Archive for the ‘hamburg’ Tag

A Study Abroad Winding Down

Classic ICE night

Classic ICE night

Random Observation/Comment #206: There’s always a level of sadness during transitions.  I’ve found that I’m always looking for excitement, yet I deep down yearn for a conservative state of equilibrium.  No matter how much I reject these routines, I desperately cling on to creating a new familiarity.  When you’ve grown accustom to the freedom and the friendly faces, it’s hard to let go and move to that next phase.  It’s hard to say good-bye – and not to Germany or the lifestyle of vacations, but of newly found friends.  I could come back to Hamburg, but it would definitely not be the same without the people that has made this trip incredible.

As I mentioned in the beginning of my writings about Hamburg, I had created an interesting group of friends from different countries throughout this 5 month study.  Their openness to mingle allowed the single Chinese American loner to tag along and par-take on their adventures.  From birthday parties to ICE nights, we lived the life that all college students would envy.  We made excuses for our stupidity and, honestly, would do it again in a heartbeat.  I think I speak for all of us when I say that this trip has been an eye-opener in so many ways.

I’ve already written about the Hungarian group [] that left just last month, and I already miss them so much (especially Sushi).  With the exception of the people who lived in my apartment (who I posted last entry), I present my small little tribute.

The (North and South) American group includes Matt, Matt, Dave, Francisco, Fernando (it’s okay that he’s from Brazil and dresses better than all of us), and Sarah (it’s okay that she’s from Canadia).  Their weekly Tuesday ICE nights basically represent the essence of their trip.  Any questionable activity is usually validated by the fact that we’re studying abroad and we should do this because we can.  It reminds me of that speech about how we’re privileged with the opportunity to party, so we must do so to fulfill those lost dreams of the less fortunate.  If we didn’t take advantage of our situations, we might as well stay satisfied as minimalists.  Needless to say, this group knows how to have a good time and the fluency of broken English slang really reminds me of home.  It’s a nice comparison because now home will always remind me of Reeperbahn.

The Spanish group includes Marta, Elena, and Diana, all of whom have been absolutely wonderful and a pleasure to party with.  It’s interesting how their Spanish fiesta spirit perspiring on the dance floor is actually palpable in the air.  I can tell they’re exhausted by the end of the night, but they could easily go until morning.  It’s this type of enthusiasm for just dancing instead of heavily drinking (although that usually follows) that keeps a separate charm.

The Finnish group includes Sakari, Maria, Miia, Leena, and Mai.  I’ve grown accustomed to their absolutely mind-boggling language – I just take it as a nice gurgling sound, and I just smile whenever they look over.  It seems the ladies prefer mixed drinks and hockey more than anything else in the world.  In fact, watching a hockey game with some redbull vodkas would be a recipe for a wonderful summer afternoon or third date.  I’ve mostly met up with this group in more chill atmospheres, like 2PM beers at the park or 4PM beers during a picnic.  A pre-game bottle of vodka mixed within a coca cola bottle starts the night, and a group of fun-loving Fins with a smile on their faces, finishes it.

The Misc group is placed within this section for the more random conversations that are not necessarily related to any group party scenes.  Marchin and Phillip are interesting engineers with a similar passion towards improving the world.  Together, we form a normal engineering group with the normal engineering view of parties and basically all activities.  We’re always thinking about something else in our multiprocessor brains, but we follow the flow of partying to observe and occasionally intervene in some social experiments.   I think we find it awkward, yet enjoyable, but I’m sure we would rather be doing some calculations and estimation applications to everyday things.  It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who calculates the total price of shopping lists or random traveling distances and costs on the spot (and then get a sense of satisfaction when the estimations are close).  Steph is a wonderful photographer with the Canadian friendliness underneath a fierce tiger (I’m just assuming from all of the pictures I take of her).  She’s doing her best to explore Europe and share it in whichever artistic way she can.  I give her kudos for picture taking and sepia tone.  Scott is allergic to fruit, which I still can’t get over.  Cecilia – oh Cecilia – by weekday you’re a dedicated student and friendly smile, but by weekend you’re rocking out in some random country in Europe to pure metal/core.  It’s always the innocent ones that transform into the crowd-surfing, stage diving (if you’re lucky), air punching, two-stepping wild animals in the pit or swaying at the front.  I’ve missed those days, and we definitely need to see a show together sometime.

Socializing with these interesting characters from every corner (of the flat map taped to my apartment wall) helped us each peer into our own futures.  There’s so much more freedom in this world than we were fooled with the high school 9 periods a day and college scheduled classes.  Yes, we have to adjust to other people’s times to be organized, but your free time is where you grow.

In essence, what we decide to do with this free time defines who we are.  Without the willingness to connect with people, explore our interests, and constantly question our environment, we are just breathing, eating, and shitting with a set routine.  I’ve learned what it means to live here in Hamburg, and I know that everything I do from here forward is to support my new goals.

I want more than anything to return to Europe and visit all the travel acquaintances I’ve met on this journey.  In almost every country in Europe, we’ve grown contacts for at least a cup of coffee and a day of exchanging stories.  For these offers, I am the most grateful.  I hope all of you know that you have the same luxury for New York.  Please feel free to ask.

~See Lemons Miss Being Abroad

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Blessed with an Extended Family

Big happy family. Lucian is the baby.

Big happy family. Lucian is the baby.

Random Observation/Comment #205: The less I post; the more fun I’m having.  Without this me-time, I do feel a little bit claustrophobic, but at the same time, I’m usually spending it with people for a good reason.  It’s not exactly what you can call “efficient,” but I feel these small social breaks are mandatory for an enjoyable lifestyle.  I sound like a damn Vulcan.  The last two weeks have been filled with non-stop fun in Belgium with new friends, Schliersee with nature, and the rest with Natasha.  It isn’t until this 22-hour train ride from Hamburg to San Sebastian that I have time to relive the happiness.  Pictures and words will not do it justice.  I am grateful for those last weeks of memories with good bye parties, but saddened by the last sight of each of my acquaintances.  It seems surreal that we said good-bye, but I’m happy we can now call ourselves facebook friends.

