Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Commute

I have an idea for a spin off movie from The Hangover. Actually, it’s based on my experience this past Monday. It would be appropriately called, The Commute.

Zach Galifianakis plays the man who gave me a push and later randomly meets me at a night club in the new movie, The Commute, based on a true story.  I would imagine (at least in my mind) Tom Cruise or James Franco playing the role of myself.
I left a snowy and icy Munster at 4:30 pm on Monday afternoon; giving me plenty of time to get back to Borken in time for basketball practice at 8 pm. As I got into my car, I could see traffic gridlocked as far as I could see. However, waiting until later would only mean more rush hour traffic, so I got into the car and jumped into the gridlocked traffic.

Once stuck in traffic, the ice on the road was so bad that it took a few seconds to get going in the “stop and go” traffic. At one point, I couldn’t gain any traction for a full minute and the guy who was driving behind me had to get out and give me a push. I wanted to pull over right then and there, but had no option to do that at the moment. I pressed on through the city center, skating from one street light to the next. In addition to the accidents on the road, only a handful of cars could get their cars going fast enough to make it through the intersection each light. It was a disaster.

Finally, the roads cleared a little bit by the time I made it to the Autobahn. I made it at a break neck pace of 60 km/hour (36 miles per hour) for a while down the Autobahn (so much for no speed limit) until the fog rolled in. And it rolled in quickly and was really thick. A couple miles later, and I can’t see a thing. Not only was I dealing with snow and ice on the roads, I was now contending with dense fog. I wondered if God was going to bring locusts next. The fog brought me out of the “Just really concentrate, go very slow and you’ll be ok” mode into the “Am I going to die?” mode. I reviewed our family’s life insurance policy in my head. That was my queue to get off of the Autobahn.

So, here is the new rule of life:

1. If you are doing something that makes you think about your life insurance policy, you should immediately stop!

I crawled off the Autobahn at the next possible exit. At the end of the exit, I could barely read the sign which was covered in snow telling me where the nearest towns were. I could see a couple of towns that were 8 & 10 km’s away to the right and there was a covered up name that was 1 km to the left. It was a no brainer: take a left to the no-named village 1 km away.

After driving 1 km that felt like 20 km’s I pulled into a parking lot of a small shopping center and stopped the car. I was safe, but now what? Where was I? What was I going to do?

I walked around the small city to figure out where I was. I saw that I was in a small town called Appel- something. There were a couple of restaurants, a brothel, a hotel, and a gas station from what I could see.

I found the town’s only pay phone near the center of town. I put in 50 cents and hoped for the best. I got a hold of Dana on the phone. I had 1 minute and 5 seconds to talk. Dana was met by a frantic voice saying, “It’s me. I am stuck somewhere near the Autobahn. I don’t know where I am, or what I am going to do tonight. All I know is that I am not driving any more. Please call Borgi” (my basketball coach.) She could tell I was really stressed, so she gave her best advice, “You will figure something out, I am sure. Good luck.” I was back on my own.

I went to Hotel Bonaparte to see what the room rates were, but nobody was there. The brothel’s neon signs clearly indicated it was open for business, and I contemplated for a moment if I could get a room for the night without committing to a ‘Thai massage.’ This was probably not a good idea. Now what?

It was only 6:30pm, so I had time to make it back to Munster, where at least there would be more options to stay. How would I get there? I asked a pedestrian if there was a train station in town and was told that there was one 15 minutes by foot down the road. I decided to make the long walk down the dark road to the train station.

This would be a good time to mention that it was 16 degrees (-8 degrees Celsius) and feeling in my legs were starting to go numb. I felt like Aubrey on Christmas Vacation when the family was out getting a Griswold Family Christmas tree.

15 minutes later, I found the train station. The only reason I found it was because I ran into the train tracks. The station was on the other side of the road, and because of the dense fog, I couldn’t see the train station.

Not surprisingly, the next train to Munster was delayed by 10 minutes when I arrived at the platform (Uncovered, by the way, from the cold weather). The delay grew to 20 minutes; then 30 minutes. As I waited on the platform, my legs started to lose even more feeling. I had to use the restroom, I think. How could I really know?

The train finally arrived before I involuntarily wet myself and it was a short ride back to Munster. Feeling came back to my feet and legs and I was on my way back to the office around 7:30pm. I called Dana from my office and explained, more calmly, the situation. I booked a cheap hotel in Munster to stay the night.

That’s pretty much where the story ends. The movie, called The Commute, could potentially add a crazier night in Munster to make it more interesting. I, on the other hand, ate a nice dinner and spent the night (18 month old child free) in Munster before working at the University the next day.  Nobody (at least they didn't tell me to my face) noticed that I was wearing the exact same outfit two days in a row. 

Later that day, I took the train back to Appelhulsen in the afternoon to retrieve the car (thank goodness it was still there and not towed away) and continued my journey back to Borken, 24 hours after leaving initially.

