Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Duesseldorf and the Rheinbahn

I now have my monthly public transportation pass and I am going to ride to all corners of this beautiful city. I want to explore it all. I will begin taking some photos of the various sections of the city and will post them to this blog as I take them. It is so much easier having a monthly pass than trying to find the right change each time you get on the streetcar or underground.

Monday, January 30, 2006

HELP! Washing machines in Germany

This may seem ridiculous, but I have a problem with these German washing machines. In the one month that we have lived in Germany, so far I have done laundry only twice. Each time when I come back to the machine to retrieve the clothes out comes the water just gushing onto the floor and my feet. I just can't seem to get it right. Look at the following photos and you will see how many controls one can adjust when using a German washing machine. I guess the Germans want to be very percise in the way they wash their clothes and I am not knocking it---it's just a little confusing at first. Maybe I am just not cut out for washing clothes? I guess my partner, M, will have to keep doing the laundry. Take a look:

I need my German/English dictionary just to begin....

Check out all of the temperature settings.....

In America it is very simple. You put in the coins, select the washing settings---usually only four options: whites, permanent press, colors and delicates. I have a one word explanation for the German washing machine: Ordnung. If you want a detailed explanation of Ordnung, then buy the book: Germany, Unraveling an Enigma by Greg Nees.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention what else happened. The best part of the whole laundry event tonight was when I went downstairs to retrieve the laundry an elderly lady was standing by the elevator on the ground floor. She was just leaning against the wall. She must have been waiting at least 20 minutes for me because I could tell by the timer on the washing machine and I was watching the clock in the apartment. As soon as I got off the elevator she gave the polite greeting, "Guten abend." I replied, "Guten Abend." Then as I headed for the stairs to the basement where the laundromat is located, she started saying something in German in an elevated volume, but not too bad. I interrupted and said, "Entschuldigen, aber ich spreche nur ein bissen deutsch." She pointed to the ceiling and I recognized a word, LICHT. I eventually figured out she wanted to tell me I had left the light on in the basement. Whoops! I guess she wanted to wait around and figure who in the building was the culprit. Funny. :)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Cologne Sunday

Today we took a short trip to Cologne. It was only about a fifteen minute drive from Duesseldorf. We explored the city near the famous Cologne Cathedral or Koln Dom. Here are some photos from today.
Cologne Old Town (isn't Germany so charming and cute!!??):

The Dom is Cologne's best known landmark, with two spires visible from around the city. No matter how you travel to Cologne, by ship, car, or train, you'll see the Dom impressively rising above the city's roofs. Construction began in 1248 and continued until the 1500s. Then, no work was done for 300 years until 1842. Construction was completed in 1880, and today it is known as one of Europe's top Gothic cathedrals. I guess I should have taken a shot that included the two spires:

We were strolling in this shopping district near the main train station:

This was so cute:

Cologne is best known for its Carnival (Karneval), the city-wide festival that starts officially on November 11 at 11:11 am in the Alter Markt (Old Market) and ends only on Ash Wednesday. The Monday before Ash Wednesday is known as Rosenmontag, and is especially frenetic, marked by a parade of floats, people in outrageous costumes, giant puppets, thousands of revelers, and lots of music and boozing. We saw these costumes and wanted to share them. I can't wait for Karneval!!!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Duesseldorf tour

Today we toured Duesseldorf by car because we really haven't done that yet. It was nice to get out and about getting to know the city we live in. We started out at Media Harbor. The architecture in this area is truly stunning (for all the photos taken today click on my green Flickr badge in the right-hand column):

This is a shot of the Rhine and Duesseldorf from inside the tower:

I had to post these two photos. In this parking garage they have parking spots close to the entrance that are for woman only. Can you believe that?

This is the designator painted in the parking spot. "Woman-only" parking:

UPDATE: I had a discussion with M about the "woman-only" parking and I guess it is a good idea. I am sure the woman appreciate this option to be close to the entrance and not have to walk through an underground parking garage at night by themselves. You never know what kind of freak is lurking around the corner...