This large dorm-style openness and friendliness was what I missed in my university years. I remember a few shenanigans from the Cooper dorms, but nothing compared to dinner parties thrice a week and bonding moments over a few stories and shots of exotic spirits on a regular basis.  Memories of this experience (as a whole) will stay with me forever, and I hope the personality quirks each person represents can be found again in my next adventure.

How quickly time has passed since I last said good-bye to Greg – the first suitemate and friend to part from this journey.  After he left, there was a void in the apartment that could not be filled. There were less jagermeister shots and dancing on the tables, and I always checked out my door to see if he was sneaking a smoke on the balcony.  Vadim moved in with a cheerful step, but his work made him absent to most of the usual dinner parties.  There were weeks where I didn’t even think the room had an inhabitant.  I considered the random knocking on the metal tube running vertically through our apartment a more frequent communicator (I know it was you, Lucian).  Granted, the shoes left to fill were large, so on normal standards, Vadim was a great suitemate.  I had no complaints since he left no footprint, and he was quite interesting when I had a chance to speak with him in the hall or during drinks a few times.

The original roommates of the full 5 months have left a much larger impression.  Leena, Anna, and Ilona have been absolutely wonderful.  They each have their special part in this family and it will be difficult to find such a balanced and lively temporary home.

Leena, among many things, was my laundry buddy.  I find this to be one of the most important relationships because we share those moments handling clothes when they are most vulnerable – from when they’re dirty to when they’re rolled dry and to their final state of warm crispiness.  I wanted this metaphor to work out better, but it just sounds naughty.  Leena was hilarious in many subtle ways and I hope she knew that I caught on to all her little sarcastic jokes inserted in almost every conversation.  I love her personality and fun-loving nature more than her love of disgusting black licorice candy bits (ew).  The technology illiteracy also gives me a small chuckle.  Answers to my tech questions like “yea… my TV is black” or “It has a blue button that lights up” or, my favorite, “my laptop’s name is Norbert” will always be treasured.  PS – I’ll keep a shrine for the holy mini pineapple.

Anna exudes the creativity of an architect in everything she does.  I knew from the moment I met her that she had that extremely unique character.  She automatically gave our apartment personality.  The white walls were replaced with world maps, newspaper and magazine clippings, random cardboard things with colored cellophane taped over it, and posters of anything that could possibly look cool at an angle.  The surprise of seeing a new piece on our walls every week was a good reason to come through the door.  I love how she became her work and this is absolutely her passion – it’s just so obvious if you hit the right topics.  When you show her something that may seem mundane, her eyes light up and she appreciates everything for this deeper, head-scratching meaning only seen by her and other architects/artists.  She is modern art applied with an even spread of reality.

Ilona and I shared quite an interesting silent relationship.  Left alone, we might as well have communicated with charades or Pictionary.  Even after 5 months, my expressive nature with German had not improved as expected.  I could carry some sort of conversation, but I never found the right words to say something useful.  I learned to say little phrases that could involve myself selfishly, but sometimes I just wanted a topic of interest we shared without going through a dictionary for difficult vocabulary words.  Luckily, I do understand most of what she says in German and wind up responding in English.  I think she understands half of what I say in English and responds in German.  It’s a weird balance that only works in groups, but regardless, I love her company.

Lucian, Tomas, Maria, and Natasha became the honorary roommates, as I saw them in the dining room as often as I saw everyone else I was living with.

Lucian is hilarious and what I consider to be an essential ingredient to a good party.  He has a clever wit and a confident stride to tell stories and experiences that draws people’s attentions.  From him, I’ve learned that there should be no fear in acting silly, or a little ridiculous, sometimes because it shows you’re actually enjoying yourself, instead of second guessing your actions and being self-conscious when life should be more spontaneous.  My cold and calculated nature envies such eccentric personalities.  Oh yeah, and best of luck to his rapping career.  Beeeeaaaches!

Tomas has been the chef of the apartment (even though he doesn’t technically live there).  His meals were nothing but delicious and I hope I learned something from his special mix of vegetables and sauces for salads.  He continues to be updated with current events and still has time to do so much.  He can drink like a fish and he’s extremely entertaining drunk.  I think we had the most random dining room conversations in the past month, and I must say that it has been a pleasure.  I hope he’s learned from me as much as I’ve learned from him.

Maria was actually the first girl I met in Germany from the Berlin trip, and I immediately fell for that cute dimple and friendly nature.  She stayed in our room for coffee and movies while she hung out with Leena, but I had always liked being with her.  I feel like she was at every party and night-out I had been, even if my attendance was random and sparse.  For this to occur, she probably just goes out every night to hope and see me too.  I’m really sorry for not giving her a massage, and I know she probably holds a grudge about it.  I’ll do my best to see her again (as with everyone else) and I promise to maintain my practice so it’s just as good (if not better).  I love our hugs – it’s a great way to say hello.

It’s very difficult to write about Natasha without mentioning any of our inside jokes (which are highly inappropriate).  She stole my attention and time, among many other things, although I’m not complaining.  I felt like these weekend trips with her have been a hazy dream of split bottles of wine in a park, and enduring long walks throughout cities, forests, and mountains.  We switched roles of chef and dish washer for every meal, and I think my creativity and skill in cooking have greatly improved because of it.  I think I will miss her the most – even if you sum all the other things that I’ll miss from this trip in some quantitative ranking – she will still be in the lead.  Alas, I need to wake up from this dream and return to a slightly, less bright reality.

Our apartment just became party central and the main place for a cup of coffee, internet usage, and a few good laughs.  The refrigerators were always filled with beer and cheap champagne, and we’d always get complaints from the cleaning ladies about our large collection of empty plastic/glass bottles.  It was a monthly routine doing this homeless walk to REAL with our clanging bags dripping with month-old beer.  Luckily, the money from recycling helps pay for the next party, which leads to more beer bottles (a vicious, yet amazing cycle).

Sadly, I’ve left that little room.  The super didn’t ask me to paint the walls or buy new furniture, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have to go through hoops to get this room approved.  Everything seemed a bit rushed at the end to take care of all the errands, and I wish I had more time to say good-bye.  The truth is: I could have extended this good-bye ceremony for another few months.  In one way, I’m glad to close this chapter – I can finally reread it and smile with appreciation.  I doubt it was well-written, but the stories definitely kept me turning the page.