The Netto in Appelhulsen, where I left the van for the night.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Dizzy Dylan and Other Dylan Updates

Here's a little update about Dylan and what he's been up to lately. He hasn't had any tantrum episodes as bad as the night we went to see St. Nikolaus, but he's been on the verge a few times, usually when he's really tired or really cold from being outside. Mostly, though, he does a lot of fun and cute things.

First, Dylan really loves to spin around and around then see if he can walk while he is dizzy. It's pretty funny to watch him do this but we're always running after him try to protect him from table corners or walls. We call this "Dizzy Dylan" and usually when we say that to him, he starts to spin wherever he is. I tried to catch him on video and captured a pretty funny spill. To Dylan's defense, the lamp cord that he trips on isn't normally in that spot.

He talks a lot now and says many different words, especially words that begin with the letter "B" - like ball, book, baby, blanky, bird, banana, etc. He also says "Ocky" for Oscar, and "guck" for duck. When he wants to watch Sesame Street he says "Ernie! Ernie!" over and over again because Ernie is his favorite character. He's pretty good at trying to repeat what we ask him to, except for when we ask him to say "please" which, for whatever reason, incites him to scream and cry. He also does goofy baby talk that sounds like he's saying "Oye oye oye oye oye" and speaks this into his toy cell phone, which makes us wonder if that is what we sound like to him when we're on the phone. Not a lot of German words come from Dylan's mouth yet, but then again, not a lot of German words come from our mouths either, although we're making improvements.

He can be pretty sneaky, and this past weekend Dylan learned how to play "Trick the Babysitter" to get her to let him stay up past his bedtime while Bryan and I were at a Christmas party. We were only a few blocks away, so she called for help and I came home to get him in bed then left again to go back to the party. 

Dylan spends a lot of his time throwing a ball against the wall and trying to catch it.  He's getting pretty good and it and this activity gives us a nice break from chasing him around.  Bryan brought him to the gym a few days ago to play with the big basketballs and we're pretty sure Dylan was in heaven, so we plan to bring him back more often so he can get some energy out.  Here are a few pictures of him after one of Bryan's recent basketball games.

Dylan also has a sweet tooth and really loves the Christmas cookies that I made. Last year he was too little to have one, but this year "cookie" is quickly becoming one of his favorite words. I video taped him eating his very first Christmas cookie, which was so cute until the end when he realized I was only going to give him one cookie and not however many he wanted.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

It's Just Not That Interesting

I figured when we moved over here that there would be so much to blog about and topics would be very easy to write and they would be really interesting.   What I found out in reality is that what I am doing each day is not that interesting.   Want some samples?  No?  Here are some anyway. 
1.   I spend a lot of time in my car.  While getting some good me time is nice, it doesn’t really deserve any blog posts.   I currently make 3-4 trips to Münster from Borken each week.  Each way takes about 60 minutes without traffic or snow/ice/rain.   
Though I have gotten good at understanding the traffic and weather on the radio spoken in German from these long trips, I am at the point where I will seriously consider driving into a ditch if I hear C-Lo’s ‘Forget You’ one more time. 

2.   I love school/research.   I still have trouble believing this.  After all, I was the basketball player that could barely stay academically eligible to play after my first semester of college.  The only reason I knew how to get to the library was because I once followed a hot girl there.  Me: “So this is the library.  Hmmm.  Where was I originally going?”  

My University of Muenster Web Profile
Unless, you want to hear an entire post on momentum strategy, asset allocation, or exponential growth bias projects, I will keep them off of this blog (but hopefully into the academic community). 
3.   The basketball club posts basketball news and information for those who are interested on their website.  Okay, for our American friends (both of you), these posts don’t really translate to English that well.  One of the headlines translated into "The Fruit Hangs High for Borken."  Is that a good thing or a bad thing? 

When all else fails, you can look at the bottom of the article and count how many total points each player scored and compare that number to the score in the article to see if we won.  That’s how I did it for a long time. 
Okay, maybe I could do better writing about basketball.  Maybe.  
Here's an example:

We won 84:66 for this game.  You can confirm by adding the points together. 

 RC bark Hoxfeld: Dunker (8), Dzaferagic (5), Demes (14), Foltice (30), Bosse (14), Holt
(5), Fechtner (2), Gruczyk (2) and Dohler (4)

The team is currently 5-5 heading into Christmas break.  We have a chance to make a run the second half of the season.  I am looking forward to seeing what happens in the New Year.  
Hopefully, some more interesting topics will come out over the Christmas season and into the New Year.  We will keep you posted. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sprechen Sie Dutch?

