both staff members on the desk were occupied: one by a man having an in-depth call on his mobile about what to do about the item he was returning, the other by a family arguing with him and his manager about the finer points of German retail laws. I waited.

I considered the German love of forms and rubber stamps

Another position opened and I was called to the desk. "Can I return this please?" "When did you buy it?" "Saturday" "Oh yes, definitely a gift certificate." The man looked at the form and photocopied the receipt. Then I had to write my name and address on the paper. Then my form got another rubber stamp. "Now you need to take this to a salesperson at the department."

So I trudged what seemed like miles across the vast shopfloor. When would this end?! I was back at Computer Zubehör once again. A different salesman was at the counter this time. There was a form to fill in on the computer. He said he spoke English but I said I needed to practise my German and he seemed happy enough. I had to give him my name and address. I almost forgot how to say "drei" which wasn't the best start. He printed out the form. Then realised it was the wrong form. Then had to fill it all out again. Then he went to check with is boss it was all right. "So is this a gift certificate then?" "Oh you can get your cash back if you want, you just have to take this to the till."

So en route to the till I picked up a different brand of headset. I went to the till. I gave the cashier the form. I paid the 3,00 EUR difference. I had to sign the form to say I had had my refund. I finally left Saturn.

Was it really worth all that for 9,99 EUR?!

Sunday, 15 August 2010

A whole week in Frankfurt

So I have now been in Frankfurt for a whole week! It seems to have gone quite quickly (this is a good thing I think) so I feel this may be a good point in time to be a little reflective. I haven't planned much to say in this post, so excuse the thoughts-straight-to-type which will follow.

It's been a busy week. I've become a registered citizen of Frankfurt, opened a bank account, started my first proper job, been for after-work drinks, sampled several glasses of Äpfelwein, tried Frankfurter Grüner Soße, told the bank they forgot my house number, tried to buy postmen and, come to think of it, started a blog. Having just typed and looked over that list I seem to have achieved a lot but still not everything is quite perfect yet.

Even though I am in Germany, sometimes I forget that fact. When I am lying in bed in the morning particularly, there is the usual half-awake disorientation which is somewhat exacerbated by being in what is still a foreign country rather than really feeling like home. I don't think it helps that I did a lot of travelling around in the week or so before moving here and have got a bit used to not being in my bed at home. And after two years of university and having half the year in Leeds and half at home, a certain amount of confusion is probably the norm.

Being in Frankfurt and living with flatmates who aren't German are two other things which mean it can sometimes slip your mind that this is Germany. As well as not going a day without hearing and having conversations in English, even when I'm out and about there are English, American and a range of voices to be heard. It's nice to live somewhere so cosmopolitan (especially in comparison with Lincolnshire) but sometimes I think I would be using more German if i had been posted in some rural German backwater. Though if that were the case I think we could cue the rant about the commute to work, the lack of shopping and lack of difference to the semi-rural backwater I have moved from.

I haven't spoken as much as German as I was expecting. Though I think that is partly due to still feeling a little disoriented and having got so out of practice with my German over the summer. However, when I have been speaking German, it's not been too shabby (Briefträger episode excepted) so perhaps I really should not worry about the slight rustiness. And after the training at work I will have the opportunity (in fact, the neccesity) to speak a lot of German so I shan't get too worried about this. The year is still young!

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Alone at Grüneburgweg U-Bahn

On Friday, we didn't have to get to training until 12pm, so I took the opportunity to pop into town before work. I thought I would save myself some time and take the U-Bahn from Grüneburgweg to Hauptwache. I descended the stairs from the sunny street to the gloom of the U-Bahn station.

An organ grinder was playing a jaunty but unsettling tune (something like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVm241fA_Xg ).

I checked the network map, worked out which ticket to buy and checked the network map again before descending an escalator to the platform.

The clear, totally empty platform.

The music still drifted down from the station above.

I heard steps somewhere, and a man appeared on the platform on the side I was stood. He wore tracksuit trousers, a hooded top and a cap pulled far onto his face. He kept his head down and kept sauntering further towards me. I walked towards the other set of steps, with the pretence of looking at posters on display. The mysterious man edged futher towards where I was standing. I edged a little further towards the steps again and the organ grinder music got louder as I planned my escape. The man edged a little closer. I heard footsteps.

A woman had come down the other set of steps. Some passengers alighted the train going the other way. My train came. I got on and went to Hauptwache.

Some days you are just happy to be alive at the end.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Road safety the German way

Today, I have a little activity for you before I begin. Count the police officers!

Yes that's right, there are five police officers in the photograph. 'But why such a heavy police presence?', I hear you ask (err not really that would be creepy to say the least). As far as I know, there was no crisis or catastrophe in Frankfurt city centre yesterday lunchtime, but yes, there are five police officers to be seen in this photograph, all congregating round this one pedestrian crossing.  The only reason for this I could discern was that, and perhaps you are not aware of this, it is illegal to jaywalk in Germany. If anyone crossed on red, they were stopped by a friendly local Polizist and made to show their Ausweis. I don't know how the conversations ran, or what the penalty is for this terrible Verbrechen (crime), I am a very dilligent pedestrian. 