Friday, January 27, 2006

Amsterdam next weekend

Last night M and I purchased trains tickets to Amsterdam for next weekend. We are now trying to decide what to do while there. Does any one have any "must sees?" Please do not recommend the Red Light District because as two gay men I don't think we really care to go there. :) We have read some information about Amsterdam and we are thinking about going to the Rembrandt Museum, Van Gogh Museum, the Heineken Brewery and the Albert Cuyp market. However, we are open to any and all suggestions. Can you recommend your favorite coffee shop, restaurant, club, pub, cafe or whatever. We are leaving Saturday morning and will return Sunday evening. Luckily it is only a two hour train ride. We are going to eat breakfast on the train and check into our hotel once we arrive. That reminds me: What is the best hotel? Does anyone have a small bed and breakfast they've tried and wanted to share a good tip? Thanks in advance everyone.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

My German language classes

It has been almost three weeks now that I have been in my German language class. I have a really good instructor at the Sprachcaffee here in Duesseldorf. I am learning a lot, but I have to admit German is very complicated. Will I ever learn it? Will I always be this slow? I have to translate what I want to say from English into German in my mind. This translation process takes so long that all the Germans I interact with on a daily basis become impatient and break into English right away. It's great that most Germans speak English, but it doesn't give me much of an opportunity to speak German. Another thing: the gender and articles are driving me crazy not to mention the Nominative, Akkusativ and Dative cases (der Fall)...is der Fall as plural der Falle or der Fallen? How about this chart:
m f n pl
nom der die das die
akk den die das die
dat dem der dem den (+n)

UGHHH! Help! Why can't it just be "the?"
Finally, per Wikipedia here is the official longest word in German:

My first snow in Germany!

I have been in Germany for 25 days as of today. Mother Nature has brought me snow for the first time today. It is snowing hard. I think it is beautiful as long as I don't have to be out in it! I haven't seen snow like this for decades...

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Amazing Sunset

Well, despite the cold here in Duesseldorf, we had the most beautiful sunset this evening. It is now 17:42 and here are some photos of the sunset as seen out my living room window:

As the sun was setting it got even more brilliantly red and orange. My digital camera could not capture the amazing colors...

Monday, January 23, 2006

Duesseldorf commercial in German

My Google Video uploads

This is of the San Francisco Love Parade in September 2005. I shot this with my small, digital camera so the video isn't too great, but you get the idea of Google Video. I hope Google Video expands to Germany soon...

This is another video of a wine tour we went on in Carmel Valley, California.

This is the only other video I have uploaded to Google Video and it is of our whale watching tour in Monterey Bay. We did see a humpback whale and her calf near the end of the tour...

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Going to the movies in Germany

Last night we went to see "The Constant Gardener" and of course it was in English because I would not understand it in German yet. The movie was ok, but the best part is the theatre. Did you know in Germany you can drink a beer at the movies? What a great idea. Why can't we do that in America? Another great idea is assigned seating. When you go to a movie in Germany you can pick your seat in advance and then your ticket contains the exact seat assignment. What a great idea! Again, why don't we do that in America? You can even chose your seats in advance and print the tickets out on your home computer. One other note about the Kino (or movies) in Germany: all of the commercials before the movie starts are played...then the lights come back on, the curtain closes and you are given about 5-7 minutes to go to the bathroom or to the concession stand before they actually start the movie. The theatre we visited last night, CineStar in the Oberkassel district of Duesseldorf has FOUR movies at a time in English. It's great! The underground stop across from our apartment goes straight to the theatre and the stop is only one block from the theatre so it can't get any more convenient. Finally, I have some photos of Duesseldorf to post that I've taken over the weekend:

Here is a McDonald's close to may apartment, but I haven't eaten there:

This is a statue in a park near my partner's office:

Liza Minnelli is playing in Duesseldorf March 3rd, notice the street car wizzing by:

This is the building where my partner works:

Friday, January 20, 2006

A 16-18 ft whale in London!