~See Lemons Miss the Roomies

the homeless cart of empty booze

the homeless cart of empty booze

A Hungarian Tribute

I'll miss all of you!

I'll miss all of you!

Random Observation/Comment #199:  The past 4 months have passed by unbelievably quickly.  It felt like just yesterday we were all drinking our first beers in public, dancing on tables, and finding valid excuses to party every day of the week.  I’ve had an absolutely wonderful time getting to know everyone, especially the “Hungarian group” (to which I will dedicate this entry to).  I hope we will all stay in touch through tweets, status updates, and random pokes through facebook, email, or any other social network.  If anybody (Hungarians and everyone else I’ve met abroad included) visits New York, you will have a personal tour guide and possibly a place to stay.  Either way, I hope we will always be international friends.  It’s incredibly sad to see this Hamburg University Chapter come to an end, but as with all good memories, it will have a fantastic finish tonight.  Let’s make the last party rock the house (dormitory/apartment/whatever).  May our paths cross again in the future…

In most of my journal entries, I think about the beginning and then flip through my mental photo album of these moments to find the right words.  Each quirky personality comes to mind through the crooked smirks, embarrassed smiles, and uncontrollable laughter memories we shared together.  I can’t quite pin-point how I exactly became a fellow-Hungarian, but our relationship grew from just being with each other in our happiest times.  Whether it was a relaxing walk through Berlin, a well-cooked dorm goulash dinner, or another alcohol-filled night at the bar downstairs, the time we spent together will always remind me of freedom and friendship.

Interestingly enough, I was accepted into the group with open arms.  It might have been the massage-hands or my tendency to take pictures of everything (which they find adorable), but I really felt missed when I couldn’t make it to a party – like I was a genuine part of their group from the start.  It was only a small amount of attention, but it pulled me into this temporary family and I’m happy that I was a part of it.  Each of you has made an impact on me and you deserve your individual tributes.

Greg has somehow become my pupil after these past few months of living in the same flat and partying (pretty much all the time).  I can sense that he has respect for my opinion and enjoys my company, so he invites me to his excursions and discusses random topics when he passes my room for his occasional smoke.  Although Greg is sometimes overstressed about certain aspects of his schoolwork, he knows how to have a good time and let loose at a party.  Drunk Greg tends to use very flashy hand gestures (which we all love to notice and mimic), and will always push for more shots of Jagermeister (good man).  It may seem like I did most of the teaching with the occasional English reviews, but you have taught me more than you realize.  I’m glad we became friends and I hope I can meet you in Hungary or Austria in 2 years.

Frank exudes the qualities of a professional like no other.  He’s well-dressed, current events savvy, and charismatic about all topics of conversation.  Even if he’s never been to a place, he is automatically crowned the guide, leader, and decision-maker.  I haven’t found this exact quality to his stride or the way he holds his conversations, but there’s a certain characteristic that makes his arguments very convincing.  Either way, I think I have learned one of his secrets: Frank loves the camera and wants to be immortalized in the most interesting poses.  It works out well – every photographer needs that fun-pose model.

For the sexy poses, I’ll, of course, yield the lens to the lovely ladies.  This is one of my outrageous hypotheses, but I think the girls competed for my attention to get more massage-time.  They each had their own strategies for getting my attention (or at least I saw it this way in my mind), but I found it interesting because they appealed to such different parts of my brain (I can’t choose a favorite so I think I fell for all of you in different ways =D).  I’ll be more specific: (It is a given that you’re all very pretty, so I’ll leave it out of the descriptions).

Ria appealed to the obvious and straightforward physical contact.  It is custom for European hugs and kisses, but it was more of an enjoyment than a formality.  In many ways, I felt like she was the awkward hand on the thigh stepping around the line of appropriateness.  We shared the sitcom inside-jokes with How I Met Your Mother and Friends references, which is always an interesting topic of conversation.   I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider it, but there was something with the grouping circumstances that made me more comfortable in a friend zone (going into detail about these personal dating rules would be too far off-topic).

Reka is adorable and really attracted that cute-sy, naming-stuffed-animals side of me.  She shyly smiles, and often shows a silent jealousy I’ve often noticed from my Chinese ex-girlfriend.  It used to work so much better, but I guess I grew up from that phase.  Because of this sheep obsession, her personality stuck in my mind and it made me buy her a sheep toy and draw a sheep-portrait for her.  The cute gestures continued, but my normal observation-driven drunken nights never lead me to common topics and inside jokes.  I feel like younger-timid-Clemens would have been captivated, but more-mature-Clemens wavered and explored a different world.

Juli is the youngest, yet fit in seamlessly.  I was unexpectedly impressed by her wit and our playful conversations.  I don’t think it had to do with age or innocence, but rather a very quick connection to normal wordplay.  I rarely say this, but she has a beautiful personality.  It’s not even that we know each other extremely well; I just find this combination of words to be very fitting.  The odd thing is that I don’t think anyone would disagree because I just said what everyone was trying to say, but just couldn’t find the words for. You’re welcome.

Vikky claims my educational and independence-driven part of my heart.  She really reminds me of Monica from Friends.  She’s responsible, organized, and very tidy with every aspect of her life – to summarize: she will be a wonderful mother.  The trips will be planned down to every detail and optimal efficiency would be achieved (efficiency = super sexy).  I think our personalities have much more in common than we gave time to explore, but (as expected) the positive and negative qualities of social intellectuals arise – we have much to say, yet we rather observe.  However, one who pries will find a topic that just makes us talk non-stop.  Her enthusiasm just so happened to be in volleyball, which – to put into my hobby gauge – matches my enthusiasm for ping pong (which borderlines obsession).

Orsi has the most extroverted personality with quite a contagious laugh and smile.  She floats around in her own world and sprinkles her happy mood on the group.  Not only is she quite the dancer, but I think I would consider her the most energetic.  Her playful nature is something anyone would love, and I feel like a livelier person in her presence.  She’s proof that happiness can be spread by example, and I’m glad I met someone with this quality.  Even though I haven’t called you Sushi since the first time I met you, the word will always remind me of you and your enthusiasm.

Although I did not wind up a fluent Hungarian speaker (I’m surprised too), I’ve learned a great deal about the culture and customs.  At the end of the day, we were all study abroad students living a study abroad student life, but there was a definite connection.  Actually, I was probably drawn to the unbelievably hot group of beautiful girls.  It’s true – you make all of my friends jealous and I’m glad we have so many pictures together.