So if you are in Germany (or, in fact, any country) and decide to cross the road, I suggest you follow the example of these Kinder and their faithful Hund:

...we're waiting for the green!

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Excuse me, do you sell individual postmen here?

A valuable addition to any German text/phrasebook.

Bei der Post
In the Post Office

Ich: Entschuldigen Sie, verkaufen Sie hier einzelne Briefträger?
Me: Exuse me, do you sell individual postmen here?

Postarbeiter: Errr..nee, wir verkaufen aber Briefumschläge, aber nur in den Paketen
Postal worker: Errr...no but we do sell envelopes, but only in packets

Ich: Also...Briefumschläge (Gedanken: Ich bin Idiotin)
Me: So...envelopes (thoughts: I am an idiot)

However I did tell the lady at the bank my address was wrong to no ill effect, so it wasn't all bad.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Finally an honest day's work and becoming a citizen

Today was my first day of work. I was to be there at 0800, which meant leaving the house at 0750. When I arrived, I found out I wasn't meant to be there until 0900 so I got to read a lot of company literature while I waited for the training to begin. I won't write about work as you can be sacked for such things you know! So I will focus more on other exciting things for you.

At lunch time my flatmate took me and the other new starter (from Poland) to the Bürgeramt (citizen's office) to anmelden (register) as citizens. We took our number (2131) and waited for it to come up on the screen. It was showing 1589. Fortunately, a few series of numbers were running in parallel so we were seen to in a mere 25 minutes. Fortunately the city of Frankfurt am Main lays on some great entertainment for its soon-to-be Bürger. After a fascinating documentary on the wildlife of Frankfurt airport, we were treated to a film about ants moving grains of sands (or, as I prefer to call them, rocks) around in the desert. After not knowing how much more excitement we could take (though a baby being sick on its mum's shoulder did break up the monotony somewhat) we were called to the desk to anmelden.

The lady took our passports and our addresses (just on trust, we did not need bank statements or anything), filled in some forms and stamped some stamps. Alongside the desks lined with stationery, the rows of uncomfortable chairs and the printed-out nameplates, the Bürgeramt was the most bureaucratic place I have ever seen. Amazing. After registering I was presented with a red folder full of information, a leaflet with a welcome from the mayor and a discount brochure for the city. Aww.

After a delicious belegtes Brot (sandwich, but more delicious) we hit the bank to set up bank accounts. As I won't make enough money for a normal account, I am now the proud owner of a young person's account at the Frankfurter Sparkasse. But I think they forgot to put my house number on the forms. I hope this is not a recurring theme.

After work it was time for a trip to the supermarket. We had to use the terrifying machines to recycle our bottles and get the Pfand (deposit) back. We made over €7 which covered the household items which needed buying. I was so tired my shopping was awful, but I now have food in the cupboard in the kitchen and Nivea shampoo and conditioner on the shelf in the bathroom.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Schlager at 200km/h

On the plane I drank an apple juice. The man  and woman on my row both had tomato juice with salt and pepper. The woman claimed to the man it was delicious but I don't believe her.

We arrived at Frankfurt somewhat 'surprisingly.' So there was noone to drive the Luftbrücke (bridge from plane to terminal) for us. So we sat on the plane for 15 minutes (I enjoyed the view of the bags being unloaded) until they decided we weren't getting a Luftbrücke after all and we would go in busses. From the bus I saw five Volkswagen Golfs all parked next to each other in a row.

I was going to get the train into town and then get a taxi and then realised I was pulling along two suitcases and carrying an overfilled laptop bag and thought better of it. I got in a taxi. I managed to tell the driver where I wanted to go but stumbled over the house number. After nine years I was hoping I could pronounce numbers but apparently that is not always the case.

The driver decided to try out his English and despite our tutors' warnings not to fall into the trap of speaking English, I was a bit tired and I didn't mind too much. "Which way should I go?" I said to go whichever way he thought was quicker. We went on the Autobahn. As Schalger hits blared from a golden-oldies station we hit 200km/h (124mph) and I feared that ,Ein knallrotes Gummiboot' would be the last thing I would ever hear.

Ein Knallrotes Gummiboot

We got to the house and I was met by some German revellers, one of whom carried my heavier suitcase up the steps - what a gent! My flatmates were hosting a party (partly as a welcome) and apparently I didn't need to worry about not knowing everyone, as neither did they! I was presented with a Mojito and unpacked a couple of things before joining the party. I have to say I was a little tired to be fully in the party mood but I did have a good time and met people from at least 7 different countries. Frankfurt is a very international city.

The journey to Manchester and an open letter to Manchester Airport Designers

The day arrived to move to Frankfurt. I got up at 0830, but I'm not really sure why. I didn't have to be at the train station until 1330. I think the logic behind it was in case I suddenly realised I had to buy something and so would have time to hit the shops. My main concern, however, was that someone, or something (for example a very discerning pigeon) would steal my passport and it would be gone as I looked for it on Saturday morning. Rather predictably, that did not occur.