3 Months into our time here in Germany and I have been very busy with everything.  Sorry for the absence of postings.  Though I have noted that the majority of comments that we receive on our blog come from Dana’s posts, so maybe I should take the hint. 
Nevertheless, I recently have been feeling discouraged about the rate that I am learning German.  (Why can’t I just go to sleep and wake up speaking fluent German?)  Today, I read this blog post from another basketball player who is also playing basketball in Germany, Tony Skinn, (you might remember him as the point guard from George Mason’s Final Four run a few years ago) that has feeling better about where I am at.   Here is an excerpt from his blog: 
“Yes, Ive been able to pick up on a few Dutch words/phrases. Luckily the majority of the people I encounter on the day-to-day basis are able to communicate with me in English! While Id love to learn the language, it has been extremely difficult to pick up on.

Looking back, it was much easier for me to pick up on both French and Italian than it is Dutch, probably because I was forced to take Spanish in College. I used to surprise myself when communicating with the locals in Italy and France, but I dont even try here in Germany.

Try ordering a pepperoni pizza in Dutch? Almost impossible, if you ask me! Lets just say Ive gotten a lot better in using sign language to communicate.”
I would totally agree with him that Dutch and German are difficult languages, though he might be surprised at how well he can communicate if he ever plays for a team in the Netherlands. 
So, if you are keeping score at home, it’s currently:
Tony Skinn 1 (being a better basketball player)
Bryan Foltice 1 (knowing Germany's official language)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Weirdest Christmas Tradition Ever

On Saturday a friend invited Dylan and I to go with her and her daughter to see Santa Claus in our neighboring village of Burlo. I was excited because it would be Dylan's first time seeing Santa (or, St. Nikolaus, as he is known here in Germany). I mentioned these plans to another friend and she replied:
"Oh yes, every year St. Nikolaus comes with Knecht Ruprecht, the dark-faced, scary Santa."
Huh? Why would anyone want to see a scary Santa? Doesn't Santa scare enough kids each year while trying to be friendly and jolly?

Here's what I learned: Santa comes each year not on Christmas Eve, as he does in America, but on St. Nikolaus Day (or around it), which is Dec. 6. St. Nikolaus looks a lot more like a Catholic Bishop wearing a Santa beard than "Santa Claus" and he is in charge of giving candy and small gifts to children who have been good. The naughty kids are dealt with by St. Nikolaus's travelling companion, the sinister Knecht Ruprecht, who looks a bit like the Grim Reaper and very out-of-place in the shot-gun seat on St. Nick's sleigh. A long time ago Ruprecht would whip naughty kids with switches, but now he just gives them a stick instead. I guess the German's take this "naughty or nice" thing pretty seriously.

Laugh all you want, this is totally for real.  This photo was taken from someone else's website because we couldn't get close enough to get our own (keep reading to find out why), but I can vouch that Burlo's St. Nikolaus and Ruprecht looked very similar to this.
My friend gave me the run-down on how this was going to play out.  Everyone (that is, kids from the local elementary schools and their parents) would meet at a spot in Burlo where a sleigh with Nikolaus and Ruprecht would come through and everyone would follow through the woods for a while until we got to a second meeting place.  There would be some music and songs, then St. Nikolaus would hand out candy and Ruprecht his sticks.  This all sounded well and good, but Dylan inserted his own idea's in to how the night would go - such as, throwing the biggest temper-tantrum in history and ruining everyone's evening.

He started out doing OK, but somewhere between the first meeting place and the second, he tripped and fell down and just couldn't recover.  Perhaps it was a combination of the cold weather (it was snowing), being bundled up and not wanting to walk (we were taking turns with the stroller since only one would fit in the car), but he quickly spiraled out of control.

Here is Dylan with his friend, Amy, shortly before the meltdown.  He is holding Amy's lamp, which all the children carried to light the way in the woods.  We need to replace the lamp because in Dylan's blind-rage it was destroyed.

As soon as the pageantry began at the second meeting place, Dylan fell apart.  I removed him away from the crowd of people as far as I could, but nothing would console him.  He didn't want to be held, he didn't want to stand/walk/run/play, he didn't want to be in the stroller, no food, water, or anything would help.  So I let him writhe around on the ground flipping and flopping all over the place, banging his hands on my legs, screaming and crying while I watched bewildered wondering "Whose devil-child is this, anyway?".  My friend came and found us and said "He sounds like a Gremlin.  Are you sure he isn't sick?"  Yes, I'm sure, although there were moments where I had to give him a really good hard look and make sure he wasn't actually having a seizure or something - it was that bad.  Here are some thoughts that ran through my head:

This is like a scene from The Exorcist. Is he possessed?
I hope Kristin calls me again.  Maybe next time I'll get a babysitter.
Is he seriously the only child out of 200 that is crying right now?  How is that possible?
We are never bringing him out in public, ever again.
If the guy dressed as Ruprecht had any sense of humor, he'd walk over here and give Dylan a stick for being naughty.