Cheers! Egészségedre! Kampai! Kippis! Salud! Salute! Skal! Na zdrowie! Budem zdorovy! Let’s get our freak on.  All the best and safe travels.

Your Sneaker,

Clemens

~See Lemons Miss Greg, Frank, Ria, Reka, Juli, Vikky, and Orsi (Sushi)

they're so cute...

they're so cute...

A series of parties

old school first group picture

old school first group picture

Random Observation/Comment #198: This dorm life I live is continuously surprising and ever-so lively.  Somewhere, a party lurks every night and sometimes they exist for the strangest reasons.  “It’s Thirsty Thursday – we have to drink.”  “Let’s party because it’s Wednesday and that’s hump day.”  “It’s Monday so I need a small low key party to slowly wean me off the alcohol withdrawal from the night before.”  “I felt like cooking for everyone in the dorm.”  “The bar’s open tonight.” “I’m bored…”  I’ve attended parties every day of the week and somehow it doesn’t get boring with such great company and excess alcohol.  I hope I’m always young and blessed with a healthy liver.

I’ve always believed in the phrase, “Everything in moderation (even moderation).”  I’m actually not exactly sure what it means in a broader sense, but I think it’s relevant.  Partying is a form of stress relief and a way to unwind.  In Japan, they take it to the extreme because people are so completely absorbed into their roles and the masks they wear in front of family and work that they never get to just let loose.  It’s actually a little depressing seeing adults in full suits passed out on the street next to a puddle of theirs (or someone else’s) old dinner and stomach acid (I’ve seen it often in Osaka).  Although this could be relieving, in one way or another, I would suspect that the hangover creates a bigger problem than just going home for a good night’s rest.  But, alas, people must be pleased and sometimes that self-sacrificing Asian characteristic just gets the better of their reality.

Europeans, on the other hand, just drink every night.  This does not mean that they’re alcoholics, it just means they really like the taste of beer with their meals.  If it’s a nice day outside, it’s a perfectly valid excuse to grab a beer from the automat at noon.  They basically drink it to quench their thirst and maintain its role as a social lubricant.  It’s not some idolized, freedom substance abuse to get this drunken feeling – no, it’s just something to do when watching a football match or in between chews.

The difference in the perspective of alcohol is also apparent by age.  I find the Japanese culture towards drinking as the cure to all their problems for that one forgettable night.  It’s like a frat party filled with people that want an excuse to make stupid choices.  The European culture still involves drinking, but the higher tolerance level just leads to louder chants and livelier conversations.

Unfortunately, the American culture doesn’t see this as a symbol of freedom or a daily routine, but instead, it is treated as a chance to rebel.  The 21 drinking age just makes teenagers feel like it is “cool” to get drunk.  This little nugget blooms dangerously, and if the law isn’t changed, I will proactively teach my child about alcohol in my own way.  You don’t just make it some forbidden fruit – don’t you know that just makes people want it more?  Don’t girls love chasing guys they can’t get?  (That comment may have been uncalled for).  The point is: Teenagers are going to get their alcohol somehow, so you might as well legalize it to remove the adrenaline rush of doing something illegal.

What is my proactive solution?  Class never goes out of style.  Nobody likes a drunken frat dude except for other drunken frat dudes.  If beer tastes crappy, then why drink it?  If getting completely plastered makes the next day unbearable, then why do it?  The answer is: because you are studying abroad and you can, so you should.  But, remember: in moderation (even moderation).  PS – Drink Guinness because it’s not just a beer; it’s a meal. ::Thumbs Up::

~See Lemons Partay for the right reasons

My Intermediate Overview of Study Abroad

mystery-desu

mystery-desu

Random Observation/Comment #194: It’s interesting how I’ve always saved the overviews of my trips until the trips are finally over when I’m in my pajammy-jams at 3PM while sadly trying to piece my life together for the next phase.  I never actually capture the intermediate stages of feelings when I’m truly happy or sad.  Instead, I’m usually writing it in a stage when I know the whole trip is over and I miss the freedom or I’m scared of moving forward.  I think the reviews I’ve given are true, yet just a little biased.  I could see myself extenuating the good things and overlooking the bad (or at least being less critical about them) because it’s just too sad to combine the two afterwards.  Well, now that I’m in the middle of this adventure, I might as well give the newly arrived Cooper students a truthful overview.

Studying abroad in any country is an injection of two fundamental ideas: Freedom and Responsibility.  The balance of these two ideas will determine the levels in your fun-o-meter, safety-alarm, and craziness-scale.  Okay, so just because the measurement tools are fictional and the scale is relatively arbitrary and distributed for each individual, it doesn’t mean what I advise isn’t useful.  It is important to realize that this is a unique experience with a mix of different cultures, so one should be open-minded to meeting new people and seeing new things.  I would take full advantage of being in Europe and embark on random excursions or exciting adventures with strangers (strangers that you know kinda well).  But, of course, you already knew this before leaving, so let me be more specific about the program and experiences/activities I’ve been involved with.  I’ll separate this into a few major topics: University Responsibilities, Dorm Life, Hamburg Attractions, Nearby Cities, Must-sees in Europe, Useful Resources

University Responsibilities

I am working on a project that involves the application of artificial intelligence algorithms (specifically reinforcement learning) to improving industrial robot movements.  The German professors are extremely nice, although very strict about their meeting start times and deadlines.  If you can produce results, you shouldn’t have a problem.  My personal project does not really involve college credit so the work I put in will determine whether or not I can publish a paper on this material.  The German style of research is very straight forward and everyone works diligently for the directed times.  There will always be the quiet engineering types, but most of them are interested in foreign exchange students, so I’m sure you’ll be able to have lunch groups.  Based on the Cooper study abroad program format, you will have to submit a report of the work you have completed.  Don’t worry about this too much – I just kept a weekly journal of things I did for the project and submitted that (in a more concise form).  I wrote that the specifics to most of the experiments could not be revealed due to a soon-to-be-published paper (which was actually true for my case), but I don’t think it would be that much of a problem.  They really just want to see that you weren’t only there partying.