I just read online a story about a 16-18ft whale in the River Thames in London. They say this is the first time ever. Check it out: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london/4631396.stm

Thursday, January 19, 2006

2006 FIFA World Cup

M and I have applied for tickets to two games for the 2006 FIFA World Cup: Italy vs. USA on June 17th in Kaiserslautern and Ecuador vs. Germany on June 20th in Berlin. I hope we get them. I have never been to a European soccer game. I hear the crowd gets crazy and the games are extremely wild and fun. Hopefully we will get some tickets...I will keep you posted. Here is the email we received:

Dear Customer,

The allocation of tickets for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany (TM) for the third sales phase will take place on the 31 of January 2006. As the number of tickets offered does not cover the amount of applications received, the allocation will be based on a draw. At the beginning of February we will confirm per e-mail if you have been allocated tickets.In the Customer Self Service section you can check the status of your application and change your personal and payment data. You will find this section under the following link:http://www.FIFAworldcup.com/06/en/tickets/selfservice.htmlThe Customer Self Service area will be closed during the draw and the preparation period, as well as during the confirmation and payment period. Between the 22nd of January 2006 at 18:00 and the 13th of February 2006 at 9:00, you won’t be able to make any changes in your data.Until the 22nd of January 2006 at 18:00 you will be able to make changes in your personal and payment data under the following link. These changes will be free of charge: http://www.FIFAworldcup.com/06/en/tickets/selfservice.html


Shopping with a dictionary?

I am about to leave for my German language course that starts at 9:00 AM, but I have a quick funny story and I am wondering if this has happened to other expats. I went to Aldi (a German grocery store) and I thought I was buying moisturizing lotion for these cold wintelr days. When I first used it I thought to myself, wow--this German lotion is very greasy. Well, M. took a look at it and it turned out to be liquid soap. I guess I need to go shopping with a dictionary??? (These are some of the items we have on a storage shelf. NOTE: There is milk on the shelf and not in the fridge. It can be left out in the warm air until April and it is still good to drink. That seems very strange to an American. Germans also place their eggs on a shelf and not in the refridgerator section of the grocery store. That, too, is so unusual to an American. I will take a photo of it at the grocery store and upload it later....)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Achtung: Zweitwohnagentur!

I am posting this to help others avoid making the same mistake we did and that is to choose the apartment agency Zweitwohnagentur. In case you don't know this, but if you are searching for an apartment in Germany you must go through an agency. They do not have free listings available as they do in America using Craigslist. Additionally, you must pay this agency a pretty hefty commission depending on how long your lease terms are. For example, if you are renting or signing an apartment lease for six months or longer then you must pay a full month's rent in commission. This posting is not meant to say one place is better than the other, or the USA vs. Germany because believe me I can rant and rave all day about the bad things in America and the worst thing about the US is Bush and his administration's foreign policy. I simply want any one doing an internet search for apartment leasing, apartment renting, apartments in Duesseldorf, apartments in Dusseldorf, apartments in Germany, furnished apartments in Germany, furnished apartments in Duesseldorf, Wohnung, etc to come across my posting about how horrible, unprofessional, uncaring and down-right deceitful this agency has been. I will post the story shortly..I had an unexpected interruption.....stay tuned.
UPDATE: I was obviously very upset when I wrote this posting. The main problem is that the photos we were emailed from Germany to San Francisco were for a different apartment than the one we are now in. The bathroom and the kitchen in our current apartment is so small and we would have never selected this apartment had we seen the correct photos. The agency claims the mistake was not on their part, but from the property manager. Either way, they should have confirmed we were looking at the correct photos for the apartment we were selecting--that's why we paid them a large commission. However, I guess there are alternatives to using a rental agency as the others have informed me via the comments in this posting. I guess one has to learn the hard way. The only positive thing is that the current apartment is so convenient to M's work, he can walk to work in 15 minutes, and it is so close to the main train station so we can get anywhere in town quickly and easily on numerous underground lines and street cars. Additionally, I can walk to my German class in 20 minutes. I am definitely walking a lot more here in Germany and the excess weight I was caring around is falling off quickly which for me is a major advantage. Finally, I met the lady from the agency today at another apartment that is available immediately. We can accept that apartment and move out of the current apartment with no problem. So I think we have a solution now, but I will have to discuss this with M (my partner or "Lebenspartner") first. More updates on our living situation as it develops....Bis spater...