The program finally ended and it was time to go, although our car was parked about 1/2 mile away.  Dylan refused to go in the stroller (he slithered out of it) and wouldn't walk, so I had to carry him.  1/2 mile felt like 10 miles ... up hill ... in the snow (and the snow part was true!).  My arms were on fire by the time we got to the car.  Dylan, of course, was generally well-behaved in the car and went to bed immediately once we got home (all that freaking out really got him tired).

So the lesson learned from tonight is that Dylan is strong-willed enough to go to whatever means necessary to get what he wants, even if it is not in his best interest (he could have gotten candy, after all).  16.5 years until he moves out and goes to college ... and counting.
He was so happy while we were getting ready.  No visible signs of the future meltdown.

Here is Dylan in his long-underwear.  This photo will embarrass him when he is a teenager.

"Look Mom, it's snowing!  Can we go into a big crowd of people where I can throw the mother-of-all-temper-tantrums and leave you wondering if I am a Gremlin?  Can we?!  Can we?!!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Dylan und Oscar's erster Schnee (first snow)!

The day my parents returned home from visiting us, it snowed several inches. We stuffed Dylan into his snow pants and took him and Oscar outside to see how they like the cold weather. "Stuffed" is a good way to describe Dylan in his snow pants since they are at least one size too small and if he falls down he can't get up without help. When he fell in the stairwell heading up to the flat, he couldn't get up.  This prompted Bryan to say, 'Come on Ralphie!  Help me, Ralphie!  Wait up,  Ralphie!' before helping Dylan up.  I am pretty sure Dylan did not understand his Dad's 'A Christmas Story' reference.

Dylan likes the snow OK, although I don't think he really cares what the weather is doing as long as he can borrow our neighbor's soccer ball and play with it in the driveway. Sun, rain, snow - it doesn't matter. Whenever we go outside Dylan radars in on this ball, which is kept on the back of our neighbor's bike, and runs over to it shouting "Ball! Ball! Ball!" He subsequently throws a tantrum when it is time to go inside and put the ball back. I think I know what his favorite Christmas present will be this year...

My little "stuffed sausage."

"Dad, these snow pants are giving me a wedgie!"

Oscar, on the other hand, is crazy over the snow. Every time we go outside we let him off the leash in the driveway and he does the crazy dog run-around-in-circles thing, slipping and sliding everywhere and burying his face in the snow. That is, of course, until a snow/ice ball develops on his paw, which turns Oscar into an overly dramatic, limping wuss who whimpers and won't walk anywhere until we stop everything to wipe his paw off.

Oscar the crazy snow dog.

Snow at this time of year is highly unusual. Average temperatures for this time of year are in the mid-40s, but this week they have been in the high-teens.  Bryan calculated that in order to even the average, we are due to have about 10 70 degree day's in a row.  I sure hope that's true.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

International Hotel de Foltice: Part 2

After two days of traveling to Münster and Amsterdam, we all needed a respite at home, especially Dylan who desperately needed a day or two with a normal nap schedule. So we spent our time Christmas shopping in Borken and having Thanksgiving, which was a bit strange since we were the only people in town (and the country) celebrating.

Dylan bonding with grandpa while watching Sesame Street.

The Dom Cathedral in Koln
 Friday was our day to go to the Christmas market in Koln, which is our favorite city. Bryan and I have spent a fair amount of time in Koln, including twice going to Karneval (German Mardi Gras) and visiting several other times for shopping and sight-seeing. Most impressive in Koln is the Dom Cathedral, a massive Gothic-style church that dominates the skyline.

Dylan had other plans for Friday, namely not traveling anywhere.  He was amicable during the hour-and-twenty-minute drive there, but once we got on foot he pretty much refused to sit in his stroller and was extremely "shrieky."  Ever since Dylan was quite little he has had the ability to create a head-splitting, blood-curdling shriek that will make your ears bleed and cause permanent hearing damage.  It happens most often when he is tired (or teething), but sometimes he seems to do it just for fun.  Turns out that on Friday he was both tired and teething, which made the shrieks that much more unbearable.  I got a lot of grief that day for forgetting to bring the baby pain medication.  I can name about 100 other things that I did remember to bring, but of course we would have traded every single one for a drop of infant-Tylenol. 

Bryan and Dylan with the Dom in the background.

Mom and Dad in front of the Christmas Market (Weihnachtsmarkt) boat.  We really wanted to go inside to warm up, but Dylan was too shrieky to go anywhere enclosed so we had to stick to the outdoor markets.

Mom, Dylan and Bryan.

Mom and Dad in front of market booths.

The main entrance to the Christmas Market.
We originally planned to stay until nighttime to see the markets under the lights (and miss traffic), but it was really cold and since Dylan's shrieks prohibited us from going inside anywhere we were chilled to the bone so we left early.  

The next night was Bryan's basketball game, then a babysitter came over to watch Dylan while we went out to dinner and to enjoy Borken's Christmas market in the evening.  It was bittersweet since we all knew that Mom and Dad only had one day left before going back home.