Dorm Life

The International dorms are incredibly fun.  Leave the university work for the 9 to 5 weekday and do some socializing and self-exploration at night and on weekends.  I haven’t met as many Germans as I’ve wanted to since I’ve been living in this spawning pool for study abroad students.  The interesting thing is that they all want to practice English more than German because they find it more important for their future careers.  I would suggest trying to learn some phrases in German (if not study and take a full course).  The language isn’t easy, but dedicating an hour a day will at least keep you from drinking too often.  Now, I’m not condoning drinking, but I personally know enough different groups to get invited out to a different place every night.  Europeans drink every night.  Although it’s not necessarily until their drunk, they use it as a social lubricant in every sense of the word.  The other great thing about the dorm is the cooking parties at different apartments.  After you host your own cooking party with your roommates and invite a few people, you’ll be invited to their cooking parties within the rest of your stay.  Every country has their specialty meal and there’s always one surprisingly good (or experimental) chef in the dorm room.  My roommates are wonderful and we’ve become a close family with our assigned jobs.  I have somehow become the English homework checker for many of them.  I’m sure you’ll find some interesting shoes to fill.

Hamburg Attractions

I’m a big fan of walking even though we have these free monthly S-/U-bahn tickets provided by the university.  From Berliner Tor, you could walk to the main city area by the Hauptbahnhof and the Rathaus around the Alster Lake in 20 minutes.  When the weather is nice, there’s a huge fountain in the center of the lake and people have the best ice cream in Hamburg at this small Gelato place in Europe Passage.  Many of my university friends take longer lunch breaks for some time away from work.  The port area near Landersbruchen can also offer some great views.  You can take the ferry for free to a few beaches and scenic areas (it’s included in the monthly ticket).  Another great place to visit is this park by Dammtor station.  The park is huge, but was much nicer in May when the flowers were blooming.  It’s still quite nice to have a picnic there over the summer.  Unfortunately, this all requires nice weather, which Hamburg is not that famous for in the summer.  May had some of the sunniest skies, but now June has these high winds and random rain showers (from some climate influences in the surrounding bodies of water).  I think July and August might be better, but we shall see.  No matter the season, Friday and Saturday is famous for St Pauli and Reeperbahn.  The clubs and bars are open until morning and they really are quite incredible.  You haven’t had the full experience until you’ve stayed up for the 6AM FischMarket on Saturday.

Nearby Cities

There is a DB ticket for weekends called a “Happy Weekend ticket” that costs 37EUR for up to 5 people.  You can use this to take any of the local trains starting from 3AM until midnight.  Since the railway system is relatively fast, I would suggest gathering some friends and taking a weekend day-trip to a close city.  The closest popular city is Berlin (which will take around 3 hours by local transportation).  However, there are other cities like Schwerin, Lubeck, Bremen, Rostock, Hannover, Luneburg, and Harburg, which has some pretty interesting sights.  Each of them has their own little day-trip attraction, but I’ve mostly gone as an escape to a different part of Germany.

Traveling in Europe

I would highly suggest buying a 10-day select-country eurailpass.  For 310EUR, you can travel 10 days within a 2 month period to any 3 countries by the express trains in the DB network.  Berlin takes 2 hours, Dresden takes about 6 hours, Munich about 7 hours, Amsterdam about 7 hours, and Prague about 8 hours.  The cost of each a single one-way ticket from Hamburg to Berlin by ICE train costs about 68EUR.  Discounted tickets can be purchased about 4 or 5 days in advance for about 40EUR.  If you’re an amazing planner, I’m sure you could get tickets a month in advice for another 10EUR discount.  However, if you’re spontaneous and always filled with conflicting plans, I would suggest the pass for flexibility.  I just wake up for the schedule and sit down anywhere.  Other methods of transportation include cheap flights or a carpooling website called mitfahrzentrale.de.

Useful Resources

The German railway system is always on time and follows the schedules perfectly.  If you’re planning a trip, you can check http://www.bahn.de for any of the public transportation time tables (including BUS, S-Bahn, and U-bahn).  Germany is famous for the delicious wurst.  One of my favorite places to go is called MoGriller near the Monckbergstrasse station on the U3.  They somehow have the crunchiest casings – so much better than hotdogs.

Germany has been and continues to be an absolutely incredible place to meet new people and absorb the culture and history within Europe.  It goes without saying that this is not only about conducting research and finishing a project – this study abroad program is about opening your mind to observing the subtle details that make our views of the world different.  The trip is a social psychology class in disguise and your own effort and interest will determine how much you learn and grow from this experience.  Without considering any letter grades, percentages, or standard deviation curves, simply try to have a good time and let the experiences alter or support your current perspective of the world.  If this last paragraph doesn’t make sense, it will when you think read it again after the trip.  Best of luck.

~See Lemons Happy with Germany

St Patty’s Day Recollections

 

 

Free hats for all!

Free hats for all!

Random Observation/Comment #179: There aren’t many rules I follow for St Patty’s Day.  In fact, there is only one rule I follow: I must drink Guinness.  That whole wearing green thing is non-sense; everyone looks like a pink elephant by the end of the night anyway.  I often wonder why I don’t try to make every party night a reflection of the St Patty’s Day spirit, but then I remembered that my liver actually has other bodily functions.  I’ve mentioned how much I absolutely love Guinness, but if my other entries’ tributes weren’t  enough, I’ll reiterate: I would trade that Klondike bar for a Guinness even after doing the unmentionable deeds I’d need for that chocolate-covered goodness in the first place.  Mmmm…  Maybe a Klondike bar dipped in Guinness… no, that would be too good to be true.

 

Sometimes this holiday/tradition/obligatory drinking day has its ways of sneaking up on you.  It’s funny how I don’t even remember most of my past St Patty Day moments from the past few years.  I think there was one time where I was living in a hotel near 42nd street and just grabbed a Guinness at a bar, and another where I woke up in a part of the city I’ve never been.  Regardless,  I think they were good times.

I don’t quite remember most of the night, but my camera seemed to have captured the majority of the celebrations.  Not only were there free funny hats, but there were also tons of alcohol and music in a very cozy Irish pub.  As with most drunken nights, we met other groups our age with interesting quirks.  I’m not sure why, but the Indian British guy stood out in my mind (after writing this a month later) – it’s probably because he was enthusiastically pissed off about everything in the world.  It might have been a result of sleep deprivation or high alcohol concentrations, but this bloke was just hilarious.  I don’t remember if he said funny things, or just said them in a funny manner, but it really brings a night together when there’s an angry drunk with a heavy accent to liven up the crowd.  Cheers.