After Mum had gone to check she was allowed to park in the station car park and Dad arrrived bearing M&S sandwiches, the time came to board the 1336 to Manchester airport. I found myself a table, used my laptop to charge my phone and read some Sherlock Holmes. I overheard a woman who was going to meet someone for a date in Doncaster and another telling strangers about she and her partner's break up. A man sat opposite me after Sheffield and drank two cans of M&S cider while listening to metal music before Manchester Piccadilly. 

I tried a caramel mocchiato from the Starbucks at the airport on a friend's advice and rather enjoyed it. I also noted a number of poor design features of Manchester Airport, Terminal 1. They are detailed in the open letter below. 

Dear Manchester Airport Designers,

What were you thinking?

I had the 'pleasure' of flying from your Terminal 1 on Saturday, and I have to admit the design is not ideal. In fact the poor design features (detailed below) actually created more stress before an already stressful journey. I am sure I am not the only traveller to have endured the following:
  • it is split over a number of levels and there are only two lifts from the station, which are a bit dodgy to say the least. The doors of one opened and closed three times before it actually went anywhere. 
  • from the station you have to use the escalators or lift if you have heavy baggage/other issues. Ever heard of ramps?
  • the Lufthansa desks are way round the corner so you have to go back on yourself to go to Security
  • the toilets are poorly designed. The handdryers are right next to the door so people standing there (to dry their hands) are in the way of anyone with any luggage. And people at airports usually have luaggage.
  • Although there are a fair number of seats, they are so placed that one cannot always see the departure boards, which is rather inconvenient. 
  • The arrivals hall smells of soup (noted from previous visits).
These were a few of the matters which most alarmed me during my visit to the airport. Please address as many of them as soon as you can. 

Yours faithfully, 

V x

My last week in the UK

My last week in the UK seemed to involve seeing as much of the UK as possible, travelling over 1000 km and being being a totally shameless toutrist in London and Harrow.

I also saw both of Jens Lekman's shows in Britain. A Googling of Jens Lekman sandbar will reap wonderful rewards.

However, as I sat between a man who didn't dance and a woman who didn't smile on a wooden pew at the Union Chapel, and considered I only had four days left in the UK, this track seemed somewhow to fit the bill. I don't really know why.

 Jens Lekman - The End of the World is Bigger Than Love

Sunday, 8 August 2010

The interview

Apologies for any factual errors contained in this post, but I am writing it three weeks after it occured. I will try to be a little more punctual in future.

So I seemed to suddenly be in Frankfurt. I found my luggage on the conveyor belt, found the train station and got a ticket. Which had strange red ink on it.
"A strange way to validate a ticket," was my initial thought. Until I realised the RMV ticket induced paper cut on my little finger. Nicht cool.
Despite this terrible injury, I found my way to my hotel, but not before more bad omens involving a rickety lift at the Messe U-Bahn station. Needless to say after that, escalators and heavy luggage suddenly seemed to suit each other much better.

The hotel was lovely. I managed to check in in German (once I remembered to tell the receptionist I wanted to check in) and a Swedish lady in the lift told me how to work the swipe card (I knew she was Swedish after hearing her tell her husband when the pizza shop was open, in Swedish. She wasn't wearing a badge or something). The room had a bath (complete with rubber ducky), a selection of faiths to choose from (Christian and Buddhits texts) and digital TV, so I could watch 'Das Perfekte Promi Dinner' (Celebrity Come Dine With Me).

However, I needed to do a recce of the city to find the office, and to get some food. After a successful mission to find the office and a look at the lovely Alte Oper, it was time to find some food. Of course everywhere was shut on a Sunday so I headed to that classiest of shopping and dining destinations, the Hauptbahnhof. I bought soem magazines, including ,InTouch', the classiest of the trashiest, and some fruit and other food from a convenience store. I then feasted on M&S jaffa cakes and orangeade while watching Wallander and avoiding watching Kommissar Beck (have they ever even read the books?!).

On Monday I got up at half six and headed into town. I found the office, had coffee with the boss and saw the flat. After leaving the flat, I realised I had left my iPod there (we were to be reunited three weeks later). I headed into town and wandered down the Zeil, getting lunch on the roof terrace of Galeria Kaufhof. Definitely the life! I also spent far too much time looking at beautifully-designed kitchenwares, trying to find Romy Schneider films with English subtitles and considering which crime novel to buy from the bookshop.

Frankfurt airport was slightly confusing, but the ticker board of destinations almost made up for that. I flew back to Manchester, seated between two German businessmen and braved the soupy smells to get a hot chocolate in the arrivals coffee shop before heading home on the train. I was interrupted from .Mord im Orientexpress' and my Haribos by the boarding of Laura at Doncaster, all in all a pleasant trip. Apart from creating one more Haribo Balla-balla addict.