Bryan took Mom and Dad back to the Düsseldorf airport first thing Monday morning.  International Hotel Foltice is awaiting their hotel service assessment and will tell you the number of stars we receive for future guests to look at. 

We went to eat at a local restaurant called Kaffeeklatsch.  Somehow the waitress was British so we didn't have to stumble through ordering like we would have in most other places.

Enjoying the Borken Christmas market.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

International Hotel de Foltice: Part 1

Sorry for the month-long absence from blogging. I'd like to say it was because I was just so busy that I didn't have time to write, but it really was the opposite and nothing too interesting happened until last weekend. The beginning of November was consumed with planning, cleaning and organizing for my parent's coming to visit, which meant we didn't really do a lot of extracurricular activities.

Alas, on November 19 my parents hopped on a plane and made their first overseas journey to visit us, becoming our first official guests at the International Hotel de Foltice. They were to stay for 10 days and we had a lot on our itinerary. Details of our escapades will be split into two posts.

Here is a  map of the main places we visited with my parents.  The orange dot in the middle is Borken.  The purple dot just to the left of Borken is Winterswijk.  The blue dot to the right is Munster.  The yellow dot on the far left is Amsterdam.  The pink dot near the bottom is Koln.

Although they left the US on Friday, they did not arrive in Dusseldorf until Saturday morning. Bryan set off in the big van to pick them up while Dylan and I got some fresh German pastries for breakfast. Day 1 for them was very low-key, since they had been up for 24-hours travelling and still had to make it to 9:00 p.m. Germany-time before they were allowed to go to bed.  This is the best way to force yourself to adjust to a new time zone.  We went on a long walk around town, stopping at the park for Dylan to run and helping them get acclimated to German village life.

Dylan holding his grandma's hand at the park.  He was so excited to have two additional people to entertain for a whole week.
Grandma and Grandpa smuggled on the plane some of Dylan's toys that we had to leave behind, like this car steering wheel.  He was so excited excited to get some toys back, it was like his birthday all over again.
On Sunday, we were planning on touring 2 or 3 nearby castles, but Bryan said that someone (he couldn't remember who) told him that Winterswijk, Netherlands has a good Sunday market.  I said numerous times that didn't sound right - no one has markets on Sundays here because nothing is open on Sunday.  Truly, the only establishments open on Sunday are about 1/3 of the bakeries and restaurants in town.  Everything else - grocery stores, retail shops, etc. - are all closed, so a Sunday market is really odd.  He insisted that his information was solid, so we all piled into the van and headed for Winterswijk, a 20 minute drive away, only to find the city a virtual ghost town.  No market, nothing open.  Doh!  We rerouted to Gemen, a suburb of Borken, where there is a nice moated castle that is now a hostel and were at least able to tour one castle before all of us were ready to head back home.

In front of the Schloss Gemen on what was probably the warmest day of the whole week.
 Monday was our first real travel day, where we took a daytrip to Munster.  Bryan was able to show off his office and the University and while he worked for a few hours, we did some shopping and enjoyed Munsters first day of their Christmas markets.  Bryan joined us at lunch time and we took Mom and Dad out for their first Turkish doners, our personal favorite food here.

Bryan, Dylan and my parents in the Prinzipalmarkt in Munster.
Dylan was a travelling champion this day and made it through the day with virually zero complaints or tantrums.  The more we traveled throughout the week, the more Dylan's patience for us lessened and by my parent's final day here he pretty much flat-out refused to sit peacefully in his stroller, even for just a walk around town.  Lesson learned.

Tuesday we headed off to Amsterdam, for our farthest excusion of the week.  Driving into the city was ... interesting, to say the least.  Bryan got accurate highway directions, but once we were near the city his directions stopped, so we "felt our way there."  We had no information about where or how to park, so we ended up driving through the most pedestrian/bicycle congested areas in a giant 9-passenger van.  To be frank, it was scary and stressful. The van's 1st gear kept sticking, so Bryan stalled a few times ... which lead my very helpful dad to make fun of him and shout "Third gear!" each time he stalled (implying that Bryan was trying to move forward from 3rd gear instead of 1st). This made Bryan very angry/flustered because he insisted he was in 1st gear.  With each stall he became an increasingly aggressive driver - I'm surprised we didn't hit anyone or anything.  I finally had to referee and tell Dad to "keep it to himself" if Bryan stalled again and for Bryan to calm down and take a few deep breaths.  Driving got better after that, as it was a little safer and everyone was quieter.

We finally found a parking space outside the main city area but couldn't figure out how to use the meter, so we just sent up a prayer that the car would still be there when we returned and that we wouldn't get a ticket.  Thankfully both came true and we parked for free instead of paying 45 Euro's for parking in a garage for the day. 

We walked through Amsterdam's most infamous district (hint, hint) first because it was morning so there were fewer assaults on our eyes and morals but we got out of there as fast as possible. We then headed to the shopping district, then finally to the Anne Frank House side of town, and enjoyed how beautiful the city is (outside of the red light district).