I couldn’t think of any better way to end the night than learning a valuable lesson.   My introduction to Reeperbahn was basically like a first swimming lesson on the Titanic.  I mean, I didn’t risk the chance of dying from this experience, but a fairly flustered Clemens is rare.  I guess I wasn’t expecting the skimpily dressed lady to walk up to me and grab my arm.  She said words I didn’t understand, but her eyes and suggestive grin was more than enough to give a signal.  It made me extremely uncomfortable, which led to this slight bow and paint-on defensive smile.  Who knows? She could have been a sweetheart and offered me a discount – “That’s the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard” (Props if you got the reference). 

In order to avoid these awkward situations, a man should escape the devils’ eyes/radar/sixth sense/targeting system.  If you were in the jungle, like Arnold, you would try to cover yourself with cold mud (easier reference).  I guess this would work as well, but an easier solution would be to latch onto the closest person possible.  Their view seems to only focus on individuals.  Large groups walking with arms linked and synchronous stepping just blends into the surrounding.  It is also an imperative to avoid eye-contact.  Their hooker-instincts prey on the weak-minded; if you sneak a glance, you give off the stench of an injured rabbit.  However, going to Reeperbahn is really like joining Fight Club; if it’s your first time, you gotta get harassed.  It’s part of the welcome, and – oh, my – is it a welcome.

Other than getting attacked by hookers, this was also the first night of getting to know some great friends.  This new network of individuals would bring me many more good times and unforgettable memories. 

Everyone’s Irish tonight.

 

~See Lemons Irish

that's the spirit...

that's the spirit...

Study abroad is all about Diversity

 

 

Our apartment's diversity map (and Ilona's head)

Our apartment's diversity map (and Ilona's head)

Random Observation/Comment #177: Visiting Germany, I would expect to see a large number of Germans; however, the majority of my friends have been from everywhere but Germany.  The major countries I’ve noticed are Finland, Sweden, Turkey, Hungary, Spain, Italy, and the States.  Since I’m living in this international dormitory world, I suspect that I was roomed with fellow foreigners, but I didn’t expect the complete lack of German presence in my nightlife and regular adventures.  I mean, there are a few, but their English is good enough to pass as Americans.  It’s not that I’m complaining, though, because the people I’ve met are wonderful and interesting in their own way – I’m just slightly surprised.

 

Groups initially form through common backgrounds due to their language comfort.  Interestingly enough, I haven’t met a Chinese student in the entire dorm.  I think they’ve been hiding from me.  Not to worry, though, I tend to drift towards odd crowds when I’m traveling.  Even when there were fellow Americans from Rhode Island or Boston (I think they’re both the same size so it’s valid to group them), I did not feel attracted to follow their crazy ways.  It might be the case because they live on another campus, but instead, I hung out with the Hungarians and the Turkish purely by majority influence.  I was pulled towards the group of abnormally attractive Hungarians girls, but mostly drifting based on the events I considered more fun. 

Although there is a small group separation, we all seem to mingle fairly well.  The nomadic ones from each group would tag along with different people based on personality similarities and differences.  At least for me, I rather spend time with people that I could not meet in NYC.  Yes, I know I could meet people from a range of diversities, but their attitudes would unfortunately still maintain that American twist (which is quite hard to explain).  I’m more interested in having the option of drifting between groups so I can just be myself and not necessarily push for conversation.  There is an inexplicable natural flow to this group formation tendency.  We all want to be a part of some type of comfortable group, but at the end of the day, we’re all hoping our connections are broad enough to be invited to events.

I celebrate this diversity, and I hope others appreciate the differences in culture and customs.   The interesting part is that we all come from the same generation, so there exists an age-based culture that crosses through any political or national boundary.  You can consider it pop-culture directly influenced by mainstream media or Inter-webs.  Either way, we can speak about common topics and relate to the issues that have shaped our personalities.  After all, we’re all human.

The best part is that we’re all in the same situation – we’re studying abroad in a new environment with a mouth-full of independence.  It’s college, but upgraded with foreign languages, unusual customs, and translated alcohol labels.  For me, it’s a taste of that “college life” that teased me while I over-credited and melted my brain with an overload of information and a lack of sleep.  There just seems to be so much more free time now, and my choices shift from “I must” to “I should” to “I might” to “I’ll do it later.”  As the essence of procrastination explores new boundaries, I am happy to say I’ve enjoyed wasting time with those in a similar situation.

Every single person I have met in Germany and on this trip have been fascinating in their way.  It’s most probably my weird way of thinking that makes them interesting even if there qualities aren’t as noticeable (to themselves or anyone else).  It’s this more optimistic view on people’s personalities that makes meeting people a little more cheerful.  Well, whatever method that works to keep me a little social will be exploited.  Am I having fun yet?

~See Lemons Study Abroad

Yay, pictures of shoes!

Yay, pictures of shoes!

The Rules of the Night

 

 

Drinking a beer in front of the po-

Drinking a beer in front of the po-

Random Observation/Comment #165: Drinking in public is illegal in New York.  It’s so illegal that if you’re standing in the street with a suspicious paper bag, a police officer could rightfully write you an $80 summons/ticket for public consumption of alcohol.  This does not exist in Europe (most probably because Europe rocks).  I remember the first time taking that open bottle outside and tasting the beer on the concrete sidewalk.  It was everything I wanted it to be.  To make the moment even better, a group of police officers walked passed.  My initial reaction of hiding the beer (or running away) was quickly replaced with a proud and valiant flaunt of my “tilt.”  The 45 degrees upward tilt of the bottle does nothing to the taste, but it does look pretty badass.  I smiled at the officers and tipped my hat slightly with the beer.  They gave me an awkward smile which paralleled the raised-eyebrow expression, but it was the only thing they could do.  Although this idea of public drinking was short-lived in its legen(-wait for it-)dary freedom, I was happy for those precious moments.  As for my current opinion of public drinking – I’m over it.  It was cool, now it’s normal.  I don’t feel the urge to purposefully abuse this privilege, and I still finish beers before leaving the bar or drink it in the appropriate environment.  Mweh – go figure.