Brokeback Mountain

If you haven't heard yet, Brokeback Mountain won 4 Golden Globe awards. I am not sure what all the hoopla is all about. I went to see it on Christmas Day, December 25, 2005, one of my last days in the US. I went with my parnter, M. We both enjoyed the movie, but it was way too long. I am wondering how is this movie going to be translated/dubbed into German? There's going to be alot of things lost in translation I suppose. However, I would like everyone to see the movie, especially those that are homophobic. Anything that can be done to increase the chance that gays & lesbians worldwide will obtain equal rights, then I say let's do it!

Der Regenschirm

The above photo is the the view out of my living room window today. It is raining obviously and I went to my German language course this morning without my umbrella oder in deutsch: Der Regenschirm. You must always learn the article in German and it is not like English. In English we have ONE article: THE. Well, in German, similar to Spanish (the only other language I have studied,) there is a masculine, feminine and neutral article.....Enough German lessons for now.

The above photo is the view from our open bedroom window.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Alles Klar

My German classes are going well. I seem to be learning a lot in a short amount of time. If any one is wondering which school is good in order to learn German, I will have to say the Sprachcaffee is great. Speaking of language, I have an observation about Germans: they always say, "Alles klar." That means literally everything is clear or everything is good. I dont't know why, but I hear it all the time in many situations. I will report more on this as I learn about it....As you probably learned in my previous posting, we went to Bonn last weekend and I have some more photos I want to post for your enjoyment. One last note: I seem to not be posting as often as I assumed I would prior to arriving here in Germany. I guess life takes over and your blog has to take a lower priority....

The above photo is obviously the birthplace of Beethoven.

The above street scene is what would typically find in Bonn. Note the beautiful architecture.

This is what Germans call a Smart Car. I think even Swatch, the watch maker, in cooperation with another company builds this car. I think it is too small. I call small cars like this in Europe a death trap. If a semi-truck hits you in this small car, you're dead. So they should rename this car: Death Trap.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Saturday trip to Bonn

This weekend we went on a drive down to Bonn. It is such a cute city. The buildings are so beautiful. Bonn was not as severly bombed in the war so the city has retained its character.
Here is a photo of the Rathaus, the city hall.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Some past due photos

These fireworks were all over town on the night of New Year's Eve.

This was the party we attended on New Year's Eve complete with the dog with the mohawk.
The photo above is where my "Lebenspartner" and I went for our initial consultation so that we could be married in Germany.
This is a beautiful statue in the Hofgarten near the Standesamt.

This is a clean needle dispenser located across the street from our apartment building. The German Health Agency dispenses 4 clean needles for only 50 cents Euro. They do this in the interest of reducing the spread of HIV. What a great idea! You know we would never have this in the US!!
UPDATE: Notice in the upper, left-hand corner you will see "ENTSORGUNGS BOX." This means you can place your used needles here for a safe disposal. What an even better idea!

We have DSL!

I just returned from my third German class and we now have an internet connection! Now I will not have to go to the internet cafe down the street and out into the cold! I will post more later because today my partner is home sick from work. Bis bald...
UPDATE: The connection is faster than the DSL connection we had in San Francisco!