Me, Mom and Dylan - somewhere in Amsterdam.

Bryan and Dylan in front of the European NYSE headquarters.  To Bryan's surprise, there wasn't a huge lineup of people waiting to have their picture taken in front of this building.  Actually, he and Dylan may very well have been the first people ever to request getting their picture taken in this spot.  Bryan even went inside and asked for a tour.  The security guard laughed at him. 

Bryan and I by a canal.
The trip home from Amsterdam took twice as long as it did to get there.  Traffic was simply atrocious - it seemed like every single person in the Netherlands works in Amsterdam and commutes home outside the city.  Mom saved the day and had a Tootsie-Pop sucker in her purse, which we gave to Dylan.  It pacified him for a good hour until we got home.  No one seemed to mind the sticky mess he made as long as he was quiet.

Part 2 coming up soon...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Pee Party

Like most emails that I receive in German, I open up Google translator and perform the translation into English. Though it’s not a perfect 1 to 1 translation, I can usually get the gist of the email and act accordingly. The email I received last week didn’t translate, or so I thought, and was a little disturbing. Here’s what the English translation looked like:

“Hi again,
The child begins to pee by 20 clock. I will give up to 20 clock still training and would subsequently take over. Anyone who would like to come along, is at 20.20 clock in the triple hall.

As a gift it is likely to give a gift certificate for the baby store.”

My good friend and teammate here, Rob, had a baby boy last week. That I knew. However, I was confused as why his child would begin to pee right at 8 pm (did they somehow have this planned?) and why would we go over there to watch this? On top of it all, we would bring a gift? I had so many questions. I was scared and confused.

I replied back to confirm that we were going over to Rob’s house to watch a baby pee. Fortunately for everyone, that was not true. However, it was still called a ‘pee party.’ Though the name is a little strange, I really like the concept.

A pee party is a baby celebration party for the man the birth of his child at his house while the woman is still at the hospital. So basically, the guy invites over his friends, family, and neighbors to smoke cigars and drink beer while the woman recovers. Despite this being a little but unfair to the woman, (who actually carried the child for 9 months and delivered him.  Did I mention this party happens while the woman is still in the hospital?) I personally think this is a great idea and would love to see this implemented into American culture as soon as possible.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hi, I'm Awkward. Nice to Meet You.

German is really hard to learn. I am horrible at it which creates painfully awkward and embarrassing moments every day. The Rosetta Stone computer program that we have is useful if I want to say "The boy jumps off the table" or "The woman has short, black hair" but it hasn't taught me anything really practical yet. Here are just a few examples:

At the park: I'm pushing Dylan on the swing and a little girl comes and starts talking to me. She is perhaps 3 years old and is obviously asking me a question. I simply stare back at her. She repeats the question. A 3-year-old has never made me feel so stupid. A third time, she asks. I grab Dylan from the swing and say "Okay, Tchuss!" (Bye!) and run away leaving the little girl there with a bewildered look on her face.

In the town center: Someone comes up to me and asks what time it is. I only know that is what they're asking because they used the international sign language gesture by putting their index finger to the top of their wrist. I check my watch; it is 4:30. But how do you say "It's 4:30" in German? I have no idea. My brain says "Quatro y media" which is 4:30 in Spanish. Urggggg! I give up and say (in English): "4:30" then quickly walk away.

At the store: I had purchased a belt at a local store and realized after coming home that is was too big. So the next day I went back to return it for a smaller size. At the counter I handed over the big belt and receipt and said "Ist sehr grosse" (It's very big), then held up the smaller belt ... and then I did something odd. I pointed my two index fingers at each other and moved them back and forth as if the gesture would clearly say "I would like to exchange the big one for the smaller one. Here is my receipt." But instead of speaking actual words, I made a sound effect like "re-er-re-er" because making the sound of a squeaky bed would better articulate the fact that I wanted to exchange the belts. Somehow communication happened that the store clerk made the exchange.

On the phone: It's bad enough to know that when I leave the house I will be forced into an awkward language-barrier situation, but now the awkwardness has invaded my home by calling me on the telephone. Someone called here the other day asking for me, so Bryan handed the phone over. I expected it to be one of my new friends who speaks English, but it wasn't. Whoever it was just started speaking to me in German and I completely froze. I uttered a series of "ja's" and "uh-huh's" until the person was satisfied and hung up. Why didn't I say the two sentences that I know how to say in German: "Ich sprechen kine Deutsch" (I can't speak German) and "Sprechen sie English?" (Do you speak English?) Either one would have been sufficient, but instead I kept saying "yes" until they hung up. What did I agree to? Did I order some magazine subscriptions? Maybe we're going to have a foreign exchange student come to stay with us. Or maybe that was the immigration office calling and asking "Are you in the country illegally?" and I replied "jaaaaa..... uh-huh......" (Note: We are here legally, I promise.)