 

It wouldn’t have been a touristy visit of Hamburg without visiting the nightlife in Reeperbahn.  Reeperbahn is the Red Light District of Hamburg, which is covered in sex shops, brothels, clubs, and bars.  It felt like two Avenues of St Mark’s Place after a sprinkle of shady side alleys.  I never actually went into the pure brothel area where no women or people under 18 are allowed, but I heard from a friend that it’s similar to Amsterdam.  I heard this area has the display cases taking window real estate in most of the buildings.  I also heard that it was about 30 EUR for 30 minutes and they don’t accept plastic.  A friend told me this in great detail – we mutually kept the conversation flowing in a question and answer segments about prostitutes and prostitute-affiliated random stories.  Even though I never walked into the heart of the beast (so to speak), I did find it much less uncomfortable for the male to walk with a girl holding hands.  Any single guy becomes a massive heat source for these homing missiles.  If you let you look unprotected, they’ll blow you (up – hah).

The most memorable night in Hamburg was also the least memorable for the majority of those involved.  It began with some Canadians and some orange juice, and ended with messy subway seats and quarantined Diesels.  The details are still a blur, so amongst new friends, we’ll take all the real events in that story and replace them with more cheerful ones.  However, the one thing that has maintained fairly consistent was my nickname, appropriately called “New York.”  In fact, “Hey, New York!” became the new way of getting my attention – to which I would respond, “Hey, I’m waulkin’ hea’.”  Stereotypes are a riot (in a humorous and non-offensive way).  I didn’t pass up the chance to poke fun with aye’s and aii’s, so I figured anything was fair game. 

This drunken night made me realize that the new generation truly celebrates the diversity of culture.  I think most study abroad students welcome meeting new people, and pass their judgment on an individual basis rather than origins.  To the educated, it seems the subject of religion is becoming hazier and the boundaries of stereotypes are slowly fading.  If stereotypes are discussed, it is either blatantly ignorant as to infer some type of humor, or delicately put to clarify misconceptions.  After meeting people with heritage from all around the world, I’ve become more enlightened to different customs.  Although religion is rarely discussed, we share observations about social differences and openly accept new perspectives on approaching problems.

Languages pose some issues with the natural formation of clicks and groups, but I’ve found it to be more interesting hearing the different tones and pronunciations for each native tongue.  Although I have no idea how to speak Hungarian, Turkish, Finnish, or Sweedish, I begin forming sound patterns in order to distinguish at least the type of language without associating it with the people.  Speaking languages fluently cause slurs and impossible speeds for learning specific words, but repeats in sentence structure and emphasis between nouns and verbs opens my eyes to a strange array of combinations.  The sounds swirl in my brain trying to form links from word to word.  The key is to pay attention and try not to let the sounds be ignored by your brain as noise.  It didn’t say it was easy or that it wouldn’t make your brain melt and ooze out of your ear canal, but it does keep those neurons firing. 

To expand my background about each country, I asked how to say “Cheers” and “druuuunnnkkk” to make sure I can communicate as a social drinker.  To put it more simply, alcohol builds bridges when we all share the common interest of enjoying the company of others.  Under the socially-accepted unwritten laws of drinking, we form a new bond; laughing at nothing and everything at the same time, carrying new friends with a helpful shoulder, and giving a helping hand with well-prepared plastic bag.  At the end of the night, no matter where you’re from, we’re all engrained with the same party-genes and desires to let loose, relieve stress, and enjoy life.  Rep NYC.

 

~See Lemons Make New Friends

mmm... beer...

mmm... beer...

German Transportation is all about Trust

 

 

3AM in the middle of nowhere

3AM in the middle of nowhere

Random Observation/Comment #164: The German railway system essentially depends heavily on an individual’s choice of taking risks.  Tickets are purchased in the stations, but the common high security gates, turnstiles, or even railway information centers do not exist.  Everything has been automated on those ticket machines like in the LIRR, except conductors, or any other type of transportation officer, does not always check the ticket.  In fact, the three weeks I’ve been staying in Germany and taking the subway system, I have not been checked once.  After asking some locals, it seems like there are just random checks where some undercover officer in civilian clothes just asks an entire train car for the tickets.  If you do not have one, then you must pay a fine of 40EUR immediately or 70EUR by mail.  It is highly frowned upon to jump trains, but I think a large portion of the population does it.  Do you think it’s worth the gamble?  Like I mentioned earlier, I have not been checked, so I have no idea how these people dress.  Without the need for hourly employees, it seems like the maintenance for this transportation idea is minimal.  This means that less money is required to keep the trains running, which justifies the lower profit from daily usage.  Interesting business model, no?

 

The combination of the S-bahn (over-ground train) and U-bahn (underground train) forms a fairly simple transportation system.  Everything seems to be low-cost and self-sustaining with minimal reliance on the fares.  This makes me wonder about when this company started and where they make their profits.  If the company is government run, I would expect a more thorough wringing-cycle of the shirts on our backs (that analogy describes the government squeezing every last penny for profit from our oranges (which is analogy for “the man always breaking our balls”)).  If this is a private company, I wonder which numbers the accountant used when calculating the time required before a profit is being made after taking into account the expenses in the extra turnstiles and daily employees. 

Perhaps, it is only the large companies in America that pessimistically (or realistically) predict inflation and are encouraged by the government to increase the job market.  Germany is a relatively young nation as a consequence to the wars leading to a drastic change in government.  Given this more forward thinking and an overall greater trust in human nature, I feel more confident that our world is leaning towards a world that is less dependent on the economy.  Of course we’re always going to be stuck in this vicious cycle of working long hours to pay-off our endless debt, but maybe the world will be more readily automated to explore a different purpose (I think my opinion might be directly affected by the zeitgeistmovement).

As I traveled these trains with many other study-abroad students attending Hamburg, I have noticed a few differences in train etiquette.  Young travelers are loud and just plain obnoxious.  It cannot be helped in some drunken rage, but I often see other Germans with a look of embarrassment and dismissal.  I don’t suspect a dead-silent train ride, similar to the normal Underground, because of the seating arrangements, but I still feel a much less energetic crowd despite the design intentions.