Monday, January 09, 2006

My first German language class

Well, today I went to my first German language class. It went well. It is for beginners so it was vaguely familiar. I think over time I will pick it up quickly. Of course, as you can imagine, it easier to learn a language living and breathing it all day. I have two other students in my class. There is a guy from the Czech Republic and a lady from all places--San Francisco! It is great to have her in my class. She moved to Gemany to be with her boyfriend--another American in Germany for love. She and I will go out for lunch someday after class. What a weird coincidence, huh? I travel all the way to Duesseldorf and meet a fellow San Franciscan in my class. My school is only about six blocks from my current apartment. Now that I am on the subject of apartments...Our apartment is not exactly what we expected. The bathroom and the kitchen are smaller than the ones the agency sent us photos of. So, needless to say, we are looking now for a more permanent, unfurnished apartment. The neighborhood is not the best, but will do for now. We are now going to look in a neighborhood north of Old Town. That is suppose to be a better area of town. I am going to begin checking the internet for unfurnished apartments and after my language courses I will go and look at the apartments that I identify online. This time we won´t be signing a lease before we see it first. Oh well, at least our current apartment is furnished and centrally located. I will be posting more later along with lots of photos I have taken. We should have our internet connection on by Wednesday. One last note: today it is sunny, not a cloud in the sky. However, unfortunately, it is still cold....Bis bald.

Friday, January 06, 2006

More Duesseldorf photos

I ran across this link of photos of Duesseldorf while visiting a fellow blogger´s site. It contains lots of photos of Duesseldorf so I thought I would post the link so everyone can view more of Duesseldorf. I hope you enjoy them. I am still getting to know this city. I will be posting my own photos once I have obtained internet service in my new place which I hope will be early next week. Until then, I hope you all have a great weekend.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Getting settled in

We finally received our bank account number which in turn allowed us to order telephone service at our apartment. However, because the previous tenant did not have a land line we now have to wait a week until the telephone company representative comes to our building and connects our service manually. I guess in Germany if there has not been phone service in the apartment in the last 90 days then they have to come out to your place....Hopefully it only takes a week.
We have been settling into our apartment over the last 4 days. I now know where the local grocery store is located, the local pharmacies are located, etc. Oh yeah, yesterday (Jan 3) we went to the Standesamt. (I think that´s how you spell it) We met with a counselor who reviewed our paper work for our "marriage." We had almost everything the German government requires, but there was one item from me and from Matt that was missing. We will have those cleared up hopefully in the next week or so and will return with all of our necessary documents. At that time they will make an appointment where we will return to go through the actual marriage ceremony. Then I will be obtaining my visa to stay in Germany. I think it is so great that the German government is allowing me to live here based on our same-sex partnership. Too bad the US is so ignorant or slow to adopt what the rest of the world´s Western democracies have done. Oh well, it is inevitable so in the mean time I guess we just have to be patient...
I am enjoying Duesseldorf so far, however, as I knew it was going to be, it is COLD. Another observation is that the sunrises relatively late--around 8:30 AM--and never really gets high in the sky. It seems like a perpetual dawn all day and then the sun sets relatively early--4:30 PM. It seems strange for me coming from San Francisco. My understanding is that San Francisco is on the same latitude as Rome, Italy. I always thought of Europe as on similar latitudes with the US. Duesseldorf is on the same latitude as Montreal! (or fairly close) My understanding is that in the summer the sun will rise early and set late.....That I will enjoy! More time to sit in the beer gardens! :)
I hope the New Year is good to all of you! More soon....Bis bald.

Monday, January 02, 2006

In Germany

Well, I made it to Germany! My flight was fine and on time. We do not have an internet connection in our new apartment yet, but hopefully we will by the end of the week. In order to get telephone service in Germany you must first have a local bank account. We should have the account number even today, but I am not sure how long it will take for them to turn on the phone and the DSL connection.
After I arrived Saturday night, New Year´s Eve we went to a party my partner´s friend was having. We had a great time. I will upload some photos of the party and the area I live in once our home internet service is connected. I hope everyone is well. I will post again soon.