Getting a haircut (this one is Bryan's):  I walked in to the hair salon and was met by the hair stylist who was working near the door. He said in German, “Can I help you?” I replied, “Ein Schneiden bitte” which means “A haircut please.” Not a pretty start, but I was now in line. While waiting, I rehearsed my lines. I had performed a Google search earlier in the week that read: “How many mm’s is a 2 guard?” Miraculously, it gave me what I was looking for. 6.25 mm’s. I needed this for my explanation. It was my turn and settled into the seat. I spoke in my prepared German, “6 millimeters on the side and finger long on the top, please.” I braced for the question that I was likely to not understand, but it didn’t come. The hair stylist only said in German, “Do you speak English?” I said “Ja” and we were on our way. My confidence was building, so I threw in a comment in German about how long my hair was. I really wanted to follow up with a Justin Beiber comment, (because my long hair kind of looked like Justin Beiber’s) but I was working on a perfect interaction and didn’t want to throw the conversation off course (or worse, accidentally get a Justin Beiber haircut). When it was all done, the hair stylist asked me if I wanted hair gel. I said, “No, I will make a hat.” In one fatal sentence, the perfect conversation in German had been ruined. On my way back home, I remembered out of the blue the German word for “wear.” “Tragt!” I said out loud while shaking my head. Next time, I said to myself. Next time.

At least one of us is not totally awkward - Dylan.  Here is a photo montage of Dylan from the past few weeks.
"Catch me if you can...."
"Please let me down, I'm ready to run!"
Like father, like son.
"Outta my way!"
"This outfit would be cool, if it weren't for the red and yellow socks."
"Mom, read me this book RIGHT NOW!"

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Movie Park - Germany's Favorite Amusement Park

We made the short drive to Movie Park in nearby Bottrop on Sunday morning last week.  We met our friends Sven and Martin there.  Sven works there while he is in school, so he was able to get us free tickets. 
Anyways, we had a good time and we at least felt safe on the children rides.  Dylan really enjoyed his kiddie rides (and I did too.)  The adult rides, were a different story. 

We noted that the rides weren’t as tall or as fast as the rides in America, but they were still a lot scarier.  I am not sure if the European standards of safety are not as high, but we sure felt like they weren’t.  It didn’t help that Sven knew all of the horror stories for all of the rides and was more than happy to stay back and watch Dylan while we were riding.  
It started with the NY Transformer ride and ended with the High Fall Tower.  The NY ride was more like a carnival ride, ala the zipper, with many flips, rolls and hanging upside down for considerable periods of time.  As I stepped into the seat, I wondered how long it had been since the last person threw up in this very seat.  I quickly tried to focus on something else.  So, I began a dialogue with Martin.
Me: So I hear you went out last night.  Was it fun? 
Martin: Yes, it was good.  We were in Recklinghausen at a club. 
Me:  When did you get home?
Martin: 6am. 
Me: But it’s 10:30 am now.  How are you…?
Before I can finish, the ride begins with 6 consecutive end over end flips.  With each flip, I can hear Martin going, “Oh Nein! Oh Nein! Oh Nein! Oh Nein! Oh Nein! Oh Nein!”   Our stomachs are completely disheveled and we were only 20 seconds into the ride.  All of our breakfasts stayed in, so that was a win. 
We went around to some other roller coasters and rides, ended with the High Fall Tower (no need for translation).  It drops you 58 meters (190 feet), which is a scary feeling.  But what really makes it scary is that this ride doesn’t begin to stop until you are dangerously close to the ground.  It’s so close that when you are riding, you really question if the hydraulics and shocks are going to work.  (Watch the video below and you will see for yourself.)
This time, we knew that the High Fall Tower wasn’t going to begin stopping until about 30 feet from the ground.   However, we didn’t know that this ride had a new feature.   Once we got up to the top of the ride, it unexpectedly tipped us forward! 
Now, for about 10-15 seconds, we were leaning forward, with all of our weight (and our lives) relying on the harness not to give out.  For those seconds, the ride stopped being fun and was legitimately scary.  We were actually relieved to begin our free fall, as it meant it would take us closer to the ground.  We laughed about it when we finally reached the ground and were ready to make it home safely afterwards.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Our First Pro-Soccer Game: FC Koln vs. BVB Dortmund

We went to our first German Bundesliga Soccer game between BVB Dortmund and the home FC Koln this past Friday night. Since my conversion to soccer (I had originally sworn that I would never watch it), I have been a Dortmund fan. Dana and I had to choose which team we liked the best within our first week of living in Wulfen, Germany 6 years ago. We saw Dortmund play on TV, so that’s who we chose. Anyways, a few years of watching Bundesliga soccer on ESPN360 each Saturday morning, I have built quite a liking for German soccer.