On another note, the system saves money by only opening doors when the special button is pushed. If you remember the entry about The Underground/Tube in London, these buttons are not just tourist traps to make you look silly.  I think you would look even sillier just waiting for the door to open and then missing your stop because the flashing green light or manual door does not aid with any Force powers.  There’s no doubt that these trains use much less energy for opening doors at least 60% less (I actually don’t know but I’m guessing), but would this actually justify building the buttons on every door?  These are questions I don’t know the answer to, but I know It definitely makes people much more aware of the stations and it’s also really fun to push buttons.  Yay, Buttons.

~See Lemons Fool the System

I have no idea how to use the ticket machines.

 

I probably missed at least 3 stops because I didn't open the door

I probably missed at least 3 stops because I didn't open the door

 

I pushed the button even if I didn't need to get off.  Bad etiquette.

I pushed the button even if I didn't need to get off. Bad etiquette.

Hamburg Greets Me Temporarily

 

 

beautiful port city

beautiful port city

Random Observation/Comment #163: Unpacking my bags in this new place was exciting, yet a little depressing.  Every pair of jeans I folded left me with a smile because I knew that they were crusted with great memories, and I knew they would be there when I make new ones in this unfamiliar country.  The t-shirts and short pants I hung up reminded me that this journey will last for six months from the winter snow through the summer sunshine. The shoes that climbed Fuji-san stood there in their natural pose singing, “I can show you the world, shining shimmering splendid.”  The socks in the drawer whispered, “Slip into me and keep me dry.”  This is when I realized I was losing my grasp on reality.  I noticed how the fully unpacked closet looked a little empty – I think this was the depressing part.

 

The university I’m attending at Hamburg has a wonderful “buddy” program where responsible students in your field take the important ambassador role by helping you with the language and take care of the laundry-list of errands required to settle into this new environment.  Enrico and Ilona picked me up from the airport and spent the following few days answering my endless barrage of questions and passing dry uneventful days along my side.  They have never stopped being a useful resource and good friends, and for this, I owe them a great deal of thanks.  It is definitely a relief knowing that my colleagues and new friends are willing to accept my quirky personality and American ways.  Thankfully, their English is amazing or else there might have been a Japan-Airport-incident relapse (those conversations were more like a continuous game of charades).

After unpacking my bags and meeting new roommates (in my living quarters for the next 5 months), I took some time to absorb the indescribable feeling of adrenaline.  I lay on my bed while staring at the ceiling and just wriggled with excitement.  Endless plans raced through my mind and my world became a beautiful performance of fireworks.  I wanted to find a metaphorical bottle to keep some of these overwhelming emotions for another time, but the only thing I had in arms reach was some pen and paper.  I scribbled in a pseudo-random-fashion, yet the lines looked so happy.  I think I should submit it to modern art.  However, when I flipped the sheet over, my emotions changed a little bit.  I drew another set of lines and scratches that resemble the word, “DAMN.” Unfortunately, I scribbled on a very important piece of paper.

I tend to fall into a series of odd behaviors when I arrive in a new, temporary home.  Compared to the week before in London, it’s noticeably less exciting.  In the back of my mind, I don’t feel rushed to do anything, so I allow myself a lot of time to do nothing.  Of course it’s not “doing nothing,” but it definitely is doing something that doesn’t require me to be 6 time zones away in a foreign country.  Sometimes I lose the initiative to seize the day when I know tomorrow will be another one surrounded by the same things.  It wasn’t until my 4th year living in Manhattan that I realized that the freedom would soon be gone.  There are many terrible tourist-mentalities involving cheesy photographs and frivolous spending, but the one I missed while in my bubble was the tourist curiosity.  When I know I’ll only have four days to spend in a new country, I am filled with a new purpose.  Although the task “have fun” is not explicitly written, I feel the need to explore and take advantage of every moment.

The next days were focused on completing the visa, banking, cell phone, insurance, and other details before leaving to Switzerland. Since I had four days here before a week in Switzerland and then the beginning of the research, I experienced the most of Hamburg during two days.  I took random walks and saw the main port area in a quick walking tour (al Enrico y Ilona).  The port view during sunset was, to put it simply, a soothing sight.  It was during this time where Enrico, Ilona, and I “chatted” the most, so I told and heard plenty of interesting stories.  Their welcome has started a very good reputation for the German people as a whole.

Since I am staying near Berliner Tor, I followed a nice day trip walking: north towards Alster Lake, circling across the bridge towards the town hall area, walk around the town hall, and walk all the way back to Berliner Tor.  I wasn’t especially impressed with this walk (probably because London spoiled me), but the weather smiled upon me.  The walk was a little windy, but the sun brightened my day.  I had real German wurst for the first time from a corner shop called MoGrill – believe me when I say that it puts any barbeque to shame.  How do they make the skin so crunchy, yet after the initial crispy bite, each additional chew is an explosion of juices and actual meat textures.  Needless to say, the minimal oil usage and maximum flavor of fresh meat was delicious.  It beats the pig knuckles and leftovers in whatever we call a New York hotdog.

Another must-taste around the Hauptbahnhof station area is the Gelato Ice Cream in the Europe Passage.  It’s 1 EUR for one scoop and 2 EUR for 2 scoops of any of their 32 different flavors.  It was difficult to narrow down my choices to a scoop of Cookies and a scoop of Cream, but I knew this would be on my Frequently Visited List.  Even in the cold weather, everyone was eating ice cream and holding tightly to their scarf.

Unfortunately, these short few days of seeing Hamburg would be the most in-depth days since I’ve been here (I am writing this 3 weeks behind).  In this temporary visit, I saw the port city area and followed a full walking-day.  Despite the frequent good weather during the weeks with my research project, I was still very reluctant to leave my obligations and enjoy the new city.  The days of perfect walking weather just withered away with all chances of exploration.  These were probably some of the most depressing moments in front of my computer.  The warmth of the sun and clear skies seen through those tall office windows made me yearn for freedom.  The funny thing is that cloudy skies and rainy weather has the same effect.  I switch from wanting to be as free as the clear skies to feeling depressed from the dark clouds.  I think this was most likely my procrastination speaking for all normal bodily functions

~See Lemons Taste Test Hamburg

 

my camera was hungry for closeups

my camera was hungry for closeups