Needless to say, we were excited to hear that our favorite team was playing in Koln (our second favorite team) on a weekend that we had no basketball games and jumped at the chance to go. Dana and I went with Sebastian, my basketball coach, and his fill-in date David, because his girlfriend couldn’t make it. I was given a stern warning that I was not to wear any yellow (Dortmund colors) as we would be sitting in the FC Koln fan club section. Knowing how passionate Europeans are about their soccer clubs, even I was not about to test the limits by wearing a Dortmund shirt. Here’s a recap of the night.

5:30 pm Babysitter made it on time, and we are on the way to Koln.

6:30 pm Traffic is good and we cruise right through…until we get close to the stadium. Now we are stuck in traffic.

7:00 Still stuck in traffic. Starting to get car sick.

7:30 Still stuck in traffic. Really getting car sick.

8:00 Still stuck in traffic. Really getting car sick. Game time is 30 minutes away.

Starting to get nervous about missing the FC Koln Hymn, which the crowd sings before each home game. (This was the part of the game I was looking forward to the most. I had watched the hymn on YouTube and was excited to see it live.) I was so excited about singing this hymn with 53,000 other people that I even thought to myself that I might switch favorite teams after singing this and move Dortmund down to 2nd favorite.

8:15 In the parking garage, but still in traffic. I think about jumping out of the car to make it in time for the Hymn.

8:20 Finally parked. We power walked through the rain to the stadium. “Get your knees up!” was all I remember saying as we desperately tried to make it in.

8:26 I could hear the hymn being sung inside the stadium as we walked in. I ran up the stairs and I made it into the stadium to hear the last 30 seconds of the hymn. It was breathtaking. Here’s a clip from YouTube that starts pretty much at the exact moment I arrived in the stadium. Breathtaking.

8:27 As soon as we get to our seats in the top left corner of the stadium, we grab the red cellophane in our seats and raise it over our head. We had no idea at the time that the overall result was so cool. (Watch the entire video above to see the end result.)

8:28 I mention to Sebastian, a huge Koln fan, that the first 20 minutes of the game will be critical for Koln to hang with Dortmund. Like I really know what I’m talking about.

8:30 Dortmund controls the game from the beginning, making the Koln faithful very upset. I am very familiar with that feeling being a Detroit Lions fan.

8:45 Dortmund scores their first goal about 20 minutes in. So much for the important good start. I accidentally reacted with a huge “Yeah!” along to two clenched fists in the air. I quickly pulled them down and looked around. My chances of getting beat up tonight just quadrupled. There were some other closet Dortmund fans around that had the same reaction, so I think we we’re ok.

8:46 It occurs to me that I don’t know who scored the goal. Was he onside? Were there any fouls? “Where’s the instant replay?" Sebastian tells me that they don’t do instant reply to help control the crowd anger. I am really scared that my goal reaction is going to get us in trouble. I am extra careful to look neutral for the rest of the game.

9:20 Great first half. Dortmund played well and had some good scoring chances. Koln had a couple of chances, but looked inferior. Again, what do I know? The Dortmund fan section was going crazy all game. And why not? Dortmund is off to a terrific start this year, and is at the top of the league. Just like Michigan State. This has been a pleasantly strange fall so far.

Koln's colors are red and white.  We didn't have "official" Koln scarves, but our BSV Wulfen scarves did the trick and helped us blend in with the other Koln fans.
9:50 Koln plays better in the second half and finally gets a goal in the 82nd minute. The stadium comes alive and is rocking. I am wet with Gaffel Kolsch beer after it was thrown on the entire section during the goal celebration.

9:51 Although I am entertained by the newly found enthusiasm of the crowd, I am secretly bummed out at the tied score. Dortmund has played too well to give away two points. We go into 2 minutes of extra stoppage time, and then it happens. Dortmund scores in extra time to go up 2:1. I am not exactly sure what my external reaction was, but internally I was screaming, “Yeeeeaaaaahhhh!” The same audible noise came from the Dortmund side and hit us on the other side of the stadium like a wave. A glorious wave.

If I were watching this game on my back deck on the Internet, I would have been shouting and jumping around the backyard. Tonight, I have to conceal my emotion so I don’t get us all beaten up. It’s so difficult to do.

10:15 Game over, Dortmund 2 FC Koln 1. Leaving the stadium, I am so happy on the inside, but terrified to show any emotion. I didn't high five the Dortmund supporters on the way out, although I really wanted to. I am also glad that I didn’t wear my Dortmund shirt. I’m a pretty (ok, very) obnoxious person, but even I could sense that this wasn’t the venue to make a scene. To confirm this, we pass a wall of riot police on the way to our car. They were stationed close to the train station, where the Dortmund faithful were headed. What a crazy scene!

10:25 After the game we opt out of sitting in traffic and found a nearby place called Doping Sports Bar (not sure if the Germans understand the humor in this name, but I did) to wait out traffic.

Shortly after that we left and it home safe and sound from our first European soccer match.